The start of algebra as an area of mathematics may be dated to the end of 16th century, with François Viète’s work. Nevertheless some earlier works may be considered as algebra and constitute the prehistory of algebra.
The roots of algebra can be traced to the ancient Babylonians, who developed an advanced arithmetical system with which they were able to do calculations in an algorithmic fashion. The Babylonians developed formulas to calculate solutions for problems typically solved today by using linear equations, quadratic equations, and indeterminate linear equations. By contrast, most Egyptians of this era, as well as Greek and Chinese mathematics in the 1st millennium BC, usually solved such equations by geometric methods, such as those described in the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, Euclid’s Elements, and The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art. The geometric work of the Greeks, typified in the Elements, provided the framework for generalizing formulae beyond the solution of particular problems into more general systems of stating and solving equations, although this would not be realized until mathematics developed in medieval Islam.
By the time of Plato, Greek mathematics had undergone a drastic change. The Greeks created a geometric algebra where terms were represented by sides of geometric objects, usually lines, that had letters associated with them. Diophantus (3rd century AD), sometimes called “the father of algebra”, was an Alexandrian Greek mathematician and the author of a series of books called Arithmetica. These texts deal with solving algebraic equations.
The word algebra comes from the Arabic language (الجبر al-jabr “restoration”) and much of its methods from Arabic/Islamic mathematics. Earlier traditions discussed above had a direct influence on Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (c. 780–850). He later wrote The Compendious Book on Calculation by Completion and Balancing, which established algebra as a mathematical discipline that is independent of geometry and arithmetic.
The Hellenistic mathematicians Hero of Alexandria and Diophantus as well as Indian mathematicians such as Brahmagupta continued the traditions of Egypt and Babylon, though Diophantus’ Arithmetica and Brahmagupta’s Brahmasphutasiddhanta are on a higher level. For example, the first complete arithmetic solution (including zero and negative solutions) to quadratic equations was described by Brahmagupta in his book Brahmasphutasiddhanta. Later, Arabic and Muslim mathematicians developed algebraic methods to a much higher degree of sophistication. Although Diophantus and the Babylonians used mostly special ad hoc methods to solve equations, Al-Khwarizmi contribution was fundamental. He solved linear and quadratic equations without algebraic symbolism, negative numbers or zero, thus he has to distinguish several types of equations.
The Greek mathematician Diophantus has traditionally been known as the “father of algebra” but in more recent times there is much debate over whether al-Khwarizmi, who founded the discipline of al-jabr, deserves that title instead. Those who support Diophantus point to the fact that the algebra found in Al-Jabr is slightly more elementary than the algebra found in Arithmetica and that Arithmetica is syncopated while Al-Jabr is fully rhetorical. Those who support Al-Khwarizmi point to the fact that he introduced the methods of “reduction” and “balancing” (the transposition of subtracted terms to the other side of an equation, that is, the cancellation of like terms on opposite sides of the equation) which the term al-jabr originally referred to, and that he gave an exhaustive explanation of solving quadratic equations, supported by geometric proofs, while treating algebra as an independent discipline in its own right. His algebra was also no longer concerned “with a series of problems to be resolved, but an exposition which starts with primitive terms in which the combinations must give all possible prototypes for equations, which henceforward explicitly constitute the true object of study”. He also studied an equation for its own sake and “in a generic manner, insofar as it does not simply emerge in the course of solving a problem, but is specifically called on to define an infinite class of problems”.
The Persian mathematician Omar Khayyam is credited with identifying the foundations of algebraic geometry and found the general geometric solution of the cubic equation. Another Persian mathematician, Sharaf al-Dīn al-Tūsī, found algebraic and numerical solutions to various cases of cubic equations. He also developed the concept of a function. The Indian mathematicians Mahavira and Bhaskara II, the Persian mathematician Al-Karaji, and the Chinese mathematician Zhu Shijie, solved various cases of cubic, quartic, quintic and higher-order polynomial equations using numerical methods. In the 13th century, the solution of a cubic equation by Fibonacci is representative of the beginning of a revival in European algebra. As the Islamic world was declining, the European world was ascending. And it is here that algebra was further developed.
History of algebra
François Viète’s work at the close of the 16th century marks the start of the classical discipline of algebra. In 1637, René Descartes published La Géométrie, inventing analytic geometry and introducing modern algebraic notation. Another key event in the further development of algebra was the general algebraic solution of the cubic and quartic equations, developed in the mid-16th century. The idea of a determinant was developed by Japanese mathematician Kowa Seki in the 17th century, followed independently by Gottfried Leibniz ten years later, for the purpose of solving systems of simultaneous linear equations usingmatrices. Gabriel Cramer also did some work on matrices and determinants in the 18th century. Permutations were studied by Joseph-Louis Lagrange in his 1770 paper Réflexions sur la résolution algébrique des équations devoted to solutions of algebraic equations, in which he introduced Lagrange resolvents.Paolo Ruffini was the first person to develop the theory of permutation groups, and like his predecessors, also in the context of solving algebraic equations.
Abstract algebra was developed in the 19th century, deriving from the interest in solving equations, initially focusing on what is now called Galois theory, and on constructibility issues. The “modern algebra” has deep nineteenth-century roots in the work, for example, of Richard Dedekind and Leopold Kronecker and profound interconnections with other branches of mathematics such as algebraic number theory and algebraic geometry. George Peacock was the founder of axiomatic thinking in arithmetic and algebra. Augustus De Morgan discovered relation algebra in his Syllabus of a Proposed System of Logic. Josiah Willard Gibbs developed an algebra of vectors in three-dimensional space, and Arthur Cayley developed an algebra of matrices (this is a noncommutative algebra)