History of Cryptography - Classical Cryptography

Classical Cryptography

See also: Classical cipher

The earliest known use of cryptography is found in non-standard hieroglyphs carved into monuments from the Old Kingdom of Egypt circa 1900 BC. These are not thought to be serious attempts at secret communications, however, but rather to have been attempts at mystery, intrigue, or even amusement for literate onlookers. These are examples of still other uses of cryptography, or of something that looks (impressively if misleadingly) like it. Some clay tablets from Mesopotamia somewhat later are clearly meant to protect information—one dated near 1500 BCE was found to encrypt a craftsman's recipe for pottery glaze, presumably commercially valuable. Later still, Hebrew scholars made use of simple monoalphabetic substitution ciphers (such as the Atbash cipher) beginning perhaps around 500 to 600 BCE.

The ancient Greeks are said to have known of ciphers. The scytale transposition cipher was used by the Spartan military, however it is disputed whether the scytale was for encryption, authentication, or avoiding bad omens in speech. Herodotus tells us of secret messages physically concealed beneath wax on wooden tablets or as a tattoo on a slave's head concealed by regrown hair, though these are not properly examples of cryptography per se as the message, once known, is directly readable; this is known as steganography. Another Greek method was developed by Polybius (now called the "Polybius Square"). The Romans knew something of cryptography (e.g., the Caesar cipher and its variations).

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Famous quotes containing the word classical:

    Classical art, in a word, stands for form; romantic art for content. The romantic artist expects people to ask, What has he got to say? The classical artist expects them to ask, How does he say it?
    —R.G. (Robin George)