Hannibal, 100,000 men and 37 elephants against the Roman Republic

Hannibal, 100,000 men and 37 elephants against the Roman Republic
June 24, 2013/in Blog/by admin

Ancient Rome was nearly extinguished in the 3rd century BC. Who was Hannibal, and did he really cross the Alps with elephants???  Yes.


Hannibal (247 - 182 BC) was a Carthaginian general raised with a profound hatred of Rome, which had been gaining ground in the Mediterranean and dominating the trade routes.  Carthage is located in modern-day Tunisia, near the capital city of Tunis. It was not a "native" African city but had been founded in 800 BC by the Phoenicians. Phoenicia (in modern-day Lebanon) was one of the most powerful empires of the ancient world and had expanded into North Africa to increase their trading potential (yes, it's always about money!).

Photo of Carthage and Rome Map

Carthage had much more territory than Rome at the time.



His 2,000 kilometer journey...             

The first Punic War (the Romans called the Phoenicians "Punici") began in 264 BC and advantaged Rome. In 218 BC Hannibal decided to out-wit the Romans, and set off with an army of 100,000 men and 37 war elephants. Rather than just "hop" across the Mediterranean from Carthage to Sicily, he decided to make a 2,000 km journey through Spain, across the Pyrenees mountains, through southern France, moving his entire army and animals across the Rhone river, across the Alps (in winter!), and down through northern Italy.

Hannibal and his elephants crossing a river by raft

Imagine floating an elephant across a river by RAFT!



The now placid waters of Lake Trasimeno, not far from Orvieto

The crossing of the Alps was devastating, killing over half of the men and all but one of the elephants. He managed to fight his way into central Italy and defeated the Romans in a massive ambush at Lake Trasimeno, in Umbria. His strategy and tactics were so clever that he routed the Roman army in just four hours, massacring some 15,000 Roman soldiers and taking another 10,000 captive. The Carthaginians lost only 2,500.

He proceeded south and won another major victory at Cannae (today's Puglia), in the bloodiest battle in European history: Rome lost some 70,000 men in one day.  His forces made it to Rome but couldn't break the city's defenses. Lacking reinforcements and finding themselves a long, long way from home, they eventually retreated to Carthage.

The Romans then attacked Carthage under the leadership of Scipio Africanus, a brilliant commander who adopted Hannibal's military tactics. Hannibal fled Carthage and was eventually captured. Rather than face slavery or death at the hand of the Romans, he committed suicide. The Romans finally conquered Carthage in 146 BC and razed the city to the ground. It never recovered and, well, "the rest is history"!


WAR ELEPHANTS seem to have been quite common...

the only surviving suit of elephant armor in the world

The largest suit of animal armor ever found! From India, 1600 AD.

It is still not clear where he got the elephants, whether they were Indian elephants brought to Egypt following Alexander the Great's journey to the East, or whether they were African elephants brought north from the Sahara or the Atlas mountains of Morocco.

Bayon bas-reliefs, they show a story of the Angkor Khymer and their wars

The Khmers at Angkor Wat also used "war elephants."

  War Elephants had been used for centuries in Asia since they were massive animals with a fiery temper when angered. They could destroy using their tusks, their trunks, or by trampling men to death, and of course they could carry men on platforms strapped to their backs. Not something I'd like to have stampeding towards me on a battlefield!  



Fancy a trek in Hannibal's footsteps?  Come and see where he crossed the Rhone in Provence (near Vaison la Romaine) or tour the great battlefields in Umbria or Puglia.      

See our biking and walking trips in Provence...

Vaison la Romaine

Vaison-la-Romaine, Provence

And our biking and walking trips to Puglia, in southern Italy...

Monopoli harbor & blue boats

Monopoli harbor, Puglia (southern Italy)

Or track Hannibal on our Umbria Bike trip... You can also start where he started, in Andalucia, southern Spain. You can even follow in his footsteps by scooter!  See Scooterbella for more information.

Lane family vespas

"Come explore with Customwalks and Scooterbella, it's easier than riding an elephant!" grin


For more, see this fun little video about three Australian brothers who biked his route a few years ago, from a BBC documentary: http://vimeo.com/22260664


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