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 the symbol for the number one, the letter symbols are the first letter of the name of the value, 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.
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 XΗΗΗΗΔΔΔΙΙΙΙ
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
Kerstin Hajdú, editor and commentator.
Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1998.
The three names in parentheses are archaic characters no longer used in classical Greek, except as numerals.
The numerals are written with the larger values to the left. So, for example, “1984” would be “‚απδ”.
M. N. Todd.
Ancient Greek Numerical Systems.
Chicago: Ares, 1979.
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Last revised: 18 February 2004.