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Writings of Polybius

Polybius was a Greek historian (ca200-118BC), known in cryptography circles as the inventor of the Polybius Square, the well-known classic system where letters were placed in a 5x5 grid. “A” might be encoded by the number 11 (standing for row 1, column 1), “B” by 12 (row 1, column 2), “F” 21, and so on, until “Z”, which would be 55 (the “24” square in English typically shared by I and J). As a cipher it’s rudimentary and insecure, but it was useful 2,000 years ago, and certainly laid the groundwork for many interesting developments and improvements since.


These randomized squiggles represent the intersection of systems (the grid), randomness (ciphers), and the humanities (history), and represent a critical building block as I develop future work.


P. S. Polybius is also noted for his influential analysis and advocacy of separation of powers, as well as check and balances (his father was a ambassador in the Roman government and he learned much as a child from his travels alongside). As a historian, a role for which he was also esteemed, he was very careful to document events by interviewing as many witnesses as possible. I mention this to demonstrate what a careful, methodical and rounded thinker he was in general.