Marolois, Samuel

Title Fortification ou architecture militaire...
Imprint The Hague, H. Hondius, 1615
Localisation Zürick, ETH, Rar 9726 GF
Subject Military architecture
Transcribed version of the text


     The blossoming of the sciences and arts in the Northern Netherlands of the seventeenth century is due to a certain extent to the influx of Protestant refugees and other skilled immigrants from the southern provinces and France. In fortification theory we have for example, Simon Stevin, the Van Schooten family and Samuel Marolois (The Hague? ca. 1572- The Hague before 1627). In fact the last was born in the Republic, but his father Nicolaas Marolois came from Valenciennes and had just been banned from France because of his commitment to and dangerous commissions for the Prince of Orange. Since this exile had deprived his father of all his properties in France, the young Samuel grew up in straightened circumstances. In a plea to the Committed Councils of Holland he mentioned the fact that despite his father’s unremitting loyal services to the Republic, he never received any reward or compensation for this. Nevertheless, Samuel managed to become a gifted mathematician and practical engineer. He earned a living as a private teacher of mathematics and fortification. His qualities were certainly recognized and his expertise was asked on several occasions. Together with Simon Stevin he reported on a method to determine the longitude at sea by Jan Hendrickz Jarichs van der Leij for the States General of the Netherlands. In 1611 Marolois obtained a patent for a kind of rolling mill using horse power. However, his ultimate ambition to succeed Ludolf van Ceulen as professor of mathematics and head of the Duytsche Mathematique did not materialize. The equally highly capable Frans van Schooten senior won the leading position at this famous engineering education institution in Leiden, but it must have been a close run thing because Marolois was personally recommended by stadholder Prince Maurits. Moreover, the school had been set up in 1600 by Maurits based on protocols formulated by Stevin, with whom Marolois had worked. He had to content himself with incidental positions that came his way. In 1618 he was sworn in by the Council of State as controller of the artillery. When in 1619 the Van der Leij case became an issue once again, four of the best practical mathematicians were involved – Stevin, Snellius, Dou and Marolois. Although Marolois never worked at the by then famous institute in Leiden where practical mathematics were taught, he delivered one of the first published handbooks on military architecture and land surveying more or less according to its curriculum. Marolois’ treatise on fortification appeared as part of his larger Opera mathematica,a luxurious oblong broadsheet published by Hendrick Hondius in The Hague in 1614-1616.
     The oblong edition of Hondius Fortification consists of 29 and 11 broadsheet quires for respectively the first and second book, with forty single-sided engravings containing 164 figures. The later editions are all in quarto editions with the illustrations folded. The treatise was conceived in two books that are in conformity with the title devoted to the art of defence, or the design of the fortifications in a strict sense, and to the engineering needed for the offensive part of warfare, that is, the siege. This is the standard lay-out of the treatises on fortification, although every author made his own subdivisions and laid his own emphasis on certain parts, the offensive part most of the time being significantly smaller than the first. The theory of defence is treated as a set of geometrical operations in order to draw the regular polygonal plans and their bulwarks on scale. Fortification was the first book to record in a systematic and fully worked out way the so called Old-Netherlands system of fortification, for which the young Dutch Republic was famous. However, Marolois who never taught at the Duytsche Mathematique, nor (as far as is known) was an officer in the State army, did not invent or systematize the Old-Netherlands fortification system, as is sometimes claimed. He was a skilled mathematician and probably a fine draughtsman too who was conversant with the latest developments of fortification theory. His large-scale engravings must have formed an example for authors after him. Marolois’ book became particularly known for its detailed illustration of the heptagonal fortress Coevorden on the north-eastern frontier, which he praised as the most ideal example in the Netherlands (engraving 14bis, fig. 75). Among the theoretical examples of irregular fortifications Marolois included the real existing fortifications of Harderwijk, the works at the siege of Oostende, the fortress St. Andries and the city of Jülich.
     Unfortunately we are not informed about his activities as a teacher or his contacts with contemporary engineers and mathematicians. Being a direct contemporary and competitor of Frans van Schooten senior and holding a middle position between other emigrants from the south such as Simon Stevin and Vredeman de Vries on the one hand, and the second generation of fortification specialists like Frans van Schooten junior, Adam Freitag, Nicolaus Goldmann and Matthias Dögen on the other, Samuel Marolois is one of the puzzling actors in early seventeenth-century architectural theory.

Jeroen Goudeau (Radboud University, Nijmegen, NL) – 2015

Critical bibliography

S. Bürger, Architectura Militaris: Festungsbautraktate des 17. Jahrhunderts von Specklin bis Sturm, Munich, Deutscher Kunstverlag, 2013, pp. 277-181.

K. Jordan, Bibliographie zur Geschichte des Festungbaues von den Anfängen bis 1914, Marburg, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Festungsforschung e.V., 2003, pp. 168-170.

J. A. van Maanen, Facets of Seventeenth Century Mathematics in the Netherlands, Diss., Utrecht 1987, pp. 6-12.

P. C. Molhuysen, Bronnen tot de geschiedenis der Leidsche universiteit 1574-1811, 7 vols, 1913-1924, vol. 2: 8 Febr. 1610-7 Febr. 1647, ’s-Gravenhage, Martinus Nijhoff, 1916, pp. 43*-44*, 67*-68*.

N. M. Orenstein, Hendrick Hondius and the Business of Prints in Seventeenth-Century Holland, Studies in Prints and Printmaking 1, Rotterdam, Sound & Vision Interactive, 1996, esp. pp. 106-121, cat. nos. 629, 631-633.

E. Taverne, In t land van belofte: in de nieue stadt: Ideaal en werkelijkheid van de stadsuitleg in de Republiek 1580-1680, Maarssen, G. Schwartz, 1978, ch. 3.

C. de Waard, “Marolois (Samuel)”, P. C. Molhuysen and P. J. Blok (eds.), Nieuw Nederlandsch Biografisch Woordenboek, 10 vols, 1911-1937, vol. 2, Leiden, A. W. Sijthoff, 1912, pp. 873-875.