Famous Italian Mathematicians

While compiling our list of famous Italian mathematicians, we had the same problem as we did with our list of Italian scientists - these men of genius had a difficult time confining their talents to a single discipline.

Here are three men who might be labeled famous Italian mathematicians, yet two of them are equally famous for their contributions in other sciences as well.

Leonardo Fibonacci [1180-1250]

Leonardo Fibonacci, or Leonardo Pisani, was born in Pisa, northern Italy, in approximately 1180. He is credited with introducing into Europe the Arabic system of numbering (the numbers 1 through 0), which replaced the cumbersome combination of Roman numerals (I through X) and the mechanical bead and string device, the abacus, which were used in scientific calculations. His innovation led to a swifter advancement in all the sciences. 

In 1202 he published The Book of the Abacus, which first delineated the Fibonacci system of numbers. The Fibonacci numbers identify a ratio (.618) which occurs throughout nature, from shells to flowers and so on. It's also a proportion used by great artists throughout the centuries to achieve a pleasing visual effect. And anyone who's invested in the stock market will be aware of the use of Fibonacci numbers by technical analysts to anticipate support and resistance levels.

Unfortunately for Fibonacci, his contributions to mathematics didn't gain acceptance until 300 years after his death.

Niccolo Tartaglia [1499-1557]

Niccolo Tartaglia was born Niccolo Fontana in Brescia, northern Italy, in 1499, and is known as the father of ballistics, the study of projectiles and weaponry. After earning a degree in mathematics, he became a teacher. Then, in 1537, he published a book called A New Science, in which he discussed the nature of projectiles.

Tartaglia also developed a method for solving cubic equations, but was not motivated to publish it. Later, he made the mistake of revealing his findings to the physician Girolamo Cardano, who published Tartaglia's method as his own. Cardano's largely plagiarized work is considered to be the beginning of modern mathematics.

Tartaglia continued his work in mathematics, and ballistics, and also published the first Italian translation of the works of the Greek mathematician, Euclid.

Francesco Bonaventura Cavalieri [1598-1647]

Francesco Bonaventura Cavalieri was born in Milan, northern Italy, in approximately 1598. He is famed for developing the geometry of indivisibles, which gave rise to the invention of integral calculus and differential calculus. While this may not mean anything to the majority of us who have no background in mathematics, in essence it was a major development whose benefits were felt in a variety of sciences from astronomy and mechanics to physics and thermodynamics.

Cavalieri initially entered a religious order, where he met a former student of Galileo, whose mentorship enabled him to eventually become a mathematics instructor at the University of Pisa. He later met Galileo, who was so impressed with him that he invited the young man to become his student.

Beginning in 1632, Cavalieri published four major works on the subject of mathematics. He was awarded the chair of mathematics at the University of Bologna, and during his tenure he published 11 books. He also made significant contributions to the sciences of optics and acoustics, as well as astrology.

If mathematics is one of your interests, you can read more about the great Italian mathematicians in these books on Amazon:

And, if you know of a famous Italian mathematician that we've overlooked on our list, please let us know via the Contact Us page.