As Super Bowl Sunday nears, they are already in the spotlight. No, I am not referring to the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs players who will be battling to be this season’s Super Bowl champions. Nor am I talking about Taylor Swift and her boyfriend, Travis Kelce, the star tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs. And “they” is not a reference to the Usher, Post Malone, Reba McEntire and Andra Day and others who will take the stage during the big game.
The ”they” I am talking about rarely gets attention and, in fact, are seldom seen. They have been around for a long, long time although not always understood by everyone. And they are missing zero.
If you guessed that the “they” that I am referring to are Roman numerals you are correct! Let’s take a look at the Roman numerals used to designate each Super Bowl and why they are used.
Letters for Numbers
The Roman numerals system was developed in ancient Rome out of the need to have common method of counting. There are 2 main theories as to the origins of the Roman numeral system.
According to the first theory, the Roman numeral system evolved from the earlier use of tally marks. The Roman’s use of tally marks is similar to what we still do today – vertical line, vertical line, vertical line, vertical line, and diagonal slash. Over time, the 4 vertical lines with the diagonal slash was replaced with the Roman letter “V”.
Mathematician Alfred Hooper proposed an alternative theory, although it only works for small numbers. Hooper believed that that Roman numerals digits are related to hand signals – but not like in football games!
He believed that Roman numerals I, II, III, IIII correspond to the number of fingers held up for another to person to see. He said Roman numeral V represents that hand upright with fingers together and thumb apart. The numbers 6 to 9 then would be represented by one hand in the “V” position and 1 to 4 long fingers extended on the other. The numeral X, (10) results from either crossing of the thumbs or holding both hands up in a cross.
The Fall of Roman Numerals
Roman numerals had a good run. The use of Roman numerals continued long after the decline of the Roman Empire. However, from the 14th century on, Roman numerals began to be gradually replaced by Arabic numerals largely out of necessity.
Roman numerals worked fine for simple addition and subtraction However, when it came to more complex math like multiplication and division, Roman numerals were extremely difficult, if not impossible to use. Other major flaws of Roman numerals are the inability to express fractions and lack of a value of zero.
Just imagine using Roman numerals to monitor your health, purchase food, or file your income taxes!
Remnants of the Past
Roman numerals are still used today, although not frequently. Roman numerals are often used in books to number chapters, or designate sections or subsections in legal and other documents. Page numbers in appendices or introductions are numbered with Roman numerals. Family names that are passed down are designated by the addition of a Roman numeral at the end – a tradition that is not limited to royalty!
But why are Roman numerals used to label each Super Bowl? Check out this edition of The Download for the answer!
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Enjoy the weekend!
Suzanne Daniels, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 1416
Birmingham, MI 48012
Office: (248) 792-2187
Email: [email protected]