Where Did Hannibal Cross The Alps?

Where Did Hannibal Cross The Alps?
Hannibal in fresco Anthony Majanlahti / Flickr CC BY 2.0

What has been considered one of the greatest puzzles of the ancient era may have been solved by scientists, who say their analysis could answer the route taken by Hannibal and his army when they crossed the Alps.


The Carthaginian general led an army that constituted of 30,000 men, around 15,000 horses and more than 30 elephants on a trek across the Alps. Occurring during the second Punic War – which according to Eurekalert.org lasted from 218 BC until 201 BC – Hannibal led his army to invade Italy.

However, the precise route he undertook has puzzled historians for centuries.

The answer, nevertheless, may have been found. Chris Allen, a microbiologist at Queen’s University Belfast, said in his blog post that “modern science and a bit of ancient horse poo” may have unlocked the mystery.

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He added that his team, headed by Bill Mahaney of Toronto’s York University, has concluded through their analysis that Hannibal and his army crossed the Alps at Col de Traversette, along the border of France and Italy southeast of Grenoble.

Through radiocarbon dating, microbial metagenome analysis, environmental chemistry and pollen analysis, a “mass animal deposition” occurred close to the Col de Traversette in 218 B.C. “You’re looking at a lot of horses — as anybody that knows anything about horses will tell you, when horses drink, they have to defecate,” Allen said, as reported by FOX news.

Three feet of sediment beneath a large mire was studied for horses’ manure, Allen added.

As many as 70 percent of microorganisms in horse manure belong to a group called Clostridia. They can persist in soil for millenniums.

As reported by CNN, Allen also emphasized the study has not been complete. He said that gene analysis has to be conducted thoroughly and he hopes the researchers will be able to find parasite eggs preserved in the mire.

“With more genetic information we can be more precise about the source and perhaps even the geographical origin of some of these ancient beasts by comparison with other microbiology research studies,” he writes.

Through this research, we may be able to understand more about modern bacteria, Allen said. “There’s not a lot that we know about Clostridia over the last 2,000 years,” he added. “We hope that some of the information that we get from this may tell us about how these organisms have changed in the last 2,000 years and help us with medical discoveries.”

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