by Ellie Ragiel

Johannes Trithemius was a 16th century monk and Renaissance man who made a lasting impact on the study of cryptography, but one that is laden with secrecy and tales of dark magic. It has been widely debated whether his work the Steganographia is a book about cryptography, encrypted itself to look like magic, or whether it is just a book of witchcraft, spells, and spirits. Nonetheless, his following work, the Polygraphia, is widely accepted as the first official written work on cryptography, and the Ave Maria cipher and Trithemius square described in this work have lasting implications for cipher systems such as the famed Vigenère cipher.

Works Cited

de Leeuw, M. & Maria, K. (2007). The history of information security: A comprehensive handbook. San Diego, California: Elsevier Science.

Khan, D. (1967). The codebreakers: The story of secret writing. New York: Macmillan. pp.130-137.

Johannes Trithemius. (1851). In Notes and Queries (Vol. 4). Retrieved from Vanderbilt Library online database.

Reeds, J. (1998). Solved: The ciphers in book III of Thrithemius’s Steganographia. Cryptologia, 22(4), 291. Retrieved from Vanderbilt Library online database.

Shumaker, W. (n.d.). Renaissance curiosa: John Dee’s conversations with angels, Girolamo Cardano’s horoscope of Christ, Johannes Trithemius and cryptography, George Dalgarno’s Universal language. Binghamton, N.Y: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies.

Audio Sources

Retrieved from

  • Record Scratch
  • Crowd Cheering

Retrieved from

  • Schubert Ave Maria
  • Dun dun dun
  • Piano Theme Mystical
  • Ambient Background Music


Detail of tomb relief of Johannes Trithemius, public domain, Wikimedia Commons