The Most Influential
People in History
oh-mawr, ki-YAWM / Arabic in full, Ghiyath al-Din Abu al-Fatḥ ʿUmar ibn Ibrahim al-Nisaburi al-Khayyami
Persian Poet, Mathematician, and Astronomer
Mathematics Ranking 44th of 46
Stamp commemorating the 850th anniversary of Omar Khayyam’s birth.
Omar Khayyam was renowned in Iran during his life for his scientific achievements but known to English-speaking readers for his roba’iyat (“quatrains”) in the version The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, published in 1859 by Edward Fitzgerald.
Khayyam received a good education in the sciences and philosophy in his native Nishapur and in Balkh and then went to Samarkand, where he completed an important treatise on algebra. He made such a name for himself that he was invited by the Seljuq sultan Malik-Shah to undertake the astronomical observations necessary for the reform of the calendar. Khayyam was also commissioned to build an observatory in the city of Isfahan, Iran, in collaboration with other astronomers. After the death of his patron in 1092, Omar went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Returning to Neyshabur, he taught and served the court from time to time by predicting events to come. Philosophy, jurisprudence, history, mathematics, medicine, and astronomy are among the subjects mastered by this brilliant man. Unfortunately, few of his prose writings survive; these include a few brief tracts on metaphysics, an important treatise on algebra, and one on Euclid.(1) Khayyam's Treatise on Demonstrations of Problems of Algebra provided the first systematic study of cubic equations and the first exact method of solving them.(2)
(1) Encyclopaedia Britannica, Micropaedia, Volume 8, 1993, 15th Edition, p. 945.
(2) Victor J. Katz, A History of Mathematics – An Introduction, 3rd edition (Boston, 2009), p. 287.