At things like the battle of Lake Trasimene, Cannae, etc. Hannibal's plans always seemed to involve some degree of offering some form of bait to the Romans, some group of men the Romans were (accurately) expected to chase, or focus on, or whatever.
Thus, given this commonality in Hannibal's plans, I'm curious; would his men have actually known that that was their role? Or were they just doing as their higher ups said; and would this have been similar for the Romans?
Top 12 Facts about Hannibal Barca
Hannibal Barca was a renowned general and statesman. He was known for his skill as a commander and his contributions to the army. He was born in 247 BC to Hamilcar Barca who was also a chief in the Carthaginian army. Mago and Hasdrubal were his younger brothers. All his family members were employed in the army and made major contributions to many wars.
Hannibal was born in Tunisia in the Mediterranean region. His name is of Latin origin and unique in Carthaginian culture. He had a difficult childhood as his father was busily engaged in the Mercenary War. The situation was made worse when his sisters both became engaged and he lost their support. Hamilcar decided to improve Carthage’s fate after it suffered losses in the First Punic War, and Hannibal supported his father in building a strong army and fighting the Romans. At the age of nine, Hannibal was introduced to Roman and Carthage rivalry. He was made commander-in-chief of his troops and was given extensive training in the army at the same time.
General Hannibal Barca was a Black AfricanHannibal's celebrated feat in crossing the Alps with war elephants passed into European legend: detail of a fresco by Jacopo Ripanda, ca. 1510, Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Hannibal Barca was probably a black Carthaginian military commander he became famous for his crossing of the Alps, his strategic brilliance before taking on major campaigns, his tactical genius on the battlefield, and his operational prowess during combat.
He was one of the greatest military commanders in history. During the Second Punic War, Hannibal inflicted crushing defeats on Roman armies, particularly in the battle of Cannae where 70,000 Romans died following the engagement. When his army marched toward the city of Rome, he was unable to conquer the city because his army lacked the siege equipment and reinforcement necessary to take it. In 202 BCE, Hannibal was called back to Africa to defend Carthage against invading Roman military forces, and there he was finally defeated by Scipio Africanus at the battle of Zama.
Hannibal Barca’s Ethnicity
A growing number of professional military historians believe that Hannibal Barca was a dark skin ethnically mixed Numidian warrior. Carthage was a mixture of indigenous black Africans, Berber tribesmen, Semitic Arabs, white Celtic Germanic warriors, Greek sojourners, and white Libyan tribesmen that existed when many Phoenician cities and colonies decorated North Africa.
Although the Carthaginians were a mixed population, the Carthaginian military was dominated by Numidians, which was a mixture of a black Africans, Nubians, and Berber extract that lived among the Carthaginians and who were prevalent in Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and elsewhere throughout North Africa. The Barca family originated from the celebrated Numidian warriors.
Hannibal Barca Coins
European archaeologists have found eight coins portraying Hannibal’s Carthaginian features. The coins do not resemble each other. Of the eight coins, only five coins are not recognized by European archeologists and historians. The five coins not recognized portray Hannibal with strong West African ethnic features.
One of coins found in Italy, near the battle site of Lake Trasimene where Hannibal’s Carthaginian Army defeated the Romans, shows an African man on one side with the characteristic strong African features such as curly hair, thick lips, and full nose on the coin’s opposite side shows an elephant. All the black African looking coins have been carbon dated around the time that Hannibal was alive, but the Semitic looking coins are dated roughly a century or more after Hannibal’s death.
The carbon dating of the coin is 217 BCE. Since the coin’s male image is shown in the way Apollo, the Roman and Greek sun god, was depicted, indicates that he wasn’t a common warrior riding a war elephant, but he was a high ranking military commander. This coin is the best representation of Hannibal. Hannibal was inclined to the god, Apollo.
Since the coin was found near Lake Trasimene where Hannibal defeated the Romans, this fact offers good confirmation that coin’s image resembled Hannibal’s real ethnic appearance because one of way of celebrating a victory in ancient warfare was to have a coin minted in your honor and showing yourself as your enemy’s deity. This act would have an incredibly psychological impact on the surrounding Roman population in those days.
Analysis: Carthaginians and Hannibal Barca
Because Carthaginians kept no written chronicles of Hannibal’s life, historical knowledge of Hannibal was based upon Carthaginian oral traditions and entirely on Roman written records. Legend suggests that before he embarked upon the Spanish campaign, Hannibal’s father (Hamilcar Barca) required the nine year old Hannibal to pledge his ever-lasting hatred of Rome. Carthaginians celebrated Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps with coins that depicted his face on one side and an elephant on the other.
10 Greatest Military Strategists From History
Military strategists develop military strategies in order to defeat their opponents in war and battle. The greatest military strategists, have been able to win battles against superior forces with minimal losses and have often gone on to become great kings or conquerors. This list is written In no particular order. If you think there is something missing from this list they are probably on our list of great conquerors who almost took over the world or greatest Roman Generals.
Napoleon is one of the greatest military strategists and tacticians to ever live. He created one of the most significant empires in history, and had a massive impact on the world. Napoleon led many successful campaigns during the revolutionary wars, and eventually became emperor after the monarchy was overthrown. Napoleon was beloved by his people, many of which felt he was invulnerable and could never be defeated. Napoleon’s greatest victories came at the battle of Austerlitz, where he scored a decisive victory over an alliance of the Russian Empire, and the Holy Roman Empire. He had an inferior force, and was fighting two great empires, and defeated them both.
Zhuge Liang is one of the most famous military strategists in Chinese history, and one of the most accomplished strategists of his era. Zhuge Liang worked under Liu Shan to try and reinstate the Han dynasty which they felt had been usurped by Cao Mengde. Zhuge Liang’s most famous battle was the Battle of Red Cliff, where he helped to defeat the giant Wei army which was could have been up to 800,000 strong. They managed to win due to a fire attack launched against the enemies navy, which devastated the Wei fleet. Zhuge Liang became famous throughout China for his many victories, including the subjugation Nanzhong.
