Are all algebraic integers with absolute value 1 roots of unity?

If we have an algebraic number $\alpha$ with (complex) absolute value $1$, it does not follow that $\alpha$ is a root of unity (i.e., that $\alpha^n = 1$ for some $n$). For example, $(3/5 + 4/5 i)$ is not a root of unity.

But if we assume that $\alpha$ is an algebraic integer with absolute value $1$, does it follow that $\alpha$ is a root of unity?

I know that if all conjugates of $\alpha$ have absolute value $1$, then $\alpha$ is a root of unity by the argument below:

The minimal polynomial of $\alpha$ over $\mathbb{Z}$ is $\prod_{i=1}^d (x-\alpha_i)$, where the $\alpha_i$ are just the conjugates of $\alpha$. Then $\prod_{i=1}^d (x-\alpha_i^n)$ is a polynomial over $\mathbb{Z}$ with $\alpha^n$ as a root. It also has degree $d$, and all roots have absolute value $1$. But there can only be finitely many such polynomials (since the coefficients are integers with bounded size), so we get that $\alpha^n=\sigma(\alpha)$ for some Galois conjugation $\sigma$. If $\sigma^m(\alpha) = \alpha$, then $\alpha^{n^m} = \alpha$.

Thus $\alpha^{n^m – 1} = 1$.


Let $x$ be an algebraic number with absolute value $1$. Then $x$ and its complex conjugate $\overline{x} = 1/x$ have the same minimal polynomial. Writing $f(T)$ for the minimal polynomial of $x$ over $\mathbb{Q}$, with degree $n$, the polynomials $T^nf(1/T)$ and $f(T)$ are irreducible over $\mathbb{Q}$ with root $\overline{x}$, so the polynomials are equal up to a scaling factor: $$T^nf(1/T) = cf(T).$$ Setting $T = 1$, $f(1) = cf(1)$.

Assuming $x$ is not rational (i.e., $x$ is not $1$ or $-1$), $f$ has degree greater than $1$, so $f(1)$ is nonzero and thus $c = 1$. Therefore $$T^nf(1/T) = f(T),$$ so $f(T)$ has symmetric coefficients. In particular, its constant term is $1$. Moreover, the roots of $f(T)$ come in reciprocal pairs (since $1$ and $-1$ are not roots), so $n$ is even.

Partial conclusion: an algebraic number other than $1$ or $-1$ which has absolute value $1$ has even degree over $\mathbb{Q}$ and its minimal polynomial has constant term $1$. In particular, if $x$ is an algebraic integer then it must be a unit.

There are no examples of algebraic integers with degree $2$ and absolute value $1$ that are not roots of unity, since a real quadratic field has no elements on the unit circle besides $1$ and $-1$ and the units in an imaginary quadratic field are all roots of unity (and actually are only $1$ and $-1$ except for $\mathbb{Q}(i)$ and $\mathbb{Q}(\omega)$). Thus the smallest degree $x$ could have over $\mathbb{Q}$ is $4$ and there are examples with degree $4$: the polynomial $$x^4 – 2x^3 – 2x + 1$$ has two roots on the unit circle and two real roots (one between $0$ and $1$ and the other greater than $1$).

Source : Link , Question Author : Jonas Kibelbek , Answer Author : Zev Chonoles

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