Roman Numbers – History, Meanings, Conversion and Use

Roman Numbers came from the beginnings of ancient Rome as the name of the number system suggests. It developed out of the need for a widely used and universally understood method of counting for the people of that time since having a universally understood method of counting is important for trade and communications. The counting system is based on counting on the fingers of a person’s hands which further grew more complex as the need for representing larger numbers arose.

There are seven basic symbols used in Roman Numbers represented by the letters M, D, C, L, X, V, and I which was initially used or invented around 900 and 800 years before Christ.


Roman Numbers Meaning and Origins

One line or I pertains to one unit or finger, the V pertains to five fingers or one hand, and X is equals to two hands.

The Roman Numbers with larger values were developed from other symbols which are:


  • Originally, this value was represented by the Greek letter phi — Φ
  • It is represented as a C sometimes, and also I and backwards C, like this: CIƆ — which looks like an M, especially to the ancients
  • The latin word for a thousand is mille, which is just a coincidence


  • Originally, the symbol for this roman numeral is IƆ —which looks like a D or half of CIƆ


  • Originally, the symbol for this roman numeral is the theta — Θ — and only later on that it became a C.
  • The latin word for a hundred is centum, which is just a coincidence.


  • Originally, this value was represented by a line placed over V and I, or by the letter psi — Ψ — which when flattened out looks like an inverted T, and then later on it came to look like an L.


How to Read and Write Roman Numbers

Roman Numbers are composed of a combination of various letters which symbolizes certain values and then finding the total value or worth of those values.

The Roman numbers are situated from left to right. It is the order of the numbers or the numerals which determines if you would need to subtract or add the values. You have to know how to add Roman Numbers and how to subtract Roman Numbers.

  • Roman Numbers are not that easy to read or to write. The most basic of numbers are formed by placing the letters together to sum up to the correct number.


I = 1                 II = 2                III = 3

But then, if we are to think of the next number which is 4, it is not written as, IIIII = 4. It is written as IV. We would tackle that on the rules for subtracting Roman Numbers.

  • One of the most basic and rules for adding Roman Numerals is the fact that you must utilize the biggest roman numeral possible at each stage, so 25 is written as XXV not VVVVV or XXIIIII. It can also be observed that numbers always go from left to right in decreasing order.


  • If a smaller in value letter is placed to the left of a letter with larger value, you subtract the smaller value from the larger one, so looking at our example; 4 should be written as IV not IIII.

There are three rules about the subtraction rule of Roman Numbers:

  • The symbols C, X, and I cannot be written more than 3 times consecutively.
  • The Symbols D, L, and V cannot appear with another symbol like it consecutively.
  • I may only come before V and X. X may only come before L and C. C may only come before D and M.

Writing Roman Numbers examples:

27 = XXVII

34 = XXXIV

81 = LXXXI


27 is (10 + 10 +5 + 1 + 1) so it is (X + X + V + I + I) or XXVII

34 is (10 + 10 + 10 + 4) so it is (X + X + X + {V – I}) which is written as XXXIV

81 is (50 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 1) so it is (L + X + X + X + I) which is written as LXXXI

With the above tips and rules on writing and reading Roman Numbers and a bit of practice, you will soon surely become a pro on it, or if you have some difficulty, you can always bookmark and use our free online Roman Numerals Converter.


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