A Roman altar dedicated to Mercury stands in the entrance to the Forum in Munigua, Spain.
|Archaeologists excavating the ancient city of Munigua in southern Spain have found a vast Roman copper mining operation built on an older mine dating back thousands of years.
Exploitation of ore at Munigua apparently began by the original inhabitants of the region over 4,000 years ago. Researchers have discovered an elaborate system of ventilated underground galleries connected by tunnels dating to the Roman era.|
They also found shafts connecting at various heights forming floors that let the miners extract metal deeper than had been believed possible at the time.
|The Munigua mine supplied the Roman Empire with vast amounts of iron and copper until the late second century, when all the mines in Hispania were shut down.|
Pursuit of valuable metals helped motivate Rome to invade many far-flung places. In Spain the Romans didn't introduce mining, they exploited mines already in use. But first they needed to overthrow the mines' new owners, the Carthaginians. In the late 3rd century BC the Punic general Hamilcar Barca of Carthage set out to expand his empire and founded Carthago Nova (New Carthage) on Spain’s southeast coast.
|In 218 BC, the Roman commander Cornelius Publius Scipio landed on the Iberian Peninsula with a Roman army and targeted the mines 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 conquered New Carthage. From that point things went steadily downhill for the Carthaginians in Spain.|
Vast slag heaps in Munigua, some the size of football fields, give silent reminder of the scale of Roman operations there.