Thursday, March 02, 2017

Roman mining in Spain

PUNIC WATCH: Archaeologists Uncover Vast Ancient Roman Mining Operation in Spain. The Romans exploited an even more ancient mine but built elaborate ventilated underground galleries, going deeper than had been thought possible at the time (Philippe Bohstrom, Haaretz). This article initially appears unrelated to the interests of PaleoJudaica, but then it turns to both copper mining in Israel and to the ancient Carthaginians.
It was partly pursuit of valuable metals that motivated Rome to invade places as far-flung as Israel. Certainly the ancient copper mines in today's southern Israel stepped up production during the Roman occupation.

In Spain too the Romans didn't introduce mining, they exploited mines already in use. But first they had to overthrow the mines' new overlords, the Carthaginians.

Copper and iron had been mined in Andalusia for over 4,000 years. Come the late third century B.C.E., the Punic general Hamilcar Barca of Carthage set out to expand his empire and founded Carthago Nova (New Carthage) on Spain’s southeast coast. He also took over the mines of Munigua.

Within mere years, the Spanish mines had refilled the original Carthage's coffers.

Inevitably, the Punic ambitions led to conflict with Rome. In 218 B.C.E., the Roman commander Cornelius Publius Scipio landed on the Iberian Peninsula with a Roman army and targeted the mines, including those in New Carthage and Castulo, in an attempt to cut off Carthage’s metal supply and strangle its economy.

In a daring attack, when the water in the harbor had dropped lower than usual, 500 Roman soldiers waded ashore and, passing the forts, conquered New Carthage. From that point things went steadily backward for the Carthaginians in Spain.
The modern name for Carthago Nova is Cartagena, a town in Spain which makes much of its Punic heritage. For past posts on the copper mines of Timna, see here and links.

This also seems like a good time for a reminder of why PaleoJudaica takes an interest in the ancient Phoenicians and Carthaginians.