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The easiest way to understand this is to think carefully about the characteristi

c polynomial of a matrix - specifically its constant term.


Let A be a n x n matrix with complex numbers as entries, and let P(X) be its cha
racteristic polynomial. Let e1, ..., en be the n complex roots of P (allowing re
petitions); we know that these are precisely the eigenvalues of A. Whenever you
know all of the roots of a polynomial, you can write P(X) = (X - e1)(X - e2) ...
(X - en). Let's plug 0 in for X; we get P(0) = (-1)^n e1*e2*...*en. Now let's t
ry to compute P(0) in a different way. By definition, P(X) = det(XI - A) where I
is the n x n identity matrix; plugging in 0 here we get P(0) = det(-A) = (-1)^n
det(A). So we conclude that (-1)^n e1*e2*...*en = P(0) = (-1)^n det(A), so canc
eling the minus sign we get that the determinant of A is the product of its eige
nvalues.
Another way to see this that is easier to remember but harder to prove in detail
is to recall that every matrix with complex entries is conjugate to a matrix in
Jordan canonical form. Since conjugation preserves both the determinant and the
eigenvalues, it suffices to prove what you want for Jordan matrices. But a Jord
an matrix is upper triangular and for an upper triangular matrix the result is o
bvious: the diagonal entries are the eigenvalues, and the determinant is the pro
duct of the diagonal entries.

Let P(t) = det(A - tI) be the characteristic polynomial of A.


For an n x n matrix this is a polynomial in t of degree n, and leading
term (-t)^n.
Now (r is an eigenvalue of A) <=> (A - r I) is not invertible
<=> P(r) = det(A - r I) = 0 <=> r - t is a factor of P(t).
In particular, if A has n distinct eigenvalues, then P(t) has n distinct
factors r - t, and since it has degree n and leading term (-t)^n,
P(t) must be the product of the factors r - t over all the eigenvalues r.
In particular, det(A) = P(0) is the product of the eigenvalues r.
If the eigenvalues are not distinct, the product must be taken with multipliciti
es. The multiplicity m(r) of eigenvalue r is the highest
power of r - t that divides P(t). We must have P(t) = product of
(r-t)^m(r) over all eigenvalues r (by the Fundamental Theorem of
Algebra every polynomial must factor into linear factors, and the only
possible linear factors are of this form), and then again
det(A) = P(0) = product of r^(m(r)).