Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Engineers in Malta

After reading and writing about Ramelli I feel that I have to circle back and cover off some other parts of the world. One of the most interesting hubs of fortification activity was Malta.

The Knights of St. John arrived in Malta in 1530 and they quickly began to build out the fortifications of the island. The Ottoman Empire launched a major attack in 1565 which the Knights were able to repel. In many ways, Malta was on point for the protection of Christendom. It was the most exposed part of the Aragonese Empire. Successive waves of engineers visited the island to consult on the fortifications. To use Latour's expression, it became a "centre of calculation" for early engineering knowledge.

Malta depended on a succession of visiting engineers. They were among the first consulting engineers and were granted dispensation from their patrons to perform duties in Malta. They weren't paid for this service nor were they considered full-time residents of Malta or members of the Order of St. John. They were, however, treated very well and were often given valuable departing gifts. In many ways, these engineers were the super stars of the day and could affect a haughty manner. In addition to gifts, the engineers could gain social status. Francesco Paciotto, for example, was knighted by Philip II and eventually became the Count of Fonte Fabbri (but surely his status had more to do with his work in Turin and Antwerp than his work in Malta).

The engineers who worked at Malta include Pietro Paolo Floriani, son of Pompeo Floriani, an early author of fortification treatises. Gabrio Serbelloni was also in Malta in 1565. Serbelloni was a cousin to Pius IV (and El Medeghino). Some engineers, such as Mederico Blondel (brother of Francoise) stayed for many years and were given authority over both military fortifications and civil works such as aqueducts and fountains. This occurrence seems to be a rare one since the high profile engineers were rarely involved in civil works although domestic engineers sometimes did both.

The pay scale for engineers in Malta varied from about 25 Scicilian scudi per month in the late 16th century, to 30 scudi in the 17th century, to 50 scudi in the 18th century. It's unclear whether this pay scale applied to domestic engineers or to the foreign specialists who were supposed to be unpaid.

Fortification was very much a gentleman's occupation, as were the pursuit of math and science. As such, engineers were very well placed for good social standing and promotion within various bureaucracies. Unlike scientists, mathematicians, or alchemists, however, engineers were not protected by complicated symbolic languages so there work was open to criticism from various armchair engineers.


Hoppen, Alison. 1981. Military engineers in Malta. 1530-1798. Annals of Science. 38.4: 413-433.


Blogger Chris PIGOTT said...

Giovanni Battista CASTIGLIONE (ca1516 - 1597) was appointed to Elizabeth's court, as Master of the Italian Tongue, as early as 1544. He became a Groom of her Privy Chamber on her accession.

He was indeed an acquaintance of ACONCIO, & assisted financially in the Plumsted & Erith Marsh dainage scheme after it's first failure. He was also custodian of ACONCIO's papers after his death, & had one of them published.

I have presented details of his life & career on my blog-page at

But I am not aware that he was ever Elizabeth's Physician. Any other information that might corroborate this assertion would be greatly appreciated.


Chris PIGOTT, Potts Point, N.S.W. at

21/12/08 20:14  

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