At the beginning of October Laura Bruno Lilly wrote a post called Family Travels MMXX. The symmetry of the date in Roman numerals caught my eye. MMXX for 2020 so much neater than MCMXCIX for 1999. (Hereby hangs another tale. If you would like to know why 1999 was not marked as MIM, click through to this website.)
At the time of reading this post I was pondering on what to stitch for my October kantha sampler, so thank you for the inspiration, Laura. Your use of this numbering system has also given me an idea for the November sampler, so a double thank you.
It is a long, narrow piece and was difficult to photograph. I used the kantha stepping stitch to form the letters and had fun working out how to stitch the acute angles. With three Xs I got lots of practice in negotiating the cross-over with my needle and thread. I started stitching from the middle of the cloth and so the second M was the first to be stitched. You might notice that it looks different to its companion M — this is because I had not yet found my rhythm and the length of the individual stitches is a bit too long.
While stitching this there was plenty of time to think about the use of Roman numerals. They were part of my education. The bigger numbers ( L for 50, C for 100, D for 500, and M for 1000) are not as familiar as the smaller numbers which are instantly recognisable to my brain. I was surprised to find that this is not the case anymore and suspect that this ancient numerical system is no longer taught to children. I write under correction. Google tells me that it is still taught, but scantily. While hunting and pecking on the internet I came across a useful article written by Paul Lewis on the use of Roman numerals in modern times. He notes that:
- Roman numerals are still mostly used for the copyright date on films, television programmes, and videos, for example MCMLXXXVI for 1986 and MMXX for 2020.
- They are also used to show the hours on some analogue clocks and watches. Here, though, the four is almost always depicted as IIII not as IV.
- Intel, the computer chip maker, called the new version of its Pentium processor launched in May 1997 the Pentium II. The next version was Pentium III. But in 2000 Intel unveiled its latest chip as the Pentium 4. Maybe Intel thought that Pentium IV was too difficult for people to cope with.
- They can be used for the preliminary pages of a book before the main page numbering begins.
- Sporting events are often numbered using Roman numerals. The Athens Olympics in 2004, the 28th games in modern times, were called the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad, showing that it is the 28th games of the modern era since the first in 1896.
In the USA the American football championship is called Super Bowl. The 54th game on February 2020 is called Super Bowl LIV.
- Monarchs are usually numbered in Roman – e.g. King Edward VII of England, Louis XIV of France. Popes are also numbered using Roman numerals so the late Pope was John Paul II, followed by Pope Benedict XVI. However, it seems that the current pope is simply called Pope Francis
- This form is also sometimes seen in naming eldest sons in American families where successive generations bear the same first name. The first time it happens the son is called Junior or Jr. In further generations Roman numerals are used.
- Roman numerals are used for paragraphs in complex documents to clarify which are main sections and which subsections so II.3.iv.(5). They are similarly used to show the volume number of periodicals e.g. vol.VI no.5.
- The first and second world wars are often referred to as World War I and World War II or even WWI and WWII.
- Roman numerals can be seen on public buildings, monuments and gravestones, sometimes when the inscription is in Latin but often just to give the date a certain gravity.
- Before the 18th century they were widely used for the publication date on printed books. Since that time they are still sometimes found on the title page, usually on specially printed or luxurious editions.
Up until the eighteenth century Roman numerals were used in Europe for book-keeping even though the Indo-Arabic numerals we use today were known in Europe and widely used in Europe from around 1000 AD. There are said to be two reasons for this.
- Adding and subtracting are very easy with Roman numerals.
- Indo-Arabic numerals can more easily be mistaken or forged – a 0 can look very like a 6 or an 8 or a 9 or be turned into one by a single stroke.
Although simple arithmetic may be easier with Roman numerals, multiplication and division, fractions, and more advanced mathematics are difficult and the lack of a zero is a particular disadvantage. So Indo-Arabic numerals slowly replaced Roman ones in everyday life.
Information from Paul Lewis‘s website.