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« Dictionary Index « Definitions under N


The names of numerals are very different, not only in several parts of Asia, but in both North and South America.

“Small stones were used amongst uncivilized nations: hence the words calculate and calculation appear to have been derived from calculus, the Latin for a pebble-stone. Alphabetic letters had also a certain numerical value assigned them, and several Greek characters were employed to express particular numbers.

“The combination of Greek numerical characters was not well known to the Latins before the thirteenth century, although Greek numerical characters were frequently used in France and Germany, in episcopal letters, and continued to the eleventh century. But of all the Greek ciphers the Episema Episema was most in use with the Latins: it gradually assumed the form of G with a tail, for so it appears in a Latin inscription of the year 296. It is found to have been used in the fifth century in Latin MSS. It was reckoned for 6, and this value has been evinced by such a number of monumental proofs, that there is no room to give it any other. Some of the learned, with even Mabillon, have been mistaken in estimating it as 5, but in a posthumous work he acknowledges his error.

“Those authors were led into this error by the medals of the Emperor Justinian having the episema for 5; but it is a certain fact that the coiners had been mistaken and confounded it with the tailed U, for the episema was still in use in the fourth century, and among the Latins was estimated as six, but under a form somewhat different. Whenever it appears in other monuments of the western nations of Europe of that very century, and the following, it is rarely used to express any number except 5.

“The Etruscans also used their letters for indicating numbers by writing them from right to left, and the ancient Danes copied the example in the application of their letters.

“The Romans, when they borrowed arts and sciences from the Greeks, learned also their method of using alphabetical numeration. This custom however was not very ancient among them. Before writing was yet current with them they made use of nails for reckoning years, and the method of driving those nails became in process of time a ceremony of their religion. The first eight Roman numerals were composed of the I and the V. The Roman ten was composed of the V proper, and the V inverted (^), which characters served to reckon as far as forty, but when writing became more general, I, V, X, L, C, D, and M, were the only characters appropriated to the indication of numbers. The above seven letters, in their most extensive combination, produce six hundred and sixty-six thousand ranged thus, DCLXVIM. Some however pretend that the Romans were strangers to any higher number than 100,000. The want of ciphers obliged them to double, treble, and multiply their numerical characters four-fold; according as they had occasion to make them express units, tens, hundreds, &c. &c. For the sake of brevity they had recourse to another expedient; by drawing a small line over any of their numeral characters they made them stand for as many thousands as they contained units. Thus a small line over I made it 1000, and over X expressed 10,000, &c.

“When the Romans wrote several units following, the first and last were longer than the rest IiiiiI: thus vir after those six units, signified sex-vir. D stood for 500, and the perpendicular line of this letter was sometimes separated from the body thus (,) without lessening its value. M, whether capital or uncial, expressed 1000. In the uncial form it sometimes assumed that of one of those figures, CIƆ, CD, , thousand The cumbent X was also used to signify a similar number.

“As often as a figure of less value appears before a higher number, it denotes that so much must be deducted from the greater number: thus, I before V makes but four, I before X gives only nine, X preceding C produces only 90, and even two XX before C reckons for no more than 80. Such was the general practice with the ancient Romans with respect to their numerical letters, which is still continued in recording accounts in our Exchequer.

“In ancient MSS. 4 is written IIII and not IV, 9 thus VIIII, and not IX, &c. Instead of V five units IIIII were sometimes used in the eighth century. Half was expressed by an S at the end of the figures, CIIS was put 102 and a half. This S sometimes appeared in the form of our 5.

“In some old MSS. those numerical figures LXL are used to express 90. The Roman numeral letters were generally used both in England, France, Italy, and Germany, from the earliest times to the middle of the fifteenth century.

“The ancient people of Spain made use of the same Roman ciphers as we do. The X with the top of the right hand stroke in form of a semi-circle reckoned for 40; it merits the more particular notice as it has misled many of the learned. The Roman ciphers however were continued in use with the Spaniards until the fifteenth century. The Germans used the Roman ciphers for a long time, nearly in the same manner as the French.”

“The points after the Roman ciphers were exceedingly various, and never rightly fixed. It is not known when the ancient custom was first introduced of placing an O at top immediately after the Roman characters, as A° M° L° VI° &c” — Astle.

Numeral Letters
Roman Arabic
Unus, a, um I 1
Duo, ae, o II 2
Tres, ia III 3
Quatuor IV 4
Quinque V 5
Sex VI 6
Septem VII 7
Octo VIII 8
Novem IX 9
Decerm X 10
Undecim XI 11
Duodecim XII 12
Tredecim XIII 13
Quatuordecim XIV 14
Quindecim XV 15
Se- sex- decim XVI 16
Septemdecim XVII 17
Octodecim XVIII 18
XIX 19
Viginti XX 20
Triginta XXX 30
Quadraginta XL 40
Quinquaginta L 50
Sexaginta LX 60
Septuaginta LXX 70
Octoginta LXXX 80
Nonaginta XC 90
Centum C 100
Ducenti, ae, a CC 200
Trecenti, ae, a CCC 300
Quadringenti, ae, a CCCC 400
Quingenti, ae, a IƆ, or D 500
Sexcenti, ae, a DC 600
Septingenti, ae, a DCC 700
Octingenti, ae, a DCCC 800
Nongenti, ae, a DCCCC or CM 900
Mille M 1,000
Duo millia,
Bis mille
MM 2,000
Tria millia,
Ter mille
MMM 3,000
Quatuor millia,
Quater mille
MMMM 4,000
Quinque millia,
Quinquies mille
IƆƆ, or V 5,000
Decem millia,
Decies mille
CCIƆƆ, or X 10,000
Quinquaginta millia,
Quinquagies mille
IƆƆƆ, or L 50,000
Centum millia,
Centies mille
CCCIƆƆƆ, or C 100,000
Quingenta millia,
Quingenties mille
IƆƆƆƆ, or D 500,000
Decies centena millia CCCCIƆƆƆƆ, or M 1,000,000

If the lesser number is placed before the greater, the lesser is to be deducted from the greater; thus IV signifies one less than five, i. e. four; IX, nine; XC, ninety.

If the lesser number be placed after the greater, the lesser is to be added to the greater; thus VI signifies one more than five, i. e. six; XI, eleven; CX, one hundred and ten.

An horizontal stroke over a numeral denotes a thousand: thus V signifies five thousand; L, fifty thousand: M, a thousand times a thousand, or a million.

I, signifies one, because it is the smallest letter.

V.five, because it is sometimes used for U, the fifth vowel.

X, ten, because it represents two Vs.

L, fifty, from its resemblance to the lower half of C.

C, a hundred, centum.

or D, five hundred, the half of CIƆ.

M or CIƆ, a thousand, from mille. The latter figures joined at the top thousand, formed the ancient M. — Latin Vocabulary, 18mo. Lond. Valpy, 1823.

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