Dögen, Matthias
Matham, Theodor Dirck (engraver)

Title Architectura militaris moderna...
Imprint Amsterdam, L. Elzevier, 1647
Localisation Ghent, University Library, BIB. MA. 000133
Subject Military architecture
Transcribed version of the text


     The celebrated printer from Amsterdam Lowijs Elzevier published Matthias Dögen's treatise on military architecture in Latin in 1647, the year of the death of the stadtholder Frederick-Henry of Nassau, prince of Orange (1584-1647), who had encouraged its publication.  Matthias Dögen (1605/06-1672) was a native of a city in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, today Drawsko, in the province of Polish Pomerania.  We have little information about his social milieu, but we know that he took courses at the famous school at Leiden, the Duytsche Mathematique founded in 1600 by Maurice of Nassau, organized by the great Flemish mathematician and engineer Simon Stevin, with the goal of training mathematicians, military engineers and land geographers.  Did he also attend classes at the fortification and hydraulics school at Franeker?  He does not mention it, but he rapidly entered the service of the United Provinces and occupied a quarter-master post in the admiralty.  This duty allowed him to draw nearer to the stadtholder Frederick-Henry of Nassau. Nevertheless Dögen remained faithful to his "natural sovereign", the elector of Brandenburg George William I Hohenzollern (1595-1640) who employed him as a diplomatic agent and to whom Dögen sent information on the events taking place in Amsterdam every week. In 1640 Dögen renewed his fidelity to his son and successor, Frederick-William (1620-1688) who reinforced his links with the United Provinces when he married Louise of Orange-Nassau, the daughter of Frederick Henry of Nassau in 1646.  When the Elector went to The Hague on a diplomatic mission in 1648, Matthias Dögen dedicated to him and delivered the part of his work written in Latin, the part devoted to the attack and defense of strongholds.  A copy is conserved today at the Staatsbibliothek of Berlin.
Frederick-William, nicknamed the Great, intended to undertake large-scale work, and called upon M. Dögen who then went back to Brandenburg at the beginning of the 1650s, with the title of Grand ducal advisor for fortifications.  He participated in the defense works in Berlin carried out in 1658 and 1659 under the direction of the Austrian architect Johann Gregor Memhardt and in the creation of the Brandenburg fleet that the Prince Elector had decided on.  He lived from then on in Berlin and died there on February 24, 1672.
Dögen's Architectura militaris moderna follows a plan which tended to be imposed during the 17th century on works covering fortifications. For example, it is a plan found in La nouvelle fortification by Nicolas Goldman (1611-1665), published in French in Leiden at Elzevier's presses in 1645, after a publication in Latin in 1643: Elementorum architecturae militaris libri IV). In fact the work includes a first book on modern fortification of regular shapes, followed by a second one on irregular shapes and a last part treated like a separate book, entitled "L’Architecture militaire moderne en la partie qui concerne l’attaque et la défense des places".
Matthias Dögen makes numerous references to two works on military architecture published in Holland: Fortification ou Architecture militaire tant offensive que defensive written and published in French in The Hague by Hondius in 1615, the work of the mathematician and engineer Samuel Marolois (c. 1572-1627) and that of Adam Freitag (Fritach) (1602-1664) L’architecture militaire, ou la fortification nouvelle (Leyde, 1635).  If he sometimes criticizes the results of some of their diagram calculations, angle measurements or other aspects, he follows the same mathematical approach. Thus he details point by point the angle measurements but also those of all the component parts of the diagrams, in following the steps of the construction of a fortification in order to help engineers less skilled in mathematics and the inexperienced architect who ordinarily is more capable of handling a hoe and a shovel than the pen. He wants to make calculating easier by means of a simple reasoning, diagrams and tables of computation (given at the end of the work), advising the engineers "de s’aider du travail des autres, et particulièrement de nôtre Freitagius qui nous promet encore plusieurs Tables analytiques proportionales de la Fortification, outre celles que déjà il a publiées en très grand nombre". He encourages an increased number of drawings, "ne pas épargner le papier, qui nous permet de nous exercer à moindre frais", while at the same time recommending the three styles of representation: ichnography (the ground plan), the orthographic view (the section), and scenography (the landscape in perspective). He remains faithful to the mathematical teaching he received in Leiden, drawing his inspiration very clearly from Vitruvius, but as the good engineer that he is, he asserts that experience is the best teacher of things of that nature, "prestant mon consentement à ce que les plus grands ingénieurs ont appris dans la tranchée et parmi les dangers".
