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Need the Area of a Triangle? The Pope Can Help! – Gerbert of Aurillac

Betty Mayfield (Hood College)


Gerbert d’Aurillac (ca 945–1003) was a 10th-century French churchman and scholar who was named Pope Sylvester II in the year 999. Presumably unlike other popes, he was fascinated by mathematics. He studied it as a young man in the medieval Spanish March; he taught it at the Cathedral School at Rheims; he even wrote a well-known textbook in geometry. He was one of the first people in Western Europe to learn about Hindu-Arabic numerals, and he developed an abacus for working with them.

Portrait of Gerbert (in blue) from the Gospels of Otto III, ca 1000.
Figure 2. Gerbert d'Aurillac (in blue), as painted by a master of the Reichenau School for the Evangeliar Ottos III oder Evangeliar Heinrichs II (The Gospels of Otto III, also known as The Gospels of Heinrichs II), owned by the Bavarian State Library. Public domain, Wikimedia Commons, attributed to The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.

Betty Mayfield (Hood College), "Need the Area of a Triangle? The Pope Can Help! – Gerbert of Aurillac," Convergence (November 2022)