When you think about some of the greatest military leaders in history, there are those that simply cannot help but be present on every list. People like Churchill, Alexander the Great, and Caesar are all renowned for their military prowess and quick wits on the battlefield.
But there is someone that lived even further down history and that was also known as one of the greatest military leaders of all time. In his defeat, he might have paved the way for Caesar to rise to power, but that doesn’t, by any means, make his victories or brilliant strategies any less important.
I’m talking, of course, about Hannibal. For many years, his tactics, particularly the crossing of the Alps, have been the subject of dissension, as nobody could agree on where he actually crossed. Well, according to a study led by Professor Bill Mahaney of the York University in Toronto, millennia old horse poop revealed Hannibal’s Alps tracks.
Despite the fact that Hannibal’s brilliant plot to take his army consisting of some 30,000 troops, 15,000 horses and 37 elephants through the Alps in order to hit the Romans where they didn’t expect, nobody actually knew for sure until now the exact path he’d taken.
Sure, speculations were abundant, but as it turns out only one was actually correct. Proposed about a century ago by the director of the British Museum of Natural History, Sir Gavin de Beer, the theory was never actually taken into consideration seriously. But it turns out that the biologist was right.
By stumbling upon a large pile of animal – particularly horse – droppings in the Col de Traversette pass, a narrow pass at the border of Southeast Grenoble in France and Southwest Turin in Italy, the team performed carbon datings on the bacteria in the animal dung. And indeed, it was revealed that the timeline was correct and that sometime between 218 and 201 B.C. a huge army was present there.
According to Global Food Security at Queen’s University of Belfast’s Dr. Chris Allen,
The deposition lies within a churned-up mass from a 1-metre thick alluvial mire, produced by the constant movement of thousands of animals and humans. Over 70 per cent of the microbes in horse manure are from a group known as the Clostridia, that are very stable in soil – surviving for thousands of years. We found scientifically significant evidence of these same bugs in a genetic microbial signature precisely dating to the time of the Punic invasion.
So finally, after more than two millennia after it happened, we finally know what path Hannibal took through the Alps to attack the Romans during the second Punic war. This is one of the greatest historical findings of the decade, if not the century.
Image source: Wikimedia