Bellaso Ciphers

In 1553, Giovan Battista Bellaso [Note: not “Belaso”, this was a typo, however much it gets repeated on the Internet and in library catalogues] published a cryptography manual called La Cifra del Sig. Giovan Battista Bel[l]aso, dedicated to Girolamo Ruscelli, followed by two other editions in 1555 and 1564. As with Alexander d’Agapeyeff, Simon Singh and countless others, his 1555 book and his 1564 book (Il Vero Modo di Scrivere in Cifra) included some challenge ciphers for readers to cut their teeth on. While the three ciphers in the 1555 edition came with no preamble, Bellaso talked a little more about the seven different ciphers had added to the 1564 edition:-

The seven appended messages have been accurately compiled according to the concepts taught. They contain some beautiful things that are interesting to know. This will give the skilled and ingenious cryptographers the opportunity to strive to solve them, especially those who assert being capable to solve all kinds of ciphers. If this is true, as many believe, it will not be difficult for them to solve these cryptograms knowing all the rules by which they have been compiled, considering that the different ciphering methods are practically numberless.

If nobody had broken them within a year, Bellaso promised to reveal their contents… though perhaps he was somewhat busy after 1564, as this appears not to have happened. These (still unbroken) ciphers were discussed by Augusto Buonafalce in 1997, in The Cryptogram in 1999, and in the January 2006 Cryptologia (which describes them in more detail than here), but without much reaction from the code-breaking community. Can you break them?

Augusto very kindly sent me some reasonable quality scans of these ciphers, which allowed me to correct some minor transcription errors. The “=” symbols at the end of the lines would be hyphens (like EVA in Voynichese!); old “s” shapes have been modernised; the letters have been converted to upper case and left-justified; but are otherwise intact. The biggest transcription difficulty was distinguishing between “b” and “h”, which (from the way habbino was apparently printed as bahbino) may not always reflect Bellaso’s intent.

The first thing to note is that Bellaso has plenty of tricky ideas about cryptography, so don’t be totally surprised if you don’t find an answer straight away. Having said that, Bellaso does drop some hints for the reader (though only in the second book), probably so you don’t think of him as a total sadist:- 

Il primo si è, il cifrar e decifrare con un solo uersetto:
Il secondo, il giungere insieme le dittioni con la, x, ò, y.
Il terzo, il componere gli alfabeti confusi, & tener a mente le cifre con una sola dittione.
Il quarto, il scriuere le dittioni per parte con le lettere dello alfabeto, che altri cifratori lo fanno con una infinità de caracteri diuersi, ò numeri.
Quanto lumine queste quattro inuentioni habbino portato, & portaronno sempre a l’arte del cifrare, ogni ualente cifratore ne può fare largo giuditio, . Cum facile sit inuentis addere.

I’ve added some brief transcription notes: but if anyone gets a chance at some point to check my transcriptions against any other copies out there, it would be very reassuring for codebreakers to know. 🙂

1555 Bellaso Cipher Challenge #1

Frzf      polh      hebx     ghqf      xtou      ulfh       gihm     qbgn*   yoep     rpmi     porn     zngy
gzop     zctm     qdfl      hian      bxbu     dqmt    dnul      ayxm    cars      gsgc     xrch      omdo
cgmh    hxpc     bom*f  rntr       oyqz     zhim     hsph     mphr    xrfh      omd’a  updq    bedp
rhxe      flfg        dqlb     dcdq    cxrf      glmb     pctq     pnpy     fdeo     zcxt      braz      bude
qpyh     gnfp      beinu    ndqa     ngxn     bloc      auyu     btos      iblx       fbyid     fxyh      mctf
tmoz     fhlb       aich      oqep    luzi       ucxe     nctb      ghpz     lbxu      flzs       myxt     nbon*
loge      nxhq     xyef      nzgh     ryrd      myrf     qfao     dqse     tryr       cqtx      ddbx    nscu
hpnq     qscq     hqry     gnsp     huam    pfpn     fdcg      tbsn      lman     smlb     zcmb    easa
qemb    udoa     cxph     rsqgf     yrnf      fgep      itia        amsy    acih      sxth      tsfd       cxph
lyni       rupt      ygdr     enqn     nfhi       enbe*   engc     monb    qogt     rszy      clcx      aldu
ayix      ttis        phms    asbl      cpix      gnsr      tyeo      qxrf      yedx     mtgix    rhcm     xuhf
sghr      opbg    slbo      cecu     flhb       npfc      e*rep   gdqv     bzpr     haum    prpc     doxd
qylp      hqfq     dimtu    ibgs      xelc      hgsh     zumh    qbxa     xcqt      pilb       ocud     slgl
hgdh     uhpd     hbxe     fltq       yayg     bdcle    gmtn     umni     utpl       tufq      bdzo     sfzb
yezd     xnqc     opcy     pyhq     efso      zsbm    ornd     hudc     nulr       ryrn      pxlnu    tgdaz

