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The Roman Way

Admit it! We are all fascinated by large numbers and how we can write them...thus our use of terms such as google and googleplex... and the idea of nested exponents based on Archimedes' theory of myriads. Or, the eternal concern as to whether or not infinity is a number.

Yet, in the Sept (1989) issue of Scholastic Math, young Erin Vessalo (Elyria, OH) asked an interesting question: What is the highest number in Roman Numerals?

The use of Roman Numerals certainly predates the creation of the word google, but the idea of infinity certainly was around.

On the one hand, the largest available Roman Numeral symbol is M for 1000. When faced with writing a larger number, opinions differ.

For example, to write 5000, some use MMMMM, some use (((V))) with each ( ) implying multiplication by 10, and some use a V with a single bar (i.e. a viniculum) over it to mean multiplying by 1000 or M.

So, to write a google (i.e. a 1 followed by one hundred zeroes) using Roman Numerals, one could write 1097 M's, or an I embedded in one hundred nested parentheses, or an I laden with a ton of viniculi (but how to get from 1099 to 10100?).

Now, the matter of writing infinity using Roman Numerals, how about MMM... or (((...(I)...))) or...?

A final note ala the Internet: Erin Vessalo graduated from Elyria Catholic High School in 1994, is now married to to a Mr. Pacilli, is a stay-at-home mom in Elria (OH), and donated $((I)) to the Elyria Catholic High School Alumni Fund in the Winter of MMV.