Hannibal’s Unsolved Mystery, Where Did His War Elephants Come From?

He is mentioned often in history books, many of his movements and actions are documented, but there remains an unsolved mystery about Hannibal Barca and his elephants. But let’s take a step back Hannibal Barca was a great Carthaginian leader and politician. He lived from 247 to 182 BC. AD approximately and is known for having fought against Rome during the Second Punic War and for its strategic military tactics.


image credit: Henri-Paul Motte painting/Wikimedia Commons

One of the most important events of his journey occurred in 218 BC when Hannibal led 100,000 soldiers and 40 elephants on an extremely dangerous journey through the Alps to join his anti-Roman allies. . Many were killed, and this moment is considered today to be one of the greatest military moments in history. Even today, however, a mystery remains unsolved: where and how did Hannibal obtain this herd of elephants? Hannibal lived in Carthage, in present-day Tunisia, in a place very far from where the African elephants probably came from this operation. It is not known if Hannibal used Asian elephants, elephants from


image credit: Edgar Sanderson/Wikipedia

Elephants were very useful in times of war : they helped soldiers to inspire terror in their enemies, to break their ranks and to attack them. It is believed that if Hannibal had had a choice, he would have chosen the Asian elephants because they were smaller and easier to train . Indeed, it was essential that elephants used for military purposes be well trained. Some scholars speculate that Hannibal’s elephants came from a small forest subspecies of elephants located in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria, and that these elephants were smaller and more suited for military purposes. It is also possible, however, that the chief recruited his elephants from different regions. and was not too interested in their provenance: the main thing being that they were fit for combat.


image credit: Henri-Paul Motte/Wikipedia

Whatever the speculations, there is one certainty: only one elephant survived the crossing of the Alps. It was probably an Asian elephant named Surus and it was the elephant that Hannibal himself rode.

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