Mining (military)

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Mining, landmining or undermining is a siege method which has been used since antiquity against a walled city, fortress, castle or other strongly-held and fortified military position.


In antiquity

The Greek historian Polybius, in his Histories, gives a graphic account of mining and counter mining at the Roman siege of Ambracia:

According to Polybius, this was the first time poison gas was used.[1]

Another extraordinary usage of siege-mining in the ancient Greece, where during Philip V of Macedon's siege of the little town of Prinassos, according to Polybius,"the ground around the town were extremely rocky and hard, making any siege-mining virtually impossible. However, Philip ordered his soldiers during the cover of night collect earth from elsewhere and throw it all down at the fake tunnel's entrance, making it look like the macedonians were almost finished completing the tunnels! Eventually, when Philip V announced that large parts of the town-walls were undermined the citizens surrendered without delay.[2]

Mining was a siege method used in ancient China from at least the Warring States (481–221 BC) period forward. When enemies attempted to dig tunnels under walls for mining or entry into the city, the defenders used large bellows (the type the Chinese commonly used in heating up the blast furnace for smelting cast iron) to pump smoke into the tunnels in order to suffocate the intruders.[3]

In the Middle Ages

In warfare during the Middle Ages, a "mine" was a tunnel dug to bring down castles and other fortifications. The technique was used when the fortification was not built on solid rock, and was developed as a response to stone built castles that could not be burned like earlier-style wooden forts. A tunnel would be excavated under the outer defenses either to provide access into the fortification or to collapse the walls. These tunnels would normally be supported by temporary wooden props as the digging progressed. Once the excavation was complete, the wall or tower being undermined would be collapsed by filling the excavation with combustible material that, when lit, would burn away the props leaving the structure above unsupported and thus liable to collapse. Later, explosives were used for greater effect.

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