Adam Riese

The Master of Arithmetic, Adam Riese

The most famous son of the town is the master of arithmetic, Adam Riese, who was born here in 1492.

Adam Riese

* 1492 in Bad Staffelstein (Franconia)
† 1559 in Annaberg ( Ore Mountains )

Adam Riese was born in Staffelstein in 1492. His contemporaries were Hans Sachs, Albrecht Dürer, Martin Behaim, Martin Luther, Nicolaus Copernicus. From sources, we know that his father, Conntz Ries, owned houses, a windmill, a vineyard and was married twice. Adam Ries came from the second marriage. He had two half-brothers and a half-sister from his father’s first marriage as well as three full sisters and a brother, Conrad. The father presumably died in 1506, the mother, Eva, not long after her son, Adam.

Nothing is known for certain about his school years. We only know from his later activities that he understood Latin, the language of the scholars. It is conceivable that he received a kind of private tuition in Latin from one of the town’s ministers. In 1509 he and his brother Conrad stayed in Zwickau. Conrad attended the highly respected Latin School in Zwickau. In 1518, Riese settled in Erfurt and his first arithmetic book “Rechnung auff der linihen” was completed.


In 1522, his second arithmetic book, “Rechenung auff der linihen und federn” was printed at Mathes Maler’s in Erfurt. In 1522/23 he moved to Annaberg in the Ore Mountains, in 1524 he finished his work on the “Coß” (an algebra textbook). In 1525 he bought a house in Johannisgasse, married Anna Lewber and took the citizens’ oath. In 1525 he became the Rezeßschreiber (an accountant in mining) in Annaberg, thereby becoming the “miner of the quill” public official.

1525: his first arithmetic book was printed for a second time, as well as his second arithmetic book. In 1536 he released his book “Ein gerechnet Büchlein”, the so-called ‘Brotordnung’ (bread laws) to protect the common people from dishonest merchants. 1539: he was appointed “Kurfürstlicher Sächsischer Hofarithmeticus” (Electoral Saxon Court Arithmeticus). In 1550, Ries published his third arithmetic book “Rechenung nach der lenge, auff den Linihen und Feder”, which became well known under the name “Praktica”. Riese died in 1559 in Annaberg.

Through his arithmetic books, Riese gave ordinary people an understanding of the meaning and application of mathematics in many areas of everyday life: buying, selling, comparing weights (Venice, Nuremberg, Cologne), transport and cartage, from profit to time, from profiteering, the creation of coins, buying cattle, the contents of the barrel … “so that the poor common man won’t be cheated.” In the many editions of his “calculating numbers”, Ries would begin with a poem devoted to the reader that, grounded in the belief that God has ordered everything according to measurement, weight and quantity, should motivate the reader to learn the art of arithmetic.

A special department about Adam Riese is located in the City-Museum of Bad Staffelstein.


On the 450th anniversary of his death in 2009, the Adam Riese memorial by Andreas Krämmer was dedicated to him on Bahnhofstraße / corner of market square. It depicts the master of arithmetic with a pupil.

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