A toric variety is an algebraic variety $X$ with an embedding $T \hookrightarrow X$ of an algebraic torus $T$ as a dense open set, such that $T$ acts on $X$ and the embedding is equivariant.

It turns out that, given this setup, essentially all the algebraic-geometric information of $X$ can be encoded in a finite combinatorial structure (the fan of $X$). This makes toric varieties very appealing to algebraic geometers, since they're much easier to calculate with than arbitrary varieties. And indeed, toric varieties have been intensively studied since they were introduced in the early 1970s.

It seems natural to generalise this by replacing $T$ by some other linear algebraic group $G$, and studying the resulting class of varieties. To reiterate, that means we are looking at $G$-varieties $X$ with a dense equivariant embedding $G \hookrightarrow X$.

But I have never seen anyone mention this more general setup. So my questions are:

Q 1. Is there a clear conceptual reason that, for general $G$, this setup does not lead to a nice theory?

Q 2. If so, can we put some restrictions on $G$ so that we do get a nice theory?

Q 3. Finally, are there any references that discuss this general setup?

  • $\begingroup$ I know nothing about this except that mathoverflow should be a better place for this question. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ @studiosus: maybe so, but let's wait a little while and see if anything turns up here. I think for instance David Speyer might say something informative, if he sees the question. $\endgroup$
    – Confused
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ One suggestion, is to look at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spherical_variety (unless you already did). This class (I think, Michel Brion is responsible for the definition) is both natural and does generalize toric varieties. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ Dear @studiosus: yes, I found that after asking the question. Spherical varieties are definitely relevant, and indeed that might be the best answer I can get. $\endgroup$
    – Confused
    Commented Sep 17, 2014 at 13:28

3 Answers 3


Actually there is a concept of Spherical varieties. It is a variety that admits an action of a reductive algebraic group G wherein a Borel subgroup has an open dense orbit. So some kind of generalization from torus to connected solvable group is there. The names of people who have contributed to this study that I remember are Michel Brion, Luna, Vust.

Lakshmibai also has done some work on Schubert Varieties X in G/P that are spherical varieties for some Levi subgroup of G.


For $G =\mathbb{C}^{*}$ there is a birational theory. Certain elements of Mori's minimal model program can be performed equivariantly in this category. One reason for this is that every extremal ray of the Mori cone contains a curve which is $\mathbb{C}^{*}$-invariant.

Maybe have a look at the following paper.



It turn out that torus are the only compact abelian groups.

So both the algebra and the topology are especially simple and well mastered.

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    $\begingroup$ The algebraic torus is not a torus, however. $\endgroup$
    – Zhen Lin
    Commented Sep 24, 2014 at 19:57
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    $\begingroup$ And finite abelian groups are compact. $\endgroup$
    – rfauffar
    Commented Sep 24, 2014 at 20:00
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry, this definitely doesn't answer the question. $\endgroup$
    – user64687
    Commented Sep 25, 2014 at 8:22
  • $\begingroup$ By torus, I mean R^n/Z^n. It is compact but not finite. And you are right, this does not answer the question, because I missed the G↪X part. $\endgroup$
    – AlainD
    Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 13:40

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