(From Geology Today, v. 24, 2008)
Hannibal and The Alps: unravelling the invasion
W.C. Mahaney1, Barbara
Kapran1 & Pierre Tricart2
1 Geography Department, 4700 Keele St, North York,
Ontario, Canada, M3J1P3
2 Observatoire Des Sciences De L’universitaire, Bp 53, F-38041,
Over the last two millennia all the proposed invasion
routes followed by the Punic Army in 218 BC have been based on historical
and topographic analysis provided by Polybius and Livy, the two
main ancient sources. Because Polybius actually followed the invasion
route 60 years after the trek he is considered the prime authority.
Livy never left his residence in Padua and studied the invasion
from sources no longer available to us. Neither source provides
a name for the approach route and ultimate col of transit into Italia
but Polybius does state the col is the highest in the Alps—tas
huperbolas tas anõtatõ. Several other ancient authors
including Varro, Servius and Strabo list the cols from south to
north as Col de Larche, Hannibal’s Pass, Col de Montgenèvre
and Col de Mt Cenis, thus limiting Hannibal’s Pass to one
of the three major cols south of the Col de Montgenèvre,
which are from south to north, Col Agnel, Col de la Traversette
and Col de la Croix. Invoking available geological and environmental
evidence tied to descriptions in the ancient literature it is apparent
Hannibal, either by design or happenstance, approached the Alps
through the Queyras, the ultimate col of passage being the Col de
la Traversette at nearly 3000 m above sea level. The implications
of this find for geoarchaeology are enormous and offer the opportunity
to find artefacts that will undoubtedly offer new insights into
the military culture of ancient Carthage.
One of the most controversial questions in ancient
history centres on the invasion route followed by the Punic Army
in one of the most daring military enterprises of all time, the
invasion of Italia in 218 BC. The invasion itself is important because
it opened a northern front in what promised to be a series of land
battles at low elevation in North Africa, or Iberia—no one
expected a Carthaginian attack from the northern frontier of the
Roman Republic. Establishing the exact route—north, intermediate,
south—followed by the Punic Army (see Figs 1A,B), whilst of
importance to historians, is of greater significance to archaeologists
as it offers the prospect of identifying key sites that might be
excavated to discover artefacts that might yield important new information
on the military culture of ancient Carthage. Conflicting interpretations
of Polybius and Livy have been presented and discussed by numerous
researchers over the years including such luminaries as Edward Gibbon
(1814), and Napoléon (de Montholon, 1905); and eminent military
historians including Dodge (1891), Hart (1967), Lazenby (1978),
General Sir Nigel Bagnall (1999), Goldsworthy (2001) and Sir Gavin
de Beer (1967, 1969). Aside from analysis of topographic features
and arguable interpretations of what Polybius actually meant by
several passages in his The Rise of the Roman Empire, only de Beer
attempted to invoke analysis of natural history, principally river
flow data to argue for a southern route through the Queyras and
over the Col de la Traversette into the upper Po River catchment.
Yet geology and especially geomorphology/pedology offer the possibility
of reconstructing the invasion route and identifying particular
sites of interest to geoarchaeologists.
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd, The
Geologists’ Association & The Geological Society of London
, Geology Today, Vol. 24, No. 6, November–December 2008
Recent addition to articles
Mahaney, William C., Christopher
C.R. Allen, Prasanna Pentlavalli, Anna Kulakova, Jonathan M. Young,
Randy W. Dirszowsky, Allen West, Brian Kelleher, Sean Jordan, Coren
Pulleyblank, Shane OReilly, Brian T. Murphy, Katrin Lasberg,
Peeter Somelar, Michelle Garneau, Sarah A. Finkelstein, Magdalena
K. Sobol, Volli Kalm, Pedro J.M. Costa, Ronald G.V. Hancock, Kris
M. Hart, Pierre Tricart, René W. Barendregt, Ted E. Bunch,
Michael W. Milner, 2016a. Biostratigraphic Evidence relating to
the Age-Old Question of Hannibals Invasion of Italy: I, History
and Geological Reconstruction, Archaeometry, v. 59, p.164-178,
Mahaney, William C., Christopher C.R. Allen, Prasanna
Pentlavalli, Anna Kulakova, Jonathan M. Young, Randy W. Dirszowsky,
Allen West, Brian Kelleher, Sean Jordan, Coren Pulleyblank, Shane
OReilly, Brian T. Murphy, Katrin Lasberg, Peeter Somelar,
Michelle Garneau, Sarah A. Finkelstein, Magdalena K. Sobol, Volli
Kalm, Pedro J.M. Costa, Ronald G.V. Hancock, Kris M. Hart, Pierre
Tricart, René W. Barendregt, Ted E. Bunch, Michael W. Milner,
2016b. Biostratigraphic Evidence relating to the Age-Old Question
of Hannibals Invasion of Italy: II Chemical biomarkers and
microbial signatures. Archaeometry, v. 59, p. 179-190, 2017.
Mahaney, W.C., Somelar, P., Pulleyblank, C., Tricart,
P., West, A., Young, J., and Allen, C.C.R., Notes on magnetic susceptibility
in the Guil valley alluvial mire correlated with the Punic Invasion
of Italia in 218 BC. Mediterranean Journal of Archaeometry and
Archaeology, v. 17, no. 1, p. 23-35, 2017.
Mahaney, W.C., Somelar, P., West, Allen, Dirszowsky,
R., Allen, C.C.R., Remmel, T., Tricart, P., Reconnaissance of the
Hannibalic Route in the Upper Po Valley, Italy: Correlation with
Biostratigraphic Historical Archaeological Evidence in the Upper
Guil Valley of France. Archaeometry.
Young, Jonathan M., Timofey Skvortsov, Brian P. Kelleher, William C. Mahaney, Peeter Somelar, Christopher C.R. Allen. Effect of soil horizon stratigraphy on the microbial ecology of alpine paleosols. Journal of the Total Environment, V. 657, p. 1183-1193.
Mahaney, W.C., The Hannibal Route Question of 218 BC: a Forensic Exercise Relative to Historical Archaeology. Journal of Mediterranean Archaeometry and Archaeology, V. 18, No 3, pp. 45-62.
Mahaney, W.C., The Hannibal Enigma of 218 BC: A Forensic Exercise of Importance to Historical archaeology. Scientific Culture. 6 (3), 7-24.
Mahaney, W.C., The Hannibal Enigma. Desperta Ferro Ancient and Medieval History (in Spanish), 20-23.
Mahaney, W.C., Somelar, P., Allen, C., Late Pleistocene Glacial-Paleosol-Cosmic Record of the Viso Massif—France and Italia—New Evidence in Support of the Younger Dryas Boundary (12.8 ka), International Journal of Earth Science, doi.org/10.1007/s00531-022-02243-9.
Mahaney, W.C., The Younger Dryas Boundary (YDB): Terrestrial, Cosmic, or Both? International Journal of Earth Science, doi.org/10.1007/s00531-022-02287-x
Fink, W., Vashna, V., Hare, T., Tricart, P., Mahaney, W.C., Hannibal’s misconstrued route across the alps reconstructed with Djikstra multi-objective optimal path planning, Nature, in progress.