Roman Scribes

Roman Scribe


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Roman Scribes

Cato is famous not only as statesman or soldier, but also as author. He was a historian, the first Latin prose writer of any importance, and the first author of a history of Italy in Latin. Some have argued that if it were not for the impact of Cato’s writing, Latin might have been supplanted by Greek as the literary language of Rome. He was also one of the very few early Latin authors who could claim Latin as a native language.

His manual on running a farm (De Agri Cultura or “On Farming”) is the only work by him that survives complete. It is a miscellaneous collection of rules of husbandry and management, including fascinating sidelights on country life in the 2nd century BC. Adopted by many as a textbook at a time when Romans were expanding their agricultural activities into larger scale and more specialized business ventures geared towards profitability, De Agri Cultura assumes a farm run and staffed by slaves. Cato advises on hiring gangs for the olive harvest, and was noted for his chilling advice on keeping slaves continually at work, on reducing rations for slaves when sick, and on selling slaves that are old or sickly. Intended for reading aloud and discussing with farm workers, De Agri Cultura was widely read and much quoted (sometimes inaccurately) by later Latin authors.

Probably Cato’s most important work, Origines, in seven books, related the history of the Italian towns, with special attention to Rome, from their legendary or historical foundation to his own day. The text as a whole is lost, but substantial fragments survive in quotations by later authors.

Under the Roman Empire a collection of about 150 political speeches by Cato existed. In these he pursued his political policies, fought verbal vendettas, and opposed what he saw as Rome’s moral decline. Not even the titles of all of these speeches are now known, but fragments of some of them are preserved. The first to which we can give a date was On the Improper Election of the Aediles, delivered in 202 BC. The collection included several speeches from the year of his consulship, followed by a self-justificatory restrospect On His Consulship and by numerous speeches delivered when he was Censor. It is not clear whether Cato allowed others to read and copy his written texts (in other words, whether he “published” the speeches) or whether their circulation in written form began after his death.

On Soldiery was perhaps a practical manual comparable to On Farming.

On the Law Relating to Priests and Augurs was a topic that would follow naturally from some of the sections of On Farming. Only one brief extract from this work is known.

Praecepta ad Filium, “Maxims addressed to his son”, from which the following extract survives:

“In due course, my son Marcus, I shall explain what I found out in Athens about these Greeks, and demonstrate what advantage there may be in looking into their writings (while not taking them too seriously). They are a worthless and unruly tribe. Take this as a prophecy: when those folk give us their writings they will corrupt everything. All the more if they send their doctors here. They have sworn to kill all barbarians with medicine—and they charge a fee for doing it, in order to be trusted and to work more easily. They call us barbarians, too, of course, and Opici, a dirtier name than the rest. I have forbidden you to deal with doctors.”

Quoted by Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia 29.13–14.

  1. A history of Rome “in big letters” from which Cato taught his son to read.
  2.  Carmen de moribus (“Poem on morality”), apparently in prose in spite of the title.
  3. A collection of Sayings, some of them translated from Greek

The two surviving collections of proverbs known as Distichs of Cato and Monosticha Catonis, in hexameter verse, probably belong to the 4th century AD. They are not really by Cato.

Roman Numerals

Roman numerals are a numeral system originating in ancient Rome, adapted from Etruscan numerals. The system used in classical antiquity was slightly modified in the Middle Ages to produce the system we use today. It is based on certain letters which are given values as numerals.

Roman numerals are commonly used today in numbered lists (in outline format), clockfaces, pages preceding the main body of a book, chord triads in music analysis, the numbering of movie and video game sequels, book publication dates, successive political leaders or children with identical names, and the numbering of some sport events, such as the Olympic Games or the Super Bowls.

