How did the Romans do division?

How did the Romans do division?

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How did Romans do division in their numeral system? Was it by repeated subtraction or did they know anything faster?

The short answer, according to Turner (1951), is: we don't know. The Romans were not interested in recording theoretical mathematics, so we don't have any written accounts how they did it. It is assumed that whatever they knew was learned from the Greeks, but alas there is no Greek account (from the period) of a pure number division either, only of one dividing an angle (with minutes and seconds).

Turner notes that Friedlein (1869) was still the most comprehensive modern source on the topic, and goes on to reproduce from Friedlein a conjectured Roman division method using the abacus. This is a sort of successive approximation, vaguely similar to short division because it requires knowing only some multiplication tables (only by 10 and 20 in the example below), but there is no evidence the Romans used this method (as opposed to something else).

In the above method, the abacus is divided in two zones, but nevertheless only the remainder is represented on the abacus (the quotient is kept in the operator's head or elsewhere); the zone above the vertical divide multiplies by 5. It should be noted that even this method of representing Roman numbers on the abacus is conjectural.

I don't know if any more recent research has been done in this area.

As a side note (also from Turner), the Roman word for multiplication does imply repeated addition, but nevertheless the Romans likely learned from the Greeks a better method, based on powers of 10 (although unlike the modern method, it started from the largest power), first exemplified in Eutocius' commentary on Archimedes.


  • J. Hilton Turner, Roman Elementary Mathematics: the Operations, The Classical Journal, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Nov., 1951), pp. 63-74+106-108
  • Gottfried Friedlein, Die Zahlzeichen und das elementare Rechnen der Griechen und Römer und des Christlichen Abendlandes vom 7. bis 13. Jahrhundert (Erlangen, 1869)

The usage of using numerals for division neither existed nor was it necessary. Symbols were only used for recording results.

This also explains why the romans used their system because it is easy for recording. Big numbers first and easy to remember symbols for the different steps of 100,50,10,10,5,1.

The operations itself were calculated by an abacus.

People scoff often for because it seems something for a child, but an abacus is the fastest device for doing calculations, once muscle memory has learned to operate it effectively it is 10-100 times faster than a pocket calculator for addition and subtraction. I am not exaggerating, the first computers were doing contests against people with abaci and often lost.

ADDENDUM: If you had the idea that the romans must have used their system for calculating like we do with arabic numerals, don't feel that you oversaw the obvious, you are not alone. Gary Kasparov, former chess world champion, wrote in an essay

But let us return to mathematics and to ancient Rome. The Roman numeral system discouraged serious calculations. How could the ancient Romans build elaborate structures such as temples, bridges, and aqueducts without precise and elaborate calculations? The most important deficiency of Roman numerals is that they are completely unsuitable even for performing a simple operation like addition, not to mention multiplication, which presents substantial difficulties [… ]. In early European universities, algorithms for multiplication and division using Roman numerals were doctoral research topics. It is absolutely impossible to use clumsy Roman numbers in multi-stage calculations. The Roman system had no numeral “zero.” Even the simplest decimal operations with numbers cannot be expressed in Roman numerals. [… ] Try to write a multiplication table in Roman numerals. What about fractions and operations with fractions? Despite all these deficiencies, Roman numerals supposedly remained the predominant representation of numbers in European culture until the 14th century. How did the ancient Romans succeed in their calculations and complicated astronomical computations?

Correct, Gary, they did not use roman numerals, they used the abacus. D'oh!

On November 12, 1946 Private Thomas Nathan Wood of the 20th Finance Disbursing Section of General MacArthur's headquarters competed on a electric calculator against Kiyoshi Matsuzaki, a champion operator of the abacus in the Savings Bureau of the Ministry of Postal Administration.. Matsuzaki added 50 numbers of 3-6 digits in 1 minute 15 seconds which means he needed approximately 0.4 seconds for one digit.

You can do addition, subtraction, multiplication and divison with ease, even square root is possible. Any other operation is extremely hard. This also explains why higher mathematics needed such a long time to develop because so powerful the abacus is for basic math, so useless it is for understanding and using powers and exponentials.

Only the adoption of the vastly superior system of Arabic numerals allowed people to finally use numerals itself for mathematics, the Persian Al-Khwarizmi wrote 825 "On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals".

Gregor Reisch, Margarita Philosophica, 1508

In the image you see a contest between abaci math and numeral math. Abaci were finally abandoned and replaced with mental addition/paper addition and slide rules for multiplication and division which was the calculator during the 50s; it also supported higher math (powers, roots, logarithmic and trigonometric functions) in the necessary precision.

I'm not all that sure that Romans had much need to perform complex division that often.

