STEVIN, Simon

(c. 1546-1620)
Simon Stevin, an associate of Prince Maurice of Orange, began publishing his numerous and varying works in the late sixteenth century during the Golden Age of the Netherlands. Topics Steven discusses in his works include weights and measures, mathematics, mechanics, music, language, architecture, astron­omy, warfare, and civic duty, but he is best known for his work on fractions and the decimal system.
A native of Bruges, Stevin received training as a bookkeeper but became very familiar with mathematics and mechanics. In 1585, in Leiden, Stevin produced his most famous and influential work, De Thiende (On Decimals). Later pub­lished under the English title the thirty-six-page pamphlet discusses the system­atic use of the decimal system, primarily regarding fractions. De Thiende was widely read across Europe, and Stevin's ideas influenced mathematicians such as John Napier, inventor of logarithms, and the prominent Dutch mathematician Frans van Schooten. Stevin also argued for the use of the decimal system in weights and measures, but this idea did not begin to gain acceptance until the French Revolution.
Stevin's other accomplishments include his promotion of the Dutch language, especially in science. He believed Dutch to be the best language to express scientific thought, an idea he explained in the introduction to De beghinselen der weeghconst (The Art of Weighing) in 1586. By using the Dutch language, Stevin began creating a scientific vocabulary not yet in existence. Weeghconst, apart from the importance of the introduction, discusses geometry, algebra, me­chanics, and statistics and uses algebraic notation that served as a transition between old, clumsy notation and modern Cartesian notation. Stevin also further developed Archimedes' ideas on the equilibrium of solid bodies and liquids in De beghinselen des Waterwichts (1586), which ultimately influenced integral calculus.
Prince Maurice, excellent at the art of warfare, befriended Stevin, which cer­tainly influenced his later works. He also wrote works on the art of fortification, field encampment, perspective in architecture, heliocentric theory, musical tun­ing, and civics. Stevin even helped in constructing mills, locks, and harbors and wrote Havenvindingh (How to Find the Harbor), which discusses the importance of latitude and declination in finding the right harbor.
From 1604 until his death at The Hague in 1620, Stevin served as quarter­master general of the Netherlands, focusing much of his writing on mathematics. He wrote in the vernacular, but his works were later translated into Latin by Willebrord Snellius and into French by Prince Frederick Henry, Maurice's brother.
Bibliography
D. J. Struick, The Land of Stevin and Huygens, 1981.
Paul Miller

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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