HNRS 2210: Hannibal’s Elephants
Josiah Oldham, Preston Hadley, Troy Esquibel and Nathan Blue
Despite the fact that it is not the prevailing opinion among historians, we believe that Hannibal took the Col de Traversette pass through the Alps.
- Col de Traversette is a shorter path than most of the options. While there is a longer march after they exit the pass, strategically a longer march on good terrain is better than a longer march over difficult travel in snowy and icy conditions. In addition, it is advantageous to take the post-Alps rest further from the battle site, so as not to be intercepted and attacked with a tired army.
- Any route through the Alps has problems with grazing grounds for animals. Paths from the summit are devoid of vegetation, and Livy states that “Four days were spent over the rock, and the animals were almost starved to death, for the heights are mostly bare of vegetation.” Taking a longer route, such as Col du Montgenevre, surely would have spelled death for their animals.
- Recently, scientists have discovered a massive dump of mammal feces in this pass. The type of microbes found there fit the particular horses of the era, and date back to precisely the time of the Second Punic War.
How did Hannibal get the elephants over the Alps? In short, we believe that it was simply due to training. Elephant riders in Alexander’s army trained single animals for years and years, and in addition to their experience with their elephants had particular techniques and tools with which to get it to go where they wanted.
Two other ways to move the elephants are (1) leading them by ropes and such and enticing with food, or (2) getting them drunk, as some sources suggest. The latter is unlikely, since it presents several dangers commonly associated with drunkenness in any being.
Larzo, Enrico de. “Scientists Find Hannibal’s Route Through Alps.” http://www.sci-news.com/archaeology/hannibals-route-alps-03763.html. Accessed 9/30/16.
Lendering, Jona. “Hannibal in the Alps.” http://www.livius.org/articles/person/hannibal-3-barca/hannibal-in-the-alps/?. Accessed 9/30/16.
Livius, Titus. The History of Rome, Vol. 3. Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts. J.M. Dent & Sons, LTD. London. 1905
Cartwright, Mark. “Elephants in Greek & Roman Warfare,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified March 16, 2016. http://www.ancient.eu /article/876/. Accessed October 4, 2016.
Google Earth Version 6.2. (10/26/2005) Col du Montgenévre. Lat 44.93N Lon 6.73E, 6093 ft. Eye alt. 17039 ft. Places Layers. Digital Globe http://www.google.com/earth/index/html (Accessed October 3, 2016)
Google Earth Version 6.2. (10/26/2005) Col de la Traversette. Lat 44.25N Lon 7.07E, 9661 ft. Eye alt. 20694 ft. Places Layers. Digital Globe http://www.google.com/earth/index/html (Accessed October 3, 2016)