In abstract algebra and number theory, Kummer theory provides a description of certain types of field extensions involving the adjunction of nth roots of elements of the base field. The theory was originally developed by Ernst Eduard Kummer around the 1840s in his pioneering work on Fermat's Last Theorem. The main statements do not depend on the nature of the field – apart from its characteristic, which should not divide the integer n – and therefore belong to abstract algebra. The theory of cyclic extensions of the field K when the characteristic of K does divide n is called Artin–Schreier theory.
Kummer theory is basic, for example, in class field theory and in general in understanding abelian extensions; it says that in the presence of enough roots of unity, cyclic extensions can be understood in terms of extracting roots. The main burden in class field theory is to dispense with extra roots of unity ('descending' back to smaller fields); which is something much more serious.
A Kummer extension is a field extension L/K, where for some given integer n > 1 we have
Taking n = 3, there are no degree 3 Kummer extensions of the rational number field Q, since for three cube roots of 1 complex numbers are required. If one takes L to be the splitting field of X3 − a over Q, where a is not a cube in the rational numbers, then L contains a subfield K with three cube roots of 1; that is because if α and β are roots of the cubic polynomial, we shall have (α/β)3 =1 and the cubic is a separable polynomial. Then L/K is a Kummer extension.
Kummer theory provides converse statements. When K contains n distinct nth roots of unity, it states that any abelian extension of K of exponent dividing n is formed by extraction of roots of elements of K. Further, if K× denotes the multiplicative group of non-zero elements of K, abelian extensions of K of exponent n correspond bijectively with subgroups of
that is, elements of K× modulo nth powers. The correspondence can be described explicitly as follows. Given a subgroup
In fact it suffices to adjoin nth root of one representative of each element of any set of generators of the group Δ. Conversely, if L is a Kummer extension of K, then Δ is recovered by the rule
Suppose that G is a profinite group acting on a module A with a surjective homomorphism π from the G-module A to itself. Suppose also that G acts trivially on the kernel C of π and that the first cohomology group H1(G,A) is trivial. Then the exact sequence of group cohomology shows that there is an isomorphism between AG/π(AG) and Hom(G,C).
Kummer theory is the special case of this when A is the multiplicative group of the separable closure of a field k, G is the Galois group, π is the nth power map, and C the group of nth roots of unity. Artin–Schreier theory is the special case when A is the additive group of the separable closure of a field k of positive characteristic p, G is the Galois group, π is the Frobenius map minus the identity, and C the finite field of order p. Taking A to be a ring of truncated Witt vectors gives Witt's generalization of Artin–Schreier theory to extensions of exponent dividing pn.