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WulfbertieHow to work out Ancient Numbrals

WulfbertieArabic and Roman Numbrals

Roman NumbralsOur numbers were dreamt up by Arabs - so they are Arabic Numerals.  They are quite curly.  

However, the Romans weren't very good at counting so they had to come up with a system of lines for their Numbrals instead.  

Fortunately, stright lines are lots easier to carve into stone so dates are often written on buildings in Roman Numbrals.  Which is odd because the Arabs have lots of dates...  

...and there are no Romans left.  Not ancient ones anyway.  But that doesn't matter because the Romans didn't have a Numbral for zero so they don't know there are none of them around any more.  Just because the Romans didn't have a Nun, doesn't mean that Nuns aren't Roman. In a manner of speaking, most are.

WulfbertieCounting in Roman:

The Pope (Julius Cheeser) lives far away in the Cyst-y Chapel doing good things, being peaceful and mending pot-holes with divine in-fill-ability. He also insists on counting in Roman Numbrals.  Which is confusing because he lives in Italy, not Romania. In case you need to work out how many Popes there have been since Bertie's time, this is how you count in Roman:

Arabic Numbral

Roman Numbral


Arabic Numbral

Roman Numbral


0 The Romans didn't think nothing was important enough to have something to represent it. A circle goes round and joins itself back at the beginning. As there are no ends, that can be 'zero.'.   12 XII Oops - missed one.  But this is two lines after ten so you've probably got the idea by now.  
1 I A vertical line, is one line. So it must be "one."

14 XIV And - this is four more than ten.  And four is IV. 
2 II If you've got another one - then add another line to the first line. So two lines are "two."
15 XV Which makes five after ten "fifteen."  Or three crocodiles.
3 III Adding another one to the two you've got gives you three. So the Romans just added another line to the two they had. This is getting a bit predictable. 40 XL ...and when the Romans got to forty they realised they needed a new symbol for fifty.

Forty, you see, is ten less than fifty (50 minus 10). And they had X for ten.  So they needed something to put the X in front of.

They chose L (for fifty).  So "forty" is X before L.
4 IV Aha! Four lines would have been a bit boring.  But the Romans knew that four was one before five, so they put one line before their symbol for five, which is:.... 47 XLVII Forty seven requires Romans to write their symbols for five (V)  and two (II) after their symbols for forty (XL).

So everything starts getting a bit long.
5 V A new symbol for "Five."  There are five fingers on your hand, and you can form your hand into a V shape (which also allows you to pretend to be a crocodile). That seems like a good enough reason.
50 L Phew - got to Fifty.  Gets simple again.

Presumably they chose L because fifty is Lots or Loads or something in Latin.
6 VI Six is one after five.  So they put one line after their symbol for five.  Very logical.
74 LXXIV But when you get to seventy-four, you need fifty and ten and ten and four.  
7 VII And, predictably, for seven they just added another one of those lines.
93 XCIII And guess what - ninety is ten (X) before a hundred (or C for Century)..  So ninety is XC.  

Plus three lines for "three" of course.
8 VIII And eight follows the rigorous system.  Add another line.  That's three lines after V for "five".  Three plus five is eight.  So is five plus three.  Very convenient.
100 C Hurrah!
9 IX And now we are one before ten.  So the Romans put a one before their new symbol for ten.  
555 DLV And five hundred gets its own symbol.  This time D.  We don't know why and there are no Romans around to ask.

Add Fifty-five which is fifty plus five.
10 X Ten is like five but a V shape (which means five) pointing up and a V shape (another five) pointing down.  Two hands - two crocodiles.  Five plus five is Ten. 1009 MIX And a thousand is M, like millenium.  (Don't ask what 5000 would be).

And if the Romans wrote one thousand and nine - it forms a word!

The Romans left Glewcaster in Ancient Times - long before Wulfbertie was born.  But they carved lots of stones and the towns-people used those stones to build things.  Wulfbertie saw them and they are still there.

There was already loads of history when Wulfbertie was born.  Just think how much more there is now.

Many of the things Wulfbertie saw in the dark ages are now in the Gloucester museum.   Wulfbertie supports Gloucester (Glewcaster) Cathedral Gloucester Cathedral

All drawings by Paul Evans.  
Tilebury clever stories to entertain adults and childrenThe Brothers, Uncles, Beogren and other adults like to read clever stories at Tilebury

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