July 6th in German History: Regiomontanus Dies


In the long list of German mathematicians, the name Regiomontanus, while not the most mentioned, still receives some mention in history and mathematics courses today. This is hardly surprising given the contributions he made not only to mathematics but also to astronomy. Johannes Müller von Königsberg, known as Regiomontanus, died on July 6th, 1476.

Regiomontanus was born in Northern Bavaria in 1436. The first known event after this was his entering the University of Leipzig at the age of eleven. By the age of 21, he had graduated with a bachelor’s degree and had held lectures in optics and mathematics. In 1461 he left Vienna, Austria, to travel Northern Italy in search of mathematical manuscripts for the papal legate Bessarion. While in Italy he wrote textbooks on trigonometry and algebra. Non-mathematical works included critiques of translations. In 1467 he journeyed to Hungary and worked as an astronomer and astrologer for King Matthias Corvinus. In 1472 he attempted to estimate the distance of the comet of 1472 from earth, although his numbers were woefully inaccurate. He was summoned to Rome in 1475 to help reform the calendar. Within a few months of his arrival, he died, probably of the plague, on July 6th, 1476.

Regiomontanus’s work in mathematics and astronomy was critical to the development of Copernicus’s heliocentric model. He was one of the first people to use modern trigonometry and algebra, and was a famous author within his own lifetime. He holds a place as a key mathematician of the Northern Renaissance, whose work, in one of the most fundamental fields, has influenced the world.

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