Squared triangular number

Squared triangular number
Visual demonstration that the square of a triangular number equals a sum of cubes.

In number theory, the sum of the first n cubes is the square of the nth triangular number. That is,

\sum_{i=1}^{n} i^3 = \Bigl(\sum_{i=1}^{n} i\Bigr)^2.

This identity is sometimes called Nicomachus's theorem.



Stroeker (1995), writing about Nicomachus's theorem, claims that "every student of number theory surely must have marveled at this miraculous fact". While Stroeker's statement may perhaps be a poetic exaggeration, it is true that many mathematicians have studied this equality and have proven it in many different ways. Pengelley (2002) finds references to the identity in several ancient mathematical texts: the works of Nicomachus in what is now Jordan in the first century CE, Aryabhata in India in the fifth century, and Al-Karaji circa 1000 in Persia. Bressoud (2004) mentions several additional early mathematical works on this formula, by Alchabitius (tenth century Arabia), Gersonides (circa 1300 France), and Nilakantha Somayaji (circa 1500 India); he reproduces Nilakantha's visual proof.

Numeric values; geometric and probabilistic interpretation

The sequence of squared triangular numbers is

0, 1, 9, 36, 100, 225, 441, 784, 1296, 2025, 3025, 4356, 6084, 8281, ... (sequence A000537 in OEIS).

These numbers can be viewed as figurate numbers, a four-dimensional hyperpyramidal generalization of the triangular numbers and square pyramidal numbers.

As Stein (1971) observes, these numbers also count the number of rectangles with horizontal and vertical sides formed in an n×n grid. For instance, the points of a 4×4 grid can form 36 different rectangles. The number of squares in a square grid is similarly counted by the square pyramidal numbers.

The identity also admits a natural probabilistic interpretation as follows. Let X,Y,Z,W be four integer numbers independently and uniformly chosen at random between 1 and n. Then, the probability that W be not less than any other is equal to the probability that both Y be not less than X and W be not less than Z, that is, \scriptstyle \mathbb{P}\left(\{\max(X,Y,Z)\leq W\}\right)=\mathbb{P}\left(\{X\leq Y\} \cap \{Z\leq W\}\right). Indeed, these probabilities are respectively the left and right sides of the Nichomacus identity, normalized over n4.


Wheatstone (1854) gives a particularly simple derivation, by expanding each cube in the sum into a set of consecutive odd numbers:

1 + 8 + 27 + 64 + 125 + ...
  = (1) + (3 + 5) + (7 + 9 + 11) + (13 + 15 + 17 + 19) + (21 + 23 + 25 + 27 + 29) + ...
  = 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 + 11 + 13 + 15 + 17 + 19 + 21 + 23 + 25 + 27 + 29 ...

The sum of any set of consecutive odd numbers starting from 1 is a square, and the quantity that is squared is the count of odd numbers in the sum. The latter is easily seen to be a count of the form 1+2+3+4+...+n.

In the more recent mathematical literature, Stein (1971) uses the rectangle-counting interpretation of these numbers to form a geometric proof of the identity (see also Benjamin et al.); he observes that it may also be proved easily (but uninformatively) by induction, and states that Toeplitz (1963) provides "an interesting old Arabic proof". Kanim (2004) provides a purely visual proof, Benjamin and Orrison (2002) provide two additional proofs, and Nelsen (1993) gives seven geometric proofs.


A similar result to Nicomachus's theorem holds for all power sums, namely that odd power sums (sums of odd powers) are a polynomial in triangular numbers. These are called Faulhaber polynomials, of which the sum of cubes is the simplest and most elegant example.

Stroeker (1995) studies more general conditions under which the sum of a consecutive sequence of cubes forms a square. Garrett and Hummel (2004) and Warnaar (2004) study polynomial analogues of the square triangular number formula, in which series of polynomials add to the square of another polynomial.


External links

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