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Zero in Roman Numerals: What does it look like?

Aug 11, 2015

All of us have learned about the mighty Roman Numerals. Have you ever wondered why no one talks about the number “zero”?  In this article, we will dive deeper into the Roman numerals system and the numbers included in them! 

History of Roman Numerals

How were Roman numerals created?

Roman Numerals, the numeric system was invented in Ancient Rome. It is a positional numbering system. This system uses some capital letters from the Latin alphabet as symbols to represent certain numbers. Most numbers in this system are written as combinations of letters.

For example: 2015 is written as MMXV. Here each M represents 1000, the X stands for 10 and V stands for 5.

Early Romans thought that there was no need for the Roman Numeral zero. Hence, there is no Roman Numeral for zero. This numeric system was developed for determining the pricing of goods and trading business. Instead of Romal Numeral for zero, they used the Latin word ‘nulla’ which also means zero.

The invention of the number ‘zero’

The number ‘zero’ was invented in various cultures across the world at different times. The most popular fact about the invention of zero is that the Indian astronomer Brahmagupta used the concept of zero for the first time around 600 AD. (Source: The Open University, Charlotte Webb)

When Roman numerals were invented, they started from the number ‘one’ and had no symbol to represent ‘zero’. This happened because the Romans didn’t need any value to determine the number ‘zero’. In the Roman numeral system, the numbers are always equal and summed up. Whereas in our present number system, the value of the number depends on the position of the number. 

For example: In Roman numerals, the symbols “L” and “D” always represent the same value, just like the number “3” always means three whether it’s in the number 13 or 3,500,000. That’s why Roman numerals don’t have a symbol for zero.

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The birth of ‘X’ (ten) and ‘V’ (five)

In the beginning, Romans used ‘I’ to determine the number of units. But when it came to representing larger numbers (IIIIIIII…..), it became really difficult to keep track! Since the Romans were sharp (They conquered the Roman Empire, didn’t they?), they decided to cross out the original ‘I’ with a forward line ‘X’ to represent 10. This helped them represent 5 too! Since 5 is half of 10, they cut ‘X’ in the middle to make it ‘V’ which represented 5.

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Like any other great civilization (Greeks, Aztecs or Pre-Arabs) Romans, used the additive system, the transcript of what we have at present. Thus, V can only be V (five or 5).

There were different numerical systems created around the world. Each system has been created depending on the advancement of the civilizations that used them. Today, we use the positional system. In this system, the value of a character depends on its position.

For example: 3 has different values in the numbers 325 and 453. In 325, ‘3’ has the value of 300 and in 453, the number ‘3’ has the same value.

Uses of Roman numerals in present times:

1. Watches

2. Enumerate volumes, chapters and volumes of a work

3. Names of Popes, Kings and Emporers

4. Acts and scenes of a play

5. The appointment of congresses, Olympics, assemblies, competitions, etc.

Want to learn more about Math?

We hope that your question about ‘why there is no ‘zero’ in Roman numerals is answered. SKIDOS learning games help teach your kids about basic and advanced math fundamentals. Our ad-free and safe educational games are designed to sharpen your kids’ curious minds and make them ready for the future. Get a SKIDOS Pass and give your kids access to 40+ fun learning games, 1000+ teacher-designed activities and more! Create up to 6 profiles for your kids of different interests and ages. Watch fun educational videos about learning and more on our YouTube channel. DM us on our socials if you want to know about the history of mathematics or more! (Source: History of the history, Batanga, About History.)

By Ángela R.


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