Numbers are at the root of it all
http://www.novaroma.org/via_romana/numbers.html - brief introduction, plus Arabic→Roman converter
I believe the common roman usage was pure additive math; the subtractive-positionals didn’t come into vogue until the 1300s or so, long after RNs were out of common usage. some citation at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_numerals#IIII_vs._IV
I note that RNs were still in common European usage at that time, as Arabic numerals were not in vogue until... uh....
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