an easy way to remember roman numerals
Educational / Interesting Articles

An Easy Way to Remember Roman Numerals for Medieval Kings

A Useful System to Remember What the Roman Numerals of Kings and Queens from the Middle Ages Actually Mean

Maybe it’s to make myself feel better, but I like to believe you need to learn something up to 7 times before you finally know it. I’ve tried to memorize Roman numerals countless times to navigate book chapters and recognize medieval kings, but every few years I seem to forget again. Finally fed up I decided to create a helpful system so I never have to wonder which king was Louis IX or Phillip IV again!

If you too need a helpful system to remember Roman numerals for medieval kings and queens then this trick might work. Keep in mind that since we only need this system for recognizing medieval monarchs that we’ll only be going from numbers 1 to 39 (I to XXXIX), because once you get past the number 39 you enter a whole other world of unnecessary confusion. Besides, very rarely will a regnal number go above 8 (XIII), although there is a Louis XVI (the Sixteenth) from the 18th century.

roman numerals in order

If you need an easy way to remember all 1 to 1,000 Roman numerals then click here to read a post from WikiHow which talks about mnemonic devices. And good luck! You can do it. Although, as a quick side note, I do have a trick for remembering these larger Roman numerals that might help. Because L is 50, C is 100, D is 500 and M is 1,000, I like to say “LPs, CDs and MP3s” to help me remember the order. Because, historically for storing music, LPs came before CDs and CDs came before MP3s. Although I understand that kids 20 years from now might need a whole other system to remember what order LPs, CDs and MP3s were invented in…

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Now, as I was saying, instead of getting a chart of Roman numerals tattooed on your arm (something I seriously considered) I’ve discovered that the only Roman numerals you actually need to remember for medieval monarchs are I, V and X. Forget XIII and VII because if you can remember that I is 1, V is 5 and X is 10 then the only other thing you need is a system to calculate the other numbers when you come across them.

So now that you’ve remembered that I is 1, V is 5 and X is 10, here is my calculation system to remember the rest: If “I” comes before “V” or “X” then the “I” is subtracted. If “I” comes after “V” or “X” then the “I” is added. This is easy to remember because one comes before and the other comes after consistently in the Roman numeric system, so you can always know that IX is 9 and VI is 6, or XIII is 13 and IV is 4. This also means that XV is 15, because the V comes after the X. Now also note that you’ll never see a IIII in Roman numerals. Just accept it. You’ll also never see a IIIV. Why? It doesn’t matter for our purpose at least. Just know that with this system you’ll be able to recognize that Louis IV is Louis the Fourth, not Louis the Sixth. There, isn’t that easy?… Please say yes.

I know this system may not be best for everyone, and it doesn’t explain everything, but it works for me and if I ever have to know what CDXV is in Roman numerals (please, Universe, never make me have to memorize that!) then I’ll look it up, frankly. It’s 415 by the way.

If you weren’t able to take anything away from this then at least you know I’m not pretending to be smarter than I actually am. Although this work is important to me I hope to never have to write anything about numbers ever again, except the cool history of how Arabic numerals replaced Roman numerals across medieval Europe, because that’s really interesting and doesn’t actually involve learning math (and, for my memory’s sake, I’m so grateful we switched to Arabic numerals!). Now, before you go, if you have your own system for remembering Roman numerals then please share it in the comments below for the benefit of others passing through.

Cheers!

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