Johannes Trithemius

Johannes Trithemius

Johannes Trithemius (1 February 1462 - 13 December 1516) was born Johann Heidenberg. He was an abbot and occultist who had an influence on later occultism. The name by which he is more commonly known is derived from his native town of Trittenheim on the Mosel in Germany.

He studied at the University of Heidelberg. Travelling from university to his home town in 1482, he was surprised by a snowstorm and took refuge in the Benedictine abbey of Sponheim near the Bad Kreuznach. He decided to stay and was elected abbot in 1483, at the age of twenty-one. He set out to transform the abbey from a poor, undisciplined and ruinous place into a centre of learning. In his time, the abbey library increased from around fifty items to more than two thousand. However, his efforts did not meet with praise, and his reputation as a magician did not further his acceptance. Increasing differences with the convent led to his resignation in 1506, when he decided to take up the offer of the Bishop of Würzburg, Lorenz von Bibra (bishop from 1495 to 1519), to become the abbot of St. James's Abbey, Würzburg, the "Schottenklöster" in Würzburg. He remained there until the end of his life. Trithemius was buried at the Schottenkirche St. Jakob with a tombstone by the famous Tilman Riemenschneider. In 1825 the tombstone was moved to the Neumünster church, next to the cathedral. In 1945 it was damaged in the firebombing and subsequently restored by the workshop of Theodor Spiegel.

Among his pupils were Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) and Paracelsus (1493-1541).


His most famous work is "Steganographia" (written "c."1499; published Frankfurt, 1606, placed on the "Index Librorum Prohibitorum" in 1609). This book is in three volumes, and appears to be about magic - specifically, about using spirits to communicate over long distances. Since the publication of the decryption key to the first two volumes in 1606, they have been known to be actually concerned with cryptography and steganography. Until recently, the third volume was widely still believed to be about magic - but recently the "magical" formulae were shown to be covertexts for yet more cryptography content. The work has lent its name to the modern field of steganography.

Other works

Other works include "De Laude Scriptorum" ("In Praise of Scribes") (written 1492, printed 1494), "De septum secundeis" ("The Seven Secondary Intelligences", 1508), a history of the world based on astrology; "Annales Hirsaugiensis" (1514); and "Polygraphia" (1518).

* "Annales Hirsaugiensis". The full title is "Annales hirsaugiensis...complectens historiam Franciae et Germaniae, gesta imperatorum, regum, principium, episcoporum, abbatum, et illustrium virorum", Latin for "The Annals of Hirsau...including the history of France and Germany, the exploits of the emperors, kings, princes, bishops, abbots, and illustrious men". Hirsau was a monastery near Württemberg, whose abbot commissioned the work in 1495, but it took Trithemius until 1514 to finish the two volume, 1400 page work. It was first printed in 1690. Some consider this work to be one of the first humanist history books.


The Cipher Manuscripts were encrypted using the Trithemius cipher, a simple substitution crypto which Trithemius describes in his book Polygraphia. "The Cipher Manuscripts" was used to found the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, an initiatory secret society that heavily influenced Victorian and modern European occultism.


* Annales Hirsaugienses, 1509-1514
* Antipalus maleficiorum, 1508;
* Catalogus illustrium virorum Germaniae, 1491-1495
* Chronicon Hirsaugiense, 1495-1503
* Chronicon Sponheimense, ca. 1495-1509 - "Chronik des Klosters Sponheim, 1024-1509"; Eigenverlag Carl Velten, Bad Kreuznach 1969 (German)
* Chronicon successionis ducum Bavariae et comitum Palatinorum, ca. 1500-1506
* Compendium sive breviarium primi voluminis chronicarum sive annalium de origine regum et gentis Francorum, ca. 1514
* De cura pastorali, 1496
* De duodecim excidiis oberservantiae regularis, 1496
* De institutione vitae sacerdotalis, 1486
* De laude scriptorum manualium, 1492 - "Zum Lob der Schreiber"; Freunde Mainfränkischer Kunst and Geschichte e. V., Würzburg 1973, (Latin/German)
* De laudibus sanctissimae matris Annae, 1494
* De origine gentis Francorum compendium, 1514 - "An abridged history of the Franks / Johannes Trithemius"; AQ-Verlag, Dudweiler 1987; ISBN 978-3-922441-52-6 (Latin/German)
* De origine, progressu et laudibus ordinis fratrum Carmelitarum, 1492
* De proprietate monachorum, before 1494
* De regimine claustralium, 1486
* De scriptoribus ecclesiasticis, 1494 [ Digital Version MGH-Bibliothek]
* De septem secundeis id est intelligentiis sive spiritibus orbes post deum moventibus, ca. 1508
* De triplici regione claustralium et spirituali exercitio monachorum, 1497
* De vanitate et miseria humanae vitae, before 1494
* De visitatione monachorum, about 1490
* De viris illustribus ordinis sancti Benedicti, 1492
* Exhortationes ad monachos, 1486
* In laudem et commendatione Ruperti quondam abbatis Tuitiensis, 1492
* Liber octo quaestionum, 1515
* Liber penthicus seu lugubris de statu et ruina ordinis monastici, 1493
* Nepiachus, 1507
* Polygraphiae, 1508
* Steganographia, ca. 1500

* Marquard Freher, "Opera historica", Minerva, Frankfurt/Main, 1966
* Johannes Busaeus, "Opera pia et spiritualia" (1604 and 1605)
* Johannes Busaeus, "Paralipomena opuscolorum" (1605 and 1624)


* Umberto Eco, "Foucaults Pendulum", 1988
* David Kahn, "The Codebreakers - The Story of Secret Writing", 1967, 2nd edition 1996, pp. 130–137 ISBN 0-684-83130-9
* Rudolf Kuhn, "Großer Führer durch WŰRZBURGS DOM und NEUMŰNSTER: mit Neumünster-Kreuzgang und Walthergrab", 1968, p.108

See also

* tabula recta
* Humanism in Germany

External links

* [ Steganographia (Latin). Digital Edition, 1997]
* [ Solved: The Ciphers in Book iii of Trithemius's "Steganographia"] , PDF, 208 kB
* [ Hill Monastic Manuscript Library article on Trithemius] (includes links to photographs of various Trithemius first editions.)
* [ Cryptology in the 15th and 16th century - Penn Leary]
* [ The complete and solved Steganography books]

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