The particularity of this work is that it contains very many comments regarding modern fortifications in the United Provinces (Amsterdam, Breda and Ostend for example), in the context of the antique method of fortification used by the Turks and other Europeans, notably the French (Le Havre or Saint Malo).  Many quotes from contemporary and Latin authors (Pliny, Vegetius) support his argumentation, with the historic examples confirming the recent and cruel experience of the Thirty Years' War, mentioned all through the work. Europe, ravaged by bloody conflicts whose end was perhaps glimpsed but which had a great impact on everyone, provides the proof of the necessity of strong fortifications. Even more, the United Provinces, forever making war against Spain to have their independance recognized, were forced to be fortified and to perfect their own model.
However, like Jean Errard in the Fortification démontrée et réduite en art (1600), the author defends the engineer's need to adapt the architecture to meet the needs of particular circumstances. Matthias Dögen confesses that he is not a military man, that he aspires to peace, opposing moreover "la force téméraire des combatans à la prudence des ingénieurs", materialized by good military architecture . He recommends from then on, that it is advisable to spare no expense and to be surrounded by competent men (the engineers) in order to control the length of battles, reminding us "qu’en la guerre, le temps est plus précieux que l’or". All these assertions are common in the treatises on fortifications written by 17th century engineers.
The examples of regular and especially irregular fortifications presented in the work are illustrated by fine plates which, from Frankenthal in the Palatinate to Palmanova in Friuli cover the examples of architecture but give preference to strongholds in the United Provinces. While some plates are strongly inspired by Hendrik Hondius' engravings for Marolois' work (drawings of irregular polygons, castrametation, tools, the ground plan of Ostend...) and of those of Freitach's Architecture militaire, notably the plans of Küstrin or of Antwerp, they are often larger and presented differently, for example the one of Küstrin on the Oder in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, "his country".  The comparison with two works he took as models, although he copied them considerably, allows us to attribute to him a greater number and a greater geographical variety of city plans (for example Stralsund, Deventer, Coevorden, Phillipsburg, Zwolle, Geneva, Hamburg, Orange, Le Havre, Groningen, Wolfenbüttel and Spandau).
In the last book, the comments and developments concerning attacks on strongholds are more filled out than those on defense. They show the author's marked interest in this subject, at least from a literary point of view.  He provides numerous examples, from the Bible to the most recent sieges (Bois-le-Duc [1629] or Maastricht [1632] ordered by the princes of Orange-Nassau) of remarkable victories. He proposes several extracts of accounts of sieges, such as the siege of Breda (1626) during the Eighty Years' War related by Father Hugo Herman (Obsidio Bredana, 1631), considered during the century to be a model siege report. Dögen points out the futility of conquering strongholds destined to be lost again very quickly, but he probably sought to please readers by including these accounts, while at the same time showing that only an ingenious fortification specialist allows one to resist the assailant, notably thanks to counter-walls, countermines and breach entrenchment.
Matthias Dögen's work is certainly an update of the knowledge of Dutch architecture which Marolois and then Freitach had contributed, but it is also a plea in favor of the engineer-architect whom Dögen puts in the center of the political-military system. A military leader owes it to himself to be assisted by an engineer, who, through his knowledge of mathematics, will bring a mastery of proportions and measurements, and through his experience of the terrain and of the capacity of resistance of a fortification, will be able to give the necessary advice to save time and spare lives. The wide influence of Matthias Dögen's work all through the second half of the 17th century can be attributed in a large part to the printer Elzevier's translation policy.  When the work circulated in French and in German it was assured of a wide readership and the author, although German, did honor to the training dispensed by the school of mathematics of Leiden.

Michèle Virol (Centre Roland Mousnier-Paris Sorbonne) – 2010

Critical bibliography

D. Bierens de Haan, Bibliographie néerlandaise historique-scientifique des ouvrages importants dont les auteurs sont nés aux 16e, 17e, et 18e siècles, sur les sciences mathématiques et physiques, avec leurs applications, Nieuwkoop, de Graaf, 1960, p. 76.

W. Frijhoff (ed.), Geschiedenis van Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Sun, 2004.

Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, herausgegeben von der Historischen Kommission bei der Bayrischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Band 5 (1877), "Dögen, Matthias", pp. 294-295.

M. D. Pollak, D. Military architecture cartography and the representation of the early modern European city. A checklist of treatises on fortification in the Newberry Library, Chicago, The Newberry Library, 1991, pp. 28-29.

U. Schütte (ed.), Architekt und Ingenieur. Baumeister in Krieg und Frieden, exhibition catalogue of the Herzog August Bibliothek, Wolffenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, 1984.