Roman Numbers

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Origin and History of Roman Numbers

The Roman numbers can be traced back to the 8th century BC when ancient Rome was founded. Roman number system has evidently outlived the Roman empire itself and has gone through various stages of evolution and popularization. Roman numbers were prevalent until the 14th century after which the Arabic system began to become more popular. 

Historians believe the Roman numeral system to be originated from the ancient Etruscan numerals. It is interesting to note that Etruscan numbers were derived from the Greek symbols, so the Roman numbers have a long list of ancestors.

Even though the Roman number system is heavily criticized due the absence of representation of zero and fraction numbers, it should be remembered that it did not prevent the great mathematicians and architects in the Roman era from constructing awe-inspiring buildings, having one of the greatest economies of that era, and make countless advancements in the field of science.

Latin letters are used to symbolize the Roman numbers, e.g. 2 is written as II, and 6 is written as VI. One of the many theories about the Roman number is that the shepherds were used to utilize tally sticks to count the animals in ancient times and eventually, the sticks became the symbol of the Roman numbers. For example, I represents a single unit, and X shows a cross-cut.

With the passage of time, different types of Roman numbers like the standard form, derived form, additive form, and irregular subtractive form have been established.

Flaws of Roman Numbers System

Even with a number of applications, Roman numbers have some disadvantages as well. For example, there is no Roman number equivalent of zero. Fractions cannot be calculated in Roman numerals which is a major obstruction in doing mathematical calculations using roman numbers.

Due to such drawbacks of the Roman number system, it was gradually replaced with the Hindu-Arabic numeral system in which number representation is easy and large mathematical and statistical problems can be solved.

Modern Applications of Roman Numbers

In modern times, Roman numbers can be noted at the side of the buildings, in a movie and series credits. Olympics and the reputable Super Bowl halftime show also use Roman numerals. The sequence of monarchs and popes is also marked using Roman numbers.  The groups of the periodic table are marked from I to VIII. Similarly, in astronomy, moons are numbered using the Roman system. Table contents and outlines of the chapters in ancient as well as modern books are written using Roman numbers. Most commonly, roman numerals are used on clock faces.