Typcially, they used Abaci for general maths usage, and the Roman numerals were used for simple recording the results at the end of the process.

Wikipedia goes into the symbols and usage - but this tablet allowed fractional counting (the Ө column on the right).

Note, other than the fractional column (useful for Roman measures and money counting - for example, a Roman libra (pound) consisted of 12 uncia (ounces)), all columns have 4 pegs grouped, and 1 lone peg - the Romans would count from 1 to 10 as:

I - II - III - IIII - V - IV - IIV - IIIV - IIIIV - X

instead of the expected written approach we expect now because of the medieval invention of IV and IX shorthand:

I - II - III - IV - V - VI - VII - VIII - IX - X

As you can see, though, division or multiplication would still be impractical using an abacus like this.

You can find Stephen K Stephenson's video presentation of the technique described by Fizz here. You might like to follow the sequence of videos from the beginning.

There's a paper on that (Egyptians using division), with an example or two, of 153/9 and 17/3:

Egyptian division is basically Egyptian multiplication in reverse. The divisor is repeatedly doubled to give the dividend.

For example, 153 divided by 9. [… ]

The complication with Egyptian division comes with remainders.

For example, 17 divided by 3."

… and without an abacus.

The Origin of the Saying 'When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do'

‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ – a phrase that gives tourists in the Eternal City free rein to indulge in an extra scoop of gelato or feast on carbs at every meal. As well as signifying the benefits of following the local customs and traditions to strangers in a foreign land, the expression is also commonly used in everyday situations where following the status quo seems like the best idea. It’s such a cliché nowadays that simply saying ‘when in Rome…’ still gets the point across, but where did it come from? And who said it first?

The origin of the saying can actually be traced back to the 4th century AD when the Roman Empire was undergoing much instability and had already split in two. St Augustine, an early Christian saint, moved to Milan to take up a role as a professor of rhetoric. Unlike in his previous church in Rome, he found the congregation didn’t fast on Saturdays.

The older and wiser St Ambrose, at that time the bishop of Milan, offered up some sage words. ‘Romanum venio, ieiuno Sabbato hic sum, non ieiuno: sic etiam tu, ad quam forte ecclesiam veneris, eius morem serva, si cuiquam non vis esse scandalum nec quemquam tibi.’

In other words, ‘when I go to Rome, I fast on Saturday, but here I do not. Do you also follow the custom of whatever church you attend, if you do not want to give or receive scandal [?]’

St Augustine later wrote down the prudent words of St Ambrose in a letter allowing modern scholars to pinpoint the origins of the expression to a particular event in history. Sources date the letter from between 387–390 AD.

Skip forward a millennium, and Henry Porter came close to the modern version of the phrase in his 1599 play The Pleasant History of the Two Angry Women of Abington: ‘Nay, I hope, as I have temperance to forbear drink, so have I patience to endure drink: Ile do as company dooth for when a man doth to Rome come, he must do as there is done.’

Porter might have advocated doing as the Romans do when it comes to drinking, but it was Robert Burton in 1621 who is most widely credited with making the phrase famous, even if he didn’t use it explicitly. His book The Anatomy of Melancholy states: ‘…like Mercury, the planet, are good with good, bad with bad. When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done, puritans with puritans, papists with papists.’

By the time 1777 rolled around, the phrase was in use almost as we know it today, as evidenced in the Interesting Letters of Pope Clement XIV: ‘The siesto, or afternoon’s nap of Italy, my most dear and reverend Father, would not have alarmed you so much, if you had recollected, that when we are at Rome, we should do as the Romans do.’

In recent years a number of films, TV shows, books and songs have taken the title ‘When in Rome’ – all thanks to an early Christian confused about customs in his new church.

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Dear Jeff Sessions, are you aware that the argument you made today from Romans 13 was a central argument of the German Christian (Pro-Nazi) movement over and against the Confessing Church? Im not saying you are a Nazi, but you’re interpreting the Bible like one.

&mdash frsimmons (@frsimmons) June 15, 2018

For example, a tweet by Rev. David Simmons, an Episcopalian priest from Wisconsin, went viral after he wrote: “Dear Jeff Sessions, are you aware that the argument you made today from Romans 13 was a central argument of the German Christian (Pro-Nazi) movement over and against the Confessing Church? I’m not saying you are a Nazi, but you’re interpreting the Bible like one.”

Doris Bergen, a professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Toronto, tells Haaretz that there was never a need “to exhort Germans to be obedient to the regime, because it never occurred to most of them to do otherwise.”

Woven into the very fabric of the German Christian belief was the idea that state rule was supreme and not to be questioned, she notes.

