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Greek and Roman Numbers and Numerals

One way to compare related languages is to look at the words used for numbers. Like contemporary Western culture, the Greeks and Romans had their own shorthand for writing numbers, but it lacked a number of features including the use of zero and place value. Aegean Numerals The earliest written numerals in the areas where Greek was eventually spoken are now known as Aegean. These were originally used by the Minoan civilisation, an early Bronze Age culture destroyed by the eruption of Thera, the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history (though still nothing compared to Mount Toba, which nearly wiped out the human race completely!) Attic Numerals An early Greek system used by 600 BCE, this was ancestral to Roman numerals and used the first letters of various numbers in Greek along with I for units. It runs as follows: 1 5 10 - 100 Note: in archaic Greek, H was used to represent an h sound. X 1000. 10 000. These numerals are combined rather like Roman numerals though without the subtractive principle, so the number 4444, for example, would be written . There were also, as in Roman, numerals representing five times a lower number rather than tens, which were written as , often archaically with the right leg shorter than the left, with the smaller numeral inside it. This system was taken over and changed by the Etruscans and eventually inspired Roman numerals.

Ionic Numerals These are similar to quite a few other systems, being based on the alphabet. This is also done, for example, with runes, Gothic, Hebrew and early Arabic, though of course Arabic came later to use Arabic numerals. Each letter represents a number, with later letters for multiples of ten and then hundreds:


Number 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9


Number 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90


Letter 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000

This system put a tick (') after a series of letters meaning a number rather than a word, but it also means that every Greek word also has a numerical value, which may be the explanation for the Number of the Beast mentioned in the Bible. This fact has been used in numerology and is also significant in Jewish mysticism and some names used in the Hebrew Bible because Hebrew used a similar system. There was also an M used for 10 000, which was a legacy from the Attic numerals, and the whole system came into use around 400 BCE. Large numbers: The Book of Revelation, which also mentions the Number of the Beast, also names a much larger number in words 100 million. However, this was quite cumbersome, using the words , or myriads of myriads. Archimedes, in his paper The Sand Reckoner, in which he estimated the number of grains of sand needed to fill the Universe, invented a system for expressing larger numbers. Since he arrived at a figure of a thousand decillion (long scale) or one vigintillion (long scale), he needed to express it. The system is described in the paper. In the early Christian Era, astronomers invented a more sophisticated system which died out in the fifth century. It introduced a zero and was used for fractions of degrees but not for whole numbers.

Etruscan Numerals The Etruscans of the Italian peninsula took the older Greek system and adapted it to their numbers, then their system in turn was adopted and adapted by the Romans. The symbols used were: I1 5 10 t 50 C 100. It can be seen from this symbol that the idea that C stands for a hundred is pure coincidence, as the Etruscan word for that number, though unknown, is unlikely to have begun with a C since it was not Indo-European and its alphabet does not have this letter. They were used like Attic numerals. Perhaps significantly, the Etruscan words for 17, 18 and 19 consisted of the words for three, two and one placed before the word for 20. This seems to anticipate the Roman practice of writing smaller numbers before larger ones to indicate subtraction, as covered below. Roman Numerals These have a long history, as they are still used today and originated, like the Etruscan numerals, on tally sticks, but like them also, were influenced by Attic numerals. They only began to be replaced in the fourteenth century when Europeans acquired Indian-Arabic numerals from the Islamic culture of what would become Spain and Portugal. Arabic numerals were initially not trusted because they did not seem to represent numbers pictorially, and were banned from use in accounts for a while. Much of the system is very well-known, particularly the lower numbers: I1 V5 X 10 L 50 C 100 D 500 M 1000 Numbers one lower unit less than a higher unit, such as four, forty or four hundred, ultimately came to be written in two different ways. The older method was simply to write four symbols from the lower letter, thus: CCCCXXXXIIII 444. Another method was occasionally used in Imperial times, where the next letter in the sequence preceded by the lower one was used instead, like this: CDXLIV 444. This became the norm later, though both forms are acceptable. Also in mediaeval times, the system was extended to

