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Smoking Out the Enemy

By assiduously working the battering rams the Romans were always breaking down this or that part of the wall. But yet they could not succeed in storming any of these breaches, because the besieged were energetic in raising counter walls, and the Aetolians fought with determined gallantry on the debris.
The Romans begin mining operations.
They, therefore, in despair had recourse to mines and underground tunnels. Having safely secured the central one of their three works, and carefully concealed the shaft with wattle screens, they erected in front of it a covered walk or stoa about two hundred feet long, parallel with the wall; and beginning their digging from that, they carried it on unceasingly day and night, working in relays.
Counter-mines by the besieged.
For a considerable number of days the besieged did not discover them carrying the earth away through the shaft; but when the heap of earth thus brought out became too high to be concealed from those inside the city, the commanders of the besieged garrison set to work vigorously digging a trench inside, parallel to the wall and to the stoa which faced the towers. When the trench was made to the required depth, they next placed in a row along the side of the trench nearest the wall a number of brazen vessels made very thin; and, as they walked along the bottom of the trench past these, they listened for the noise of the digging outside. Having marked the spot indicated by any of these brazen vessels, which were extraordinarily sensitive and vibrated to the sound outside, they began digging from within, at right angles to the trench, another underground tunnel leading under the wall, so calculated as to exactly hit the enemy's tunnel. This was soon accomplished, for the Romans had not only brought their mine up to the wall, but had under-pinned a considerable length of it on either side of their mine; and thus the two parties found themselves face to face. At first they conducted this underground fighting with their spears: but as neither side could do much good, because both parties protected themselves with shields and wattles, some one suggested another plan to the defenders.
The Romans smoked out.
Putting in front of them an earthenware jar, made to the width of the mine, they bored a hole in its bottom, and, inserting an iron funnel of the same length as the depth of the vessel, they filled the jar itself with fine feathers, and putting a little fire in it close to the mouth of the jar, they clapped on an iron lid pierced full of holes. They carried this without accident through the mine with its mouth towards the enemy. When they got near the besiegers they stopped up the space all round the rim of the jar, leaving only two holes on each side through which they thrust spears to prevent the enemy coming near the jar. They then took a pair of bellows such as blacksmiths use, and, having attached them to the orifice of the funnel, they vigorously blew up the fire placed on the feathers near the mouth of the jar, continually withdrawing the funnel in proportion as the feathers became ignited lower down. The plan was successfully executed; the volume of smoke created was very great, and, from the peculiar nature of feathers, exceedingly pungent, and was all carried into the faces of the enemy. The Romans, therefore, found themselves in a very distressing and embarrassing position, as they could neither stop nor endure the smoke in the mines.1 The siege being thus still further protracted the Aetolian commander determined to send an envoy to the Consul. . . .

1 Smoking out an enemy in a mine was one of the regular manœuvres. See Aen. Tact. 37. It was perhaps suggested by the illegal means taken by workmen in the silver mines to annoy a rival; for we find an Athenian law directed against it. See Demosth. in Pantaen. § 36.

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  • Cross-references in notes from this page (1):
    • Demosthenes, Against Pantaenetus, 36
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