Bergen, the author of “Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich,” explains that people who say the Nazis used this verse to justify obeying power “are both correct and, in a way, off-mark because the whole Nazi system rested on approval of the Christian population, which was 98 percent of the population.”

But the story of how it was used in Nazi Germany is more nuanced than is being presented, she and other historians say.

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“The idea some Americans have that there was a faction of Christians opposing Nazis – it was not like that,” Bergen notes. “Most Christians were Nazis and Nazis were Christians, and that’s just the way it was.”

Although there were some division between the Protestant factions in Nazi Germany, Bergen says they all remained inside the official Protestant Church, which was tied of the state. And Hitler and other Nazis officials did not cite biblical passages – Romans 13 included. They had a complicated relationship with religion, but knew it served their purpose for maintaining public support for the regime.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaking at the National Sheriffs' Association convention in New Orleans, June 18, 2018. Gerald Herbert/AP

Ties with Hitler

Another German sermon that alluded to Romans 13 took place on March 21, 1933, when Friedrich Karl Otto Dibelius – a German bishop and one of the highest Protestant officials in the country – spoke to new members of the German Reichstag about the paramount powers of state authority in neighboring Potsdam.

German historian Thomas Weber describes the impact of the sermon. “Here, the principles of Romans 13 were invoked by the Protestant Church explicitly in front of the nation and newly elected members of parliament, in order to justify the Nazi seizure of power and all the policies the Nazis had implemented following the seizing of power.” It was also in anticipation of the ‘Enabling Law’ that took place just three days later, “in which the German parliament dissolved itself and passed all legislative powers to the executive – Adolf Hitler,” adds Weber, a professor of history and international affairs at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

Dibelius referenced Protestant theologian Martin Luther when he said in his sermon, “From Rev. Martin Luther we learned that the church should not be allowed to interfere with legitimate state power if it does what it is called to do. Even if it turns hard and ruthless.”

Weber, the author of “Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi,” says that Dibelius later turned against the Nazis. But the damage was done. “He helped let the genie out of the bottle,” says Weber.

Heinrich Graf von Lehndorff-Steinort, a member of what is known as the 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944, reportedly told a cousin in a conversation before he was executed that Romans 13 was part of the reason it was difficult for him and others to form a resistance.

Christian Leaders To Jeff Sessions: The Bible Does Not Justify Separating Families

&mdash frsimmons (@frsimmons) June 17, 2018

Lehndorff-Steinort came from an old Prussian family and, as an officer in the German army, had witnessed the massacre of 7,000 Jews in Belarus in 1941. According to Weber, this spurred him to seek a way to stop the regime.

Slaveholders and apartheid states

Over the years, the biblical passage has also been cited by American slaveholders and the apartheid government in South Africa.

“The deeper point of why people are so angered by Jeff Sessions quoting this is because the verse is a symptom of a taint on the whole history of Christianity,” says Bergen. “Not just Romans 13, but all of Christian tradition has served to justify slavery, imperialism, and cultural and physical genocide, and is symptomatic of a deeper question: Whose side have the Christian churches been on?”

Rev. Simmons tells Haaretz he is also aghast that Sessions used the verse as a person in power, not noting the context in which Paul had been speaking – to a community of Christians who were being persecuted, to “keep their heads down so the authorities will stay off of us,” he recounts.

He says Sessions “twisted” the words and the context, and describes the whole episode as being “too much to bear.”

“American Christians are almost unanimously against this usage,” and the policy it is supporting, Simmons says, adding: “We need to take action because it’s morally bankrupt.”

Yehuda Bauer, a professor at Hebrew University, where he is a historian and scholar of the Holocaust – and himself a refugee from the Nazis – has been observing the fallout from Sessions’ comment with interest.

“American culture in my view has two contrasting elements: the liberal tribe and a tradition of violence based on the annihilation of American Indians and the history of black slavery, where separation of children and parents was customary.

“If Mr. Sessions wants to reinstate American slavery, that is his problem. But the problem of putting children in a Walmart shed in Texas is something no government [should] do, not even a radically conservative, violently nationalist government. I cannot imagine any government in Europe or South America doing a thing like this. It is going back to slavery. The fact that conservative Americans like Laura Bush are speaking out shows it’s no longer an issue of liberals or conservatives, but of simple humanity.”

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The Romans’ contributions to the arena of mathematics weren’t exactly mind-blowing, especially compared to their cultural forebears across the sea in Greece—the Pythagorean theorem is a hard act to follow. When it came to manipulating numbers, the Romans were pragmatists, not theoreticians. As you suggest, conquest, commerce, and engineering were their domains, all fields that do require a certain computational acumen. But the average Roman citizen learned only basic arithmetic in school, under the tutelage of a calculator, as math instructors were often called, unless he or she (but almost always he) needed greater knowledge for professional purposes.

