I was reading Stillwell's Mathematics and its History, where Lagrange's theory of quadratic forms is synoptically presented, and I was wondering of what are the direct predecessors of the theory.

Specifically, I am interested in the possible results that inspired him to investigate the discriminant, equivalency and the composition of quadratic forms in order to resolve number-theoretic conjectures.

  • $\begingroup$ Did I add the DOI link to the right book? $\endgroup$ Jun 30, 2020 at 19:52

1 Answer 1


The motivation for the theory of quadratic forms was representation of integers by sums of squares. This business was started by Fermat and continued by Euler, Lagrange and Legendre, then Gauss. Generalization from sums of squares to arbitrary quadratic forms is natural. Two forms represent the same integers when they are equivalent. Discriminant is the natural invariant of this equivalence relation, so it gives certain classification of quadratic forms.

Ref. André Weil, Number theory. An approach through history from Hammurapi to Legendre, Birkhäuser Boston, Inc., Boston, MA, 2007.


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