N for Numeral

The history of Latin Numerals is a surprisingly controversial subject primarily because the Etruscan roots of Latin Numerals are cast in stone in Scotland.

Latin Numeral Evolution

The familiar [modern] Latin Numerals are an evolutionary end product.


The modern evolution of the Latin Numeral notation has been quite dramatic with many Medieval inventions being deprecated to produce the familiar modern notation.


And sometime after 1593 the letter M became the standard symbol for 1000.

The Roman numeral represents the number 1000, though it was not used in Roman times.



The early development of Latin Numerals includes the introduction of the Subtractive Notation shorthand whereby [for example] the numeral [for nine] “VIIII” becomes “IX”.

Subtractive notation is an early form of positional notation used with Roman numerals as a shorthand to replace four or five characters in a numeral representing a number with usually just two characters.

Using subtractive notation the numeral VIIII becomes simply IX.


This means historical Latin Numerals are subject to interpretation because [for example] XIV represents 14 [in the shorthand notation] and 16 [in the more archaic longhand notation].

Without subtractive notation, XIV represents the same number as XVI (16 in Arabic numerals).

With the introduction of subtractive notation, XIV (14) no longer represents the same number as XVI but rather is an alternative way of writing XIIII.


It appears the Subtractive Notation started to appear in the middle of the second century BC.

However, the subtractive principle is found on some early tombstones and on a signboard of 130 B.C. where at the crowded end of a line eighty-three is written XXCIII instead of LXXXIII.

The Roman System of Mathematics
Mary Lillian Copeland – Boston University – 1938


Overall, ancient Latin Numerals are a surprising diverse art form.



Early Latin Numerals include a mix of Latin and Etruscan symbols.


That the Roman numerals were probably derived from the Etruscans may be based on the following noteworthy peculiarities common to both;

(1) the lack of zero.

(2) the subtractive principle whereby a value may be diminished by placing before it one of the lower order, as IV for four

(3) the multiplicative effect of a bar over numerals, as XXX for 30,000.


Some of these ancient symbols are used today in the Berber Tifinagh script.


The Tifinagh alphabet is thought to have derived from the old Berber script.

The name Tifinagh possibly means ‘the Phoenician letters’, or possibly from the phrase tifin negh, which means ‘our invention’.

Omniglot.com – Tifinagh – Simon Ager

Antonine Wall Distance Slabs

The Antonine Wall has some interesting evolutionary examples of Latin Numerals.

The Antonine Wall, known to the Romans as Vallum Antonini, was a turf fortification on stone foundations, built by the Romans across what is now the Central Belt of Scotland, between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde.

Representing the northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman Empire, it spanned approximately 63 kilometres (39 miles) and was about 3 metres (10 feet) high and 5 metres (16 feet) wide.

Construction began in AD 142 at the order of Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, and took about 12 years to complete.

The soldiers who built the wall commemorated the construction and their struggles with the Caledonians in decorative slabs, twenty of which still survive.

The wall was abandoned only eight years after completion, and the garrisons relocated back to Hadrian’s Wall.



The interpretation of the Distance Slabs dotted along the Antonine Wall is a traditional cottage industry.

The Latin Numerals on these Distance Slabs reveal an evolutionary history that’s difficult to reconcile with the [official] 20 year lifespan of the Antonine Wall.

For example:

A Legion XX inscription uses:

An “overline” to indicate which Numerals should be multiplied by 1000.

The more archaic B [instead of D] to represent 500.


Another system is the vinculum, where a conventional Roman numeral is multiplied by 1,000 by adding an overline.


It has been stated that in Roman numeral notation, a vinculum may indicate that the numerals under the line represented a thousand times the unmodified value.

Mathematical historian David Eugene Smith disputes this.

The notation was certainly in use in the Middle Ages.



A Legion II inscription uses the “overline” to indicate single digit numbers – as in Legion II – but in larger numbers the letter I represents 1000 and a small I denotes single digits.


A Legion VI inscription uses a 1000 symbol that’s closely related to it’s Etruscan ancestor.



A second Legion VI inscription uses a very similar symbol – based upon straight lines – that also echoes it’s Etruscan ancestor.


Unsurprisingly, the mainstream distances itself from this untimely Etruscan connection.

The mainstream creatively transmogrifies the 1000 symbol into what can best be described as a very well rounded infinity symbol that’s said to be a Roman invention.


There is even a modern cock and bull story for this academic invention.


The old storyline was far too honest.


Especially as the old storyline leads straight back to a very Latin literate North Africa!

Priscianus Caesariensis (fl. AD 500), commonly known as Priscian, was a Latin grammarian and the author of the Institutes of Grammar which was the standard textbook for the study of Latin during the Middle Ages.

The details of Priscian’s life are largely unknown.

Priscian was born and raised in the North-African city of Caesarea (modern Cherchell, Algeria) the capital of the Roman province of Mauretania Caesariensis.



After all, they wouldn’t like anyone to understand the Roman Conquest of Britain occurred long before the [officially sanctioned] reign of Emperor Claudius.

The Roman conquest of Britain was a gradual process, beginning effectively in AD 43 under Emperor Claudius, whose general Aulus Plautius served as first governor of Roman Britain (Latin: Britannia).


They wouldn’t like anyone to understand that people were reading and writing Etruscan long after the [officially sanctioned] death of the “last person” who could read Etruscan – especially when that “last person” is meant to have been Emperor Claudius.

The last person known to have been able to read Etruscan was the Roman emperor Claudius (10 BC – AD 54), who authored a treatise in 20 volumes on the Etruscans, called Tyrrenikà (now lost), and compiled a dictionary (also lost) by interviewing the last few elderly rustics who still spoke the language.

Plautia Urgulanilla, the emperor’s first wife, was Etruscan.


And, of course, they wouldn’t want anyone to realise that the numerous incarnations of Legion VI [under Caesar, Augustus, Severus and Diocletian] are very good pointers to where the Roman narrative has been spliced and diced.

Legio VI can refer to any of the following Roman legions

• Legio VI Ferrata,
which served under Julius Caesar and later Mark Antony and Augustus Caesar

• Legio VI Hispana – VI Spanish Legion,
a little-known legion which might have been founded by Septimus Severus

• Legio VI Victrix,
which served under Augustus Caesar

• Legio VI Herculia,
levied by the emperor Diocletian


Sometimes it’s difficult to avoid concluding the historical narrative has been spliced and diced to create a desired happy ending.

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2018/09/28/the-great-splice/

A good overview of the Antonine Wall inscriptions can be seen here.

Gallery | This entry was posted in Books, Epigraphy - Inscriptions, History, Language, Latin Languages, Roman Chronology. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to N for Numeral

  1. John Miller says:

    How would arithmetic have been carried out using ‘I’s, ‘V’s, ‘X’s etc.?

    Addition would be easy. But how could multiplication, division etc. be possible?

  2. malagabay says:

    In a word: Abacus.

    The Ancient Romans developed the Roman hand abacus, a portable, but less capable, base-10 version of earlier abacuses like those used by the Greeks and Babylonians.
    It was the first portable calculating device for engineers, merchants and presumably tax collectors.
    It greatly reduced the time needed to perform the basic operations of arithmetic using Roman numerals.


    Numerals are a shorthand notation used to write numbers.
    Think Pitmans – Not Pythagoras.
    e.g. The shorthand for “quinque” is “V”.

    The shorthand notation probably developed from simple “finger gestures”.

  3. Pingback: P for Pederasty | MalagaBay

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