And basic Roman arithmetic is largely rather simple, even for those of us spoiled by Arabic notation. Addition is no sweat, because complex Roman numbers already use what math pros call additive notation, with numerals set beside one another to create a larger number. VI is just V plus I, after all. To add large numbers, simply pile all the letters together, arrange them in descending order, and there’s your sum. CLXVI plus CLXVI? CCLLXXVVII, or CCCXXXII. And one of the advantages of the Roman system is that you don’t need to memorize multiplication tables. What’s VI times VI? Six Vs and six Is, which converts to three Xs, a V, and an I: XXXVI.

You can do all this because of the limitation Leonard pointed out above. Roman numerals don’t have what’s called place value, or positional value, the way digits in our system do. The value represented by the Arabic numeral 5 changes depending on its placement within a figure: it can mean five units, or five tens, or five hundreds. But to a Roman, V always meant just plain five, regardless of position. And before you chime in with “What about in IV?” keep in mind that the Roman numerals we use aren’t necessarily the ones the Romans used. Subtractive notation—expressing a value as the difference between a larger number and a smaller one set to its left—was rare in classical Rome and didn’t take off until the middle ages the Romans greatly preferred the simpler IIII to IV, XXXX to XL, and so on. (The IIII-for-4 notation survives today on the faces of clocks.)

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned long division—that’s where positional value really pays off. What’s CCXVII divided by CLI? The pile-and-sort method isn’t going to work here. For this one, as well as for the multiplication of larger numbers, you need an abacus. Not too much physical evidence survives, but judging from references in poems by Catullus, Juvenal, and others, and from contemporary devices found in Greece, the standard Roman abacus used glass, ivory, or bronze counters placed on a board marked off into rows and columns. (The counters were at first made of stone and called calculi or “pebbles,” the obvious root of several math-related words in English.) A later, more portable version (and this one we’ve found examples of) consisted of a metal plate with beads that slid back and forth in slots.

In either case, the columns or slots were labeled I, X, C, etc., corresponding to the ones column, the tens column, the hundreds, and so on up to millions the counters or beads kept track of how many you had of each. Essentially, abacuses allowed you to convert Roman figures into a place-based system, do your calculations, then convert back. Some, at least, could even handle fractions, using other specialized slots: though the Romans kept to base ten for whole numbers (as we ten-fingered creatures are wont to do), for smaller values they had a separate base-12 system, making it easier to work with thirds and quarters.

These devices remained in use for centuries after Rome fell. I’ve been talking about the Romans, but remember, their numbering system was still the only one that numerate medieval Europeans had at their disposal. After arriving on the Iberian peninsula in the eighth century, the Arabs introduced their own snazzy notation system (more accurately referred to as Hindu-Arabic), which made its written debut in Christian Europe courtesy of some Spanish monks in 976. Resistance to these foreign ciphers was fierce until the 15th century, when the invention of the printing press spread them widely enough that their utility could no longer be denied, sparking a mathematical revolution. And that’s why I’m able to tell you today that the square root of 41,786 is 204.41624201613725978. —Cecil Adams

Roman Numerals and Arithmetic

First of all, they're just *weird*. Why would anyone come up with something so strange as a way of writing numbers?

And second, given that they're so damned weird, hard to read, hard to work with, why do we still use them for so many things today?

I expect most people already know this, but it never hurts to be complete. The roman numeral system is non-positional. It assigns numeric values to letters. The basic system is:

1. "I" stands for 1.
2. "V" stands for 5.
3. "X" stands for 10.
4. "L" stands for 50.
5. "C" stands for 100.
6. "D" stands for 500.
7. "M" stands for 1000.

Standard roman numerals don't have any symbols for representing numbers larger than 1000. Some modern usages add an overbar, so that "V" with a horizontal line floating over it represents 5000, etc. But that's a modern innovation.

The symbols are combined in a bizarre way. Take a number symbol, like X. A group of that symbol appearing together are added together, so "III" = 3, and "XXX" = 30. Any symbol *smaller* than it that precedes it is subtracted from it any symbol smaller than it that *follows* it is added to it. The notation for a number is structured around the *largest* number symbol used in writing that number. In general (though not always), you do not precede a symbol by anything smaller than 1/10th its value. So you wouldn't write "IC" for 99.