use almost all other letters of the alphabet to write various other whole numbers which don't fit directly into the system. Larger numbers can be written in two different ways. One method is to use a line above a letter to indicate multiplication by a thousand. The other method can be illustrated by thinking of the numbers C, D and M in a different way. C is an opening bracket thus: (. D is I followed by a closing bracket: I). M can also be written as (I). Each additional bracket then indicates a larger number: (I)) 1500 ( ( I ) ) 10 000. Numbers from 1 to 10 in Latin and some of its descendants (the Romance languages)
Number Latin Catalan French Castilian Spanish Portuguese Italian Romanian Dalmatian

I-1 II - 2 III - 3 IV - 4 V-5 VI - 6 VII - 7 IX - 9 X - 10

Unum Duo Tres

Un Dos Tres

Un Deux Trois

Un Dos Tres

Um Dois Trs

Uno Due Trei

Unu Doi Trei

Join Doi Tra Kwatro enc Si Sapto Guapto Nu Dik

Quattu Quatre Quatre Cuatro Quatro Quattro Patru or Quinqu Cinc e Sex Sis Vuit Septem Set Novem Nou Decem Deu Cinq Six Sept Huit Neuf Dix Cinco Seis Siete Ocho Nueve Diez Cinco Seis Sete Oito Nove Dez Cinque Cinci Sei Sette Otto Nove Dieci ase apte Opt Nou Zece

VIII - 8 Octo

Notes: Catalan is spoken in parts of northern Spain and southern France, in the Balearic islands and Andorra by a total of more than 11 million people, making it the largest language in Europe which is not official in any major country. It is the central Romance language, with the most features in common with the others. Castilian Spanish is referred to as such in order to distinguish it from Spanish spoken elsewhere in Spain than Castile and outside Spain, but in most respects is synonymous with Spanish. Dalmatian, also known as Vegliot, is an extinct language intermediate between Italian and Romanian spoken in the northwestern Balkan area, in a country known as the Republic of Ragusa, but died out when its last speaker, Tuone Udaina, was killed in an explosion in 1898.

Latin and Greek number words compared with each other and other related languages
Number Greek Latin Gothic Ains Gaulish Un-? Hittite Siyas Sanskrit Eka Tocharian A Sas English

, , Unum, una, unus Eis, mia, enas - duo treis Duae, duo Tres


2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Twai Threis Fidwor

Dui-? Tri Petwar

Daus Teriyas Meyawas

Dvi Tri Catur

Wu Tre Shtwar

Two Three Four Five Six Seven Eight Nine Ten Eleven Twelve Thirteen

Quattuor tessares pente ` - hex ` hepta ' okto ' ennea deka Quinque Sex Septem Octo Novem Decem

Fimf Saihs Sibum Ahtau Niun Taihun Ainlif Twalif

Pimp Suex Sextam Oxtu Nam Decam Sipta

Panc Sas Sapta Asta Nava Dasha Ekadasha Dvadasha Trayodas ha

Pany Sak Spat Okat Nyu Shak

` - Undecim hendeka - dodeka Duodeci m

Tredecim Threistaih Tridecam un? treis kai deka

Notes: Gothic is the earliest language used to write actual books which is closely related to English. The Goths were instrumental in the sack of Rome in 410 CE, which was in revenge for their treatment by the Romans. At this point, Gothic grammar is said to be more inflected than Latin. Their edition of the Bible, the Codex Argenteus, was printed in silver on purple in the fourth century, over a thousand years before printing became widespread in Europe. The Gauls were the Celtic people of today's France and their records survive today in other scripts than their own, though they may have had their own writing. The Hittites lived east of Greece and started the Iron Age by inventing iron smelting. The Tocharians were a people in Taklamakan and the easternmost Aryans.