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The Origin of the Latin Numerals 1 to 1000

Paul Keyser
American Journal of Archaeology
Vol. 92, No. 4 (Oct., 1988), pp. 529-546
DOI: 10.2307/505248
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/505248
Page Count: 18
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The Origin of the Latin Numerals 1 to 1000
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Abstract

The standard theory of the origin of Latin numerals, found in all the best handbooks, is that of Mommsen (1850). He explains I, V, and X on a pictographic principle, and L, C, and ↀ = 1000 as forms of Greek letters (aspirates) unused in Latin. There are four other important theories: a long-rejected one proposed by the fifth-century A. C. grammarian Priscian, a tally-mark theory (dating back to 1546), various pictographic theories (dating back to 1655), and various acrophonic theories. The tally-mark theory, though held by numerous scholars through the end of the 19th century, has received little attention in the last 75 years. Mommsen's mixed theory and the other four important theories are critically reviewed. Available numismatic and epigraphical evidence, certain logical principles, and historical considerations are adduced to support the rejection of Mommsen's theory and the acceptance of a theory which holds that the Latin numerals are Etruscan tally-mark numerals which have undergone some alteration and abbreviation of their forms.

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