Sun Tzu is the author of the art of war, maybe the most famous military manual of all time. He is known all over the world as a genius strategist, and his lessons are still used by people today, in different industries all over the world. People eventually realised that his lessons were not just useful for military strategy, but also business, and pretty much anything competitive. Sun Tzu is not just an armchair strategist, but actually fought several successful battles against vastly superior forces proving his lessons hold weight. In one of the most well known stories about Sun Tzu, he was challenged by the King of Wu, who was interested in hiring him. The King wanted to test Sun Tzu’s claim that he could turn anyone into a soldier. He gave sun Tzu 180 sheltered concubines (mistresses) who had never seen conflict, and turn them into soldiers. Sun Tzu picked two commanders to be in charge of the rest. He then trained them all, but when he gave them orders, they simply giggled. Sun Tzu said that if the troops don’t follow orders the first time it is the fault of the general, and repeated the orders. They laughed again. This time he said that if they disobey twice it is the fault of the commanders and chopped off their heads in front of the troops, and appointed new commanders. Later on when he gave them orders, they always complied.
Subutai was Genghis Khan’s greatest strategist, and many people claim without Subutai, the Mongol Empire would never have been as powerful. He directed more than twenty military campaigns, in which he conquered thirty two nations, and won sixty-five pitched battles. In these campaigns he overran or conquered more territory than any other commander in history. He is easily one of the greatest military strategists, although relatively unknown. Subutai could easily manage large disparate armies. He accomplished an amazing military feat when he defeated both the armies of Poland in Hungary within two days of each other, with armies 500 km away from each other.
Hannibal is a Carthaginian general known his military feats in devastating the armies of the Roman Empire, and for transporting an entire army, over treacherous land most would have deemed impossible for him to pass. One of Hannibal greatest achievements was transporting his army over the Alps to attack Rome where they least expected it. Hannibal travelled through the Alps with thousands of infantry, cavalry, and even some elephants. Many of the troops died because of the extremely cold weather, and random attacks from tribes that inhabited the Alps, but eventually he managed to get his army over the Alps, with even elephants making it across. His most celebrated victory is probably the Battle of Cannae. The Romans were sick of his constant victories over them and decided to amass an army so large that no one could defeat it. Using genius tactics he defeated their army. It was one of the greatest victories in military history, and one of the greatest defeats. After his many victories over Rome Hannibal was cemented in history as one of it’s greatest military strategists.
Alexander The Great
Alexander III of Macedon is famous all over the world for his gigantic empire. Alexander was never defeated in battle and only stopped expanding his empire because his men were too tired to continue fighting. If they kept going he may well have kept expanding his empire until the day he died. When he defeated King Darius of Persia at the battle of Gaugamela he ruled the largest Empire of the ancient world. Darius had all the advantages in this battle, his army dwarfed Alexander’s 200,000 to 35,000, and the ground they fought on favoured Darius’s chariots in battle. Alexander defeated Darius by tricking him into chasing his cavalry onto land less favourable, and when the persian line had thinned, Alexander led a cavalry charge through their rear.
Shivaji Maharaj was an Indian warrior king, and a member of the Bhonsle Maratha clan. Shivaji revolutionised military tactics, and pioneered guerilla warfare methods which used speed and surprise to take on larger and more powerful enemies. One of Shivaji’s greatest victories was the battle of Pratapgad. Shivaji was completely outnumbered with 13,000 men against Afzal Khan’s 60,000 plus, but managed to defeat the enemy. This was his first significant victory over a major power, and it gained him large portions of land, resources, and fame. Shivaji revived ancient Hindu political traditions, and court conventions and promoted the use of Sanskrit instead of Persian in court and administration.
Gonzalo Fernandez de Cordoba
Cordoba is the father of trench warfare and commonly called the “The Great Captain”. Cordoba pioneered modern warfare, and greatly influenced some of the greatest and most well known generals, and tacticians in history, including Wellington, and the best generals of Charles V, and Philip II. Cordoba was the first person in history to to win a battle with gunpowder small arms, and created new revolutionary tactics in the field of war.
Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus
Africanus is one the greatest military strategists the Roman Empire ever produced. He famously defeated Hannibal Barca who is also believed to be one of the greatest generals of all time. Africanus had many epic victories during the Second Punic Wars, but his greatest victory over Hannibal Barca was at the Battle of Zama which marked the end of the Second Punic war. Africanus had to face one of the greatest military strategists in history with a smaller force, which makes his victory even more impressive. This battle was the end of the Second Punic wars, after this Carthage had to accept a dissatisfying peace, and Scipio was awarded the title Africanus.
Admiral Lord Nelson
Admiral Lord Nelson is known for his many heroic victories especially during the Napoleonic war. He’s remembered for the amazing victory he had at the battle of Trafalgar when he defeated a much larger naval army without losing a single ship of his own, and only a small portion of his men. It was one of the greatest victories in English history. The Royal navy fought against a combination of the French and Spanish Navies in 1805. Nelson was a tactical genius and ordered his fleet to arrange itself in a completely unorthodox fashion. Normally ships would form a line parallel to the enemy, but Nelson arranged his fleet in a perpendicular line, and destroyed the enemy fleet. It was Nelson’s greatest victory but also his last, he was shot by a stray bullet, and died during the battle.
7 The British Accidentally Invaded Spain In 2002
In 2002, two dozen British marines on a training exercise stormed a beach they mistakenly thought to be in Gibraltar. As it turned out, they came ashore on a beach resort in La Linea, Spain instead. The marines only realized their mistake after the locals and two policemen informed them they were in the wrong place.
The British later attributed the incident to bad weather and apologized for their error, a gesture which Spanish officials graciously accepted. In a parting shot, the locals wryly pointed out that Gibraltar shouldn&rsquot be hard to miss since it had a 426-meter (1,400 ft) tall rock for a landmark.
To be fair to the British, they weren&rsquot the only ones who mistakenly invaded a country. The famously defense-minded country of Switzerland also accidentally invaded its tiny neighbor Liechtenstein&mdashnot just once but three times. They even had to compensate Liechtenstein once when Swiss soldiers caused a forest fire.
