Ciphers of the Monks

Astrolabe marked with the ciphers

Read more...In addition to the Roman and Arabic numerals, there was another long-lived style of numeration in Europe, which is barely known today. It is described in a beautiful book The Ciphers of the Monks: A Forgotten Number-notation of the Middle Ages by David A. King.

The Basingstoke Cipher

Matthew Paris:

"Master J(ohn of Basingstoke) had informed Archbishop Robert of Lincoln that when he studied in Athens, he had seen and studied under the most learned of the Greek scholars, who are unknown to the Latins. ... ... This Master J[ohn] then brought to England the numerals of the Greeks, figures which also serve to express the letters and the knowledge of their meaning, and made them known to his friends. Regarding these numerals, which we want to reproduce on this page, what is the most admirable and what we do not find in the case of the Roman or the Hindu-Arabic numerals (quod non est in Latino, vel Algorismo), is that any numer may be represented as one single figure. Trace a (vertical) line and draw lines going out from it and making with it a right, acute or obtuse angle, in the following manner." [Chap 2.2 p.51]
He also noted that "the worthiest of all these figures" was 55, being in the shape of the cross , and that the arrow-shaped cipher represented 33, the age of Jesus at his death.[pp.55]

The Cisternian Cipher

The Cisternian variety is described in Agrippa's Occult Philosophy Chap. xix. as "certain other notes of Magicians" which he "found in two most ancient books of Astrologers, and Magicians, certain most elegant marks of numbers, which [he] thought good to set down in this place."

It seems to me like close relative of the notation is found in Chap. xvii.

Variant Ciphers

A simpler 5-based family of variants are found in runic calendars, and the same logical progression of these numerals are found in the Ogham scales.

1 comment:

Joel said...

For a more recent [and far more useful], but similar aet of concepts, go to funforms.com