Hannibal – A March on Rome

Which route Hannibal chose to cross the Alps is still one of the unsolved enigmas of history. Now, researchers believe they might be able to track his route. Their evidence – horse manure. Hannibal’s achievement became a legend even in his lifetime. The Carthaginian led tens of thousands of men and horses from the Iberian Peninsula across the Alps into Italy.

A march of five months and 1,500 kilometres. A most spectacular feature was the presence of war elephants, a sight no one west of the Pyrenees had ever seen. Whereas in Carthage – by then a Mediterranean superpower – they had been used for some time as precursors of the modern tank. The enigma of Hannibal’s route across the Alps has fascinated scholars and adventurers alike. A team of researchers believes to have found proof that Hannibal opted for the Col de la Traversette, almost 3,000 metres high.

According to geomorphologist William Mahaney, “It’s only from here that he could have overlooked the Po Basin”, as is related by ancient sources. Mahaney and microbiologist Chris Allen from Belfast University have evaluated soil samples form the French side of the pass. They contained intestinal bacteria, proving that considerable numbers of animals must have come about the site in Hannibal’s times.

In summer, 2017 Mahaney and Allen took samples on the Italian side, and they are hoping that the lab results will further back up their hypothesis. Whichever route Hannibal took, his march on Rome was a strategical as well as a logistical masterstroke.