Person: Von Vega, Georg Freiherr
Jurij Vega wrote about artillery but he is best remembered for his tables of logarithms and trigonometric functions.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- He was given the name Jurij Bartolomej Veha but later in life, when he was in his 20s, he began using the German version of his name Georg Freiherr von Vega.
- The Latin version of his name is Georgius Bartholomaei Vecha and he was baptised with this Latin version of his name on 24 March 1754 in Moravce.
- During this biography we will use the name Vega which, when he was about 25 years old, he chose rather than the original Veha which means 'unreliable person'.
- His mathematics teacher at this school was Josef Maffei who quickly realised that the Vega had a remarkable talent for calculating.
- Vega showed his appreciation of Maffei's teaching when, later in life, he dedicated a book to him.
- Other important teachers at this school were Gregor Schoettl, who taught Vega physics, and Gabrijel Gruber who taught him mechanics and hydraulics.
- It is likely that Gabrijel Gruber influenced Vega to take up this profession.
- The five years Vega spent as a navigational engineer were years during which he continued to increase his knowledge of mathematics and physics by studying on his own.
- Vega saw little opportunity to progress in his profession as a navigational engineer so he volunteered for military service, moving to Vienna and joining the artillery on 7 April 1780.
- The way to rectify this, of course, was to write his own textbook and this is what Vega began working on soon after his appointment as a lecturer.
- Before the second volume of the textbook appeared, Vega had published the first of his famous books of tables, namely Logarithmische, trigonometrische, und andere zum Gebrauche der Mathematik eingerichtete Tafeln und Formeln (1783).
- His name appears on the title page as "Georg Vega, Sub-lieutenant and Lecturer in Mathematics at the k.k. Second Field Artillery Regiment" Note that k.k. stands for 'kaiserlich/königlich' or 'kaiserlich österreichisch/königlich böhmisch', namely 'Imperial Austrian/Royal Bohemian'.
- In the Preface to the work Vega explained that his aim was to produce tables which were of outstanding accuracy but available at a low price.
- The calculations were done with the help of the soldiers whom Vega taught, and he was so confident of their accuracy that he promised a gold ducat for every mistake found.
- On 1 April 1784, Vega was promoted to lieutenant and, in the same year, the second volume of his textbook appeared.
- We should note that Vega's love of tables extended to his textbook, for this second volume contains trigonometric tables.
- The year 1787 was particularly eventful for Vega.
- The year 1787 was also significant in the history of the region for the wars in which Vega would participate over the following years began in that year.
- Austria was unwillingly dragged into the conflict through the 1781 pact and when the Turks attacked Austria in 1788, Vega made it clear that he wanted to participate actively in the fighting.
- Certainly someone in his position would have been expected to remain in Vienna, but Vega was keen to apply his theoretical expertise in military applications of mathematics to practical situations.
- The Austrian forces laid siege to Belgrade on 15 September 1789 and Vega commanded mortar batteries, a task that he was specially well equipped to do since one of the topics of his mathematical research had been the study of heavy mortars.
- The fighting over the following three weeks was fierce but his fellow soldiers marvelled that Vega would sit calculating logarithms while cannonballs flew over his head.
- The effective use of the heavy mortars, whose angle of elevation had been corrected by Vega, was a major factor in the Austrians taking Belgrade on 8 October 1789.
- Vega's calculating abilities, often carried on during military campaigns, is clear in his remarkable achievement of calculating π to 140 places, a record which stood for over 50 years.
- After this treaty had been signed, Vega returned to his teaching position in Vienna.
- Vega was involved in many battles over the following years but also had periods when he was able to concentrate on his mathematics.
- The year 1753, in which Austria, Prussia, Spain, the United Provinces, and Great Britain allied against France, was a particularly eventful one for Vega.
- Vega was also part of the Austrian force that captured Fort Louis from the French on 10 November.
- Vega returned to Vienna at various stages during the fighting, where he was able to continue to work on his mathematics which he continued to publish.
- This remarkable work, which went through over 100 editions, contained more than just tables, for in it Vega explained the theory of logarithms in the Preface, and then went on to give useful examples of how the tables could be used.
- Vega continued to participate in the fighting which was part of the French Revolutionary Wars.
- Vega was again present when the Austrian forces besieged the fort at Kehl later that year in October.
- Vega was able to spend more time on his mathematics after the treaty of Campo Formido of 18 October 1797 ended hostilities, with the Austrians accepting defeat by the French under Napoleon Bonaparte.
- On 22 August 1800 Vega was given the hereditary title of baron, including the right to his own coat of arms.
- Perhaps at this point we should note other honours which had been given to Vega.
- In early 1802 Vega was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
- The asteroid 14966 Jurijvega, discovered on 30 July 1997, has been named for him as has a street in Vienna.
Born 23 March 1754, Zagorica, Ljubljana, Austrian Empire (now Slovenia). Died 26 September 1802, Vienna, Austria.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
Origin Slovenia, Number Theory, Special Numbers And Numerals
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive