Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Roman stone carving of a tax collector calculating someone's taxes on an abacus

Roman tax collector calculating someone’s taxes on an abacus (Metz, ca. 225 AD)

Did you figure it out? Poor Claudia died when she was 25 years old, seven months, and fourteen days. It’s very likely that she died giving birth to a baby, though it could have been dysentery or cancer or another illness.

Now for the extra problems: In Roman numbers, these numbers would look like this:

314 = CCCXIV

26 = XXVI

1975 = MCMLXXV

2010 = MMX

What problems do you think this system of numbers would cause for Roman children who were learning to multiply and divide, or even to add large numbers? Would you be able to borrow or carry using these numbers? Why or why not?

In fact, because it was so hard, Roman children, even the ones who went to school, didn’t learn to multiply or divide big numbers on paper. They memorized their times tables, like you. For larger numbers, they learned to use a counting board, or an abacus. But they did a lot of multiplication and division by looking up the answer in a table. And most of the math was done by specially trained experts, not by ordinary people.

By the time Claudia died, in the 100s AD, Indian mathematicians were already using our modern numbers. But people in Italy didn’t start using them until the end of the Middle Ages.

Learn by doing: make an abacus
More about Indian numbers

Bibliography and further reading about Roman numbers:


First page of Roman Numbers
Indian numbers
Roman Science
Ancient Rome home