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CUNI´CULUS (ὑπόνομος, ὑπόρυγμα), a mine or subterranean passage, was so called from its resemblance to the burrowing of a rabbit. Thus Martial (13.60) says: “Gaudet in effossis habitare cuniculus antris;
Monstravit tacitas hostibus ille vias.”

The word is applied to natural passages underground, like the katavóthra into which some rivers disappear (Plin. Nat. 3.117; 5.55; 6.128); to sulphur mines (ib. 35.174); to the flues of furnaces (ib. 9.133) [BALNEAE p. 278 a]; to sewers (ib. 2.197); to the underground channels of aqueducts, thus distinguished from the specus of the exposed portions (ib. 36.121). But it is most commonly used as a military technical term, denoting either the “mines” of besiegers or the “counter-mines” of defenders. The use of the former was mainly, if not exclusively, to sap the foundations of a wall and make a breach for the assailants: “cuniculo suffossa moenia,” Q. Curt. 7.6. The stories of towns entered by mines, such as Fidenae (Liv. 4.22), Veii (id. 5.19), Chalcedon (Polyaen. 7.11.5), and an Indian town in Alexander's expedition (Q. Curt. 9.8) are now rejected as unhistorical. The want of evidence for these cases is pointed out by Niebuhr (R. H 2.483, n. 1063; e. g. the capture of Chalcedon by Darius is not mentioned by Herodotus). The earliest military writer, Aeneas Tacticus, gives full details as to the art of mining, including that of countermines; and most of the later writers have copied or abridged his account. Among the curious particulars given by him are the introduction of wasps, bees, and smoke into the mine, and the sounding for mines by laying the ear to the ground with a bronze shield between (Poliorc. 37). Another remarkable stratagem in counter-mining is described by Livy (38.7) at the siege of Ambracia by the Romans; the Ambraciots introduced into the besiegers' mine a “stink-pot” of burning feathers. For other examples of mines and countermines, cf. Thuc. 2.76; Caes. Gal. 3.21, 7.22, 8.43.

The “cunicular” drainage of Latium and Southern Etruria belongs rather to the prehistoric antiquities of Italy than to classical times: it dates, probably, from the period of Etruscan supremacy in these regions, and the Romans had utterly lost sight of it. The subject is interesting from the economical point of view, and has recently been investigated by Italians desirous of restoring to the Campagna its ancient fertility. (See Daremberg and Saglio, s. v.)

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hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.76
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 3.21
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 7.22
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 8.43
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 38, 7
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 4, 22
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 13.60
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 7.6
    • Curtius, Historiarum Alexandri Magni, 9.8
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