Symbol     Value
I     1 (one) (unus)
V     5 (five) (quinque)
X     10 (ten) (decem)
L     50 (fifty) (quinquaginta)
C     100 (one hundred) (centum)
D     500 (five hundred) (quingenti)
M     1000 (one thousand) (mille)

Multiple symbols may be combined to produce numbers in between these values, subject to certain rules on repetition. In cases where it may be shorter, it is sometimes allowable to place a smaller symbol before a larger value, so that, for example, one may write IV or iv for four, rather than iiii. Again, for the numbers not assigned a specific symbol, the above given symbols are combined:

II or ii for two

III or iii for three. The final character is sometimes “j” instead of “i”, often in medical prescriptions.

IV, iv, IIII or iiii for four

VI or vi for six

VII or vii for seven

VIII or viii for eight

IX or ix for nine

XLII or xlii for forty two

For large numbers (five thousand and above), a bar is placed above a base numeral to indicate multiplication by 1000:

V for five thousand

X for ten thousand

L for fifty thousand

C for one hundred thousand

D for five hundred thousand

M for one million

For very large numbers (five million and above), there is no standard format, although sometimes a double bar or underline is used to indicate multiplication by 1,000,000. That means an underline X (X) is ten million.

In general, the number zero did not have its own Roman numeral, but the concept of zero as a number was known by medieval computists (responsible for calculating the date of Easter). They included zero (via the Latin word nullus meaning nothing) as one of nineteen epacts, or the age of the moon on March 22. The first three epacts were nullae, xi, and xxii (written in minuscule or lower case). The first known computist to use zero was Dionysius Exiguus in 525. Only one instance of a Roman numeral for zero is known. About 725, Bede or one of his colleagues used the letter N, the initial of nullae, in a table of epacts, all written in Roman numerals.

The use of the ambiguous null does not help to make clear the notion of value zero, since it does not make difference between nothing, emptiness or undefined.

A notation for the value zero is quite distinct from the role of the digit zero in a positional notation system. The lack of a zero digit prevented Roman numerals from developing into a positional notation, and led to their gradual replacement by Hindu-Arabic numerals in the early second millennium. On the other hand, the lack of positional notation may have prevented the Romans from developing a “zero”. Which affected which, is not certain.


Although the Roman numerals are now written with letters of the Roman alphabet, they were originally separate symbols. The Etruscans, for example, used I Λ X ⋔ 8 ⊕ for I V X L C M.

They appear to derive from notches on tally sticks, such as those used by Italian and Dalmatian shepherds into the 19th century. Thus, the I descends from a notch scored across the stick. Every fifth notch was double cut (⋀, ⋁, ⋋, ⋌, etc.), and every tenth was cross cut (X), much like European tally marks today. This produced a positional system: Eight on a counting stick was eight tallies, IIIIΛIII, but this could be abbreviated ΛIII (or VIII), as the existence of a Λ implies four prior notches. Likewise, number four on the stick was the I-notch that could be felt just before the cut of the V, so it could be written as either IIII or IV. Thus the system was neither additive nor subtractive in its conception, but ordinal. When the tallies were later transferred to writing, the marks were easily identified with the existing Roman letters I, V, X.

(A folk etymology has it that the V represented a hand, and that the X was made by placing two Vs on top of each other, one inverted.)

The tenth V or X along the stick received an extra stroke. Thus 50 was written variously as N, И, K, Ψ, ⋔, etc., but perhaps most often as a chicken-track shape like a superimposed V and I. This had flattened to ⊥ (an inverted T) by the time of Augustus, and soon thereafter became identified with the graphically similar letter L. Likewise, 100 was variously Ж, ⋉, ⋈, H, or as any of the symbols for 50 above plus an extra stroke. The form Ж (that is, a superimposed X and I) came to predominate, was written variously as >I< or ƆIC, was then shortened to Ɔ or C, with C finally winning out because, as a letter, it stood for centum (Latin for ‘hundred’).

