What are the Roman Numerals?

Roman Numerals

The ancient Romans used numerals that look like letters.  To write any number they had to use the letters I, V, X, L, C, D and M.  The numbers 1,2,3 were written, I, II, III.  Number 4 was written IV, or d (V) minus I, number 6 was VI, or 5 plus one, and so on.

A Roman schoolboy would write the first 10 numbers thus, I,II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X.  He used the letter L to stand for 50, C for 100, D for 500, and M for 1,000.  The Romans had no zero in their system.  To write 205, they wrote “CCV”.  The number 1867 would look “MDCCCLXVII”.

For centuries the Roman way of writing numbers was used in Europe.  Later, people discovered the Arabs had a better way of writing numbers.

With the Arabic system, any number could be written using only 10 numbers (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).  Roman numerals are still used for special purposes—dates on buildings, chapters in books and numerals on some clocks, for example.

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