Greek numerals

Greek numerals, also known as Ionic, Ionian, Milesian, or Alexandrian numerals, are a system of writing numbers using the letters of the Greek alphabet. In modern Greece, they are still used for ordinal numbers and in contexts similar to those in which Roman numerals are still used elsewhere in the West. For ordinary cardinal numbers, however, Greece uses Arabic numerals.


The Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations' Linear A and Linear B alphabets used a different system, called Aegean numerals, which included specialised symbols for numbers: 𐄇 = 1, 𐄐 = 10, 𐄙 = 100, 𐄢 = 1000, and 𐄫 = 10000.[1]

Attic numerals was another system that came into use perhaps in the 7th century BC. They were acrophonic, derived (after the initial one) from the first letters of the names of the numbers represented. They ran Greek Zeta archaic.svg = 1, Greek Pi archaic.svg = 5, Greek Delta 04.svg = 10, Greek Eta classical.svg = 100, Greek Chi normal.svg = 1,000, and Greek Mu classical.svg = 10,000. The numbers 50, 500, 5,000, and 50,000 were represented by the letter Greek Pi archaic.svg with minuscule powers of ten written in the top right corner: Attic 00050.svg, Attic 00500.svg, Attic 05000.svg, and Attic 50000.svg.[1] The same system was used outside of Attica, but the symbols varied with the local alphabets: in Boeotia, Greek Psi V-shaped.svg was 1,000.[2]

The present system probably developed around Miletus in Ionia. 19th-century classicists placed its development in the 3rd century BC, the occasion of its first widespread use.[3] More thorough modern archaeology has caused the date to be pushed back at least to the 5th century BC,[4] a little before Athens abandoned its pre-Euclidean alphabet in favour of Miletus's in 402 BC, and it may predate that by a century or two.[5] The present system uses the 24 letters adopted by Euclid as well as three Phoenician and Ionic ones that were not carried over: digamma, koppa, and sampi. The position of those characters within the numbering system imply that the first two were still in use (or at least remembered as letters) while the third was not. The exact dating, particularly for sampi, is problematic since its uncommon value means the first attested representative near Miletus does not appear until the 2nd century BC[6] and its use is unattested in Athens until the 2nd century AD.[7] (In general, Athens resisted the use of the new numerals for the longest of any of the Greek states but had fully adopted them by c. AD 50.[2])