The hundredth V or X was marked with a box or circle. Thus 500 was like a Ɔ superposed on a ⋌ or ⊢ (that is, like a Þ with a cross bar), becoming a struck-through D or a Ð by the time of Augustus, under the graphic influence of the letter D. It was later identified as the letter D, perhaps as an abbreviation of the phrase demi-mille ‘half-thousand’. Meanwhile, 1000 was a circled X: Ⓧ, ⊗, ⊕, and by Augustinian times was partially identified with the Greek letter Φ. It then evolved along several independent routes. Some variants, such as Ψ and CD (more accurately a reversed D adjacent to a regular D), were historical dead ends (although one folk etymology later identified D for 500 as half of Φ for 1000 because of this CD variant), while two variants of ↀ survive to this day. One, CIƆ, led to the convention of using parentheses to indicate multiplication by 1000 (later extended to double parentheses as in ↁ, ↂ, etc.); in the other, ↀ became ∞ and ⋈, eventually changing to M under the influence of the word mille (‘thousand’).

Even though the Romans used a decimal system for whole numbers, presumably because of the number of human fingers, they commonly used duodecimal for fractions, because the divisibility of twelve (12 = 2×2×3), as opposed to that of ten (10 = 2×5), makes it easier to handle such common fractions as 1/3 and 1/4. On coins, many of which had values that were duodecimal fractions of the unit as, they notated these fractional quantities with a similar system to that of whole numbers, but based on one twelfth and six twelfths instead of one unit and five units. They used a dot • to notate an uncia (one twelfth) and more dots were added up to five twelfths. Then one half (six twelfths) was notated using the letter S for semis. Dots were juxtaposed to S to notate the fractions from seven to eleven twelfths, just like bars were juxtaposed to V for whole numbers from six to nine. Each of these fractions had its own name, which was also the name used for the corresponding coin:



A triens coin (1/3 or 4/12 of an as). Note the four dots •••• indicating its value.


Fraction     1/12     2/12 = 1/6     3/12 = 1/4     4/12 = 1/3     5/12     6/12 = 1/2     7/12     8/12 = 2/3     9/12 = 3/4     10/12 = 5/6     11/12     12/12 = 1
Roman numeral     •     ••     •••     ••••     •••••     S     S•     S••     S•••     S••••     S•••••     I
Name     uncia     sextans     quadrans     triens     quincunx     semis     septunx     bes     dodrans     dextans     deunx     as

The notation of Roman numerals has varied through the centuries. Originally, it was common to use IIII to represent “four”, because IV represented the Roman god Jupiter. The subtractive notation (which uses IV instead of IIII) has become universally used only in modern times. For example, Forme of Cury, a manuscript from 1390, uses IX for “nine”, but IIII for “four”. Another document in the same manuscript, from 1381, uses IV and IX. A third document in the same manuscript uses IIII, IV, and IX. Constructions such as IIIII for “five”, IIX for “eight” or VV for “ten” have also been discovered. Subtractive notation arose from regular Latin usage: the number “18” was duodeviginti or “two from twenty”; the number “19” was undeviginti or “one from twenty”. The use of subtractive notation increased the complexity of performing Roman arithmetic, without conveying the benefits of a full positional notation system.

Likewise, on some buildings it is possible to see MDCCCCX, for example, representing 1910 instead of MCMX – notably Admiralty Arch in London.




Another likely tale is that the low literacy rate made it difficult for some to do subtraction, where the IIII notation could simply be counted.


Clock faces that are labeled using Roman numerals conventionally show IIII for 4 o’clock and IX for 9 o’clock, using the subtractive principle in one case and not the other. There are many suggested explanations for this, several of which may be true:

  • The four-character form IIII creates a visual symmetry with the VIII on the other side, which IV would not.
  • With III, the number of symbols on the clock totals twenty ‘I’s, four ‘V’s, and four ‘X’s, so clock makers need only a single mold with a V, five ‘I’s, and an X in order to make the correct number of numerals for their clocks: VIIIIIX. This is cast four times for each clock and the twelve required numerals are separated:

The IIX and one of the IX’s are rotated 180° to form XI and XII. The alternative with IV uses seventeen ‘I’s, five ‘V’s, and four ‘X’s, possibly requiring the clock maker to have several different molds.

