What is the significance of the character "j" at the end of a Roman Numeral?

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While using an old (1907) book of transcriptions (on-line) The Parish Register of Gargrave in the County of York , I was puzzled by the number of dates recorded in the 16th and early 17th centuries that could be read easily as Roman numerals except for the addition of a j at the end. enter image description here

The pattern (if there is one) seems to be that if the number would ordinarily end with i then j is appended, but if it ends with v or x then there may be no extra character before the ordinal superscript (but in one case, there is!).

I thought this may be a style quirk of a particular clerk, but now I am seeing it in other sources (but all Yorkshire based and pre-1700, because that is what I am reading at the moment).

  1. Is this a real phenomenon or just a coincidence?
  2. How widespread was the practice?
  3. What on earth did it mean? Why did they do it?

Fortiter

Posted 2013-10-10T01:54:59.820

Reputation: 13 238

So is ij = 2, iij = 3, etc? Or is ij = 1, iij =2? – Jane – 2019-08-16T16:42:41.620

@Jane The "j" is treated as an "i", so iij=3 etc. – AndyW – 2019-08-17T10:07:28.950

Answers

36

The letter j originated as a "swash" (florish) character at the end of Roman numerals, and only later became useful as a separate character.

A j was used for the final i, to make it clear the number had ended.

Until quite recent times it was still the recommended practice to use a final j in medical prescriptions, to avoid misunderstandings. See these instructions from 1919:

enter image description here

So you should interpret xvij as 17, not 16. It's part of the number, not something appended.

Rob Hoare

Posted 2013-10-10T01:54:59.820

Reputation: 6 076