1. IV = 4 V=5, I=1, I precedes V so it's subtracted, so IV = 5 - 1.
2. VI = 6 V=5, I=1, I follows V so it's added, so VI = 5 + 1 = 6.
3. XVI = 15. X=10, V = 5, I=1. VI is a number starting with a symbol whose value is smaller than X, so we take its value and add it. Since VI=6, then XVI=10+6 = 16.
4. XCIX = 99. C=100. The "X" preceeding the C is subtracted, so XC=90. Then the IX following it is added. X is ten, preceeded by "I", so "IX" = 9. Xo XCIX = 99. *(This example was corrected because I screwed up.)*
5. MCMXCIX = 1999. M = 1000. "CM" is 1000-100=900, so MCM = 1900. C = 50, XC = 90. IX=9.

For some reason (there are a number of theories of why), 4 is sometimes written IV, and sometimes IIII.

The roman numerals date back to shepherds, who counted their flocks by marking notches on their staffs. They didn't original use roman letters, but just notches on the staff.

So when counting their sheep, they would mark four notches and then on the fifth one, they would cut a diagonal notch, the way that in tallying we commonly write four lines, and then a diagonal strike-through. But instead of striking through the preceeding notches, they just used the diagonal to turn a "/" notch into "V". Every tenth notch was marked by a strike-through, so it looked like "X". Every tenth V got an extra overlapping notch, so it looked sort of like a Ψ and every tenth "X" got an extra overlapping notch, so it looked like an X with a vertical line through the center.

In this system, if you had 8 sheep, that would be "IIIIVIII". But the leading IIII are not really needed. So you could just use "VIII" instead, which became important when you wanted to do a big number.

When this system moved to writing, the simple notches became "I" and "V" the strike-through became "X", The Ψ-like thing became "L", Beyond that, they started using mnemonics so C, D, and M are all based on the latin words for 100, 500, and 1000.

The prefix-subtraction stuff came as it transitioned to writing. The problem with an ordinal system like this is that it involves a lot of repeated characters, which are very difficult for people to read correctly. Keeping the number of repetitions small reduces the number of errors that people make reading the numbers. It's more compact to write "IX" than "VIIII" and it's a lot easier to read, because of fewer repetitions. So scribes started using the prefix-subtraction form.

The most basic arithmetic in roman numerals is actually pretty easy: addition and subtraction are simple, and it's obvious why they work. On the other hand, multiplication and division are *not* easy in roman numerals.

To add two roman numerals, what you do is:

1. Convert any subtractive prefixes to additive suffixes. So, for example, IX would be rewritten to VIIII.
2. Concatenate the two numbers to add.
3. Sort the letters, large to small.
4. Do internal sums (e.g., replace "IIIII" with "V")
5. Convert back to subtractive prefixes.

So, for example: 123 + 69. In roman numerals, that's "CXXIII + "LXIX".

1. "CXXIII" has no subtractive prefixes. "LXIX" becomes "LXVIIII".
2. Concatenate: "CXXIIILXVIIII"
4. Internal sum: reduce the "IIIIIII" to "VII" giving "CLXXXVVII" then reduce the "VV" to "X": "CLXXXXII"
5. Switch to subtractive prefix: "XXXX" = "XL", giving "CLXLII". "LXL"="XC", giving "CXCII", or 192.

Subtraction isn't any harder than addition. To subtract A-B:

1. Convert subtractive prefixes to additive suffixes.
2. Eliminate any common symbols that appear in both A and B.
3. For the largest remaining symbol in B, take the first symbol in A larger than it, and expand it. Then go back to step two, until there's nothing left.
4. Convert back to subtractive prefixes.

1. Remove prefixes: CLXXXXII - LXVIIII.
2. Remove common symbols. CXXX - VII.
3. Expand an "X" in "CXXX": CXXVIIIII - VII.
4. Remove common symbols: CXXIII = 123.

Multiplication using roman numerals is not particularly easy or obvious. You can do the trivial thing, which is repeated addition. But it should be pretty obvious that that's not practical for large numbers. The trick that they used was actually pretty nifty. It's basically a strange version of binary multiplication. You need to be able to add and divide by two, but those are both pretty easy things to do. So here goes:

Given A×B, you create two columns, and write A in the left column, and B in the right. Then:

1. Divide the number in the left column by two, discarding the remainder. Write it down in the next row of the left column.
2. Multiply the number in the right column by two. Write it down in the right column next the the result from step 1.
3. Repeat from step 1 until the value in the left column is 1.
4. Go down the table, and cross out every row where the number in the left column is *even*.
5. Add up the remaining values in the right column.

Let's look at an example: 21 * 17 XXI * XVII in roman numerals

Left Right
XXI(21) XVII (17)
X(10) XXXIV (34)
V(5) LXVIII (68)
II(2) CXXXVI (136)
I(1) CCLXXII (272)

Then strike out the rows where the left hand side are even:

Left Right
XXI(21) XVII (17)
V(5) LXVIII (68)
I(1) CCLXXII (272)

Now add the right hand column:


Why does it work? It's binary arithmetic. In binary arithmetic, to multiply A by B, you start with 0 for the result, nad then for each digit dn of A, if dn=1, then add *B* with n 0s appended to the result.

