Sator Square

The Sator Square is probably one of the oldest magic squares in the the western world (but probably not as old as the Chinese Loh Shu).

Types Of Magic Squares

Most people think of magic squares as containing only numbers, but there are also plenty of alphabetic squares in existence too, and the Sator Square is the best known example.

There are two types of alphabetic square – Latin Squares, which I’ll talk about at a later date in another article, and Word Squares.

Word Squares

In a Word Square, a number of words are written horizontally, one per row, and the same words are also written vertically, one per column.

If this is hard to visualize, then let’s take a look at the famous Sator Square:

rotas opera tenet

Here, you can see that the five words used are:

  1. Sator
  2. Arepo
  3. Tenet
  4. Opera
  5. Rotas

and that these same five words run both horizontally and vertically.

You will also note, perhaps, that the words are in Latin, which gives a clue as to how old this square actually is.


In fact, this square was first seen in the ruins of Herculaneum, which was buried under the ash of the Mount Vesuvius eruption in 79AD.

It can be found in many places other than Italy, however, and these include England, France, Portugal and Syria.


So, are these just made-up words, or do they actually mean anything?

Well, four of the words can easily be translated:

  1. “sator” means “sower” or “planter”
  2. “tenet” means “he holds”
  3. “opera” means “works” (or “cares” or “efforts”)
  4. “rotas” means “wheels”

The second word, Arepo, is the one that is uncertain, and it may be that this is simply a proper name, made-up or otherwise, to complete the square.

There are, consequently, several possible translations of the words in this square:

  1. Arepo, the sower, holds the wheels with effort.
  2. The sower, Arepo, leads with his hand (work) the plough (wheels).


There is another theory about this square, and that is that it has Christian significance.

Why do people think this?

Well, if you take all 25 letters from this square, you can rearrange them into two interlocking occurrences of the words “Pater Noster”, which is Latin for “Our Father”.

(Pater Noster is also the assumed origin of the word “patter”, as used by magicians today for their “spiel”.)

sator arepo tenet

There are, then four letters left over after you’ve formed the two interlocking Pater Nosters – two A’s and two O’s, which are then assumed to represent the Alpha and the Omega, which are an appellation of God (from the Book Of Revelation).


The Sator Square has as much mystery as the Chinese Loh Shu, even though it comes from a very different culture.

And yet all this talk about its meaning and possible religious significance belies the fact that creating word squares like this, especially with five-letter words, is not easy at all.

Perhaps you could try creating one yourself – start with a three-letter square, and see if you can work up to a five-letter one (or more).

Related Posts:

Magic Squares Puzzle

Download a free Magic Square puzzle that will require both manual dexterity to construct and mental arithmetic to solve.

Knights Templar And Sator Square

The Templar Knights were an organized military order and were indeed broke. But not so their inner circle. It was believed originally there were only 9 knights, but this is a little hard to swallow.

Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas

Photo of a Sator Square

Sator Square Information

It’s the only four way sentence square in any language, and translates to “The sower Arepo holds the wheels at work.” As graffiti it’s been found as far afield as Herculaneum and London, but seems to be of Mithraic origin.

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