Radical extensions occur naturally when solving polynomial equations in radicals. In fact a solution in radicals is the expression of the solution as an element of a radical series: a polynomial f over a field K is said to be solvable by radicals if there is a splitting field of f over K contained in a radical extension of K.
The Abel–Ruffini theorem states that such a solution by radicals does not exist, in general, for equations of degree at least five. Évariste Galois showed that an equation is solvable in radicals if and only if its Galois group is solvable. The proof is based on the fundamental theorem of Galois theory and the following theorem.
Let K be a field containing n distinct nth roots of unity. An extension of K of degree n is a radical extension generated by an nth root of an element of K if and only if it is a Galois extension whose Galois group is a cyclic group of order n.
It follows from this theorem that a Galois extension may be expressed as a radical series if and only if its Galois group is solvable. This is, in modern terminology, the criterion of solvability by radicals that was provided by Galois. The proof uses the fact that the Galois closure of a simple radical extension of degree n is the extension of it by a primitive nth root of unity, and that the Galois group of the nth roots of unity is cyclic.