Happy New Year! And since the New Year is all about numbers (especially if you have come to look forward to Denise’s annual January 1 post on Let’s Play Math: form all the integers from 1 to 100 using (exactly) the digits 2, 0, 1, 1 and common mathematical symbols), here’s a picture of a number that I meant to post in
October November December.
Recognize this number? Even though it’s not written as LIV? This is from the 54th entryway to the Colosseum in Rome, which was built almost 2000 years ago when Roman numerals didn’t always use the subtraction property that we’re taught, where 4 is written as IV instead of IIII.
I found that to be interesting in and of itself, since I’d heard that the subtraction was a later addition but never witnessed it. But what’s weird? It wasn’t a sudden change. Here’s the forty-fifth gate:
The subtraction principle was used with 40, just not with 4. Which leads to a natural question: what about gate 44?
I’m bummed that we didn’t get a better picture of this, but you can kind of see all four Is after the L. Apparently, according to our usual font of knowledge, the reluctance to use IV is because that was the standard abbreviation for Jupiter’s name in Rome (IVPPTER), and this mixture of sometimes using four symbols in a row continued for more than a thousand years: in the 1390 English cookbook The Forme of Cury (here on Project Gutenberg) the author still uses IIII [as in the Table of Contents, where Section IIII is rapes in potage] and there are also some IV for section numbers and references to Edward, though those might be later additions.
And even 100 years ago [last year, in 1910], the Admiralty Arch in London uses MDCCCCX instead of MCMX in the inscription
ANNO : DECIMO : EDWARDI : SEPTIMI : REGIS :
: VICTORIÆ : REGINÆ : CIVES : GRATISSIMI : MDCCCCX :
(In the tenth year of King Edward VII, to Queen Victoria, from most grateful citizens, 1910).
So what does all this mean? Nothing much, except that Roman Numeral Rules were maybe not quite as hard and fast as I once believed.