  • IIII was the preferred way for the ancient Romans to write 4, since they to a large extent avoided subtraction.
    • It has been suggested that since IV is the first two letters of IVPITER (Jupiter), the main god of the Romans, it was not appropriate to use.
    • The I symbol would be the only symbol in the first 4 hours of the clock, the V symbol would only appear in the next 4 hours, and the X symbol only in the last 4 hours. This would add to the clock’s radial symmetry.
    • IV is difficult to read upside down and on an angle, particularly at that location on the clock.

Louis XIV, king of France, preferred IIII over IV, ordered his clockmakers to produce clocks with IIII and not IV, and thus it has remained.


As it relates to the nomenclature of inorganic compounds, only IV should be used. For example MnO2 should be named manganese (IV) oxide; manganese (IIII) oxide is unacceptable.


Rules regarding Roman numerals often state that a symbol representing 10x may not precede any symbol larger than 10x+1. For example, C cannot be preceded by I or V, only by X (or, of course, by a symbol representing a value equal to or larger than C). Thus, one should represent the number “ninety-nine” as XCIX, not as the “shortcut” IC. However, these rules are not universally followed.

This ‘problem’ manifested in questions as to why 1990 was not written as MXM instead of the universal usage MCMXC, or why 1999 was not written simply IMM or MIM as opposed to the universal MCMXCIX.

Year in Roman numerals

In seventeenth century Europe, using Roman numerals for the year of publication for books was standard; there were many other places it was used as well. Publishers attempted to make the number easier to read by those more accustomed to Arabic positional numerals. On British title pages, there were often spaces between the groups of digits: M DCC LX I (relating to 1000 700 60 1 or 1761) is one example. This may have come from the French, who separated the groups of digits with periods, as: M.DCC.LXI. or M. DCC. LXI. Notice the period at the end of the sequence; many countries did this for Roman numerals in general, but not necessarily Britain. (Periods were also common on each side of numerals in running text, as in “commonet .iij. viros illos”.)

These practices faded from general use before the start of the twentieth century, though the cornerstones of major buildings still occasionally use them. Roman numerals are today still used on building faces for dates: 2007 can be represented as MMVII. They are also sometimes used in the credits of movies and television programs to denote the year of production, particularly programs made by the BBC.

Roman numerals remained in common use until about the 14th century, when they were replaced by Arabic numerals (thought to have been introduced to Europe from al-Andalus, by way of Arab traders and arithmetic treatises, around the 11th century). The use of Roman numerals today is mostly restricted to ordinal numbers, such as volumes or chapters in a book or the numbers identifying monarchs or popes (eg. Elizabeth II, Benedict XVI, etc.)

Sometimes the numerals are written using lower-case letters (thus: i, ii, iii, iv, etc.), particularly if numbering paragraphs or sections within chapters, or for the pagination of the front matter of a book.

Undergraduate degrees at British universities are generally graded using I, IIi, IIii, III for first, upper second (often pronounced “two one”), lower second (often pronounced “two two”) and third class respectively.

Modern English usage also employs Roman numerals in many books (especially anthologies), movies (eg. Star Trek), sporting events (eg. the Olympic Games, the Super Bowl, and WWE’s WrestleMania), and historic events (eg. World War I, World War II). The common unifying theme seems to be stories or events that are episodic or annual in nature, with the use of classical numbering suggesting importance or timelessness.

Sports teams can be referred to as the number of players in the squad with roman numerals. In rugby union, the 1st XV of a particular club would be the 1st and best team the club has, likewise for the XIII in rugby league, and XI for football (soccer), field hockey and cricket.

In chemistry, Roman numerals were used to denote the group in the periodic table of the elements. But there was not international agreement as to whether the group of metals which dissolve in water should be called Group IA or IB, for example, so although references may use them, the international norm has recently switched to Arabic numerals.

