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Why is it that certain pages in English-language books are numbered using Roman numerals, but other pages are numbered using (so-called) Arabic ones?

Has it always been this way? Or was the split once different? Or wasn’t there a split at all?

Surely page numbers were not always used; I’m pretty sure the Romans never used Arabic numerals in any event.

When did we start doing it this way, and why?

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1 Answer 1

Roman numerals are used specifically to enumerate the pages of the front matter — title page, foreword, etc. — whilst Arabic numerals are used to enumerate the pages of the rest of a book.

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It's a "foreword", not a "forward".... –  Hellion Jan 2 '13 at 16:00
But this doesn't say why the front matter should be treated differently -- that is, why not use a continuous sequence; or number it separately with Arabic numbers. I guess having two sequences of Arabic numbers might be confusing, but many Bibles do it. –  Andrew Leach Jan 2 '13 at 16:01
I believe this is because the front matter can change considerably between printings, but the Text itself remains consistent - Page 10 of a specific edition is Page 10, regardless of whether you have XXII or XXXV pages of front matter. –  Avner Shahar-Kashtan Jan 2 '13 at 16:05
@Hellion, coleopterist: Gah! Thank you! Avner Shahar-Kashtan: That has to be right. –  Branimir Ćaćić Jan 2 '13 at 16:08
Well, yes. But why is it done that way, and when did it start? When did it start? Is this a peculiarly English-language tradition, or is a Latin-script one? Or both or neither? What about books written in other Western scripts, like Greek or Cyrillic? Do they do the same thing? –  tchrist Jan 2 '13 at 22:58

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