Really BIG Numbers in Latin

How do you say 4, 800, 000 in Latin?

Large numbers in Latin work with numeral adverbs + units of mīllle.

  • 4,800,000, octīens et quadrāgiēns centēna mīlia
  • 5,900,487, noviēns et quīnquāgiēns centēna mīlia quadrigentī octōgintā septem.

Note that, because we don’t happen to possess a large number of fifth-grade math books from Rome, the most common place you’ll see numbers this large are records describing large sums of sestertia.

In these descriptions, the centēna mīlia is often omitted.

  • 3,300,000 sestertia = ter et trīciēns sestertium = ter et trīciēns (centēna mīlia) sestertium = thrice and thirty times 100,000
  • 2.7 billion sestertia = vīciēns ac septiēs mīliēns sestertium

(If anyone can explain why it’s sestertium and not sestertia, I’m all ears.)

For more on money matters, see my post on money.

The Essential AG: 138a

4 comments on “Really BIG Numbers in Latin

  1. chris y says:

    Interesting that the key big unit seems to be 100,000 rather than 1,000,000 as in modern usage. Superficially this seems to parallel modern South Asian usage, where “Lakh” (10^5) and “Crore” (10^7) are the normal units for large numbers. Wikipedia (which I obviously don’t altogether trust) suggests that this dates from the Vedic period, which has me wondering whether both the Roman and Indian systems represent vestiges of an early IE approach to counting which has been superseded elsewhere. But that’s almost certainly reading too much into a coincidence.

  2. MagisterGreen says:

    It should be “sestertium” as a partitive genitive. 2.7 billion “of” sesterces.

  3. tomsky says:

    Nice – took me a bit of searching to work out what numeral type “centēna” belonged to – it’s a distributive, apparently… since you have ordinals/cardinals/adverbs covered in your previous posts, might be worth having a post about the distributives, for the sake of completeness! (There are some unusual rules with these – for instance they are used with nouns that have no singular like “castra”.)

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