Sébastien Vauban (1633-1707) was the premier military engineer of his age and revolutionized siege warfare. Vauban was a Marshal of France as well as a Marquis. He is best known for his engineering and theoretical approach to fortifications, both on the design and attack fronts. One of his fascinating manuscripts on the fortification of cities was recently uploaded to the Smithsonian Transcription Center where you can help uncover its secrets.
Vauban was born in Saint-Léger-de-Foucheret in the Burgundy region of France. His birthplace was renamed Saint-Lége-Vauban in 1867 to honor him. He grew up in poverty, even spending time in an orphanage. His luck changed when he was taken under the care of a Carmelite prior who provided him with a good education. While he was at one time a rebel against the king, Vauban was persuaded to change sides and went on to advise Louis XIV on how to consolidate France’s borders as well as designing fortification upgrades for close to 300 cities in France between 1667 and 1707. In addition, Vauban fought in the king’s regiment and was instrumental in several campaigns with his plans of attack and fortification designs.
Vauban’s manuscript dates towards later in his life and when his work focused on better fortifying a number of French cities. The title of the manuscript, Traitté des siéges et de l’attaque des places: Traitté de la deffense des places, roughly translates to “Treatise on sieges and the attack of places: Treatise on the defense of places”. The manuscript contains a letter from Vauban to the Duke of Burgundy, and is divided into two parts with the first on attack of places and the second on defense of places. After the second part, there are a number of hand-painted illustrations of fortifications and attack plans. Vauban’s manuscript was given to the Smithsonian Libraries from the Burndy Library, as part of a larger gift which ultimately became the nucleus of Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology.
Please join us in transcribing this Dibner treasure through the Smithsonian Transcription Center.