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Roman numerals
The numeral system of ancient Rome, or Roman Numerals, uses combinations of letters from
the Latin alphabet to signify values. The numbers 1 to 10 can be expressed in Roman numerals
as:
I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, and X.
The Roman numeral system is decimal but not directly positional and does not include a zero. It is
a cousin of the Etruscan numerals. Use of Roman numerals persisted after the decline of the
Roman Empire.
In the 14th century, Roman numerals were largely abandoned in favor of Arabic numerals;
however, they are still in use to this day in minor applications such as numbered lists or outlines,
clock faces, numbering of pages preceding the main body of a book, successive political leaders
or people with identical names, chords in music, and the numbering of certain annual events.
Reading Roman numerals
Numbers are formed by combining symbols together and adding the values. For example, MMVI
is 1000 + 1000 + 5 + 1 = 2006. Generally, symbols are placed in order of value, starting with the
largest values.
When smaller values precede larger values, the smaller values are subtracted from the larger
values, and the result is added to the total.
Roman numeral analysis
In music, roman numeral analysis is the use of roman numeral symbols in the musical analysis of
chords. In music theory related to or derived from the common practice period, arabic numerals
with carets are used to designate scale degrees themselves (scale degree 1), whereas in theory
related to or derived from jazz or modern popular music uses numbers (1, 2, 3, etc...) to represent
scale degrees (See also diatonic function).
In both theories, the roman numeral, number, or careted number, refers to a chord built upon that
scale degree. For example, I, 1, or 1, all refer to the chord upon the
Common practice numerals
The current system used today to study and analyze tonal music comes about initially from the
work and writings of Rameau's fundamental bass.
The dissemination of Rameau's concepts could only have come about during the significant
waning of the study of harmony for the purpose of the basso continuo and its implied
improvisational properties in the later 18th century.
The use of Roman numerals in describing fundamentals as "scale degrees in relation to a tonic"
was brought about by John Trydell's writing Two Essays in 1766. Alternatives include the
functional hybrid Nashville number system and macro analysis.
Major
MinorThey are also sometimes used to signify position. In this case, the number in Roman
numerals corresponds with the position number. For example, III means third position and V
means fifth.
Performance practice
In performance practice, individual strings of stringed instruments, such as the violin, are often
denoted by Roman numerals, with higher numbers denoting lower strings. For example I signifies
the E string on the violin and the A string on the viola and cello, these being the highest strings,
respectively, on each instrument.
History
PreRoman/Ancient Rome
Although Roman numerals are now written with letters of the Roman alphabet, they were
originally independent symbols. The Etruscans, for example, used I, , X, ,
8, , f
or I, V, X, L,
C, and M, of which only I and X happened to be letters in their alphabet.
One folk etymology has it that the V represented a hand, and that the X was made by placing two
Vs on top of each other, one inverted.
However, the EtruscoRoman numerals actually appear to derive from notches on tally sticks,
which continued to be used by Italian and Dalmatian shepherds into the 19th century.
Modern usage
Roman numerals remained in common use until about the 14th century, when they were
outmoded by HinduArabic numerals (thought to have been introduced to Europe from alAndalus,
by way of Arab traders and arithmetic treatises, around the 11th century) in practically all
mathematical and economical applications.
Roman numerals are still used today in several niche contexts. A few examples of their current
use include:
Names of monarchs and Popes, e.g. Elizabeth II, Benedict XVI. These are referred to as
monarchical ordinals; e.g. "II" is pronounced "the second". This tradition began in Europe
sporadically in the Middle Ages, gaining widespread use in England only during the reign of Henry
VIII. Previously, the monarch was not known by numeral but by an epithet such as Edward the
Confessor.
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