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769—1852)
Who was he? He’s the man who fought, almost non-stop, across India, Spain, France and Belgium for 16 long, arduous years. But, like Žižka above, he was never defeated in a major battle — and never lost a campaign. He also was the man who lobbied (successfully) to prevent Napoleon’s execution after Waterloo. Noble by both birth and nature.
What did he do? Mastered the art of war. Wellington had an amazing ability to improvise, to create devastatingly effective defences (look to Talavera, Busaco, Salamanca and Vittoria for proof) and to boldly, rapidly attack his enemies (as at Assaye). He also is frequently misquoted as having calling his soldiers the ‘scum of the earth’. In reality, he said his soldiers had been recruited from the ‘scum of the earth’ and that “it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are”.
What can we learn from him? Not to judge a book by its cover. Whether in business or on the battlefield, it takes time to hone talent — and Wellington saw the potential in his men before even they did. Seeing the best in people is an invaluable quality to have, as you’ll more often be surprised by their skills than disappointed.
Strategy in Ancient Times
Perhaps the earliest-known discussion of strategy is offered in the Old Testament of the Bible (Bracker, 1980). Approximately 3,500 years ago, Moses faced quite a challenge after leading his fellow Hebrews out of enslavement in Egypt. Moses was overwhelmed as the lone strategist at the helm of a nation that may have exceeded one million people. Based on advice from his father-in-law, Moses began delegating authority to other leaders, each of whom oversaw a group of people. This hierarchical delegation of authority created a command structure that freed Moses to concentrate on the biggest decisions and helped him implement his strategies (Table 1.4 “Strategy in Ancient Times”). Similarly, the demands of strategic management today are simply too much for a chief executive officer (the top leader of a company) to handle alone. Many important tasks are thus entrusted to vice presidents and other executives.
In ancient China, strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu offered thoughts on strategy that continue to be studied carefully by business and military leaders today. Sun Tzu’s best-known work is The Art of War. As this title implies, Sun Tzu emphasized the creative and deceptive aspects of strategy.
One of Sun Tzu’s ideas that has numerous business applications is that winning a battle without fighting is the best way to win. Apple’s behavior in the personal computer business offers a good example of this idea in action. Many computer makers such as Toshiba, Acer, and Lenovo compete with one another based primarily on price. This leads to price wars that undermine the computer makers’ profits. In contrast, Apple prefers to develop unique features for its computers, features that have created a fiercely loyal set of customers. Apple boldly charges far more for its computers than its rivals charge for theirs. Apple does not even worry much about whether its computers’ software is compatible with the software used by most other computers. Rather than fighting a battle with other firms, Apple wins within the computer business by creating its own unique market and by attracting a set of loyal customers. Sun Tzu would probably admire Apple’s approach.
Perhaps the most famous example of strategy in ancient times revolves around the Trojan horse. According to legend, Greek soldiers wanted to find a way to enter the gates of Troy and attack the city from the inside. They devised a ploy that involved creating a giant wooden horse, hiding soldiers inside the horse, and offering the horse to the Trojans as a gift. The Trojans were fooled and brought the horse inside their city. When night arrived, the hidden Greek soldiers opened the gates for their army, leading to a Greek victory. In modern times, the term Trojan horse refers to gestures that appear on the surface to be beneficial to the recipient but that mask a sinister intent. Computer viruses also are sometimes referred to as Trojan horses.
A far more noble approach to strategy than the Greeks’ is attributed to King Arthur of Britain. Unlike the hierarchical approach to organizing Moses used, Arthur allegedly considered himself and each of his knights to have an equal say in plotting the group’s strategy. Indeed, the group is thought to have held its meetings at a round table so that no voice, including Arthur’s, would be seen as more important than the others. The choice of furniture in modern executive suites is perhaps revealing. Most feature rectangular meeting tables, perhaps signaling that one person—the chief executive officer—is in charge.
Another implication for strategic management offered by King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table involves the concept of mission. Their vigorous search to find the Holy Grail (the legendary cup used by Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper) serves as an exemplar for the importance of a central mission to guide organizational strategy and actions.
Alexander the Great is considered the greatest military genius of the ancient world, and with a good reason. He managed to conquer almost half of the ancient world, as his kingdom spread to India, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan. He spent 13 years trying to unite the Eastern and the Western World through military force, but also with cultural exchange. Many will remember Alexander as the conqueror, but his intentions were to liberate the countries and exchange cultural experiences with them.
One of the greatest achievements of Alexander is the fact that in 15 years of war, he never lost a single battle. Alexander began his military training under his father Philip, leading the Macedon to victories versus Ancient Greece. After the death of his father, Alexander did the unthinkable, attacking Ancient Persia with just little over 50,000 soldiers. In all the battles with Persia, as well as his sieges in Egypt and Syria, Alexander the Great never lost a battle. He combined great tactics, strategy, ferociousness and experienced soldiers.
Large part of Alexander’s success was his army. No commander can win a battle, let alone a war by himself. Alexander, as many others, needed the support of his well-trained army in his conquests. It was Philip who revolutionized the Army, but Alexander took them to another level.
Phillip II inherited a largely ineffective and inexperienced army. His first order was business was to revolutionize and modernize the army. First order of business was to increase the number of the army, and change how the army works. Alexander kept the same principles. Alexander also employed engineers to develop siege weapons.
The core of the army was the phalanx, a highly trained infantry. They were positioned in a box formation, making it impossible to attack them from any other than frontal position. All the soldiers in the phalanx were obedient, and very loyal. They carried light uniforms, making it possible for them to maneuver on the field. They were armed with long, 18 to 20 meters pikes. Every soldier was required to place his pike on the shoulder of the man before him, which further increased the defensive stance of the phalanx. Every unit of the phalanx had its own commander, which made communication easier. Mathematically speaking, each unit of the phalanx consisted of 1540 men, divided into three subdivisions of 512 men. Each division was divided in 32 “dekas”, or a line of 10, later 16 warriors.
