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Super Bowl XLIX: A Roman Numeral Review

Super Bowl XLIX™ (49) logo - RF Cafe

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea - RF Cafe 

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, by Edition] Charles Seife on the history of 'zero' - very interesting. 

If you have a hard time interpreting - or even care about - the Roman numerals used to designate which number in the Super Bowl series this Sunday's game represents, you're in good company. My guess is that most people might be able to interpret a number like III as 3, or even XXXVIII as 38, but something like XLIX (49 - this year's Super Bowl number) causes something like Excedrin headache number XXIV to set in (see video below).

Excedrin Headache #24 Commercial

Even if you are are familiar with the Roman numeral system, did you realize that there is no character to represent zero (0) or that negative Roman numerals do not exist, formally, either? Zero was considered sacrilegious back in the day because it was considered an affront to a Creator who, it was reasoned, could never create nothing so there was no need for a number to represent what didn't exist. Yeah, it's sort of circular reasoning. Some writers say there is no zero because the Greeks and Romans, being manically efficient in mathematics, did not care to waste a place holder in any decade column simply to hold nothing. Negative numbers never were received well by the haute thinkers even though we now routinely equate subtraction with adding a negative number.

Roman Value
I 1
V 5
X 10
L 50
C 100
D 500
M 1,000

Table of Roman Numerals


One of the crazier rules of Roman numbers is that when you approach one number unit symbol less than the next symbol, the lower symbol is placed to the left of the next higher place unit symbol to indicate a subtraction. For example rather than writing 9 as VIIII, you write IX, or 10-1 = 9; XL is the same as 50-10 = 40. Hence XLIX is (50-10) + (10-1) = 40+9 = 49, et voila, Super Bowl 49.

If you don't really want to learn how to translate Roman numbers into standard form, you can always use one of the many online converters, like this one from They have a lot of other good info there about the counting system.

Enjoy the game... or at least the Carl's Jr. and other such commercials. 





Posted on  January 28, 2015

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