Although Greek mathematician and engineer Hero of Alexandria is noted as the first to have conceived these numbers, Rafael Bombelli first set down the rules for multiplication of complex numbers in 1572. The concept had appeared in print earlier, for instance in work by Gerolamo Cardano. At the time imaginary numbers, as well as negative numbers, were poorly understood and regarded by some as fictitious or useless, much as zero once was. Many other mathematicians were slow to adopt the use of imaginary numbers, including René Descartes, who wrote about them in his La Géométrie, where the term imaginary was used and meant to be derogatory. The use of imaginary numbers was not widely accepted until the work of Leonhard Euler (1707–1783) and Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777–1855). The geometric significance of complex numbers as points in a plane was first described by Caspar Wessel (1745–1818).

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