Aside from the phalanx, the army of Alexander the Great also included a unit of hypaspists, or also called shield-bearers. They carried shorter spears, or javelins. The hypaspists were more mobile, and they could move from one side to another with ease. There were three classes of hypaspists, one of which was in charge of guarding the King.
Disadvantages of the phalanx
The phalanx was almost perfect army, but it had one major flaw and disadvantage. Luckily, Alexander was smart enough to hide the disadvantage and use the phalanx to its full potential. The disadvantage of the phalanx is that it worked best on flat, unbroken country. On country with uneven terrain, the phalanx was not in advantage. As mentioned, Alexander always positioned his army in the same way. However, he was also smart enough to mix things up when the field required so. One example is the battle at Hydaspes, where Alexander the Great was forced to use his archers as the front line to counter the elephants of the opposing army.
The Cavalry was the single greatest weapon in Alexander’s disposal. It was his main strike force and a unit he could always count on. The cavalry was divided in two sections, the companions and the scouts.
The companion section was divided into eight squadrons of 200 men armed with nine-foot lance and with little armor. Alexander always kept a steady supply of horses and reserves, since he knew that his cavalry is the most important unit of the Army. Alexander was always in the front of the battle, and he led the Royal Companion squadron that was always positioned on the right side of the phalanx.
In all the battles he participated, Alexander the Great led from the front of the battle. He believed he strikes fear in the opposing army and inspires his own. No matter that he was vulnerable at the position, Alexander was always in the front of the battle.
His units were positioned in a wedge position, which Alexander believes made them harder to crack and impossible for the opposing army to punch a hole in it.
When he was striking, Alexander always strike in the center of the opposing army with his phalanx, trying to strike in an oblique angle. IN the same time, he used the cavalry to punch holes in the flanks.
The wedge position of his army allowed Alexander to counter missiles from enemy lines. Since he had the shield bearers in front, they could easily counter the concentration with missiles from the opposing front. The men in the wedge deployed in either trapezoid or triangular formation. The wedge helped Alexander to smash into the enemy line, and maximize the effect of his long range weapons, such as javelins.
However, probably the biggest strength of the Army of Alexander was its mobility. Alexander was a brilliant mind, great tactician and military specialist. He often made in battle adjustments, but he needed his army to be able to move fast and quickly relocate from one to another position. To enable that movement, Alexander used light armor for his army. Additionally, Alexander always scouted the terrain where the battle could occur, and he tried to maximize the potential and advantages of the terrain.
The first major battle of Alexander’s conquest into Persia occurred at the Granicus River, and the battle is now known as the Battle of the Granicus River. The battle occurred in 334 BC, in modern day Turkey, near Troy. Alexander chose to fight near the River, since that minimalized the advantage of the Persians in numbers.
The key mistake the Persians made was to place their cavalry in the front, which made them vulnerable to the long spears of the phalanx. Alexander placed his phalanx in the middle, and cavalry on the side. Alexander also managed to catch the Persians off guard, attacking immediately, striking from the left. While the Persians reinforced the side, Alexander had already smashed the center of the front with his wedge formation. By opening a hole in the center, Alexander placed the infantry to strike through the Persian army.
Another battle that was played near a River, the battle of Issus took place in 333 BC near the Pinarus River.
Alexander placed his infantry in defensive posture, taunting Darius to attack. While Darius was trying to attack the infantry, Alexander and his Royal Companions strike the left side of the Persian army. Generating a quick rout from there, Alexander led his cavalry directly at Darius and his chariot. Darius flew the scene. The battle of Issus marked a significant victory for Alexander, and started the fall of the Persian Empire.
This battle marked the end of the Persian Empire. Darius has mobilized his finest cavalry, chariots and a massive army. But he once again fall victim to the brilliant strategy of Alexander and his tactics.
Alexander divided the army into two units. He commanded the right side, while the left was commanded by Parmenion, a personal friend and a trusted commander of Alexander. Alexander first ordered the phalanx to march towards the center of the enemy front. In the same time, Darius launched the chariots, but Alexander intercepted them with Agrianians, an infantry armed with javelins. Forming a wedge, Alexander struck the center of the Persian army. Since the center was weakened, Alexander had a clear path to Darius.
How (and Where) Did Hannibal Cross the Alps?
Chris Allen perches on a ledge of the Col de la Traversette, thinking hard, listening to silence, looking at the unseen. As pale as paper and nearly as thin, the 50-year-old microbiologist has spent the better part of this midsummer morning climbing the narrow mountain pass that lies at the border southeast of Grenoble in France and southwest of Turin in Italy. And now, staring into the mists of antiquity, he imagines a scene that may have unfolded here 2,235 years ago: the Carthaginian general Hannibal mustering his downcast troops during their brazen invasion of the Roman Republic at the start of the Second Punic War.
On Allen’s left, a cutting wind scythes across a row of rock needles and down to the valley on the Italian side, nearly 10,000 feet below. To his right, Mount Viso—the twin-peaked colossus—looms against a bowl-blue sky. Allen reaches into his rucksack, withdraws a copy of Polybius’ Histories and reads a passage aloud: “Hannibal could see that the hardship they had experienced, and the anticipation of more to come, had sapped morale throughout the army. He convened an assembly and tried to raise their spirits, though his only asset was the visibility of Italy, which spreads out under the mountains in such a way that, from a panoramic perspective, the Alps form the acropolis of all Italy.”
The moment hangs in the air. “What road led Hannibal to Rome?” Allen asks a visitor from America. The vexed question is one of those problems on the borderline of history and geography that are fascinating and perhaps insoluble. Much ink has been spilled in pinpointing the route of Hannibal’s improbable five-month, thousand-mile trek from Catalonia across the Pyrenees, through the Languedoc to the banks of the Rhone, and then over the Alps to the plains of Italy. Many boots have been worn out in determining the alpine pass through which tens of thousands of foot soldiers and cavalrymen, thousands of horses and mules, and, famously, 37 African battle elephants tramped.
