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My state recently changed the formatting of our license plate numbers (from 123-ABC to ABC-1234) in an effort to increase the number of available plate numbers. This got me thinking as to what a Roman license plate would look like. Obviously, cars were not present at the time of Latin's golden age, but perhaps there is a way to approximate it. Let's start with the letters since that is easy enough. The letters would most likely look the same, since the same alphabet was used, minus the characters "u" and "j." This leaves the numbers, as the Romans of course, used Roman numerals. One easy solution to this problem is taking the digits as one number:

ABC-123 = ABC-CXXIII

But, if you think about it, this is not how the number is read. I would say "123" as "one twenty-three" or "one two three." This creates a conundrum when applied here because there is no delimiter between numbers.

ABC-123 = ABC-IXXIII or ABC-IIIIII

It is unclear here where the numbers start and end. The second could read "123," "321," "222," and so on. In addition, the number of characters on a license plate are limited by the fact the characters must be large and easy to read, but still fit on the standard-sized plate. This could rule out plates like:

8888-ABC = |D|MMMDCCCLXXXVIII-ABC

So, what you guys believe a Roman license plate would look like? I'm not looking for the definitive answer here, so feel free to get creative. Perhaps another language that does not use Arabic numerals like Western countries could be an inspiration! I look forward to seeing your suggestions!

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs in World Building stack. – C. M. Weimer Nov 28 '17 at 14:41
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It would be convenient to have all the licence plates (roughly) equally many characters long. Since the Roman numerals mostly use letters of the alphabet, mixing numbers with letters adds nothing. In the common alphanumeric plates it is not important to have numbers ranging from zero to 999, but to have strings of three digits.

Therefore my suggestion is that a Roman licence plate contains a fixed amount of letters A–Z, which may be grouped with a dash to two groups. Restricting the letters to "numeral letters" (I, V, X, L, C, D, M) in one group seems to achieve little. If you have 23 letters (A to Z minus J, U, and W), then plates from AA-AA to ZZ-ZZ give over quarter of a million unique names. I would suggest this if you want to have a licence-platey feeling in a Roman context.

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  • I guess it does make sense that numbers would be abandoned altogether, seeing as there are far more permutations available with letters than numbers. Adding additional characters (such as AAA-ZZZ) would provide an incredibly large amount of unique plates (nearly 150 million). – Sam K Nov 23 '17 at 16:59
  • As there are seven numeral letters and seven hills in Rome, it might be that they also adopted a pattern where by each plate strictly began one of the numeral letters, indicating which of the seven hills the plate was originally registered at (e.g. I for Palatine, C for Capitoline etc) – Neil Hibbert Dec 4 '17 at 11:49

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