Cryptologic Bytes

"On This Date in History" Calendar

1462: Birthday of Johannes Trithemius

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

2 February 1462: Birthday of Johannes Trithemius, born Johann Heidenberg, was the author of the first printed book on cryptography published in Europe. He was a German Benedictine abbot and a polymath active in the German Renaissance, as a lexicographer, chronicler, cryptographer and occultist. He took considerable influence on the development of early modern and modern occultism; among his students were Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus.

Learn about the NCMF's acquisition of a rare publication by Trithemius from Dr. David Kahn via the link at the bottom of the page.

The major works of Trithemius include "Steganographia," (which means in Greek, "hidden writing") written circa 1499, "Polygraphiae," a cryptographic work and "De Septum Secundeis," a history of the World based on astrology, both of which were published in 1508.

Trithemius was also a magician. In his trilogy -"Steganographia," books one and two were clearly systems for encoding and were the first books written on cryptography. The third book in the trilogy was more buried in the guise of occult astrology. Many took the writing literally and thought the numbers contained secrets to conjuring spirits. Scholars, however, went further and discovered the writing contained a code and began working to decipher it. The messages encrypted in Trithemius's tables turned out to be somewhat ordinary sentences.

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