Speculation on the crossing place stretches back more than two millennia to when Rome and Carthage, a North African city-state in what is now Tunisia, were superpowers vying for supremacy in the Mediterranean. No Carthaginian sources of any kind have survived, and the accounts by the Greek historian Polybius (written about 70 years after the march) and his Roman counterpart Livy (120 years after that) are maddeningly vague. There are no fewer than a dozen rival theories advanced by a rich confusion of academics, antiquarians and statesmen who contradict one another and sometimes themselves. Napoleon Bonaparte favored a northern route through the Col du Mont Cenis. Edward Gibbon, author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was said to be a fan of the Col du Montgenèvre. Sir Gavin de Beer, a onetime director of what is now the Natural History Museum in London, championed the Traversette, the gnarliest and most southerly course. In 1959, Cambridge engineering student John Hoyte borrowed an elephant named Jumbo from the Turin zoo and set out to prove the Col du Clapier (sometimes called the Col du Clapier-Savine Coche) was the real trunk road—but ultimately took the Mont Cenis route into Italy. Others have charted itineraries over the Col du Petit St. Bernard, the Col du l’Argentière and combinations of the above that looped north to south to north again. To borrow a line attributed to Mark Twain, riffing on a different controversy: “The researches of many commentators have already thrown much darkness on this subject, and it is probable that, if they continue, we shall soon know nothing at all about it.”
A relative newcomer to the debate, Allen insists that until now no hard material evidence has been presented that would indicate the most likely path. “Nada, zero, zip, zilch,” he says. “Everything has been guesswork based on readings of the classical texts.” He believes that he and his team of collaborators—led by Canadian geomorphologist Bill Mahaney—recently unearthed the first compelling clues, thanks to a massive patty of ancientmanure.
Embedded 16 inches deep in a bog on the French side of the Traversette is a thin layer of churned-up, compacted scat that suggests a large footfall by thousands of mammals at some point in the past. “If Hannibal had hauled his traveling circus over the pass, he would have stopped at the mire to water and feed the beasts,” reasons Allen. “And if that many horses, mules and, for that matter, elephants did graze there, they would have left behind a MAD.” That’s the acronym for what microbiologists delicately term a “mass animal deposition.”
By examining sediment from two cores and a trench—mostly soil matted with decomposed plant fiber—Allen and his crew have identified genetic materials that contain high concentrations of DNA fragments from Clostridia, bacteria that typically make up only 2 or 3 percent of peat microbes, but more than 70 percent of those found in the gut of horses. The bed of excrement also contained unusual levels of bile acids and fatty compounds found in the digestive tracts of horses and ruminants. Allen is most excited about having isolated parasite eggs—associated with gut tapeworms—preserved in the site like tiny genetic time capsules.
“The DNA detected in the mire was protected in bacterial endospores that can survive in soil for thousands of years,” he says. Analyses by the team, including carbon dating, suggest that the excreta dug up at the Traversette site could date to well within the ballpark of the Punic forces’ traverse.
Since Allen’s conclusions at times rest on the slippery slopes of conjecture, what they add up to is open to considerable interpretation. Andrew Wilson, of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Oxford, maintains that the date range doesn’t follow from the data presented, and that the MAD layer could have accumulated over several centuries. Allen, a lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, is unfazed. “I believe in hypothesis-driven science,” he says. “Naturally, some people are going to be skeptical of our deductions and say they are—for lack of a better word—crap. Which is perfectly healthy, of course. Skepticism is what science is all about.”
Allen’s long, ascetic face, with narrow eyes and raised eyebrows, lends him an expression of perpetual seriousness that belies his sardonic good humor. This is an Englishman whose appreciation of pathogenic bacteria derived in part from Monty Python (Q: What’s brown and sounds like a bell? A: Dung!) and who named the goldfish in his backyard pond Nosey, Scrumpy, Motley, Blind Pew, Spunky and William. “I hand-feed William peas and garlic,” Allen says. “He won’t eat mealworms. He’s too discerning.”
He was delighted last year when the Belfast Telegraph headlined a front-page feature about his research team: QUEEN’S DUNG BOFFINS GET TO BOTTOM OF HANNIBAL ALPS RIDDLE IN PIECE OF 2000-YEAR-OLD POO. (“Boffin,” Allen kindly explains, is British slang for a scientist with technical expertise.) The accompanying cartoon depicted him holding an enormous roll of toilet paper. “Ever since that article appeared, people all over the world have been mailing me fecal samples,” Allen says. He pauses. “I’m only kidding!”
He learned to jest as a lad in Bristol, hometown of the great conceptual jokester Banksy. “I was a rather confused child,” Allen says. He toyed with the idea of becoming a paratrooper and then a train driver before deciding that “a career in science would be cool.” His earliest memories of scientific endeavor include designing a burglar alarm for his bedroom (age 6), leaving homemade stink bombs on his neighbor’s doorstep (age 8) and “looking at bits of unpleasant things” under the microscope (age 9). “Little did I know that the latter would later become my main source of income,” he says.
While in college—he has a doctorate in microbiology from the University of Warwick—Allen realized that he could have a lot of fun and generate research pay dirt by “doing things that other people hadn’t thought of yet”: Hence his current research interests are as diverse as understanding the microbial ecology defining the Anthropocene, corpse microbiology, hunting for microbial genetic signatures associated with ancient comet impact events and, of course, solving the Hannibal Enigma through metagenomics—the study of micro-organisms by direct extraction and cloning of DNA.
Allen is the latest British boffin to argue for the Traversette. The earliest was a naturalist named Cecil Torr, who in his 1924 book Hannibal Crosses the Alps tells us that as a teenager he set out, fruitlessly, to find traces of vinegar used, after fires were set to heat rock, in fracturing boulders that blocked the Carthaginian army. (A procedure, notes Cambridge classical scholar Mary Beard, “which has launched all kinds of boy-scoutish experiments among classicists-turned-amateur-chemists.”) Still, Torr was branded a Hannibal heretic and the route he recommended was dismissed as untenable. His theory was largely ignored until 1955, when Gavin de Beer took up the cause. In Alps and Elephants, the first of several books that the evolutionary embryologist wrote on Hannibal, he displayed something of the Kon-Tiki spirit with the claim that he’d personally inspected the topography. For centuries only traders and smugglers had used the Traversette scholars avoided it not just because the climb was so dicey, but due to what de Beer called “the ease with which triggers are pulled in that area.”