The divide-by-two is giving you the binary digit of A for each position: if it's odd, then the digit there was 1, if it's even, the digit in that position was 0. The *multiply by 2* on the right is giving you the results of appending the zeros in binary - for the Nth digit, you've multiplied by two *n* times.

### Division in Roman Numerals

Division is the biggest problem in roman numerals. There is no good trick that works in general. It really comes down to repeated subtraction. The only thing you can do to simplify is variations on finding a common factor of both numbers that's easy to factor out. For example, if both numbers are even, you can divide each of them by two before starting the repeated subtraction. It's also fairly easy to recognize when both numbers are multiples of 5 or 10, and to do the division by 5 or 10 on both numbers. But beyond that, you take a guess, do the multiplication, subtract, repeat.

* **Why does a clock use IIII instead of IV?** There are a surprising number of
theories for that. The top contenders are:
* IV are the first letters of the name of Jupiter (I don't buy this one,
because the romans weren't particularly concerned about writing down
Jupiter's name) or the first letters of Jehovah in latin (more convincing,
since early christians did follow the jewish practice of not writing god's
* IIII is more symmetric with VIII on the clock face.
* IIII allows clockmakers to use fewer molds to make the numbers for the
clock face.
* The king of France liked the way that "IIII" looked better that "IV".
* Coincidence. Technically, "IIII" is as correct as "IV". So someone who
started making clocks just happened to be someone who used "IIII" instead of "IV". In fact, the Romans themselves generally preferred "IIII".
* **Why do we still use roman numerals?** No *practical* reason. Our society tends to be rather worshipful of the romans, and to consider Latin to be the language of scholars. So anything that wants to *look* impressive has traditionally used roman numerals, because that's what they used in latin.
* **Is there a roman numeral 0?** Yes, but it's not authentic. During the middle ages, monks using roman numerals used "N", for "nullae" to represent 0. But it wasn't the positional zero of arabic numbers it was just a roman numeral to fill into the astronomical tables used to compute the date of Easter rather than leaving the column blank.

Don Stewart :: Why Is the Bible Divided into Chapters and Verses?

Today, when we want to find a passage of Scripture, we look it up under its chapter and verse. Where did these divisions come from? Are they found in the original writings? If not, who decided how the sacred writings should be divided? There are a number of important points that need to be made:

1. There Were No Chapter or Verse Divisions in the Original

When the books of the Bible were originally written, there were no such things as chapters or verses. Each book was written without any breaks from the beginning to the end. Consequently, there are a number of important observations that need to be made about the present chapter and verse divisions that we find in Scripture.

2. The Books Have Been Divided into Chapters and Verses for Convenience

The chapter and verse divisions were added to the Bible for the sake of convenience. There is no authoritative basis for the divisions we now find. For the greater part of human history, there have been no chapter or verse divisions in Scripture.

3. The Origin of Chapter Divisions

The divisions of individual books of Scripture into smaller sections began as early as the fourth century A.D. Codex Vaticanus, a fourth century Greek manuscript, used paragraph divisions. These were comparable to what we find in manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible.

In the fifth century, the biblical translator Jerome divided Scripture into short potions, or passages, called pericopes. The word is still used today to refer to a self-contained unit of Scripture. His work proceeded the dividing of Scripture into chapters.

The actual chapter division took place much later. A man named Stephen Langton divided the Bible into chapters in the year A.D. 1227. The Bible he used was the Latin Vulgate. Langton was a professor at the University of Paris at the time. Later, he became the Archbishop of Canterbury.

These chapter divisions were later transferred to the Hebrew text in the fourteenth century by a man named Salomon ben Ishmael. There seems to have been certain changes made by Salomon ben Ishmael because the chapter divisions in the Hebrew text do not line up exactly with the English Bible.

4. The Origin of Verse Divisions

The modern Old Testament division into verses was standardized by the Ben Asher family around A.D. 900. However, the practice of dividing the Old Testament books into verses goes back centuries earlier.

Modern verse division for the New Testament was the work of Robert Stephanus (Stephens), a French printer. He divided the Greek text into verses for his Greek New Testament published in 1551.

The first entire Bible, in which these chapter and verse divisions were used, was Stephen’s edition of the Latin Vulgate (1555).

The first English Bible to have both chapter and verse divisions was the Geneva Bible (1560).

