Oh, as I said, that's just my opinion. I am aware that there are several different opinions out there. But, I dare saying, almost none of them are properly justified without relying on tradition/historical use (as opposed to the logic of the system).
My "conclusion" was thus based on logic purely, trying to follow the patterns of the previous numbers.
Firstly, I discarded MMMM as in no other previous number four instances of the same symbols appear. The roman system has somewhat of a mixed base (base 10 with the pseudo half-base 5), and the number immediately before a base/half-base is always subtracted. This happens at all levels, be it units, tens (base^2), hundreds (base^3), etc.
Second, I discarded IV
since all subtractions occur with the "unit" symbol of the same level (like XL, CD), or of the level immediately before (like IX, CM). The "unit" symbol of the V
level (which is tens of thousands) is M, not I. Actually, I is never used except is the (strictly speaking) units level.
In fact, you would see that most instances that use V
instead of multiple Ms (that is, those who tried a more serious approach) used V
MM, etc; instead of VI
and so on. I guess people haven't spent too muck time thinking of it.
Using a I-bar here goes not only against the previous-level approach. It breaks a wide set of logic rules:
- Never before two new symbols are introduced at once; this only happens one by one, in groups of base^n (using the base 10 and its pseudo half-base 5, this translates to 5, 10, 50, 100, etc) numbers
- It breaks the simplicity rule. If we already have a symbol for M, it doesn't make sense to use I, which is equivalent and adds ambiguity to the system. Each different symbol should have its own value. Duplicates are obviously a bad approach.
Now, I realise that this strict set of rules didn't exist in this exact formulation in the Romans' time. They were flexible enough to use IIII instead of IV several times (but not VIIII instead of IX, I must point out -- one more inconsistency).
So these rules may not be canon, may not be tradition. But we must remember that they didn't need to represent very big numbers often. If we truly want the system to be consistent and (more importantly) scalable, we have to stick to a set of simple common rules, instead of relying in exceptions which are in use as legacy/tradition only; not because they make sense.
PS - I do find it a pity that we can't have all thousands overlined/underlined, which would be a much easier way to read the symbols: for instance, 8,034 would be VIII
XXXIV instead of the ugly and less intuitive V
MMMXXXIV. But then, for consistency, we'd have to discard the M, having 2008 represented as II
VIII instead of the canon MMVIII. This was also something I tried to follow in my reasoning: relying on the current standards of use as much as possible, as long as they are widespread enough, that is.
A good solution would be having a different letter for 5,000. That way, most problems would be solved -- but we would still have the overline/underline only in the tens of thousands, which contradicts with our sense of using group separators for thousands. We logically expect both that the underline/overline covers the whole thousands section instead of just part of it; and we wouldn't read X
C it as fast as XIV
A workaround to this could be using I
instead of M everytime a number greater than 3999 is used. It would make more sense to the reader (actually it is what I implemented on my converter
, before I reached the conclusion that it was wrong), but would break the rules of simplicity as I stated above (and the symmetry, as I showed in my first post on this thread)
Actually, the only solution that would work would be dropping the M and using I
exclusively, as I stated above. So, given all this, do you agree that MV
is the correct way? Or would you choose dropping the Ms? Note the latter has been used historically, see for instance some examples here
, so there definitely would be some historical background to back us up. Actually, that link supports a theory that M is actually an evolution of the (I) form, which was a common way to represent thousands. This means that I
is even more canon than M!
So, what do you think of all this?