In astronomy, the natural satellites or “moons” of the planets are traditionally designated by capital Roman numerals, at first by order from the center of the planet, as the four Galilean satellites of Jupiter are numbered, and later by order of discovery; e.g., Callisto was “Jupiter IV” or “J IV”. With recent discoveries—Jupiter currently has 63 known satellites—as well as computerization, this is somewhat disparaged for the minor worlds, at least in computerized listings. Science fiction, and not astronomy per se, has adopted the use for numbering the planets around a star; e.g., Planet Earth is called “Sol III”.

In music theory, while scale degrees are typically represented with Arabic numerals, often modified with a caret or circumflex, the triads that have these degrees as their roots are often identified by Roman numerals (as in chord symbols). See also diatonic functions. Upper-case Roman numerals indicate major triads while lower-case Roman numerals indicate minor triads, as the following chart illustrates. In the major mode the triad on the seventh scale degree, the leading tone triad, isn’t diminished.

Roman numeral     I     ii     iii     IV     V     vi     vii°
Scale degree
(major mode)     tonic     supertonic     mediant     subdominant     dominant     submediant     leading tone/subtonic

Roman numerals often appear in crossword puzzles. For example, the answer to the clue “half of MCIV” would be “DLII”, or the answer to the clue “Ovid’s 552” would also be “DLII”.

Modern non-English speaking usage

The above uses are customary for English-speaking countries. Although many of them are also maintained in other countries, those countries have additional uses for Roman numerals which are unknown in English-speaking regions.

The French, the Portuguese, the Polish, and the Spanish use capital Roman numerals to denote centuries. For example, ‘XVIII’ refers to the eighteenth century, so as to avoid confusion between the ’18th century’ and the ‘1800s’. (The Italians usually take the opposite approach, basing names of centuries on the digits of the years; quattrocento for example is the common Italian name for secolo XV, the fifteenth century.) Some scholars in English-speaking countries have adopted the French method, among them Lyon Sprague de Camp.

In Poland, and Russia, and in Spanish and Portuguese, mixed Roman numerals are used to record dates (usually on tombstones). Just as an old clock recorded the hour by Roman numerals while the minutes were measured in Arabic numerals, the month is written in Roman numerals while the day is in Arabic numerals: 14-VI-1789 is June the fourteenth, 1789. This is how dates are inscribed on the walls of the Kremlin, for example. This method has the advantage that days and months are not confused in rapid note-taking, and that any range of days or months can be expressed without confusion. For instance, V-VIII is May to August, while 1-V-31-VIII is May first to August thirty-first. Note, though, that Spanish journalists use another format with the month’s initial for certain dates even if it may be ambiguous: 11-M marks the bombing of trains in Madrid on 11 de marzo de 2004, not 11 de mayo.

In Eastern Europe, especially the Baltic nations, Roman numerals are used to represent the days of the week in hours-of-operation signs displayed in windows or on doors of businesses. Monday is represented by I, which is the initial day of the week. Sunday is represented by VII, which is the final day of the week. The hours of operation signs are tables composed of two columns where the left column is the day of the week in Roman numerals and the right column is a range of hours of operation from starting time to closing time. The following example hours-of-operation table would be for a business whose hours of operation are 9:30AM to 5:30PM on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays; 9:30AM to 7:00PM on Tuesdays and Fridays; and 9:30AM to 1:00PM on Saturdays; and which is closed on Sundays.

I     9:30–17:30
II     9:30–19:00
III     9:30–17:30
IV     9:30–17:30
V     9:30–19:00
VI     9:30–13:00
VII     —

Since the French use capital Roman numerals to refer to the quarters of the year (‘III’ is the third quarter), and this has become the norm in some European standards organisation, the mixed Roman-Arabic method of recording the date has switched to lowercase Roman numerals in many circles, as ‘4-viii-1961’. (ISO has since specified that dates should be given in all Arabic numerals, in ISO 8601 formats.)

