My research on the early modern history of art of war began several years ago when I first began to investigate Galileo’s activities as a teacher of military fortifications and his acclaimed work on the military compass in order to assess whether this represented the contemporary state-of-the-art in the late sixteenth century. From the very beginning, I was confronted with the work of Tartaglia, especially his Quesiti et inventioni diverse published in 1546.
While teaching Nicolò Machiavelli’s Il principe at the Technische Universität Berlin in 2011, I began to see that developments in certain practical activities, such as metallurgy, had destroyed the equilibrium between attack and defense strategies that had endured for centuries. Consequently, I began to reconstruct the manifold consequences of this peculiar situation, which were redressed only after the 1530s when architecture responded to the newly developed and more powerful artillery with a novel design for the bastion, around which all early modern military architecture was subsequently developed.
This in-depth research on the entire spectrum of the military technologies of the early modern period ultimately presented an opportunity to return to my earlier research on mechanics, but this time with the capacity to better contextualize it. The emergence of new theoretical knowledge could now be understood as a consequence of an advanced and challenging technological context.
This is the background against which the two fundamental questions arose that eventually gave birth to the work finalized in the present book, namely how and why a new theoretical ballistics had emerged by the mid-sixteenth century. These questions then necessarily shifted the focus to Nicolò Tartaglia’s Nova scientia. This work was published for the first time in 1537 and then again in 1550 with several amendments, especially to the third book.
The present work, which is based on the 1558 print run of the second edition, is neither a work on Tartaglia’s theoretical achievements tout court, nor a work on early modern mechanics. It is rather an edition of one of the most fundamental works on mechanics of the Renaissance, indeed, the first to transform aspects of practical knowledge accumulated by the early modern artillerists into a theoretical and mathematical framework. It meticulously contextualizes Tartaglia’s ballistics into the framework of artillery and its use, which was diffused precisely during Tartaglia’s time. It also analyzes the epistemological process that led from accumulated practical knowledge to the formulation of a scientific theory.
A partial English translation of the Nova scientia has already been available to historians of science since 1969, thanks to the seminal work of Stilman Drake and Israel Edward Drabkin. Nevertheless, as their research focused on early modern mechanics as a decontextualized logico-mathematical exercise, possibly supported by some “experiments,” so does their translation. Drake and Drabkin translated only the dedicatory letter and the most relevant theoretical parts of the first and second book of the Nova scientia, often omitting the demonstrations. They systematically ignored all parts of the books that deal more closely with the practical aspects of a science of ballistics, thereby presenting a misleading image of a highly theoretical abstract formulation that makes it impossible to understand the underlying reasons of why this science emerged in that specific period. The third book, which deals with the techniques used for measuring distances by sight—a procedure without which the use of modern ballistics is nonsense—is entirely absent from their translation. Yet, as will be described in the following, this book more than any other clearly shows the tension between practical and theoretical knowledge that constantly imbues Tartaglia’s work. Finally, Drake and Drabkin rendered some of the fundamental conceptual instruments of Tartaglia’s theoretical structure by using the terminology of modern physics. They therefore failed to appreciate the fact that scholars of the sixteenth century were not only creating new scientific knowledge, but also a language with which to express it.
I hope that the present work will be helpful to any future scholarly research that aims to reconstruct the history of early modern mechanics within its technological and cultural context.
Berlin-Wedding, January 18, 2013