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Mathematical Treasures - Bombelli's Algebra

Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University)


Title page from 1579 edition of Rafael Bombelli's L’Algebra Opera.

Rafael Bombelli  (1526-1572) was an Italian mathematician involved with the development of algebra in the 16th century. He envisioned writing a comprehensive algebra book of five volumes; however, the task proved exhaustive, and he ended up publishing a three-volume algebra book in 1572, L’Algebra Opera. Included in this work was a translation of Diophantus’ Arithmetica. Bombelli died before completing the last two intended volumes. The title page for the 1579 edition of L’Algebra is shown here.

First page of 1579 edition of Rafael Bombelli's L’Algebra Opera.

This is the first page of text for Bombelli’s L’Algebra. In this book, the author introduced the reader to complex numbers and their operations and promoted symbolic notation. Another copy of the 1579 printing is also available from Convergence.

These images from its George Arthur Plimpton Collection are presented through the courtesy of the Columbia University Libraries.

Index to Mathematical Treasures


Frank J. Swetz (The Pennsylvania State University), "Mathematical Treasures - Bombelli's Algebra," Convergence (January 2021)

Mathematical Treasures from the Smith and Plimpton Collections at Columbia University