Fermat's theorem on sums of two squares

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In additive number theory, Fermat's theorem on sums of two squares states that an odd prime p can be expressed as:

with x and y integers, if and only if

The prime numbers for which this is true are called Pythagorean primes. For example, the primes 5, 13, 17, 29, 37 and 41 are all congruent to 1 modulo 4, and they can be expressed as sums of two squares in the following ways:

On the other hand, the primes 3, 7, 11, 19, 23 and 31 are all congruent to 3 modulo 4, and none of them can be expressed as the sum of two squares. This is the easier part of the theorem, and follows immediately from the observation that all squares are congruent to 0 or 1 modulo 4.

Since the Diophantus identity implies that the product of two integers each of which can be written as the sum of two squares is itself expressible as the sum of two squares, by applying Fermat's theorem to the prime factorization of any positive integer n, we see that if all the prime factors of n congruent to 3 modulo 4 occur to an even exponent, then n is expressible as a sum of two squares. The converse also holds.[1] This generalization of Fermat's theorem is known as the sum of two squares theorem.


Albert Girard was the first to make the observation, describing all positive integer numbers (not necessarily primes) expressible as the sum of two squares of positive integers; this was published in 1625.[2][3] The statement that every prime p of the form 4n+1 is the sum of two squares is sometimes called Girard's theorem.[4] For his part, Fermat wrote an elaborate version of the statement (in which he also gave the number of possible expressions of the powers of p as a sum of two squares) in a letter to Marin Mersenne dated December 25, 1640: for this reason this version of the theorem is sometimes called Fermat's Christmas theorem.

Proofs of Fermat's theorem on sums of two squares[edit]

Fermat usually did not write down proofs of his claims, and he did not provide a proof of this statement. The first proof was found by Euler after much effort and is based on infinite descent. He announced it in two letters to Goldbach, on May 6, 1747 and on April 12, 1749; he published the detailed proof in two articles (between 1752 and 1755).[5][6] Lagrange gave a proof in 1775 that was based on his study of quadratic forms. This proof was simplified by Gauss in his Disquisitiones Arithmeticae (art. 182). Dedekind gave at least two proofs based on the arithmetic of the Gaussian integers. There is an elegant proof using Minkowski's theorem about convex sets. Simplifying an earlier short proof due to Heath-Brown (who was inspired by Liouville's idea), Zagier presented a non-constructive one-sentence proof in 1990.[7] And more recently Christopher gave a partition-theoretic proof.[8]


Wagon presented an algorithm for calculating such decompositions in 1990, based on work by Serret and Hermite (1848), and Cornacchia (1908).[9]

Related results[edit]

Fermat announced two related results fourteen years later. In a letter to Blaise Pascal dated September 25, 1654 he announced the following two results for odd primes :

He also wrote:

If two primes which end in 3 or 7 and surpass by 3 a multiple of 4 are multiplied, then their product will be composed of a square and the quintuple of another square.

In other words, if p, q are of the form 20k + 3 or 20k + 7, then pq = x2 + 5y2. Euler later extended this to the conjecture that

Both Fermat's assertion and Euler's conjecture were established by Lagrange.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For a proof of the converse see for instance 20.1, Theorems 367 and 368, in: G.H. Hardy and E.M. Wright. An introduction to the theory of numbers, Oxford 1938.
  2. ^ Simon Stevin. l'Arithmétique de Simon Stevin de Bruges, annotated by Albert Girard, Leyde 1625, p. 622.
  3. ^ L. E. Dickson, History of the Theory of Numbers, Vol. II, Ch. VI, p. 227. "A. Girard ... had already made a determination of the numbers expressible as a sum of two integral squares: every square, every prime 4n+1, a product formed of such numbers, and the double of the foregoing"
  4. ^ L. E. Dickson, History of the Theory of Numbers, Vol. II, Ch. VI, p. 228.
  5. ^ De numerus qui sunt aggregata quorum quadratorum. (Novi commentarii academiae scientiarum Petropolitanae 4 (1752/3), 1758, 3-40)
  6. ^ Demonstratio theorematis FERMATIANI omnem numerum primum formae 4n+1 esse summam duorum quadratorum. (Novi commentarii academiae scientiarum Petropolitanae 5 (1754/5), 1760, 3-13)
  7. ^ Zagier, D. (1990), "A one-sentence proof that every prime p ≡ 1 (mod 4) is a sum of two squares", American Mathematical Monthly, 97 (2): 144, doi:10.2307/2323918, MR 1041893.
  8. ^ A. David Christopher. "A partition-theoretic proof of Fermat's Two Squares Theorem", Discrete Mathematics 339:4:1410–1411 (6 April 2016) doi:10.1016/j.disc.2015.12.002
  9. ^ Wagon, Stan (1990), "Editor's Corner: The Euclidean Algorithm Strikes Again", American Mathematical Monthly, 97 (2): 125, doi:10.2307/2323912, MR 1041889.