Science, warfare and society in the Renaissance, with particular reference to fortification theory
By Christopher Mallagh
PhD Dissertation, University of Leeds, 1981
Abstract: Later 16th century fortification theory was conceived to be a mathematical science. The mathematical approach was considered valuable for the quality of public demonstrability and certainty it gave; for the dignified and worthy art that resulted, suitable to those of a certain (elevated) station of life. Epistemologically, the general Euclidian method used was supported by the Christian model of the relationships between God, man and the world. The prince on earth had need of such a tool to govern his domain. Concentration in design on the needs of defensive guns and ‘the principle of no dead ground’ established this pattern. The idea of the irresistability of attacking artillery legitimized the program.
Other disciplines of the renaissance: naval architecture, perspective, dialling, surveying, navigation and mapping, ballistics and general architecture, evidence a similar cluster of ideas. The preference of the period was for theoretical technologies as against the mere following of successful craft practices.
Earlier fortification theory involved a method of design by reference to the resisting capacity of particular forms. The increasing use of artillery in siege warfare in attack, and defence, meant that the ability of defending guns to punish the attack could no longer be so neglected in design. The shift to the diametrically opposite mode of design based on the functioning of defending artillery was facilitated by a number of factors: An increasing concentration on the urban enceinte; the changing nature of warfare, technical and otherwise; changing conception of political and war related needs; and the desirable quality of the science that arose. Many factors interacted in this process which was paralleled epistemologically in religious thought and political theory. The resultant attitudes and the emergent mathematical picture of the world of many areas of practical knowledge formed the background for the work of such figures as Descartes and Galileo.
Introduction: Traditionally renaissance fortification has been seen to be almost entirely a matter of changes in the forms of structures in response to the introduction of a new, effective, gunpowder powered artillery, the new weaponry having made redundant the older, high towered, medieval structures, which could not resist its power, and having led to the introduction of the low banked pointed bastion masses so characteristic of the new fortification of the 16th century. Yet undoubtedly there is another side to renaissance fortification. The new style of fortification was accompanied, in the second half of the 16th century, by the publication of a relatively large number of treatises on the art. These treatises did more than inform the reader of the many details of the new types of structures and their construction, they sought equally to justify the new style, to make clear its complete rationallity (in the sense of its being based in reason), and to show how that style conformed to the highest standards that could be conceived for such an art.