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Mathematical Treasures - Simon Stevin's Oeuvres Mathematiques

Frank J. Swetz and Victor J. Katz

Stevin Title Page

This is the title page of the Oeuvres Mathematiques of Simon Stevin (1548-1620), edited by Albert Girard (1595 - 1632) and published in 1634.


This is the first page of Stevin's Arithmetique, originally published in 1585, in which he gives several definitions. In particular, he argues, contrary to Euclid, that unity is a number and that "number is that which explains the quantity of each thing." Thus, "number" is not only a collection of units and, in essence, Euclid's distinction between "number" and "magnitude" (coming from Aristotle) no longer makes sense.

Solution of equations

On this page, Stevin shows how to solve various types of quadratic equations. In his notation, the circle around a given number designates the unknown raised to that power.

Problems from Diophantus

On page 103, Stevin shows how to translate some problems from Diophantus's Arithmetica into his own algebraic notation and then how to solve them.

La Disme

On page 209 of the Oeuvres, we find the introduction to Stevin's La Disme, his work of 1585 explaining how to use decimal fractions. Again, he uses circles around digits, but these now stand for the appropriate decimal place.

For more images of Stevin's decimal arithmetic, see Mathematical Treasures – Simon Stevin's Arithmetic here in Convergence.

Index to Mathematical Treasures

Frank J. Swetz and Victor J. Katz, "Mathematical Treasures - Simon Stevin's Oeuvres Mathematiques," Convergence (January 2011)

Mathematical Treasures from the Smith and Plimpton Collections at Columbia University