Notes:
(1) The first letter is capitalized, as per the original
(2) Letters followed by “*” have some kind of mark over them (which may or may not be intentional)
(3) The apostrophe (in “omd’a” on line 3) is as per the original.
(4) “s” in the original is printed as a cross-less f

1555 Bellaso Cipher Challenge #2

Oiul      cdca     brop     nrgq     txsc      rxrc      ooci      hfri       txdz      iadc      lxgy      apuda
tdio      pima     unit       seag     ionn      plro      rxim      lszg       xfrb      bgln      picy      srft
uxal      ileg       hzge     eyqn     frsy       zyfa      ssyu      otgh      dser      ffsh       ayoy     nehal
aczi      gphs     lylr        dxoh     mbpn    ypn*q   fpno     nigt       ncnf      yiyr       lzzf       tzcr
uicf       nelt       nhrd     rlno      ldgl       xeud     ncuf      tph*c    nbcx     fxta       diph      bsbr
pqis      qshn     rcni       figs       macf     tpbm*  pctn      qcal      gmxr     h*rcu    nnct      tagpf
hymi     ohpr     mgmm  dcsy     rxmg     laql       edop    zcyt      crysb    iuch      hxxl      pccp
dpuo    lmel      h*gqg   athx      inor      osdq     lsif        bids      zzax      pqxpg   umaf     xcrz
txti        edxt      iytn       firf        hxrz      cnuq     puoz     nrff       ynim     iomu     mtnq     mqfz
bflm      hqsq     fbpfi     treh      erzm     yauc     lrmb     lsat       xunb     nuuu     xtuu      mpcn
zpib      ifpd      pams    caiu      xifn       ftuy       gruo     uucm    pa*hd   xauo     uzse      ygsm
xtys    cmtr    ayyl      xems    mipn*   yhaf      xa*le    zyde     rhlr       orbg     acct      ssiq
nxiy      txob     ofyn      mfnn     xfro      pcnt      sszd      manm   hmqe    zun*q   alqn      hafn
ilam      gual      obxl      fuas      pszl      rmbu    ehri       stzh      afap      poyp    rbhi      eury
zmbm   sebc     cmyh    lchi       qahd     tgfn       fpsl       xtra*    hnmh    mxmu   utfa       zchr
ogcm    yrre      forg      rsch      nerr      tdhm     almf      bysh     dysm    gouf      abuym  ubpa
habc     ocmi     apch     nads     iftd       racq     mqoz    uzfe      cfgh      lpgs      hifx       izbxx
cndu     exal      eggy     nquh     mgsh    dmab    hnua     rgdl      glxl       zqrn      syam

Notes:
(1) The first letter is capitalized, as per the original
(2) Letters followed by “*” have some kind of mark over them (which may or may not be intentional)
(3) The full stop in “cmtr.”  (line 12) is as per the original
(4) The “ssiq” (line 12) was rendered by the printer as a German “ß”

1555 Bellaso Cipher Challenge #3

.ZxaCg&hsezdlfqetpagblckRrtfkiguxituonr&RhCkpsqgezCdRqgekyfbClqpebRt
aptgecxtCdseulf&ogRklxCpdpqreqboe&dqaClomRcthnCsnClfamqdkyfzxpfdgunk
yehk*&dqal&emhzeRbauCfxCp&flhkozRyhuhrhbtCCbyaRgudCgbp&kmiklxbn*u
xzbpxurhCyxpeRghaz&m*Rcydd&blipnpadkftbarRyne.zobqhiCCsoyRpldc&pa
z&pksdzsClxkighqehsa&socmRprlubxbkCtfrhumbpuCkgxzeRd&fnetpardlxgpa
pCmqghnkxb&rhsz&tkpRclehzaabCfgdClftdoqggChzpoRtbohytacemktg&Cp
Cdf&uqztncksdlqptCgulykCopxg&sCddngdrlCbpqukoqhehykqbohamczxmRdcny
pxk.atRldkxmfalqgubqquacCdRnaphbpqckcCtifgqtpuldznsyx.pCdixbpazad&lszfi
qlChr&cggkqazRpm*um&b&oixzClqh

