Roman Numerals – History, Explanation, and Applications

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In ancient Rome, a numeral system was devised that was used for the purpose of counting, known as Roman Numerals. Roman numerals were considered the standard writing system throughout Europe till the late middle ages. The numbers in this system use a combination of letters from the Latin alphabet for representation. Modern roman numerals employ seven letters that are used to represent a fixed integer value. I, V, X, L, C, D, and M have the values 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500, and 1000. These integer values belong to the Hindu Arabic numeral system. If a symbol is placed after another symbol of equal or greater value, it gets added. For example, LX = 60. Similarly, if a symbol is placed before another one that has a greater value, it gets subtracted, e.g., XL = 40. Additionally, a bar placed over a number multiplies it by a factor of 1000. The Roman numerals were developed because there was a need for a common method of counting that could be used for communications and trade. Once you reach ten, counting on one’s fingers becomes a hard task, thus requiring a standardized system to measure values.

History of Roman Numerals

As the name suggests, Roman numerals are closely associated with the ancient city of Rome. The origins of this system are widely debated due to the lack of surviving examples; however, there are some accepted theories. The earliest form was the Etruscan number system. The Etruscans were the most advanced in Rome and came up with a counting system. They used symbols to represent numbers 1, 5, 10, 50, and 100. They wrote symbols that added to the number from higher to lower value which is the principle used for modern roman numerals also. As the times progressed, so did the representation of numbers via symbols. Finally, when the Colosseum was constructed CE 72 – 80, the Romans started using the numerals in the form that we see today.

Rules for Writing Roman Numerals

1. Only I, X, and C can be used as subtractive numerals to the left. V, L, D, and M cannot be used.

2. The number that is subtracted cannot be less than a tenth of the value of the number from which it is subtracted. Thus, X can be placed to the left of a C or L but not to the left of M or a D.

3. Only one smaller number can be placed to the left; however, this rule is sometimes violated for a number involving 8.


  • It is used to denote the names of Monarchs and Popes. They are read out as ordinals such as Pope Benedict XVI.
  • General suffixes are used for people across generations.
  • Hour marks on timepieces.
  • Page numbering of books.
  • They are used to denote hierarchical relationships.
  • The French Republican Calendar created in the French Revolution used roman numerals.
  • They are used to represent chapter numbers and book volumes.
  • Roman numerals are used to denote varying levels of brightness in photography.
  • They are used to designate the varying levels of earthquakes in seismology.


Roman numerals give an idea of how number systems developed; hence, it is an important topic for children to assimilate. Cuemath is an amazing online educational platform that helps children in building a robust mathematical foundation. By availing of the services of Cuemath, kids can master the subject in no time. As they have crystal clear concepts, good grades will follow as a consequence. Start your journey in roman numerals with Cuemath today!

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