Big Roman Numerals

I recently saw that someone had listed his phone number in Roman numbers, probably to avoid spam-calls.  Creative!

Also, not entirely easy to do, especially when the last four digits are pretty high.

Ancient Roman numerals don’t go very high.  The ancients had a hard time imagining big numbers.  A Roman would say that a countless bunch of things was “600”.  Today, on the other hand, the Obama Administration has the opposite problem, but with trillions.

So, just as we solved the problem of symbols for liturgical texts, versicle and response, HERE, how about some of the Roman numerals from the Medieval period, such as the V with a bar over it to signify 5000?

For example, in the famous song there is the number


One way would be: DCCCLXVII-MMMMMCCCIX  – clunky with all those M’s, or … well… I don’t know the code for the character that looks like a V with a bar over it, but for backward C Perhaps U+2184 – (࢈) A number like the one in the other song, 777-9311 could be a real mess. We need a symbol for 10,000 such as 2182 (ࢆ) – thus with 2182 DCCLXX-M(&#2182)CCCII. No? And that other one with 2181 could be shorted to (&#2181)CCCIX. No? They are not displaying for me.

Any ideas?


Second try…:

Perhaps U+2184 – ࢈ A number like the one in the other song, 777-9311 could be a real mess. We need a symbol for 10,000 such as 2182 ࢆ – thus with 2182 DCCLXX-MࢆCCCII. No? And that other one with 2181 could be shorted to ࢅCCCIX. No? They are not displaying for me.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Lighter fare and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. fvhale says:

    Roman Phone Keypad with Numeral and Letters:
    Top row: [I ABC] [V DEF] [X GHI]
    Middle row: [L KLM] [C NOP] [D QRS]
    Bottom row: [M TVYZ]

    In an emergency, dial CMXI = “Ovia”!, a Latin girl’s name.
    NOP / TVYZ / GHI / ABC
    Just think of the fun you can have for hours trying to find Latin words to match Roman numerals for phone numbers!
    The “subtractive rule” (e.g. 4 as IV rather than IIII) is a medieval invention.

    Here are the “modern” rules for Roman numerals (from the ACM):

    1. The I, X, or C Roman numerals may only be repeated up to three times in succession. In other words, the number 4 must be represented as IV and not as IIII.
    2. The V, L, or D numerals may never be repeated in succession, and the M numeral may be repeated as many times as necessary.
    3. Only one smaller numeral can be placed to the left of another. For example, the number 18 is represented as XVIII but not as XIIX.
    Only the I, X, or C can be used as subtractive numerals.
    4. A subtractive I can only be used to the left of a V or X. Likewise a X can only appear to the left of a L or C, and a C can only be used to the left of a D or M. For example, 49 must be written as XLIX and not as IL.

  2. Salvatore_Giuseppe says:

    Perhaps not in the spirit of this exercise, but why not simply break up the phone number more?

    After all, the song is sung “eight six seven…” not “eight hundred sixty-seven…”

    Doesn’t make it much shorter, giving us
    VIII VI VII V III…oh right. we don’t do that because we have a zero.

    Nevertheless, you could still break the second half done, rendering
    which still necessitates the rather clunky rememberance that a single digit must always be preceded by a zero.
    Or would require the phone companies to cease and desist issuing phone numbers with numbers which do not exist.

  3. fvhale says:

    There is some historical claim that Bede and contemporaries use N for zero when computing the date of Easter, etc. N for nulla or nihil.

    So, you could take 867-5309 and write it as: VIII.VI.VII.V.III.N.VIIII or, with subtractrive VIII.VI.VII.V.III.N.IX
    That is a lot shorter than DCCCLXVII.MMMMMCCCVIIII.

    In The Book of Numbers (not from the Pentateuch, but from the mathematicians Conway and Guy), larger Roman numerals are given on p. 20, Figure 1.2.
    Roman 5000 looks like I with two stacked curvey flying butrress type things on the right.
    Roman 10000 looks like I with two stacked curvey flying buttress type things on left and right.
    50,000 has three stacked on the right.
    100,000 has three stacked on both sides, etc.

    I think the page is visible in the Amazon “Look Inside” of the book:

  4. Animadversor says:

    We need a symbol for 10,000 such as 2182 (?) – thus with 2182 DCCLXX-M(?)CCCII. No? And that other one with 2181 could be shorted to (?)CCCIX. No? They are not displaying for me.

    How’s this working:

    If you can see the symbols instead of little boxes (or whatever), then I’ll post a link to the reference I used to learn how to do it. I should note that, even if your browser has the inherent capability to render these symbols, you’ll still need to have a font installed that has glyphs for them and set your browser to use that font. Otherwise, I’ll have to do some more searching and experimenting.

    [I could see those!]

  5. fvhale says:

    I can seem them. Let me try to cut-and-paste: ? 5000, and ? 10,000

  6. Animadversor says:

    Everything needed was here, here and here.