Notes:
(1) The first letter is capitalized, as per the original
(2) Letters followed by “*” have some kind of mark over them (which may or may not be intentional)
(3) “Left-facing c” characters in the original has been transcribed as “C”
(4) “Rx” (R with a crossed leg) “recipe” characters in the original have been transcribed as “R”
(5) The full stops (in lines 1, 4, and 8) are as per the original

1564 Bellaso Challenge Cipher #1

     PSDLPQNSDMXLNEAUPHFBXDUCOHUHCLDXCXPMBXERMGXMCOTFO
HOENOIPGMFGLPGNSHIXHMRCSDXAUTMATBOQUASCBLPLDMUIOIPXBUE
STAPCETFNUXFSIPNRHBHLICXCNTPSHGDINHMOMCQULMCNADRPATBLIBU
QBOMUABCXHOHNROHDTUHXBNETESHUTNMFBDAQSRSICREPNRLUSQFNTD
TIPLRLNRUMGORUQLUEREAUPHFBGOQOBOCRXGPUGPGCFQDOIGQPETDT
FBDABADFXAUSGIXGSTAMEGLIRQFSOUNTDTHMFLISUQFQQEAUBUPHOS
RUBMICRNAGPTGNGLDXDHUOXE.

1564 Bellaso Challenge Cipher #2

RSX OSIUBPD SDARGBFSTRS BXDADRR HCIALBLDSA ODFMA
ERIMAIEU XAURHPG BSEHTUNR UMIFS SFOTRRRCE OSIUBPD GTIDB
RRICXE XETLCN ERIMAIEU TDXNFRC XOGBO TMTAXDS ORUBORO CSEIE
SSGBACILB FERBSHAQTC ECCE HRXOFBIETNHR RELACC QRBEGCSQFX
MEUFSS OUBXDIDLQCS ITFXRN TULGU SFAOGCN XCGTIDB SPFERB
XIETLCNNE GBIT NEDP.

1564 Bellaso Challenge Cipher #3

CNRDEPSGT XEQRLLGP FDUHLLQMXX AMCABAA HPEEOHU MIDLDHU
REFQFLQAT NSUAIB GFMCLGTEHQFI TNLLP EBIJFDFNLLQ OPACLTPE=
FBGGN FQCXXUQMN RFDLUGFAP SRDUGS BLDRHQSR PMCHOQFP
QDIOXAQ LCGBIGS CNRANX DXUUMCA MSQLNMTPU AGEQLNZLIQ FSUP=
MMAO RADIOLBBQ SDAGARB HPEUDIIICXLGLQX QSUDSNGGDS.

1564 Bellaso Challenge Cipher #4

NCUTA REXEECSUAUB NUEFPAN FAGRTAIX HOUPU QHBADFMRDU
MDLAOGTTZR FLPFRM PEAFBIXA IRLIR NACQGMOIL HOILIR OBFFPGN
CLPON XLNRH OFBRDSA DQSBODEN FAUQ NACQGMOCQ OBTCI DFXPIX
INUODHOCQ FBHD MXEUBUIDA FBEUANRH OIQU ETBOCQ OBLFGM SLIGU
MELQAOHUL QCIDN FCPGOCQ MDMSOTIAR TCIBNIRN ANUDUSA OMFC=
SNUICQ FSENIAGDN NCQI XEEAUDCXLU.

1564 Bellaso Challenge Cipher #5

EUFEMEASGGMCN FLFBNMGTMNNBFD BLCAXTM HCFXFFCBQDCA
MECTFOCAFHGMFNMATDCMIDIOIDFEABABUHEDAPHXOBDXPCIBMDBEL
ASCAEISAFAOUMAIIUUCFIPLDAHIUSTCAP.

