Did you know? Roman Numerals on Clocks

Did you know…?

On the face of clocks, the Roman numeral IIII is incorrect, and it really should really be IV?

When one counts Roman numerals, it’s:

  1. I
  2. II
  3. II
  4. IV
  5. V
  6. VI

It is slightly confusing with the I and the V switching itself all over the place. But, the list is the way I learnt Roman numerals at university, despite be getting four and five wrong all the time!

There are many different acclaimed reasons as to why the clocks have IIII:

  1. King Louis XIV of France preferred the IIII over the IV¹, and requested that his clockmakers adhere to this, and thus is has been so since;
  2. The other is that the Romans actually never used IV, as it was the first four two letters of Jupiter (IVPITER); and it is a modern invention that was created after the invention of the printing press²;
  3. The IIII is more aesthetically pleasing, and gives balance to the VIII (8) on the other side.³

I always through it was because it was just easier for people to read. The proper numerals probably do annoy people, who actually don’t understand Roman numerals.

Which do you prefer: IV or IIII?

¹ Unknown, IV or IIII?, Newgate Clocks, https://newgateclocks.com/store/information/roman4, Paragraph 5, [Date accessed: 16 March 2015]. 
² Clifford A. Pickover, Why Don't We Use Roman Numerals Anymore?, 'Wonders of Numbers: Adventures in Mathematics, Mind, and Meaning', Chapter 2, pg. 282.
³ Ibid.

4 thoughts on “Did you know? Roman Numerals on Clocks”

  1. I really don’t have any preference as to whether we use IIII or IV, I guess it ultimately comes down to aesthetics.
    It’s hardly surprising that the Romans, who are credited with so many innovations and inventions, lacked any meaningful advancements in mathematics, just try to do maths using Roman numerals and you soon grasp the difficulties. With no zero and a complicated system to handle fractions, Roman numerals were soon rendered obsolete.
    The historically well known year 1666 is written in Roman numerals as MDCLXVI which utilizes all the most common numerals in their numerical order.
    The year 1888 requires an ungainly 13 Roman numerals to denote it – MDCCCLXXXVIII


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