By Periklis Deligiannis
A treatise on military engineering and architecture in which I have to make a special mention is the profound work of the German engineer of the Renaissance, Matthias Dögen, entitled Architectura militaris moderna. It was published in 1647 in Amsterdam (which is mentioned as Amstelodamum in the study) mainly thanks to the interest of Frederick-Henry of Nassau, Prince of Orange (1584-1647). The treatise was published just a year before the end of the devastating Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) which shook Europe; but on the other hand, the war needs of the fighting states gave great impetus to the European art of war and generally to the techniques, practices and methods of warfare of that era. Therefore I consider Matthias Dogen’s treatise a very important work because it belongs to a “fragile” period for the art and science of fortification because of the steadily growing power of the bombing on cities and fortresses by increasingly heavier artillery guns.
Matthias Dögen (1605-1671) was born in Brandenburg and specifically in the province of Pomerania. Today, this region belongs to Poland, but in the time he was born, Pomerania was inhabited by Germans. The German population evacuated her in the few years from 1945 and on, due to the advance of the Red Army and the final defeat of Germany, and was replaced by Poles. At a young age, Dogen moved to the Netherlands where he studied mathematics and military engineering at Leiden, in the renowned local School of Mathematics.
After his studies in Leiden, Dogen was hired as curator in the Admiralty of the United Provinces (modern Netherlands) and settled in Amsterdam. At the same time he was employed as a diplomatic representative and agent of the elector of Brandenburg George William I Hohenzollern, who was the sovereign of his country and to whose service he remained always faithful; although as it is demonstrated by his work and his life he rather regarded the United Provinces as his second homeland. Indeed he was sending weekly information to George William on everything that was taking place in the United Provinces and generally in the western regions of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire (in this era, the Netherlands must still rather be considered as part of greater Germany, because the unique Dutch national identity was still developing). Brandenburg was located at the northeastern part of the Empire and its elector wanted to be quickly and validly informed on what was happening in the west and most developed parts of the confederacy but also in neighboring (to Amsterdam) Britain and France. I therefore consider probable that Matthias was originally sent to the United Provinces by the Brandenburgian elector as a diplomatic agent, and at the same time the former was rewarding him with an informal or official scholarship for his studies at Leiden.
In 1640 Frederick-William succeeded his father to the electorate of Brandenburg and immediately Dogen renewed his fidelity to him. Through his office in the Admiralty, the German engineer came close to the stadtholder of the United Provinces Frederick-Henry of Nassau who appreciated his talent in military engineering. This friendship was not opposed to Matthias’ fidelity to Brandenburg with which the House of Nassau had after all friendly relations. Furthermore in 1645 Frederick-William married the daughter of Frederick-Henry.
In 1650, Frederick-William asked Matthias Dogen to return to Brandenburg, and the latter could not refuse the invitation of his sovereign. The monarch officially appointed him as the court’s main advisor for the fortifications of its cities and strongholds. Matthias left his beloved Amsterdam and moved to Berlin where he worked in his new position until his death 21 years later. Due to his service in the Admiralty of the United Provinces, he also helped to the building and organization of the newly founded Brandenburgian navy.
Considering Dögen’s study, its diagrams are thorough and very detailed for its time giving us an excellent view of the high level which the military engineering and architecture had reached in Western Europe around the middle of the 17th century. For this reason, I recommend the study of Dogen’s work not only to engineers, architects and military historians who are experts on the specific topic, but also to all those generally interested in the fortification constructions in the mid-17th century Western and Central Europe and in the European colonies in America, Asia and Africa. But unfortunately I can speak only for the diagrams, tables etc, and not for the text of the treatise which is mainly in Latin.
It can be easily observed that the author insists on the angle measurements of the fortifications which were particularly important because of the growing role of artillery in the sieges. The artillery guns were steadily becoming heavier, stronger and more accurate, making their bombardment on the walls and the interior of the enemy cities and fortresses increasingly fierce and destructive. The construction of the fortifications and generally the course of the military architecture had to follow this development with a corresponding adjustment. I was also impressed by the fact that the German engineer provides his work with many tables of ready calculations, in order for his colleagues who were going to use his study not to be involved in many mathematical calculations. Of course, this kind of quotations was very common in the later centuries but I guess that Dogen was among the pioneers on this.
Matthias’ treatise is characterized by a high scientificity but also by a remarkable practicality in order to be an easy to use manual, ready for use by the military engineers of his time. Dogen is almost equally a practical engineer and a skilled scientist: the engineers of his time very often participated actively in the process of construction by working themselves even with the shovel or the pickaxe and certainly the German engineer was one of them. On the other hand, he encourages his colleagues to design many diagrams, as mush as needed for the construction that they have undertaken. He knew well the importance of the diagrams for the rapid, timely and proper execution of the construction project.
I would not describe ‘Architectura militaris moderna’ as a work only suitable for libraries where the engineers and architects could study it in order to convey its conclusions to the practical field of their scientific occupation: it could very well be used as a military manual addressed to the same professionals in order to use it even under time pressure, rather not consulting its Latin text but mainly the practical examples provided in the diagrams, the tables etc (I believe that they could carry them in a special portfolio). Matthias Dogen in his study is obviously interested in the scientific substantiation of his conclusions and advices, but also wants to actively help his colleagues to face the requirements of military engineering and architecture during the demanding times around the Thirty Years’ War.
Next, I quote a few selected pages, images and mostly half-images digitized by Google from Dogen’s treatise in order not to violate any copyright restrictions. The text is written in Latin. The whole study is available for free on the Internet.