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Why is the Roman numeral four represented by IIII on a clock face instead of IV?

Answer

Wiki User
03/28/2010

Roman Numerals Variations and Why

It's said, that in Roman times, they didn't use IV for 4, because IV are the first two letters of the name of their king of the gods, Iupiter (IVPITER, as it was written).

There are some clocks and sundials with 4 represented as IIII and some with IV.

This isn't just a clocks thing. Both methods of writing Roman numerals have been in use since the 1500s, possibly longer. Clock makers choose whichever number they feel is more aesthetically appealing and they often go with IIII because it balances better with VIII on the other side and makes the clock look more symmetrical. By the same token they use IX and not VIIII for 9 because it matches the III on the other side better.

Physicians traditionally use Roman numerals in lower case to specify the number of doses in a prescription. The lower case four(4) is usually written as iv, however, it can also be expressed as iiii - the explanation pharmacists often give, is they just count the dots on top - in other words, iiii instead of iv is for clarity. Perhaps more believable would be that it avoids confusion with the abbreviation "IV", which means intravenous, which could lead to a dangerous wrong drug administration route.

Strict Roman Numerals

Roman Numerals never put more than three of any numeral together in a number (at least not in a strict sense). So you would count I, II, III, and then by placing a smaller numeral in front of a larger one, you would subtract; IV is 1 taken from 5, and so on.

I 1

II 1+1

III 1+1+1

IV -1+5

V 5

VI 5+1

VII 5+1+1

VIII 5+1+1+1

IX -1+10

X 10

XI 10+1

XII 10+1+1

XIII 10+1+1+1

XIV 10-1+5

XV 10+5

XVI 10+5+1

XVII 10+5+1+1

XVIII 10+5+1+1+1

XIX 10-1+10

XX 10+10

...

Using above rules:

MCMLXIV 1000-100+1000+50+10-1+5 = 1964

Here is the Roman way of writing 1964:

MCMLXIV 1000+(1000-100)+(50+10)+(5-1) = 1964

M CM LX IV

As you can see, Romans had to be very good at adding and subtracting!

Not using above rules:

MDCCCCLXIIII 1000+500+100+100+100+100+50+10+1+1+1+1 1964

We can see how Roman Numerals get really long as the numbers get larger and by using four of a given numeral the numbers get even more long (which makes Roman Numerals less useful).