Servants of Mathesis. Early 17th-century teaching in geometry and fortification and digital mathematics education.

Activity: Talk or presentationAcademic


In 1654, Hendrik Ruse, in his treatise Versterckte Vesting, (The Strengthening of Strong-Holds) ridiculed Dutch engineers as: ‘“Onderdanen van Mathesis” [Servants of Mathesis], who think that wars and all affairs of this world, ought to be regulated unchangeably after their rules’.The critical remark of Ruse reflected the standardised way of teaching geometry and fortification that evolved since the foundation of the Duytsche Mathematique (Dutch Mathematics) in 1600 based on an educational program written by Simon Stevin on instigation of Stadtholder, later Prince Maurice of Nassau. The history of the Duytsche Mathematique is commonly described as a practical training course in which artisans of all sorts were taught elementary geometry and fortification in the Dutch language to foresee urgently in the need of engineers that could design fortresses and city walls during the Eighty Years’ War.In this paper we question purely practical explanations of the use of the Dutch language and elementary geometry and contextualise the Duytsche Mathematique as a learning place in two different ways. Firstly, the Duytsche Mathematique will be discussed in the context of contemporary views on the status of the Dutch language and of mathematics. Secondly, the Duytsche Mathematique will be contextualised by a comparative mathematical analysis of over 20 manuscripts and printed works of fortitications. We will focus on practices of copying manuscripts and drawings and on the impact of (non)-elementary mathematics on the social status of scientific and technological knowledge. We conclude with a demonstration how these teaching materials of the Duytsche Mathematique are reused and contextualised in a digital learning place for education of mathematics in secondary schools.
Period03 Feb 2022
Event titleLearning Places: TechNetEMPIRE Conference
Event typeConference
LocationLisbon, Portugal
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Duytsche Mathematique
  • Fortification
  • Geometry
  • mathematics education