In geometry, Roman numerals are often used to show lines of equal length.

In Romania, Roman numerals are used for floor numbering. Likewise apartments in central Amsterdam are indicated as ‘138-III’, with both an Arabic numeral (number of the block or house) and a Roman numeral (floor number). The apartment on the ground floor is indicated as ‘138-huis’.

In Poland, Roman numerals are used for ordinals in names of some institutions. In particular high schools (“V Liceum Ogólnokształcące w Krakowie” – 5th High School in Kraków) and tax offices (“II Urząd Skarbowy w Gdańsku” – 2nd tax office in Gdańsk) use Roman numerals. Institutions that use “Instutition nr N” notation always use Arabic numerals. These include elementary (“Szkoła Podstawowa nr 5”) and middle schools (“Gimnazjum nr 5”).

Roman numerals are rarely used in Asia. The motion picture rating system in Hong Kong uses categories I, IIA, IIB, and III based on Roman numerals.

In the Middle Ages, Latin writers used a horizontal line above a particular numeral to represent one thousand times that numeral, and additional vertical lines on both sides of the numeral to denote one hundred times the number, as in these examples:

I for one thousand

V for five thousand

|I| for one hundred thousand

|V| for five hundred thousand

The same overline was also used with a different meaning, to clarify that the characters were numerals. Sometimes both underline and overline were used, e. g. MCMLXVII, and in certain font-faces, particularly Times New Roman, the capital letters when used without spaces simulates the appearance of the under/over bar, eg. MCMLXVII, which is often exaggerated when written by hand.

Sometimes 500, usually D, was written as I followed by an apostrophus, resembling a backwards C (Ɔ), while 1,000, usually M, was written as CIƆ. This is believed to be a system of encasing numbers to denote thousands (imagine the Cs as parentheses). This system has its origins from Etruscan numeral usage. The D and M symbols to represent 500 and 1,000 were most likely derived from IƆ and CIƆ, respectively.

An extra Ɔ denoted 500, and multiple extra Ɔs are used to denote 5,000, 50,000, etc. For example:
Base Number:           CIƆ = 1,000     CCIƆƆ = 10,000     CCCIƆƆƆ = 100,000
1 extra Ɔ:     IƆ = 500     CIƆƆ = 1,500     CCIƆƆƆ = 10,500     CCCIƆƆƆƆ = 100,500
2 extra Ɔs:     IƆƆ = 5,000           CCIƆƆƆƆ = 15,000     CCCIƆƆƆƆƆ = 105,000
3 extra Ɔs:     IƆƆƆ = 50,000                 CCCIƆƆƆƆƆƆ = 150,000

Sometimes CIƆ was reduced to an lemniscate symbol (ↀ) for denoting 1,000. John Wallis is often credited for introducing this symbol to represent infinity (infty), and one conjecture is that he based it on this usage, since 1,000 was hyperbolically used to represent very large numbers. Similarly, 5,000 (IƆƆ) was reduced to ↁ; and 10,000 (CCIƆƆ) was reduced to ↂ

In medieval times, before the letter j emerged as a distinct letter, a series of letters i in Roman numerals was commonly ended with a flourish; hence they actually looked like ij, iij, iiij, etc. This proved useful in preventing fraud, as it was impossible, for example, to add another i to vij to get viij. This practice is now merely an antiquarian’s note; it is never used. (It did, however, lead to the Dutch diphthong IJ.)

