Ancient Greek numerals

Herodianic Greek numerals

Used as early as 500 bce, and as late as the end of the 3rd century bce. In classical times these numerals were written in upper case.

Except for one, the letter symbols are the first letter of the name of the value’s name, for example, for δέκα, deka (meaning ten), the letter delta. In addition, the symbol for πέντε, pente (meaning five), pi, sometimes in an altered form, was combined with the symbols for 10, 100 and 1000 to make 50, 500 and 5000 respectively.

Greek letter Value
Ι 1
Π  5
Δ 10
symbol for 50 50
Η 100
symbol for 500 500
Χ 1000
symbol for 5000 5000
Μ 10,000

These numerals are used much like the more familiar Roman numerals, but without the convention of subtracting the value of any numeral smaller than the one to its right.  So, for example, “1984” would be written Xsymbol for 500ΗΗΗΗsymbol for 50ΔΔΔΙΙΙΙ

Karl Menninger has pointed out that the conventional name of this system, Herodian or Herodic numerals, makes little sense.  They were named for Herodian, a Byzantine grammarian who wrote a work describing them – but that was five centuries after they came into use. Moreover, modern scholarship believes the work in question was not even written by Herodian.1

Ionic Greek Numerals

The three names in parentheses are archaic characters no longer used in classical Greek, except as numerals.

Name of
Greek letter
Greek
numeral
In Arabic
numerals
alpha α 1
beta β 2
gamma γ 3
delta δ 4
epsilon ε 5
(digamma) digamma character 6
zeta ζ 7
eta η 8
theta θ 9
iota ι 10
kappa κ 20
lambda λ 30
mu μ 40
nu ν 50
xi ξ 60
omicron ο 70
pi π 80
(koppa) koppa character 90
rho ρ 100
sigma σ 200
tau τ 300
upsilon υ 400
phi φ 500
chi χ 600
psi ψ 700
omega ω 800
(sampi) san character 900
Greek
numeral
In Arabic
numerals
‚α 1,000
‚β 2,000
‚γ 3,000
‚δ 4,000
‚ε 5,000
digamma character 6,000
‚ζ 7,000
‚η 8,000
‚θ 9,000
Μ 10,000
β
Μ
20,000
γ
Μ
30,000
δ
Μ
40,000
ε
Μ
50,000
digamma character
Μ
60,000
ζ
Μ
70,000
η
Μ
80,000
θ
Μ
90,000
ρ 100,000

The numerals are written with the larger values to the left. So, for example, “1984” would be “‚αsan characterπδ”.

1. Pseudo-Herodian.
De Figuris.
Kerstin Hajdú, editor and commentator.
Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1998.

Further Reading

M. N. Todd.
Ancient Greek Numerical Systems.
Chicago: Ares, 1979.

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