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Cistercian numerals

The medieval Cistercian numerals, or «ciphers» in nineteenth-century parlance, were developed by the Cistercian monastic order in the early thirteenth century at about the time that Arabic numerals were introduced to northwestern Europe. They are more compact than Arabic or Roman numerals, with a single glyph able to indicate any integer from 1 to 9,999.

Digits are based on a horizontal or vertical stave, with the position of the digit on the stave indicating its place value (units, tens, hundreds or thousands). These digits are compounded on a single stave to indicate more complex numbers. The Cistercians eventually abandoned the system in favor of the Arabic numerals, but marginal use outside the order continued until the early twentieth century.