Article ID: CBB340704223

Medieval Europe’s Satanic Ciphers: On the Genesis of a Modern Myth (2020)


The purpose of this article is to investigate the genesis and growth of a historical canard that can be encountered in numerous popular as well as some scholarly publications devoted to the history of mathematics. According to one of the core elements of this story, the number or symbol for zero was the cause of much anxiety in medieval Europe, as its unusual properties caused it to be associated with the Devil or with black magic. This anxiety is supposed to have extended to the entire system of Hindu-Arabic numerals, such that the use of these numerals was banned by the Church or by other powerful institutions. I shall argue that this narrative is false or unsubstantiated at nearly every level of analysis. Some elements arose from an unwarranted interpretation of medieval sources, while others are based on the unbridled imagination of certain modern authors.

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Authors & Contributors
King, David A.
Thomsen, Marie Louise
Cryer, Frederick H.
Simonov, R. A.
Bever, Edward
Véronèse, Julien
VIET: Voprosy Istorii Estestvoznaniia i Tekhniki
Journal of Interdisciplinary History
Foundations of Science
Micrologus: Natura, Scienze e Società Medievali
Sudhoffs Archiv: Zeitschrift fuer Wissenschaftsgeschichte
British Journal for the History of Mathematics
Franz Steiner Verlag
University of Pennsylvania Press
Oxford University Press
Rowman & Littlefield
Occult sciences
Science and religion
Witchcraft; demonology
Eymerich, Nicolas
Locke, John
Newton, Isaac
Sylvester II, Pope
Time Periods
16th century
17th century
Early modern
Middle and Near East
United States

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