Did the Vatican control Europe with the aid of a secret CIPHER DISK?
THE BATTISTA CODE YZYJ = POPE
When the first Crusaders returned to Europe from the Holy Land at the end of the 11th century, they brought something dangerous with them: not a foreign disease or weapons, but a mathematical formula – one which triggered wars, toppled rulers and shook the power structures of the continent.
Frequency analysis, which was used as an aid to breaking classical ciphers, could be used to decipher all of the codes known at the time. This meant that coded letters – which passed through the hands of dozens of messengers, coachmen and sailors in the Middle Ages – were suddenly no longer as safe as they once were. No one could tell who had read their letter before it was delivered. This was a disaster for Europe’s ruling elite – there was no alternative but to carry on sending messages between kings and popes. Necessity is the mother of invention and what the ruling classes desperately needed was a new system of encryption.
In this climate, the scholar Leon Battista Alberti was commissioned to invent an encryption method for the papacy. He quickly came up with a revolutionary cipher disk comprising two rotating dials, a polyalphabetic codebreaker that was well ahead of its time. The disk shows which letter will be replaced with another (in the right-hand image, N equates to A, O to Z and so on.) The user gets a new code simply by adjusting the disks. For the system to work, the recipient needed an identical cipher disk – and instructions on how to set it. This could be specified verbally in advance, or announced by the first character of the coded correspondence.
For centuries, this disk was considered unbreakable – and gave the Vatican a huge strategic advantage. Using the protection afforded by this encryption method, popes influenced politics in Europe, claimed land and cities, put kings under pressure and dispatched powerful enemies – altering Europe forever.
IN WITH THE NEW With the cipher disk, the Vatican established a new era of communication. Before its introduction, sealed letters could easily be opened or even faked.