German Fortification Theory (D. Shemelina)

Cand. Sc. Daria Shemelina, NIITIAG
Dr. Tobias Büchi, Bibliothek Werner Oechslin

Shemelina Büchi


From August to October 2015 a Swiss-Russian scientific project was carried out at the Werner Oechslin Library. It was executed in cooperation with NIITIAG (Research Institute of Theory and History of Architecture and Town Planning, Moscow) which is the only institution in Russia specialized in researching architectural theory in an interdisciplinary and intercultural context. The initiators and executors of the project were: Dr. Tobias Büchi, research scientist working within the project Architectural theory in the German-speaking cultural area, 1500 – 1750 at the Werner Oechslin Library and Cand. Sc. Daria Shemelina, research scientist at the NIITIAG. Living in Siberia (Novosibirsk), she works in the project European engineering ideas in the architecture of Siberian fortresses of XVIII century. The funding by Swiss National Science Foundation (International Short Visits program) allowed Daria Shemelina, as a visiting fellow, to come from distant Siberia to Einsiedeln and to research within the collaborative project directly at Werner Oechslin Library.

 In the XVIII century defense lines for the protection from nomads were realized on the borders of Siberia. In Western Siberia, the Irtyshskaya, Gorkaya and Kolyvano-Kuznetskaya lines were built, and besides, the lines for Eastern Siberia were designed. These fortification complexes stretched for hundreds of kilometers from the Urals to the East and included dozens of forts of various strengths: from fortresses to redoubts. In the construction of the defense lines, there was used, on one hand, the traditional Russian experience of building fortification complexes; on the other hand, the forts on the defense lines were built with the focus on the resistance to firearms in accordance with the rules of European fortification of the XVII-XVIII centuries.

There are concrete reasons to believe that the ideas of the German theory of fortification played a major role in this process. One such reason is the presence of the German-language literature on fortification in the Russian collections of military books of the XVIII century. In the private library of Peter I, there were original treatises of G. A. Böckler, J. J. Werdmüller, M. Dögen, G.C. Martius, J. Furttenbach, J. B. Scheiter, W. Schildknecht, D. Specklin and L. Ch. Sturm. Already in Petrine time, on the initiative of the tsar himself, the works of famous European authors were translated (M. van Coehoorn, F. Blondel, de Cambray’s treatise about ‘Vauban’s fortification’) including the writings of German engineers G. Rimpler and L. Ch. Sturm. The treatises of G. A. Böckler and J. J. Werdmüller were also translated into Russian but remained as manuscripts in the private library of Peter the Great and were never printed. Besides, the books by the Austrian military engineer E. F. von Borgsdorff written in Russian were published in that time.

Another reason is the participation of the native-born Germans engineers and military leaders in the design development of the Siberian linear fortresses, which were acquainted, presumably, with European fortification ideas. From 1745 to 1798, native-born Germans, mainly of the Ostsee nobility, were six times appointed to the position of the Chief of the Siberian lines. These were Ch. Th. von Kindermann, I. Kraft, K. L. Frauendorf, I. I. von Weymarn, I. von Springer and E. G. von Strandman.

The third reason is the existence of an oasis of the German technical culture around the Kolyvano-Voskresenskie mining plants. It was formed in the XVIII century in Altai (South Siberia) with broad-based participation of German mining engineers. The German specialists were not only involved in creation of the mining plants, but also were engaged in creating of plants’ protection by means of the defense lines. Kolyvano-Voskresensky mining district possessed a large network of industry-sponsored libraries. Thanks to these libraries, the Siberian engineers had the European and Russian books on applied mathematical sciences, including fortification at their disposal.

All these reasons above, made it highly probable that the ideas of the German fortification theory were spreading in Siberia. Thus, the project was focused on the question of how German fortification theory diffused into the architectural practice of building forts on the defense lines in Siberia. The research aims were to identify the ideas of the German theory of fortification that were used in the architectural context of XVIII century in Siberia during the creation of forts on the defense lines; to determine the concrete treatises of German-speaking authors, whose developments could be used in the construction of fortifications on the Siberian defense lines and to determine the fortresses on the Siberian defense lines, in the designing and construction of which there were used the developments of the German-speaking theorists of fortification.