Medieval Musical Notes as Cryptography

Elsa De Luca, John Haines

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter begins with a survey of the small body of scholarly literature devoted to the topic, which will help explain exactly why the phenomenon of medieval music ciphers is still relatively unknown. In the Middle Ages, the musical nota belonged to a large family of notes and, in outward appearance at least, was much like any other medieval nota. Into this multifarious tribe of notae was born the cryptographic neume. Despite the recent revival of cryptographic studies in Spain, the medieval phenomenon of musical cryptography remained unstudied until Elsa De Luca's research a few years ago on the Leon Antiphoner, where she stumbled onto two cryptographic inscriptions. By cataloguing the sources and studying their basic paleography—specifically, the exact shapes of individual ciphers, and the differences between scribal hands—she explored Visigothic musical cryptography more thoroughly than had been done until now and fulfilled a longstanding scholarly desideratum.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Material History of Medieval and Early Modern Ciphers
Subtitle of host publicationCryptography and the History of Literacy
EditorsKatherine Ellison , Susan Kim
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781315267449
ISBN (Print)9781138244641
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Publication series

NameMaterial Readings in Early Modern Culture


  • Cryptography
  • Neumes
  • Visigothic Iberia


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