The Galileo Project
site map

Nuñez Salaciense, Pedro

1. Dates
Born: Alcacer do Sal, Portugal, 1502
Died: Coimbra, 11 Aug. 1578
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 76
2. Father
Occupation: No Information
No information on financial status.
3. Nationality
Birth: Portuguese
Career: Portuguese
Death: Portuguese
4. Education
Schooling: Salamanca, Lisbon, M.D.
The first solid information on him shows him a student at Salamanca in 1521-2.
Returned to Univ. of Lisbon. Bachelor of Medicine, 1525.I treat this as equivalent to B.A.
Licentiate in Medicine (which I categorize as M.D.), 1532, though already teaching in the university for three years.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Catholic, Jew
From a family of converted Jews.
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Mathematics, Instrumentation, Navigation
Subordinate: Mechanics, Astronomy
Nuñez is considered the greatest Portuguese mathematician.
He invented the first form of what came to be called the vernier--called the nonius (from the Latinized Nuñez).
He was the first to distinguish, in navigation, between the rhumb line of a flat map and a great circle on a globe.
Also other contributions to navigation.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academic Position, Patronage
Professor of moral philosophy, U of Lisbon, 1529; of logic, 1530; of metaphyics, 1532-3--all while continuing medical studies. I think he continued at the university.
With move of the university to Coimbra, he became professor of mathematics there, 1544-62. As numerous appointments to commissions indicate, he was an important figure in the university.
At the same time, appointed royal cosmographer in 1529 (with a salary of 20,000 reaes); chief royal cosmographer from 1547 to death (50,000 reaes).
Tutor to the Infante, D. Luis (with a salary), with lots of indications that this was a close and enduring relation until D. Luis died in 1552. Also tutor to Luis' brother, D. Henrique. He dedicated his Treatise on the Sphere to D. Luis, and his book on algebra to Card. (as he then was) D. Henrique. After Luis' death, there was a similar relation with D. Sebastien.
Published an Algebra in Spanish, dedicated to the Spanish Infante, D. Enrique.
Called to the court by D. Sebastien (with a salary) to advise on reform of weights and measures. Appointed professor of mathematics for instruction of pilots, navigators, and cartographers.
8. Patronage
Type: Court. Ecclesiastical Official
In addition to all the above, the court appears to have protected Nuñez from efforts to persecute him as Jew. Card. D. Henrique was in charge of the Inquisition in Portugal, which cannot have harmed Nuñez.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: Navigation, Instruments
Note that Nuñez's appointment as professor of mathematics at Coimbra effectively established a new discipline in the university. He was not in any of the four established faculties. This provides some indication of the technological demands of navigation (which seem clearly to have stood behind the appointment) at the time.
10. Scientific Societies
Memberships: None
  1. José M. Lopez Piñero, et al., Diccionario historico de la ciencia moderna en España.
  2. M. Fernandez de Navarrete, Disertacion sobre la historia de la nautica y de las mathematicas, (Madrid, 1846).
  3. Diccionario enciclopedico hispano-americano, 13.
  4. Sousa Viterbo, Trabalhos nauticos dos Portugueses nos sécolos XVI e XVII, (Lisbon, 1898), pp. 171-83. This work prints all of the official documents of his appointments with information about salaries, etc.
  5. Luciano Pereiro da Silva, "Os dois doutores Pedro Nuñez," in Obras completas (i.e, of Periero da Silva), 1, 139-58.
  6. _____, "As obras de Pedro Nuñez--sua cronologia bibliografica," ibid., 3, 263-72.
  7. _____, "Pedro Nuñez espoliado por Alonso de Santa Cruz." ibid., 3. 163-84.
  8. Rudolfo Guimaräes, Sur la vie et l'oeuvre de Pedro Nuñez, (Coimbra, 1915).
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. A. Fontoura da Costa, Pedro Nuñez, (Lisbon, 1938).
  2. W.G.L. Randles, "Pedro Nunes and the Discovery of the Loxodromic Curve, or How, in the 16th Century, Navigating with a Globe had Failed to Solve the Difficulties Encountered with the Plane Chart," Revista da Universidade Coimbra, 35 (1989), 119-30.
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

©1995 Al Van Helden
Last updated
Home | Galileo | Biography | Chronology | Family | Portraits |
Science | Christianity | Library | About | Site Map | Search

Please note: We will not answer copyright requests.
See the copyright page for more information.