Flat manifold

In mathematics, a Riemannian manifold is said to be flat if its curvature is everywhere zero. Intuitively, a flat manifold is one that "locally looks like" Euclidean space in terms of distances and angles, e.g. the interior angles of a triangle add up to 180°.

The universal cover of a complete flat manifold is Euclidean space. This can be used to prove the theorem of Bieberbach (1911, 1912) that all compact flat manifolds are finitely covered by tori; the 3-dimensional case was proved earlier by Schoenflies (1891).


The following manifolds can be endowed with a flat metric. Note that this may not be their 'standard' metric (for example, the flat metric on the 2-dimensional torus is not the metric induced by its usual embedding into ).

Dimension 1

  • The line
  • The circle

Dimension 2

There are 17 compact 2-dimensional orbifolds with flat metric (including the torus and Klein bottle), listed in the article on orbifolds, that correspond to the 17 wallpaper groups.

Dimension 3

For the complete list of the 6 orientable and 4 non-orientable compact examples see Seifert fiber space.

Higher dimensions

  • Euclidean space
  • Tori
  • Products of flat manifolds
  • Quotients of flat manifolds by groups acting freely.

Relation to amenability

Among all closed manifolds with non-positive sectional curvature, flat manifolds are characterized as precisely those with an amenable fundamental group.

This is a consequence of the Adams-Ballmann theorem (1998),[1] which establishes this characterization in the much more general setting of discrete cocompact groups of isometries of Hadamard spaces. This provides a far-reaching generalisation of Bieberbach's theorem.

The discreteness assumption is essential in the Adams-Ballmann theorem: otherwise, the classification must include symmetric spaces, Bruhat-Tits buildings and Bass-Serre trees in view of the "indiscrete" Bieberbach theorem of Caprace-Monod.[2]

See also


  • Bieberbach, L. (1911), "Über die Bewegungsgruppen der Euklidischen Räume I", Mathematische Annalen, 70 (3): 297–336, doi:10.1007/BF01564500.


  1. Adams, S.; Ballmann, W. (1998). "Amenable isometry groups of Hadamard spaces". Math. Ann. 312 (1): 183–195.
  2. Caprace, P.-E.; Monod, N. (2015). "An indiscrete Bieberbach theorem: from amenable CAT(0) groups to Tits buildings". J. Ecole Polytechnique. 2: 333–383.
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