5. Chapters and Verses Are Helpful for Reference and Quotation

The chapter and verse divisions are convenient for reference and quotation purposes. They make it easier to find certain statements and accounts in Scripture.

It must always be remembered that the divisions into chapters and verses are human-made. They are sometimes arbitrary, and they sometimes interfere with the sense of the passage. The first step in Bible interpretation is to ignore the modern chapter and verse divisions.

6. The Chapter Divisions Can Cause Problems

The divisions into chapters and verses can actually cause some problems. There are instances where chapters are wrongly divided. For example, the end of Matthew chapter 16 should actually be placed with the beginning of Matthew 17.

Matthew 16 ends with Jesus saying the following:

This verse should have been in the same chapter as the previous verse since it is continuing the story.

The Verse Divisions Can Also Cause Problems

Dividing the Bible into verses can also give the impression that the Scripture consists of a number of maxims or wise sayings. For example, Paul wrote to the Colossians:

This verse, by itself, gives the impression that Scripture encourages some type of physical self-denial. Yet just the opposite is true. In context, Paul is actually teaching against this type of behavior. His argument is as follows:

The next verse emphasizes that such restrictions are human commandments—not commandments from God:

When we read the verse in context, it says the following:

Therefore, this one verse, when read on its own, gives the wrong impression of the biblical teaching. This is one of the problems with the Bible divided into verses—people will isolate the verses from the rest of the context.

Many more examples could be listed. Indeed, one could argue that the Bible teaches atheism:

Of course, the complete verse reads as follows:

Others could contend that Jesus taught cannibalism! The Gospel of John records Jesus saying the following:

This is why it is important to read each particular verse in context. Otherwise, one can make the Bible say things that it does not want to say.

Chapters and Verses Are Not What the Authors Intended

The original authors of Scripture did not intend that their writings be divided up into chapters or verses. They intended that the books be read straight through from the beginning. A number of the books of Scripture can be read through in one sitting. This is the best way to discover what the author is trying to say.

Dividing up the Scripture into chapters and verses encourages people to read only small parts at a time. This is not always helpful. This is why the Bible should be read the same way as the original authors intended it to be read.

Summary – Question 8 Why Is the Bible Divided into Chapters and Verses?

In the original text of the various books of the Bible, there are no such things as chapter and verse divisions. They were added later for the sake of convenience. While they are helpful, they are not authoritative in any sense of the term. In fact, they can cause a number of problems.

Chapter and verse divisions give the impression that the Scripture should be read and studied in bits and pieces. This is not what the original authors intended. The entire context must always be considered. Consequently, the chapter and verse divisions should be ignored when one attempts to properly interpret the entire message of Scripture.

An eques was bound to a certain number of campaigns, but no more than ten. Upon completion, they entered the first class. Later Equites had the right to sit on juries and came to occupy an important third place in Roman policies and politics, standing between the senatorial class and the people.

When an eques was deemed unworthy, he was told to sell his horse (vende equum). When no disgrace was involved, someone no longer fit would be told to lead his horse on. There was a waiting list to replace the dismissed eques.

Funerals could be expensive, so poor but not indigent Romans, including enslaved people, contributed to a burial society which guaranteed proper burial in columbaria, which resembled dovecotes and allowed many to be buried together in a small space, rather than dumping in pits (puticuli) where their remains would rot.

In the early years, the procession to the place of burial took place at night, although in later periods, only the poor were buried then. In an expensive procession, there was a head of the procession called designator or dominus funeri with lictors, followed by musicians and mourning women. Other performers might follow and then came formerly enslaved people that were newly freed (liberti). In front of the corpse, representatives of the ancestors of the deceased walked wearing wax masks (imago pl. imagines) in the likenesses of the ancestors. If the deceased had been particularly illustrious a funeral oration would be made during the procession in the forum in front of the rostra. This funeral oration or laudatio could be made for a man or woman.

If the body was to be burned it was put upon a funeral pyre and then when the flames rose, perfumes were thrown into the fire. Other objects that might be of use to the dead in the afterlife were also thrown in. When the pile burned down, the wine was used to douse the embers, so that the ashes could be gathered and placed in funerary urns.

During the period of the Roman Empire, burial increased in popularity. The reasons for the switch from cremation to burial has been attributed to Christianity and mystery religions.

Something About the Book of Romans that will Help You Really "Get" It

Here’s something that many people I talk to about Paul’s Letter to the Romans don’t seem yet to have grasped. The earliest house churches in Rome would have been primarily Jewish and would have culturally felt Jewish, but in A.D. 49 the Roman Emperor Claudius kicked the Jews out of Rome.[1] Jewish Christians, of course, would have been expelled along with the rest of the Jews.[2] During the five years between Claudius’s edict (A.D. 49) and his death (A.D. 54) when the edict lapsed and Jews started to return, the composition and self-understanding of the house churches in Rome would have shifted considerably. Paul’s letter to the Romans would have arrived in Rome somewhere around A.D. 57, during the period when Jews were still trickling back into Rome. If you can fix in your mind that the expulsion of Jews from Rome had a tremendous impact on the churches in that city, you will understand the message of Romans oh-so-much better!