1564 Bellaso Challenge Cipher #6

DP QBGTA ITP LBIEE DFIIHO LI AQILIFF SO NILEECHL OMGTTIE=
CZXRC CGEDFLLIILBGGP PLBBIUNO UL QURNXSRRNB OR ACFEDFLL=
ILBFI PLACFODACU AP UHEEOI PLSGGAOLRIBLNGIBLNPE SO ROCDBCG
BU PCLICB MR RBERPUGSTSLB PLACFOEXBUBLB BPSPDXG QU BDUU
DCCAGE FCFXSFP HP MBHI LH EOMGU FSDDHEIJMG FPDHQMPDD.

1564 Bellaso Challenge Cipher #7

QMOSDAHSOM CULRMENEESFMBT QUXRQBRHORRGIA NTEECFTLRL
HSXOIARETT CUNOEGED HDXMPTQMXGES TBQEOE FOCFHUBG LAOE=
RMOMODIACUNSEOEEIOCDMDCMIA QMFOTOOERMOMOD EMXRHLOT=
RM EEQBRHRRORBF EMCMRE MUQUXGNGSB EDCROERMOMQMNOCH
NSEECFNEFT CMYLDLELRL FTOUPEGURE FRCMQMXGQRRHRRORPU AL=
QU AEQCECYECENGFBPL OERMOMEB FM QEQHQMESTFT TLOMESFM=
HSZBOURE AEQUXGQHOARHORHOQBXFRBRE RHEMRURMYLBUMDQBTL=
NOQE CGOERLAEQUXGNGSB QMMURMOU EGMRPOCDDFYHHTOANSSB
NOCFESFMEUOBRAFFPLOUCMHR CFFTMDCECFALESFT

7 thoughts on “Bellaso Ciphers

  1. Pingback: Das Voynich-Blog » Blog Archiv » Bellasos Herausforderung

  2. OK, Nick, I’ll bite. In between my visits to the Pre-Revolutionary Colonies of upstate New York and New Jersey, that is. I’ve just now done a quick overview of Bellasos’ (Bellaso’s?) ciphers that you have transcribed.

    If you don’t see any more messages from me on this page, in the next month or so, you can assume I’ve sunk into the same sinkhole as other attemptees.

    🙂

  3. bdid1dr: Tony Gaffney solved almost all of Bellaso’s ciphers in March-May 2009. See the posts listed here:-
    http://ciphermysteries.com/category/historical-ciphers/bellaso-ciphers

  4. Pingback: Top-25 der ungelösten Verschlüsselungen – Platz 11: Bellasos Aufgaben aus dem 16. Jahrhundert – Klausis Krypto Kolumne

  5. I am looking for the book: “Ẓofnat Pa’neaḥ,” published in Venice, 1555.
    It is a book on cryptography that was written by RAPA (PORTO), MENAHEM ABRAHAM B. JACOB HA-KOHEN (MENAHEM RAPOPORT) see: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12568-rapa-porto-menahem-abraham-b-jacob-ha-kohen-menahem-rapoport
    Any help to locate this book will be very much appreciated,
    Amit

  6. Norbert on March 30, 2016 at 7:44 am said:

    Hi Nick,

    I think I can add two more Bellaso solutions to your collection 🙂

    1564 challenge cipher #5

    There are five key alphabets as follows:


    #1 bacdefghlm
       tisnopqrux

    #2 bacdefghlm
       xtisnopqru

    #3 bacdefghlm
       uxtisnopqr

    #4 bacdefghlm
       ruxtisnopq

    #5 bacdefghlm
       qruxtisnop

    Apparently, the keyword is Bellaso’s middle name “Battista” 🙂

    The key is rotating letter by letter, with the only exception that after any occurence of plaintext ‘x’ (indicating a word break) the next word starts with the same key that was used for the ‘x’.


