Why is the Roman Numeral IIII Used Instead of IV?
It appears that no one really knows why is the roman numeral IIII is used
instead of IV on clocks and watches, but there are quite a few
theories. The best discussions I've found on the subject are Gordon
Uber's FAQ: Roman
IIII vs IV web page and Donn Lathrop's To IV, or Not to
IV web page.
It is likely that the use of IIII instead of IV has several causes.
Some of the theories include:
Using IIII brings more symmetry and balance to the dial. The IIII
offsets the heavy VIII that is found on the other side. This theory,
I think, is probably the strongest theory for the use of IIII.
The strict use of IV instead of IIII wasn't common until after the
middle ages, the Romans generally used IIII. Clocks (and watches) are
patterned after sundials, which were in use long before the middle
ages. I think this is probably the second strongest reason. There is
a lot of tradition in watches and clocks.
Using four I's instead of one I and one V makes it easier to cast the
metal numerals. This theory seems kind of weak to me. Why would
watchmakers and clockmakers, who spend gobs of time making complicated
mechanisms, fancy dials, and beautiful cases, choose IIII over IV just
because it is slightly easier to make?
The first two letters of Jupiter would often be written as IV because
curved letters are hard to cut into stone. Therefore some people
thought it was sacrilegious to use IV. Of course, few people still
worshiped Jupiter when the first clocks were being made, so this
doesn't seem to be a very strong theory on its own. It may have
influenced the Romans in their use of IIII instead of IV.
There are various stories about how various kings either declared IIII
to be correct, or objecting to the use of IV because they were King
Something the IV. The problem with these stories is that the use of
IIII generally preceded these various kings, the theory doesn't
explain the wide spread usage of IIII across all kindoms, and the
lack of details and contradictions in the stories make them all sound
like urban legends.
Most watch and clockmakers were just ordinary folks, but it would have
taken a doctor or a registered nurse to give an "IV." (This bad joke is
complements of Steve Maddox.)
While I'm not an expert, I believe the information on this page is
correct. Please send suggestions and corrections to
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This web page was last changed on 11/22/2002 at 10:59:26.