James C. Walters in Ethnic Issues in Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Changing Self-Definitions in Earliest Roman Christianity lists the three most important effects that the expulsion of Jews and their subsequent return would have had on the Roman churches.[3]

1. Persons expelled from Rome: The most obvious effect is that the persons who comprised the churches would have been substantially altered. The Gentiles who remained would have begun meeting together without Jewish leadership and input, and those they reached with the good news of Christ during the intervening five years would have been Gentiles. When Jewish Christians began returning five years later, they would have encountered house churches composed of more Gentiles than Jews.

2. Jewish and Christian Self-Definition: The edict to expel Jews also would have pushed the returning non-Christian Jewish community and the already-present house churches to self-define in relation to one another. Before the edict, the ruling Romans would have viewed Christians as a subset of Judaism—the churches, after all, were socialized like Jewish groups. But after the edict and the changing socialization of the groups into Gentile-ish communities, the process of viewing Jews and Christians as separate groups would have sped up (both as viewed from the inside [emic perspective] and as viewed from the outside [etic perspective]). Note that by A.D. 64—only seven or so years after Paul’s letter arrived, this process would have been complete Christians were successfully identified as a group separate from the Jews as Nero’s soldiers carried out their brutal persecution of Christians in Rome. Paul’s letter arrived while this process of changing self-identification was taking place. Jewish Christians coming back to Rome had to struggle with the question of whether they were primarily Jewish or whether they were primarily Christian (which would have felt increasingly like a Gentile thing to them).

This scenario is strengthened if we read the Roman historian Suetonius to mean that the Jews were kicked out of Rome because of disturbances caused by disagreements between non-Christian Jews and Christian Jews (all were simply “Jews” in the Roman mind before Claudius’s edict of expulsion).[4] The returning non-Christian Jews no doubt would have wanted to keep their distance from the Christian Jews after they returned to Rome to avoid further conflict with the Roman authorities. Furthermore, when they learned that Christian groups were now socially dominated by Gentiles, this would have confirmed in their minds that separation was necessary.

3. The Unity of Christianity in Rome: Upon their return to Rome, Jewish Christians would have been placed in the awkward situation of having to assimilate into groups that felt rather foreign to them. This is a reverse of what would have happened before Claudius’s edict at that time Gentiles would have had to adapt to Jewish customs to fit in. Surely, when the Jewish Christians showed up again in the now mostly-Gentile churches, tensions would have emerged over who was in charge and how Christians were supposed to relate to all-things-Jewish.

If this reconstruction is correct—and it does seem to be where the external historical evidence leads us—then we should expect to encounter evidence within the book of Romans that questions of self-identification of Jewish and Gentile Christians were in Paul’s mind as he wrote the letter. This is in fact one of the things we discover when we read it with some historical awareness. Knowing this background will cause you to be more attentive to such questions of Jewish-Christian and Gentile-Christian self-identification when you open Paul’s famous letter.

One of Paul’s teaching strategies in his letter to the Romans is to use questions (85 at my count) to move along his argument and to help his readers think hard about what he’s writing. I’ll close this post with 15 of Paul’s questions that will underscore that Paul was speaking into just such a historical situation as I’ve described here. Notice that the self-identification of Jewish and Gentile Christians vis-à-vis one another and in relation to the non-Christian Jewish community plays an important role in this list of questions. As you keep the historical setting in mind, you’ll become a much better reader of Paul’s letter to the Romans.

3:1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?

3:9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin

3:29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also?

3:31 Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?

4:9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also?

7:1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives?

9:30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith…

10:18 But I say, surely they have never heard, have they?

10:19 But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they?

11:1 I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He?

11:2 Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?

11:11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

11:24 For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?


[1] Suetonius, Claudius 25.4. This expulsion of Jews from Rome is confirmed by Acts 18:1-2, “After these things he [Paul] left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, having recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.”

[2] Along with any Gentiles who had been socialized as Jews and thus viewed as Jewish proselytes by the Roman authority. See James C. Walters, Ethnic Issues in Paul’s Letter to the Romans: Changing Self-Definitions in Earliest Romans Christianity (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993),


  1. Walt

    You are wrong. I am able to prove it. Write to me in PM, discuss it.

  2. Farid

    don't remember

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