    EUFEMEASGGMCN FLFBNMGTMNNBFD BLCAXTM HCFXFFCBQDCA
    1234512345112 34512345112345 5123345 123451234551
    omnipotensxse npiternexdeusx quixadp rincipiumxui

    MECTFOCAFHGMFNMATDCMIDIOIDFEABABUHEDAPHXOBDXPCIBMDBEL
    23445123345112345123455123451223451233451223451223451
    usxdieixnosxperuenirexfecistixtuanosxhodexsaluaxuirtu

    ASCAEISAFAOUMAIIUUCFIPLDAHIUSTCAP
    234451233451233451234512334512345
    texutadxnulluxdeclinemusxpeccatum

    Thus, a bit suprisingly, the plaintext is a Latin prayer:

    Omnipotens senpiterne [sempiterne] deus, qui ad principium [h]uius diei nos pervenire fecisti; tua nos hod[i]e salva virtute, ut ad nullu[m] declinemus peccatum.

  7. Norbert on March 30, 2016 at 10:57 am said:

    Uhm, the “code”-tag seems not to work as I hoped, so this post will come out quite messy as well … Copy it into a simple text editor with monospacing font and it should look fine 😉

    Solution of 1555 Challenge #1

    The basic key is xmseptfirnbucdgahlqoyz.

    I could not figure out a meaningful key phrase. In accordance with Bellaso’s 1555 system, all vowels have been placed onto fixed positions of the key (every 4th position, in the order of their appearance in the key phrase), which means the key phrase should have the vowel order “eiu(ao)” and consonant order “xmsptfrn(bc…)”. It seems to be Latin, and probably starts with “ex” or, more promising, “eximius”.

    According to the 1555 system there are 11 reciprocal key alphabets. The upper row is fixed, and the lower row rotates like this:

                 xmseptfirnb
                 -----------
    X,E key #0:  ucdgahlqoyz
    M,I key #1:  zucdgahlqoy
    S,V key #2:  yzucdgahlqo
    P,A key #3:  oyzucdgahlq
    T,O key #4:  qoyzucdgahl
    F,R key #5:  lqoyzucdgah
    N,B key #6:  hlqoyzucdga
    C,D key #7:  ahlqoyzucdg
    G,H key #8:  gahlqoyzucd
    L,Q key #9:  dgahlqoyzuc
    Y,Z key #10: cdgahlqoyzu

    Each group of four (or sometimes five) letters is enciphered by one key.


    frzf polh hebx ghqf xtou ulfh gihm qbgn* yoep rpmi porn zngy
    2    1    2    0    5    8    4    1     6    4    0    5
    alma gnif icoy etil lust reys igno rypõ  peoy auog aroy pare

    gzop zctm qdfl hian bxbu dqmt dnul ayxm cars gsgc xrch omdo
    6    4    2    9    2    1    7    3    4    2    2    1
    ntey etco npar eysu oyos erua ndis imoy tray tute ylei nuen

    cgmh hxpc bom*f rntr oyqz zhim hsph mphr xrfh omd'a updq bedp
    4    2    4     0    5    9    2    0    2    1     7    1
    tion iyde lmõd  oyho semp reyg iudi cato ylai nuẽt  ione ydeg

    rhxe flfg dqlb dcdq cxrf glmb pctq pnpy fdeo zcxt braz bude
    2    2    1    1    2    1    2    0    5    8    4    1
    liyc arat eriy eser eyla piuy degn ayan ciys ingo lare ymed

    qpyh gnfp beinu ndqa ngxn bloc auyu btos iblx fbyid fxyh mctf
    0    0    3     0    5    1    3    1    2    5     0    8
    iant eyla quale ysip arla yins ieme yanc hory chedi lunt anoy

    tmoz fhlb aich oqep luzi ucxe nctb ghpz lbxu flzs myxt nbon*
    4    8    3    6    7    2    1    4    2    9    3    1
    come ysed iapr esoy sifu seyc osay inue roys opra ymod oynõ

    loge nxhq xyef nzgh ryrd myrs qfao dqse tryr cqtx ddbx nscu
    6    0    5    4    5    4    0    5    0    7    2    2
    meno yuti leyc hein gegi osay ilpr imoy hono reya ppoy ques

    hpnq qscq hqry gnsp huam pfpn fdcg tbsn lman smlb zcmb easa
    0    2    0    0    3    0    5    1    3    1    2    5
    tayi nuen tion eyda reiy alay cifr ayco nyil cuiy mezo ynon

    qemb udoa cxph rsqgf yrnf fgep itia amsy acih sxth tsfd cxph
    6    1    2    2     0    6    1    4    3    7    1    2
    sola ment eydi lunta noyl unoy lalt roys ipar laym ache eydi