Hannibal (also known as Hannibal Barca, l. 247-183 BCE) was a Carthaginian general during the Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome (218-202 BCE). He is considered one of the greatest generals of antiquity and his tactics are still studied and used in the present day. His father was Hamilcar Barca (l. 275-228 BCE), the great general of the First Punic War (264-241 BCE).
These wars were fought between the cities of Carthage in North Africa and Rome in northern Italy for supremacy in the Mediterranean region and the second war resulted directly from the first. Hannibal assumed command of the troops following his father's death and led them victoriously through a number of engagements until he stood almost at the gates of Rome at which point he was stopped, not by the Romans, but through a lack of resources to take the city.
He was called back to Africa to defend Carthage from Roman invasion, was defeated at the Battle of Zama in 202 BCE by Scipio Africanus (l. 236-183 BCE) and retired from service to Carthage. The remainder of his life was spent as a statesman and then in voluntary exile at the courts of foreign kings. He died in 183 BCE by drinking poison.
Although Hannibal is easily one of the most famous generals of antiquity, he remains a figure of some mystery. Scholar Philip Matyszak notes:
There is much we do not know about this man, though he was one of the greatest generals in antiquity. No surviving ancient biography makes him the subject, and Hannibal slips in and out of focus according to the emphasis that other authors give his deeds and character. (24)
Nothing is known of his mother and, although he was married at the time of some of his greatest victories, no records make mention of his wife other than her name, Imilce, and the fact that she bore him a son. What became her or her son is not known. The story of Hannibal's life is told largely by his enemies, the Romans, through the historians who wrote of the Punic Wars.
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The Greek historian Polybius (l. c. 208-125 BCE) writes how Hannibal's father invited him to join an expedition to Spain when the boy was around nine years old. Hannibal eagerly accepted the invitation but, before he was allowed to join up, his father "took Hannibal by the hand and led him to the altar. There he commanded Hannibal to lay his hand on the body of the sacrificial victim and to swear that he would never be a friend to Rome" (3:11). Hannibal took the vow gladly - and never forgot it.
He accompanied his father to Spain and learned to fight, track and, most importantly, out-think an opponent. Matyszak comments how "the modern concept of teenagers as somewhere between child and adult did not exist in the ancient world, and Hannibal was given charge of troops at an early age" (23). When his father drowned, command of the army passed to Hasdrubal the Fair (l. c. 270-221 BCE), Hamilcar's son-in-law, and when Hasdrubal was assassinated in 221 BCE the troops unanimously called for the election of Hannibal as their commander even though he was only 25 years old at the time.
Crossing the Alps & Early Victories
Following the First Punic War the treaty between Carthage and Rome stipulated that Carthage could continue to occupy regions in Spain as long as they maintained the steady tribute they now owed to Rome and remained in certain areas. In 219 BCE the Romans orchestrated a coup in the city of of Saguntum which installed a government hostile to Carthage and her interests. Hannibal marched on the city in 218 BCE, lay siege to it, and took it. The Romans were outraged and demanded Carthage hand their general over to them when Carthage refused, the Second Punic War was begun.
Hannibal decided to bring the fight to the Romans and invade northern Italy in 218 BCE by crossing the mountain range of the Alps. He left his brother Hasdrubal Barca (l. c. 244-207 BCE) in charge of the armies in Spain and set out with his men for Italy. On the way, recognizing the importance of winning the people to his side, he portrayed himself as a liberator freeing the people of Spain from Roman control.
His army grew steadily with new recruits until he had 50,000 infantry and 9,000 cavalry by the time he reached the Alps. He also had with him a number of elephants which he had found very useful in terrorizing the Roman army and their cavalry. Upon reaching the mountains he was forced to leave behind his siege engines and a number of other supplies he felt would slow their progress and then had the army begin their ascent.
The troops and their general had to battle not only the weather and the incline but hostile tribes who lived in the mountains. By the time they reached the other side, 17 days later, the army had been reduced to 26,000 men in total and a few elephants. Still, Hannibal was confident he would be victorious and led his men down onto the plains of Italy.
The Romans, meanwhile, had no idea of Hannibal's movements. They never considered he would move his army over the mountains to reach them and thought he was still in Spain somewhere. When word reached Rome of Hannibal's maneuver, however, they were quick to act and sent the general Scipio (father of Scipio Africanus the Elder, who accompanied him) to intercept. The two armies met at the Ticino River where the Romans were defeated and Scipio almost killed
Hannibal next defeated his enemies at Lake Trasimeme and quickly took control of northern Italy. He had no siege machines and no elephants to take any of the cities and so relied on his image as liberator to try to coax the cities over to his side. He then sent word to Carthage for more men and supplies, especially siege engines, but his request was denied. The Carthaginian senate believed he could handle the situation without any added expense on their part and suggested his men live off the land.
Hannibal's Tricks & the Battle of Cannae
Hannibal's strategy of presenting himself as a liberator worked and a number of cities chose to side with him against Rome while his victories on the field continued to swell his ranks with new recruits. After the Battle of Trebbia (218 BCE), where he again defeated the Romans, he retreated for the winter to the north where he developed his plans for the spring campaign and developed various strategems to keep from being assassinated by spies in his camp or hired killers sent by the Romans. Polybius writes how Hannibal,
had a set of wigs made, each of which made him look like a man of a different age. He changed these constantly, each time changing his apparel to match his appearance. Thus he was hard to recognize, not just by those who saw him briefly, but even by those who knew him well. (3:78)
Once spring came, Hannibal launched a new assault, destroying the Roman army under Gaius Flaminius and another under Servilius Geminus.
