And the Rotas Go ’Round

The intricate solution to an ancient enigma (The Mysterious Square, Part 2)

Once the Christian origins of the “Sator Square” came into question, other notions as to how it could be solved did come forward, which were more or less far-fetched, involving overlaying a Templar cross on the figure, as well as several other patterns. Other religious resonances were also suggested, including Mithraism, a Graeco-Roman mystery religion based on the Persian worship of the god Mithra, but altered significantly.

But the one that seems best thought out and satisfying is one that says the Square is Judaic in origin. There is significant evidence of a Jewish presence in Pompeii, and while this community was not large, it gets past the test where any supposed Christian origin falls down. Indeed, there being a small community—one that was expelled from the Roman nation on two separate occasions—also makes sense to the necessity of this coded message.

Dr. Nicolas Vinel, if not the originator of the Judaic interpretation of the Square, certainly appears to have tied it up with a bow, and his work is the main source of what I’m relating here.¹ I’ll note also that what convinces me is that this is not a single solution, but a kind of web of correspondences that so completely covers every aspect of the Square that even if some part of it weren’t true, there would still be a lot right.

The first such element relates to the size and shape of the Square, which corresponds to that of the bronze altar Moses is instructed to build in Exodus 27:1–2:

And you shall make the altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide; the altar shall be square, and its height [shall be] three cubits. And you shall make its horns on its four corners; its horns shall be from it, and you shall overlay it with bronze.

In Joshua 22:34, the important symbolic function of this altar is described thus:

[The altar is] a witness among us that YHWH is God.

Thus simply by its 5×5 size and shape, the Square is a representation of this altar in plan, itself a symbol of the Jewish Diaspora and faith in their God.

The next part of the solution involves a transformation of the square based on its underlying numbers. This moves the 5×5 of numbers in order into a new configuration thus:

Essentially two rotations are performed: the central cross is rotated to the right 45 degrees, and the diagonal cross is also rotated, but the numbers alternate rather than maintaining their positions, with the other numbers falling fairly easily into place after that.

As I’ve implied in the title to this article, the fact that a rotation is performed, and the solution uses the proper rotas-first form of the square allows the first line to give a clue to its solution.

Now we are looking at a figure known as a magic square: In a magic square, a figure whose discovery easily predates the Square, the numbers in each row and column, as well as the diagonals add up to the same number. In the 5×5 version, this number is 65, the center remains 13, and in each of the two concentric squares adding a number with the one across from it adds up to 26.

The numbers 13, 26, and 65 are numerical representations of the divine name in the gematria, a system that assigns numerical values to words. Though it was originally AssyroBabylonian-Greek, its use in Jewish mysticism has a long and well known history. Using this system, 13 is ehad “One”, and indeed, there is but one one N, in the center where all things begin. 26 is the numerical value of the Tetragrammaton, the four letters transliterating the name of God, i.e. YHWH. At some point, people decided that saying YHWH aloud was not cool (think the stonings in Monty Python’s Life of Brian), and Adonai was used in its place. 65 is its written form, Adonai. Now while it is true that there are many, many names of God, these, particularly the last two, are very important ones. 13 also corresponds to N, in yet another way, as it is the 13th letter of both the Greek and Latin alphabets. Note that it is not contended that the letters simply correspond to the numerical values of the magic square, but the magic square is important to transforming the square.

When we move from the numbers back to the letters, the result of the transformation is a set of rows and columns each of which is its own palindrome, and the central tenet cross remains, but on a diagonal.


The fact that this transformation yields this result is compelling in itself, but there’s more: Now there appears not only the words, but a picture also of the bronze altar of the temple: now we see it in profile, where its dimensions are 5×3, and it is made up of the Latin words:


altar of bronze

The tenet’s Ts at the corners also correspond to the biblical instructions for the altar’s construction as the “horns on its four corners”, where the physical shape of the T is suggestive of this description. Furthermore, as the holiest part of the altar, there is a tradition of grabbing these horns as a sort of sanctuary, such that in the Vulgate version of 1 Kings 1:50 it says of Adonijah, a servant of Solomon fearful of being put to death:²

[…] tenuit cornu altaris.

[…] he […] took hold of the horns of the altar.

The cryptogram’s use of T to represent these horns as well as tying in the word tenet as what one does with them can only be called extremely clever—here tenuit is simply an inflected form of tenet. Also, though I am aware that the Vulgate did not yet exist, having pointed it out in the previous part, I am not engaging in an anachronism, as this is a simple one-word correspondence between the Hebrew and Latin.

Furthermore, and working off the same aerea that we’ve already seen, is a reference to the prophylactic symbol of the brazen snake created by Moses to cure those poisoned by real ones:


snake of bronze

And, as with the previously revealed words, the word serpens describes what it is with its shape, tracing a snaky path. Additionally, it is “lifted up” just as the snake it represents was on a pole. The corresponding bible passage from Numbers 21:6–9 is:

YHWH said to Moses, “Make yourself a serpent and put it on a pole, and let whoever is bitten look at it and live.” Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole, and whenever a snake bit a man, he would gaze upon the bronze snake and live.

Finally, both the double ara aerea and the double serpens in the square, rather than simply being palindromes, continue forever. They share their first and last letters and read in an unending circle—the opposite of the ungodly, as described in Solomonic wisdom (Wis 2:5):

After our end there is no returning: for it is fast sealed, so that no man cometh again.

There is still more evidence that is provided my the inscriptions that accompany the Pompeiian Square, but it’s beyond the scope of the cryptogram itself, so I won’t discuss it here.

Read Previous Articles in this Series

Part 1: Attempted Unravelings


  1. That is, “The Hidden Judaism of the Sator Square in Pompeii”, Revue de l’histoire des religions, 2006.
  2. My emphasis.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s