A group of scientists claim that they may have just solved a millennia-old riddle on how the fearless Carthaginian commander Hannibal Barca managed to get an entire army across the Alps to strike the Roman Republic at its core.
According to historians, during his march to Italy in 218BC, Hannibal got thousands of soldiers, war horses, mules, and dozens of African war elephants over the Alps through a high pass. The move took Romans by surprise since they thought that the Alps would shield them from foreign invasions.
Yet, Hannibal’s lifelong dream was to enter victoriously in Rome, and he had fought for it for over 15 years. His boldness has puzzled not only Romans, but historians, artists, and writers too.
And historians have debated ever since over the exact snowy path followed by the military commander’s army of ‘crazed elephants.’
But a group of researchers believe that they have just solved the mystery. For nearly two decades, Bill Mahaney of York University in Canada and his team, have looked for Hannibal’s path. They sifted through classical tests and logged hundreds of hours of field work.
But they claim now that they have new evidence on the alpine crossing of one of the history’s greatest military strategists. Classical texts show that the crossing was not easy and the general lost many men and animals due to ambushes from mountain tribes and the steep trails on the Italian side.
Ancient historians say that the path was so narrow that anyone who stumbled or slipped on the snow fell down the precipices. Some historians also noted that the pass was too narrow for large animals to pass, so they were not quite sure how the general got his elephants across.
Historians have debated over Hannibal’s real route across the Alps for centuries. Some historians believe that the army crossed the Alps through two northerly passes over 6,500 feet high. Other experts think that the army used a southerly route through the 9,800 foot-high Col de la Traversette pass. A minority advanced the idea that Hannibal’s men used both routes as they weaved their way out.
Mahaney believes that the Carthaginians followed the southerly route . His team literally dug into mud below the Col de Traversette at a site where the army must have rested after making the crossing.
Researchers performed DNA tests on ancient soil samples and found evidence of horse manure and feces of other ruminants. Radiocarbon-dating showed that the traces of dung may date back to 281BC.
But while Mahaney’s team is positive that they have just discovered Hannibal’s real route across the Alps, other experts are skeptic. They said that only traces of elephant faeces would convince them.
Image Source: Wikimedia