    It’s possible, I guess, that if you’re using a sufficiently smart HTML editor that you will be able to enter the characters into the editor using the methods here. You’ll then see the desired character in both your editor and your web page, the editor having done the “translation” to the required HTML entity for you. However, with rare characters such as these, you can’t count on it, and it may be necessary to edit your HTML directly to insert the entities.

    Probably I ought to mention that the foregoing applies to Windows insofar as it pertains to making these little oddball characters appear in your HTML editor (and Word, Notepad, etc.). However, entering the entities directly into your HTML code such work just fine for Mac and *nix systems.

  7. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    Ahem :-)

  8. Animadversor says:

    Well, as promised, I posted where the info may be found, but the number of hyperlinks seems to have pushed that post into the moderation queue. Or maybe Father’s just playing with me.

  9. Cafea Fruor says:

    I don’t know who put this page together and if there’s any truth to his claim, but he suggests that it was once the convention that you could overline a numeral, which would make the numeral 1,000 times its value. So, L would be 50,000, or C would be 100,000. Since overlining is hard to do online, he uses underlining, but the com box here doesn’t allow the underline tag, so I’ll use bold text in its place. So 777-9311 could be:


    Underscording (if a com box allowed it…) would be easier than finding a special character, I’d think.

  10. Cafea Fruor says:

    Oops…I had a sentence or two out of order there, but hopefully it makes sense.

  11. Ttony says:

    I can’t help with the big roman numbers, but to avoid spam try using ??????????.

  12. The Cobbler says:

    As I understand it, there are two ways of doing this:
    A) Make sure you’re really writing the document in UTF-8 (or some Unicode-capable encoding), the HTML starts by specifying UTF-8 (or whatever encoding you’re writing in), and the server/blogging software doesn’t mangle the encoding on the way out.
    B) Use the HTML Unicode character designations (this appears to be the method attempted in this post, if my quick glance at the source isn’t misleading me).

    In either case, however, the browser — which is on the viewer’s end! — would have to have the symbols available to display, and I’m not an expert in that (actually, I’m not an expert in Unicode at all, I just have read enough to know the theory behind how it transcends the basic concept of an encoding set)… I’d imagine if the choice of fonts was left up to the browser that any one worth its salt would find the symbol, but it is conceivable either that the blog could specify the font and the version of that font installed on the viewer’s computer lacks the symbols in question or that the user’s browser could stick with whichever font is set as default even if that means not finding certain symbols. Plus, you know, is there a browser out there that’s actually worth its salt? Maybe if people who wrote HTML actually wrote it well and followed the standard the standard wouldn’t have had to be updated so many times and browsers would not have had to evolve so much just to keep up with both the evolving standard and the doofy things people do whether the standard allows it or not… (I see a lot of bad websites in my professional work — I actually think they’re written badly on purpose to make it difficult for bots and such to handle the site. Other sites I’ve seen aren’t so much badly written as they are not written at all, rather the output of a different level of programming — highly abstracted server-side programming that dynamically generates every inch of every page with barrels of AJAX and spittle, in which the HTML output is nothing more than bits and pieces of commands to the browser to display certain pieces of a site at any given moment. But I digress.)

  13. Gail F says:

    In the case of the phone number, it would be:

    viii vi vii v iii ix — we don’t say it as one big number either!

    As for the rest, I’m with the Romans. I will just say “a lot.”

  14. NoTambourines says:

    I understand this is a national chain, so…

    “DCCC, V-VIII-VIII, II-CCC, [Roman] Empiiiiiiiiiiire!”

  15. VexillaRegis says:

    Very amusing! I’m just terribly thankful for not being an accontant in ancient Rome…

  16. VexillaRegis says:

    accountant, sorry

  17. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    Dear Father,

    Your symbols aren’t showing up because they are being served as decimal values (e.g. 2184 decimal is 888 hexadeximal). That code point (U+0888) and others near it are empty. The clue is that the little box that replaces an unknown symbol on my browser page (and, presumably, yours too) shows the legend 0888 (mutatis mutantis).

    I don’t know what you entered; if literal numeric character references (e.g. “࢈”) you need to precede the code point with ‘x’.

    Exempli gratia:

    Entering “ↄ” gives this: “ↄ”. (You should see a reversed-c glyph, at least if you have a suitable font installed.)

    Entering “࢈” gives this: “࢈”. (You will probably see a little box containing “0888”.)

  18. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    Post scriptum:

    It seems that lesser browsers tend not to give the helpful hint and present an empty box for code points that can’t be rendered. 😞

  19. For some reason I can’t see the unicode characters on Firefox. I get the idea though.

    Ah, I see others noticed too. I see in the page source that there are some declarations to UTF-8, it could be the mySql table maybe needs to be declared to UTF-8. I don’t have as much experience with WordPress to know what the defaults are. Generally I will not use HTML escape characters for Unicode, as long as the source is rendered at Unicode then the browser should display it correctly. If you were to just hold ALT and then hit the numeric code(looks like Animadversor posted the link) all should be correct in the universe… or at least in the post. HTML escape characters can be ill tempered little guys and stubborn to cooperate(at least with unicode I’ve found).

Comments are closed.