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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Roman Numerals and the Olympics

The 2012 Summer Olympic Games, officially the Games of the XXX Olympiad, began in London on July 27, 2012 and will continue until August 12. We're seeing some amazing athletes in action.

Many of us were surprised to discover that during the first four decades of Olympic events, the Olympics gave official medals for painting, sculpture, architecture, literature and music along with the athletic competitions. The majority of these medal-winners were works of art inspired by the athletes. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first artistic competition. Even so, most of us have been unaware that the arts, as well as athletics, were a part of the modern Olympic games, almost from the start. Read more at 

XXX is probably one of the more easily recognizable Roman numerals since most people are familiar with X as 10. XXX = 30, so in 2012 the Games of the XXX Olympiad = 30.

Roman numerals were used until the 13th Century AD when Fibonacci published his Liber abaci, which means The Book of Calculations. This book showed the practicality of the new Arabic numbering system by applying it to bookkeeping, conversion of weights and measures, the calculation of interest, money-changing, and other everyday applications. Read more on our previous blog post about Fibonacci.

Students today may not be as familiar with Roman numerals as they were in previous generations. However, Excel Math students are introduced to Roman numerals in fourth grade. Here's a worksheet explaining how to recognize Roman numerals (the answers are shown below):
Excel Math Fourth Grade Student Lesson Sheet 126
Click here for a PDF download of this worksheet
The Romans didn't have a symbol for zero as we do with Arabic numerals, and numeral placement within a number could sometimes indicate subtraction (if the smaller number was placed before the larger one) rather than addition (if the smaller number came after the larger one). So the Roman numeral I = 1 and V = 5, IV = 4 (5 - 1), and VI = 6 (5 + 1). L = 50, C = 100, D = 500, and M = 1000.

Today, Roman numerals are used on some clocks and watches, in copyright notices, in the Superbowl title each year, as well as for the Olympics. The 2011 Superbowl XLV was played on February 6, 2011, at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. This was the first time the Super Bowl was played in the Dallas–Fort Worth area. From the Roman numerals, can you tell what number that Super Bowl was? If you need help, use the Roman numeral converter at

In the 2012 Superbowl XLVI the Giants defeated the Patriots by the score of 21–17. The game was played on February 5, 2012, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the first time that the Super Bowl was played in the state of Indiana. Can you decipher the Roman numerals and then calculate what number the 2013 Super Bowl will be?

What number will the next Summer Olympics be in Roman and Arabic numerals? Here are the answers to the Roman numeral problems on the Excel Math worksheet shown above:

The 2011 Super Bowl was number 45 (XLV = 50 - 10 + 5) and 2012 was Super Bowl number 46, so the 2013 Superbowl will be number XLVII or 47. The next summer Olympics will be XXXI or 31.

Learn more about how Excel Math can work for your students at Excel Math is fully aligned to the Common Core and to state standards. Download correlations.

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