Harvard Extension Math for Teaching Capstone Project

Definition of Pythagorean Triples

A Pythagorean triple, named after Pythagoras, consists of three positive integers a, b, and c, such that a2 + b2 = c2. Such a triple is commonly written (a, b, c), and a well-known example is (3, 4, 5). If (a, b, c) is a Pythagorean triple, then so is (ka, kb, kc) for any positive integer k. A primitive Pythagorean triple is one in which a, b and c are coprime.

The name is derived from the Pythagorean theorem, stating that every right triangle has side lengths satisfying the formula a2 + b2 = c2; thus, Pythagorean triples describe the three integer side lengths of a right triangle. However, right triangles with non-integer sides do not form Pythagorean triples. For instance, the triangle with sides a = b = 1 and c = √2 is right, but (1, 1, √2) is not a Pythagorean triple because √2 is not an integer. Moreover, 1 and √2 do not have an integer common multiple because √2 is irrational. There are 16 primitive Pythagorean triples with c ≤ 100.  Can you figure out what the 16 primitive Pythagorean triples with c ≤ 100 are?

But where did the Pythagorean Triples come from. Let us look at the history.