Roman Numerals to Hindu Arabic Number System

In 1170, Leonardo of Pisa, better known as Fibonacci, was born in Pisa Italy and is thought to be one of the most talented mathematicians of the middle ages. Most of his childhood was spent in North Africa where his dad worked as a merchant. This is how Fibonacci was exposed to the importance of numbers. The merchants had set prices for their goods and had to deal with set taxes on imports, etc. Once Fibonacci became a teenager, he began to travel the Mediterranean coast doing work for his father. While doing so, he learned many different systems for doing arithmetic and truly seen the many advantages of the Hind Arabic number system.

Contraire to what most might think, Fibonacci did not create the Hindu-Arabic number system. What he did do was make it accessible! In 1202, Fibonacci released the book Liber Abaci, meaning the book of calculations, which introduced the numbers system to Europe. The book sold the system itself by it simplicity of use. This new number system made expressing and doing math so much easier and all its greatness was expressed in the book. This book contains most of the methods for addition, subtraction, multiplying and dividing that is stilled learned in elementary schools. The book also contains his famous rabbit problem which also contains the famous Fibonacci sequence. Within this sequence also lies the golden ratio (1.31803…). The sequence can be found in many places such as nature, art, music, and is even used in computer science. This book significantly changed the way of the world of mathematics. It is crazy to think that over 800 years ago this number system was introduced and is still in prominent existence today. I think that we have used this number system for so long that it would be difficult to change again unless something as drastic as the change from Roman numbers to the new system was proposed or presented. Today, there is talk about how the number system is slightly flawed and sometimes difficult to learn. For instance, eleven and twelve really don’t even fit into the language of the number system very well and is sometimes difficult for children to learn. I can see the number system changing again one day but not to the extent that Fibonacci had presented.

Before the Hindu Arabic number system was introduced, Roman numerals were commonly used. Roman numerals were developed around 500 BC and consist of seven main symbols: I (1), V (5), X (10), L (50), C (100), D (500), and M (1000). Generally, the largest number was always on the left when writing with Roman Numerals. This is somewhat similar to how we think of our place value system today. The largest place value number is furthest left. In Roman Numerals, the numbers were added together left to right: LXVII → L + X + V + I + I = 67. With the new number system this was just done easier by adding 60 (the 6 hold the ten place and hence represents 60) with 7 (which hold the ones place). Roman Numerals further developed by using shorter notation. That is, instead of writing VIIII to represent 9, they would subtract whenever there was a smaller symbol before a larger symbol so that 9 could be expressed easier as IX (two symbols instead of five).

The Hindu Arabic number system further simplified the Roman Number system. However, we still see Roman Numerals often now days. For example, in chemistry compounds are written with roman numerals (Iron (II) Oxide, Iron (III) Oxide), clocks use roman numerals, book volumes, chapter numbers, and music markings (capital roman numerals to indicate major chords, lowercase to indicate minor). My question is why are we still using Roman Numerals today? Are we using them to show historical systems, the elegance, or do they still hold some significance over the Hindu Arabic system?


One thought on “Roman Numerals to Hindu Arabic Number System

  1. Good short piece. Do you think we still use Hindu-Arabic because that it’s optimal, or just good enough?
    Good question about the Roman numerals. Maybe they were just so important for so long?
    Complete: might include a bit on how Fibonacci sold the number system.
    Other C’s: +

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