Mikko Huhtamies

Ph.D., Docent in Nordic history, Mikko Huhtamies

Mikko Huhtamies

Fortress Sveaborg, a centre of brainstorming and innovations

The main objective of my research is to explore the innovative role of Sveaborg. In other words, what was the innovative meaning of Sveaborg and what kind of economic, social and cultural spin off –effects did this construction site, maybe the largest of its time in northern Europe, have on its surroundings?

Founded on rocky islands situated in front of Helsinki, the fortress was, of course, an innovation in itself – a northern variant of the Vaubanian Fortification theory – and a result of a diffusion process that was technological and intellectual.

Although an innovation and innovative transmitter, the founding of Sveaborg can also be seen as a consequence of an innovation that diffused to Sweden: the galley, a military innovation disseminated from the Mediterranean to Sweden. The galleys formed the most powerful weapon of the fortress: the archipelago fleet. These narrow vessels were packed with hundreds of men and tons of armaments and could carry only a small amount of provisions and therefore had a short radius of action. Furthermore, the archipelago fleet was in constant need of maritime bases.

The main task of Sveaborg was to protect and support the galleys. The land forces could not operate without this coastal force and the southern flank of the army. Thus, the raison d’être of Sveaborg was to be a stronghold of both defensive and offensive operations against the main enemy, Russia.

What was the origin of the innovations adopted in the fortress and by what kind of diffusion process did they end up at Sveaborg? How new where they? My aim is to identify the agents behind the dissemination process. Furthermore, what was the value of books and other printed material? I will also explore the meaning of a direct import of technology (e.g. the ships taken to Sweden as a booty of war) and direct investments (this was fundamental because of the substantial French financing) to Sweden. The study also offers a mapping of the networks and the role of foreign experts, industrial espionage or educational travelling and diplomacy in the dissemination of ideas and knowledge. What was the emphasis of European war (e.g. The Pomeranian war 1756-62) as a generator in the process? In addition, what were the consequences of the innovations applied in Sveaborg? Moreover, in which way were they modified to hard northern conditions?

Due to its many experts and advisers, Sveaborg can also be seen as a transmitter of innovations, as a kind of think tank. A young Swedish-born engineer, Daniel Thunberg, worked with the commandant of the fortress, Augustin Ehrensvärd, also a talented pupil of the famous Christoffer Polhem (the father of Swedish engineering), to lead the construction of technical highlights such as works of the multipurpose windmill and the dock. The mill was an example of the superior Dutch technology diffused from Amsterdam to Narva and later to Sveaborg via the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland during the first half of the 18th century. First adopted in Sveaborg, windmill technology was later spread to Helsinki and its hinterlands. Thunberg also introduced simple but important everyday technology, such as wheelbarrows, pumps, water wheels, wooden transmission arrangements (stånggång), tackles and winches, etc. The technology launched in Sveaborg was later disseminated to Helsinki and its surroundings. For example, effective water-driven brick works were founded in the town. In addition, barges, floating bridges, pile drivers and dredgers were employed in the fortress. Thunberg also designed a ventilation system to aid the air flow from the polluted gun decks of the ships. Much of this technology had its roots in the mining industry, a branch of technology in which Sweden made a major international contribution. As a matter of fact, one can consider the construction site of the Sveaborg dock as a sort of open-pit mine.

Thousands of soldiers serving in Sveaborg learned pioneering construction methods, such as blasting with black powder and quarrying methods that were disseminated to their home districts at the time of the men being demobilized. A unique sea fortress – “The Northern Gibraltar” – was also a major tourist attraction in its time. This meant that, new ideas and cultural novelties were disseminated through foreign visitors, many of them travelling from Europe via Sveaborg to St. Petersburg.

To summarize, the basic factors leading to founding Sveaborg were the establishment of the archipelago fleet and the concentration of the 18th century naval operations on the eastern Gulf of Finland. The construction work itself had an uplifting economic impact on the surroundings. This promoted the growth of Helsinki as a military and administrative capital of autonomous Finland.