Table of Roman numerals

The “modern” Roman numerals, post-Victorian era, are shown below:
ASCII     Unicode     Arabic     Notes
none     none     0     N was used once (by Bede about 725).
I     Ⅰ     1
II     ⅠⅠ (or Ⅱ)     2
III     ⅠⅠⅠ (or Ⅲ)     3
IV     ⅠⅤ (or Ⅳ)     4     IIII (ⅠⅠⅠⅠ) is still used on clock and card faces.
V     Ⅴ     5     IIIII was rarely used in the Middle Ages.
VI     ⅤⅠ (or Ⅵ)     6
VII     ⅤⅠⅠ (or Ⅶ)     7
VIII     ⅤⅠⅠⅠ (or Ⅷ)     8     IIX was rarely used in the Middle Ages.
IX     ⅠⅩ (or Ⅸ)     9
X     Ⅹ     10     VV was rarely used in the Middle Ages.
XI     ⅩⅠ (or Ⅺ)     11
XII     ⅩⅠⅠ (or Ⅻ)     12
XIII     ⅩⅠⅠⅠ     13
XIV     ⅩⅠⅤ     14
XV     ⅩⅤ     15
XVI     ⅩⅤⅠ     16
XVII     ⅩⅤⅠⅠ     17
XVIII     ⅩⅤⅠⅠⅠ     18
XIX     ⅩⅠⅩ     19
XX     ⅩⅩ     20
XXX     ⅩⅩⅩ     30
XL     ⅩⅬ     40
L     Ⅼ     50
LX     ⅬⅩ     60
LXX     ⅬⅩⅩ     70     The abbreviation for the Septuagint
LXXX     ⅬⅩⅩⅩ     80
XC     ⅩⅭ     90
XCIX     ⅩⅭⅠⅩ     99     As opposed to the “shortcut” way IC seen above.
C     Ⅽ     100     This is the origin of using the slang term “C-bill” or “C-note” for “$100 bill”.
CC     ⅭⅭ     200
CD     ⅭⅮ     400
D     Ⅾ     500
DCLXVI     ⅮⅭⅬⅩⅤⅠ     666     Using every basic symbol but M once gives the beast number.
CM     ⅭⅯ     900
M     Ⅿ     1000     MIX=1009
MCMXLV     ⅯⅭⅯⅩⅬⅤ     1945
MCMXCIX     ⅯⅭⅯⅩⅭⅠⅩ     1999     Shortcuts like IMM and MIM disagree with the rule stated above
MM     ⅯⅯ     2000
MMM     ⅯⅯⅯ     3000
MV     ⅯⅠƆƆ     4000
V     ⅠƆƆ     5000     I followed by two reversed C, an adapted Chalcidic sign
VMDCLXVI     V M D C L X V I     6666     This number uses every symbol up to V.

An accurate way to write large numbers in Roman numerals is to handle first the thousands, then hundreds, then tens, then units.
Example: the number 1988.
One thousand is M, nine hundred is CM, eighty is LXXX, eight is VIII.

Unicode has a number of characters specifically designated as Roman numerals, as part of the Number Forms range from U+2160 to U+2183. For example, MCMLXXXVIII could alternatively be written as ⅯⅭⅯⅬⅩⅩⅩⅧ. This range includes both upper- and lowercase numerals, as well as pre-combined glyphs for numbers up to 12 (Ⅻ or XII), mainly intended for the clock faces for compatibility with non–West-European encodings. The pre-combined glyphs should only be used to represent the individual numbers where the use of individual glyphs is not wanted, and not to replace compounded numbers. Similarly precombined glyphs for 5000 and 10000 exist.

The Unicode characters are present only for compatibility with other character standards which provide these characters; for ordinary uses, the regular Latin letters are preferred. Displaying these characters requires a user agent that can handle Unicode and a font that contains appropriate glyphs for them.

Mnemonic devices

There are several mnemonics that can be useful in remembering the Roman numeral system.

The following mnemonics recall the order of Roman numeral values above ten, with L being 50, C being 100, D being 500, and M being 1000.

Lucky Cows Drink Milk

Lucy Can’t Drink Milk

Lazy Cows Don’t Moo

LCD Monitor

Little Cats Drink Milk

A longer mnemonic helps to recall the order of Roman numerals from big to small.

My Dear Cat Loves Xtra Vitamins Intensely


Also See: Arabic Scripts | Egyptian Scripts | Chinese Scripts | Scribes and Scripts