The Romans then sent the general Quintus Fabius Maximus (l. c. 280-203 BCE) against Hannibal who employed a new tactic of wearing Hannibal down by keeping him constantly on the move and off balance. Fabius became known as "the delayer" by refusing to face Hannibal directly and delaying any face-to-face engagement he preferred instead to strategically place his armies to prevent Hannibal from either attacking or retreating from Italy. So successful was Fabius' strategy that he almost caught Hannibal in a trap.
He had the Carthaginians penned up near Capua where retreat was blocked by the Volturnus River. It seemed that Hannibal had to either fight his way out or surrender but then, one night, the Romans saw a line of torches moving from the Carthaginian camp emplacement toward an area they knew was held by a strong garrison of their own.
It seemed clear Hannibal was trying to break out of the trap. Fabius' generals encouraged him to mount a night attack to support the garrison and crush the enemy between them but Fabius refused, believing that the garrison in place could easily prevent Hannibal from breaking out and would hold until morning. When the garrison mobilized to march out and meet Hannibal in battle, however, they found only cattle with torches tied on their horns and Hannibal's army had slipped away through the pass the Romans had left untended.
Fabius' tactic of refusing to meet Hannibal in open battle was beginning to wear on the Romans who demanded direct action. They appointed a younger general, Minucius Rufus (dates unknown), as co-commander as Rufus was confident he could defeat Hannibal and bring peace back to the region. Fabius understood that Hannibal was no common adversary, however, and still refused to engage. He gave Rufus half the army and invited him to do his best. Rufus attacked Hannibal near the town of Gerione and was so badly defeated that Fabius had to save him and what was left of his troops from complete annihilation. Afterwards, Fabius resigned his position and Rufus disappears from history.
Hannibal then marched to the Roman supply depot of Cannae, which he took easily, and then gave his men time to rest. The Romans sent the two consuls Lucius Aemilius Paulus (d. 216 BCE) and Caius Terentius Varro (served c. 218-200 BCE), with a force of over 80,000, against his position Hannibal had less than 50,000 men under his command. As always, Hannibal spent time learning about his enemy, their strengths and weaknesses, and knew that Varro was eager for a fight and over-confident of success. As the two consuls traded off command of the army, it worked to Hannibal's advantage that the more ambitious and reckless of the two, Varro, held supreme authority on the first day of battle.
Hannibal arranged his army in a crescent, placing his light infantry of Gauls at the front and center with the heavy infantry behind them and light and heavy cavalry on the wings. The Romans under Varro's command were placed in traditional formation to march toward the center of the enemy's lines and break them. Varro believed he was facing an opponent like any of the others Roman legions had defeated in the past and was confident that the strength of the Roman force would break the Carthaginian line this was precisely the conclusion Hannibal hoped he would reach.
When the Roman army advanced, the center of the Carthaginian line began to give way so that it seemed as though Varro had been correct and the center would break. The Carthaginian forces fell back evenly, drawing the Romans further and further into their lines, and then the light infantry moved to either end of the crescent formation and the heavy infantry advanced to the front. At this same time, the Carthaginian cavalry engaged the Roman cavalry and dispersed them, falling on the rear on the Roman infantry.
The Romans, continuing in their traditional formation with their well-rehearsed tactics, continued to press forward but now they were only pushing those in the front lines into the killing machine of the Carthaginian heavy infantry. The Carthaginian cavalry had now closed the gap behind and the forces of Rome were completely surrounded. Of the 80,000 Roman soldiers who took the field that day, 44,000 were killed while Hannibal lost around 6,000 men. It was a devastating defeat for Rome which resulted in a number of the Italian city-states defecting to Hannibal and Philip V of Macedon (r. 221-179 BCE) declaring in favor of Hannibal and initiating the First Macedonian War with Rome.
The people of Rome mobilized to defend their city, which they were sure Hannibal would move on next. Veterans and new recruits alike refused pay in order to defend the city. Hannibal, however, could make no move on Rome because he lacked siege engines and reinforcements for his army. His request for these necessary supplies was refused by Carthage because the senate did not want to exert the effort or spend the money.
Hannibal's commander of the cavalry, Maharbal, encouraged Hannibal to attack anyway, confident they could win the war at this point when the Roman army was in disarray and the people in a panic. When Hannibal refused, Maharbal said, "You know how to win a victory, Hannibal, but you do not know how to use it." Hannibal was right, however his troops were exhausted after Cannae and he had neither elephants nor siege engines to take the city. He did not even have enough men to reduce the city by encircling it for a long siege. If Carthage had sent the requested men and supplies at this point, history would have been written very differently but they did not.
Further Campaigns & The Battle of Zama
Among the Roman warriors who survived Cannae was the man who would come to be known as Scipio Africanus the Elder. Scipio's father and uncle, two of the former commanders, had been killed fighting Hasdrubal Barca in Spain and, when the Roman senate called for a general to defend the city against Hannibal, all of the most likely commanders refused believing, after Cannae, that any such command was simply a suicide mission. Scipio, only 24 years old at the time, volunteered. He left Rome with only 10,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry to meet Hannibal's much larger force.
Scipio began in Spain - not Italy - in an effort to subdue Hasdrubal first and prevent reinforcements from reaching Italy. He first took the city Carthago Nova and moved on from there to other victories. In 208 BCE, he defeated Hasdrubal at the Battle of Baecula using the same tactic Hannibal had at Cannae.
Hasdrubal, recognizing that Spain was a lost cause, crossed the Alps to join Hannibal in Italy for a united attack on Rome. At the Battle of the Metaurus River in 207 BCE, however, Hasdrubal's army was defeated by the Romans under Gaius Claudius Nero (c. 237-199 BCE) Hasdrubal was killed and his forces scattered. Nero had been engaging Hannibal in the south but slipped away in the night, defeated Hasdrubal, and returned without Hannibal ever noticing. The first Hannibal knew of Hasdrubal's defeat was when a Roman contingent threw his brother's head to the sentries of his camp.
