The demise of Roman numerals

Sunday 18th September   

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was reading an Anthony Trollope; well I am reading, and re-reading in many cases, the whole collection actually.  I have been a lifelong member of the Folio Society, and collected the complete works years ago, there must be about forty volumes.  I always intended to read them all in the order they were written, but instead have found myself cherry-picking and reading them as the fancy takes me.  The chapters are in Roman numerals, we learnt these as a matter of course at school, and in my little short stories over the years I invariably used them to number my own little chapters. They were in much more common usage a few years ago, but have lately fallen almost completely out of fashion.  I seem to remember that all BBC television programmes used to end with a BBC logo and the year date in Roman numerals, you know MCMXCVIII and so forth.  Almost a secret language I suspect, and they conveniently disguised how old the programme actually was, but I don’t seem to have noticed them at all lately, have they stopped using them completely, or have they been replaced by the universal 1998, perhaps I should watch a bit more carefully.  Books are now almost universal in using standard dates, and hardly anyone numbers their chapters in Roman anymore.

Was our having to learn by rote Roman numerals just another attempt to hold back modernity, or was it all a part of the British Empire’s worship of the two millennia earlier Roman Empire. At school we were taught loads about the Romans and how wonderful they were until 410 a.d., and the Visigoths sacking of Rome, then barbarity and wilderness; a great passed-over void, until the Normans rescued us from obscurity and restored order and stability. History is almost always indistinguishable from propaganda, I have since learnt that far from being a wilderness the ages of the Ancient Britons, and the Celts and the Anglo-Saxons were wonderful years of progress and art and social development.  We were just brainwashed that the Romans were so wonderful, with their central heating, their straight roads and their statues and their complicated numerals.