Introducing Mathematicians from History 8: Geralamo Cardano

In today’s distance learning Maths blog, an Oxford Home Schooling tutor looks at the life and work of Geralamo Cardano.

When and where did he live?

Cardano was born in Pavia, Italy in 1501. His mother had moved out of Milan in order to avoid the plague that was sweeping the city at that time. He spent much of his life in Italy although he did live in Scotland for a while.

Why is he famous?

Cardano wrote the first study of the probability of dice rolling, as well carrying out some ground breaking work in algebra and number theory.

Unusual facts

Cardano was a successful doctor and his services were sought by many important people. The only person to persuade him to leave Italy was the Archbishop of St Andrews who paid him a large sum of money for his services and eventually made a full recovery.

In addition to being a physician Cardano was a renowned gambler and he used his understanding of probability to great advantage at dice and card tables. He also wrote some controversial articles which caused him to be jailed for heresy for a few months.

Cardano apparently correctly predicted his own date of death although many people think he “cheated” and committed suicide in Rome on 26th September 1576

Links to modern mathematics

Writing the probability of throwing a 6 on a 6 sided dice as 1/6 may seem obvious today but Cardano was the first person to formally do so. He also did a lot of work on solving equations.

Debby Gill


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