    lyni rupt ygdr enqn nfhi enbe* engc monb qogt rszy clcx aldu
    9    7    4    5    3    1     6    1    6    4    2    3
    piuy cioy sifa yama lgra doyd' ogni unoy senz ayes erey inte

    ayix ttis phms asbl cpix gnsr tyeo qxrf yedx mtgix rhcm xuhf
    9    1    4    2    6    0    5    0    5    0     4    2
    siyd aalc unoy fuor iych eydo ueys iuol eyil chequ anto ysia

    sghr opbg slbo cecu flhb npfc e*rep gdqv bzpr haum prpc doxd
    2    6    1    2    2    0    6     1    4    3    7    1
    util eyan ciyn eces ario yalm õdoy  pert leua riey ocor enze

    qylp hqfq dimtu ibgs xelc hgsh zumh qbxa xcqt pilb ocud slgl
    7    0    3     4    6    4    4    2    7    1    7    1
    etso tili tayde gliy homi niyn epon noyf arey gliy prin cipi

    hgdh uhpd hbxe fltq yayg bdcle gmtn umni utpl tufq bdzo sfzb
    0    7    2    1    9    2     4    3    1    8    6    4   
    test imon ioyc hiar isim operc ioch eyla magi oryp arte ydel

    yezd xnqc opcy pyhq efso zsbm ornd hudc nulr ryrn pxlnu tgdaz
    5    0    7    0    5    4    0    2    7    0    3     4  
    eypi uyim port anti ycos eylo roys ispe disc onoy conle cifre

    (Note: I changed ciphertext line 7 group 6 from myrf to myrs, which makes more sense, and looks very similar if “long s” was used by the typesetter)

    Here is the plaintext (my reading – someone like Augusto Buonafalce should definitely look over it):

    Al magnifico et illustre Signore Põpeo [=Pompeo] Avogaro parente et conpare suo os[s]ervandis[s]imo.
    Tra tut[t]e le inventioni del mõdo [=mondo] ho sempre giudicato la invẽtione [=inventione] degli carat[t]eri es[s]ere la più degna anci singolare; mediante laquale si parla insieme anchor che di luntano come se di apres[s]o. Si fus[s]e cosa invero sopra mo[n]do nõ [=non] meno utile che ingegiosa [ingegnosa]? Il primo honore appò questa inventione darei à la cifra con il cui mez[z]o non solamente di luntano l’uno l’altro si parla, ma che di più ciò si fa à malgrado d’ogni uno senza es[s]ere intesi da alcuno fuori che dove si vole il che quanto sia utile anci neces[s]ario al mõdo [=mondo] pert [per] le varie oc[c]orenze et sot[t]ilità degli homini. Ne ponno fare gli principi testimonio chiaris[s]imo per ciò che la mag[g]ior parte del[l]e più importanti cose loro si spediscono con le cifre.

    Imho, two things remain worth mentioning. First, the marks over some letters of the ciphertext turn out to be tildes, indicating ‘n’ or ‘m’ to be inserted after the marked letter: mõdo = mondo, Põpeo = Pompeo. (This does not apply to “enbe*” in line 10. I put an apostrophe in this place, though I don’t quite believe this to be the proper meaning of the mark here, as the other apostrophes in “l’uno l’altro” appear not to be marked. I’m not sure – probably that one is a misprint.) This might be a clue for deciphering 1555 challenges #2 and #3.

    Secondly, the order of key indices used for enciphering is defined by a further key phrase, the so-called “contrasegno”. In this case, Bellaso used a couple of lines by Virgil (Eclogue 3, verse 28-31). Each letter of the contrasegno must be looked up in the key table’s left column of capitalized letters to find the corresponding key index (u always equals v).


    vis ergo, inter nos, quid possit uterque, vicissim
    212 0584  16405 642  9217 342214 2405920  21712211 212... (repeated to end of line 4)

    experiamur? ego hanc vitulam (ne forte recuses,
    0030513125  084 8367 2142931  60 54540 5072202 003... (repeated to end of line 8)

    bis venit ad mulctram, binos alit ubere fetus)
    612 20614 37 12974531  61642 3914 26050 50422 612... (repeated to end of line 12)

    depono: tu dic, mecum quo pignore certes.
    703464  42 717  10721 924 3186450 705402 7034

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