Adapting to Change

Simon Stevin’s Multifunctional Pivoted Sluice Lock and the Dutch Revolt

in Vulcan
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This paper examines an invention by Simon Stevin (1548–1620) which was intended for use in fortifications and economic activities in the Dutch Republic. Stevin was a prominent innovator and engineer who served as an important link between the military and public spheres. He published his ideas for his new invention in New Manner of Fortification through Pivoted Sluices (1617) detailing how his device could help maintain the wet ditches surrounding the Republic’s towns and defenses. These ditches were an important component of the Netherlandish style of fortification developed by Stevin and others. Simultaneously, Stevin also believed that his device could be employed beyond military purposes. In particular he argued that his pivoted sluice lock could benefit the Dutch economy through its use in navigation, land reclamation, and peat harvesting. In short, Stevin envisioned a system in which the military and economic needs of the Republic could be harmoniously combined.

Adapting to Change

Simon Stevin’s Multifunctional Pivoted Sluice Lock and the Dutch Revolt

in Vulcan



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  • View in gallery

    This image shows the type of mitered sluice which Stevin (1617/1966, 96) describes as being used in the sixteenth century Netherlands. The small channels at D and G were used to regulate the water level but were not large enough to scour the channel.

  • View in gallery

    This is an image of Stevin’s new Pivoted Sluice Lock. (The inner doors (efgh) pivoted on the spindle ik, while the iron bars at nm and op provided additional support. The sluice could easily be released by a catch at N (Stevin 1617/1966, 104).

  • View in gallery

    This image depicts Stevin’s fortifications design. B and D depict the dikes/dunes approaching the town, the pivoted sluice locks are located in the wet ditch at hi and kl, protected by ravelins F and G, with the harbors situated at mn and op (Stevin 1617/1966, 133).

  • View in gallery

    Stevin’s proposal to defend towns situated away from the sea or large river. Notice the pivoted sluice locks remain to regulate the water in the wet ditch at hi and jk and in the canal (Stevin 1617/1966, 150).

  • View in gallery

    A side by side comparison of the existing fortifications (left) with Stevin’s proposed improvements (right). He believed he could eliminate the defensive weakness by building a pivoted sluice lock at A and B. This would complete the wet ditch and provide a harbor at C. This comparison also highlights the complexity of adapting fortifications to pre-existing designs (Stevin 1617/1966, 240–241).

  • View in gallery

    Stevin’s complex boezem system with multiple bends. It only required three smaller pivoted sluices at A, B, and F (Stevin 1617/1966, 168).

  • View in gallery

    The molengang system developed by Stevin which utilized a step-like organization for the drainage of low lying areas in the Republic (de Vries and van der Woude 1997, 29).

  • View in gallery

    The baggerbeugel is depicted in figure 3. The long pole allowed Dutch harvesters to collect peat located underwater. Figures 4 and 5 depict alternative shapes for the collection nets (Berkhey 1811, 172).


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