Scipio, still in Spain, requested money and supplies from the Roman senate to take the fight to Hannibal by attacking Carthage a move which, he was sure, would force Carthage to recall Hannibal from Italy to defend the city. The Roman senate refused and so Scipio shamed them by raising his own army and appealing to the people of Rome for support the senate then relented and gave him command of Sicily from which to launch his invasion of North Africa.
Hannibal, in the meantime, was forced to continue his previous strategy of striking at Rome in quickly orchestrated engagements, and trying to win city-states to his cause, without being able to take any city by storm. Matyszak writes:
In the field, Hannibal remained umatched. In 212 and 210 he took on the Romans and defeated them. But he now understood that the wound Rome had received at Cannae had not been mortal. The flow of defections to the Carthaginian side slowed and then stopped. (39)
In Spain, the Carthaginians had been defeated by Scipio but Hannibal had no knowledge of this he only knew his brother had been killed but not that Spain was under Roman control.
By this time, Scipio was already set to invade North Africa and his plan would work exactly as he predicted. In 205 BCE he landed his forces and allied himself with the Numidian King Masinissa. He quickly took the Carthaginian city of Utica and marched on toward Carthage. Hannibal was recalled from Italy to meet this threat and the two forces met on the field in 202 BCE at the Battle of Zama.
Scipio had studied Hannibal's tactics carefully in the same way that Hannibal had always taken pains to know his enemy and out-think his opponents. He had no experience in facing Scipio, however, and only knew him as the young general who had somehow managed to defeat Hasdrubal in Spain. Scipio seemed to conform to Hannibal's expectations when he arranged his forces in traditional formation in a seemingly tight cluster.
Hannibal was certain he would scatter these Romans easily with an elephant charge but Scipio used his front line as a screen for a very different kind of formation: instead of the closely-packed configuration presenting a horizontal front across the line (the formation Hannibal saw from his position) he arranged his troops in vertical rows behind the front line. When Hannibal launched his elephant charge, Scipio's front line simply moved aside and the elephants ran harmlessly down the alleys between the Roman troops who then killed their handlers and turned the elephants around to crush the ranks of the Carthaginians Hannibal was defeated and the Second Punic War was over.
Later Years & Legacy
After the war, Hannibal accepted a position as Chief Magistrate of Carthage at which he performed as well as he had as a military leader. The heavy fines imposed on defeated Carthage by Rome, intended to cripple the city, were easily paid owing to the reforms Hannibal initiated. The members of the senate, who had refused to send him aid when he needed it in Italy, accused him of betraying the interests of the state by not taking Rome when he had the chance but, still, Hannibal remained true to the interests of his people until the senators trumped up further charges and denounced Hannibal to Rome claiming he was making Carthage a power again so as to challenge the Romans. Exactly why they decided to do this is unclear except for their disappointment in him following defeat at Zama and simple jealousy over his abilitites.
In Rome, Scipio was also dealing with problems posed by his own senate as they accused him of sympathizing with Hannibal by pardoning and releasing him, accepting bribes, and misappropiating funds. Scipio defended Hannibal as an honorable man and kept the Romans from sending a delegation demanding his arrest but Hannibal understood it was only a matter of time before his own countrymen turned him over and so he fled the city in 195 BCE for Tyre and then moved on to Asia Minor where he was given the position of consultant to Antiochus III (the Great, r. 223-187 BCE) of the Seleucid Empire.
Antiochus, of course, knew of Hannibal's reputation and did not want to risk placing so powerful and popular a man in control of his armies and so kept him at court until necessity drove him to appoint Hannibal admiral of the navy in a war against Rhodes, one of Rome's allies. Hannibal was an inexperienced sailor, as was his crew, and was defeated even though, much to his credit, he came close to winning. When Antiochus was defeated by the Romans at Magnesia in 189 BCE, Hannibal knew that he would be surrendered to Rome as part of the terms and again took flight.
At the court of King Prusias of Bithynia in 183 BCE, with Rome still in pursuit, Hannibal chose to end his life rather than be taken by his enemies. He said, "Let us put an end to this life, which has caused so much dread to the Romans" and then drank poison. He was 65 years old. During this same time, in Rome, the charges against Scipio had disgusted him so much that he retreated to his estate outside the city and left orders in his will that he be buried there instead of in Rome. He died the same year as Hannibal at the age of 53.
Hannibal became a legend in his own lifetime and, years after his death, Roman mothers would continue to frighten their unwilling children to bed with the phrase "Hannibal ad Porto" (Hannibal is at the door). His campaign across the Alps, unthinkable even in his day, won him the grudging admiration of his enemies and enduring fame ever since.
Hannibal's strategies, learned so well by Scipio, were incorporated into Roman tactics and Rome would consistently use them to good effect following the Battle of Zama. After the deaths of Hannibal and Scipio, Carthage continued to cause problems for Rome which eventually resulted in the Third Punic War (149-146 BCE) in which Carthage was destroyed.
The historian Ernle Bradford writes that Hannibal's war against the Romans,
may be regarded as the last effort of the old eastern and Semitic peoples to prevent the domination of the Mediterranean world by a European state. That it failed was due to the immense resilience of the Romans, both in their political constitution and in their soldiery. (210)
While there is some truth to this, Hannibal's ultimate defeat was brought about by his own people's weakness for luxury, wealth, and ease as much as by the Roman refusal to surrender after Cannae. There is no doubt, as Bradford also notes, that had Hannibal "been fighting against any other nation in the ancient world. his overwhelming victories would have brought them to their knees and to an early capitulation" (210) but the cause of Hannibal's defeat was just as much the fault of the Carthaginian elite who refused to support the general and his troops who were fighting for their cause.
No records exist of Carthage awarding Hannibal any recognition for his service in Italy and he was honored more by Scipio's pardon and defense than by any actions on the part of his countrymen. Even so, he continued to do his best for his people throughout his life and remained true to the vow he had taken when young to the end, he remained an enemy of Rome and his name would be remembered as Rome's greatest adversary for generations - and even to the present day.