3. The authors of this paper believe that the cuniculi found almost exclusively in the tufo and pozzolana deposits of volcanic origin in Latium were excavated by the Etruscans and Latins mainly for the following purposes: (1) to obtain water purified by the filtering action of the soil; also, if only rarely, (2) to extract water from waterlogged soils (drainage); (3) to collect spring water; (4) to divert water from watercourses (possibly for irrigation purposes).
Many other functions may be attributed to the numerous excavations made in antiquity in Latium. But all these works - which are totally different from cuniculi as concerns structure and were, in many cases, excavated in a later period - should not be confused with cuniculi.
The difference between kanats and cuniculi lies, first of all, in the fact that, whereas kanats, typical of countries having a more arid climate than that of Latium, collect perennial water from rather deep-lying aquifers, cuniculi, excavated in a soil layer much closer to the surface, are much more susceptible than kanats to the frequency and intensity of individual rains. Kanats still draw water today whereas cuniculi (except for those, rarely found, indicated under points 3 and 4 earlier) are now dry or collect such a small quantity of water that, in ancient times, excavation of them would hardly have been worthwhile.
The authors believe that the results of recent research on climate changes in the Mediterranean basin over the last thousands of years can help explain these seemingly contradictory facts. In the first millennium B.C., climate changes were numerous and marked. Only recently have researchers begun to gather proof. The studies made on the moraines left by the Ferman glacier in the Tyrol and the mud stratifications of the nearby ancient swamp known as Bunte Moor are of fundamental importance in the matter of climatic changes in Italy in the first millennium B.C. It has been calculated that there were two periods of glacial expansion between 900 B.C. and 200 B.C. separated by a brief period of about one century. The climate in the Mediterranean basin between 900 and 200 B.C. was a cool humid one with a marked increase in summer rainfall (Figure 13).
Fig. 13 Climatic variations in Italy from the third millennium B.C.
As the network of cuniculi in Latium lies quite close to the surface and was fed by frequent rains, the local population could have pure drinking water without having to gather and store surface water.
An excavation of this type can only be explained by the presence of permanent settlements with a population engaged in, for that time, an advanced agriculture. This stage was reached in the area in question around the 9th century B.C. when the first urban communities flourished on the plain.5
The Etruscans had settled north of the Tiber River, the Latins to the south. It was the fusion of these two large ethnic groups that contributed to the creation of the conditions favourable to the birth of Rome. Cultural uniformity between Southern Etruria and ancient Latium had already been achieved in the 9th century B.C. with a steady increase in the rural population of the region.
It was in this environment that the technique of excavating cuniculi was born. At that time the continually increasing cultural exchanges with the Orient could also have affected the spread of cuniculi. But the direction of this exchange remains to be clarified.
From 300/200 B.C. onwards the average temperature increased and average rainfall decreased in the Mediterranean basin to such an extent that from the 1st century B.C. onwards the region became arid while the cuniculi excavated in the first millennium gradually dried up. Thermal conditions became favourable to the proliferation of the anofele mosquito on the plain made swampy by the water which ran off from the nearby mountains. Rural areas became so depopulated that traces of the many populated centres in pre-Roman Latium were lost. Only very recent archaeological excavations are bringing to light these lost villages. Cuniculi which were no longer being used were forgotten and no mention was made of them by the Roman authors. Only Tito Livio briefly mentioned them as military works.
5 The use of the term "plain" is not strictly speaking appropriate as it refers here to a land formation of the type pictured in Figure 3 which shows a undulated surface. The term "plain" is used here in contrast to "mountains"
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