Boudica: Warring Against The Romans

Her name has been spelled numerous ways. Her entire written history was recorded by her enemies. Her grave has never been found, but the destruction she caused is in the archaeological layers. She reshaped Rome’s opinions on colonial efforts in Britain. Her life became a legend which has lasted centuries after her death.

Meet Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, who went to war against the Roman Empire… Continue reading

Pydna: A Greek Or Roman World?

In 168 B.C. Macedonians, representing the Greek culture, and Romans, forging a new world empire, clashed yet again. It wasn’t the first time these cultures and adversaries had met on a battlefield. However, the Battle of Pydna decisively determined which military, government, and culture would dominate the Mediterranean region in the coming years.

King Perseus and his Macedonian army, confident in their battle formation, met the Roman General Paullus with his republic army in the battle where flexible tactics and thinking would win the day. The effect of Pydna reached far across the timeline. Continue reading

Lachish: Terrors Of A Siege

Sometimes – for various reasons – an army decided to take an extremely defensive position: inside a city. If the opposing army didn’t go away, a siege would likely occur in an attempt to force the defenders out, starve the population, and conquer the city.

One of the first recorded sieges in Ancient History took place at Lachish in southern Judah (Israel). An Assyrian army matched its strength against that city’s strong walls in 701 B.C. A history-making moment as the siege was recorded and set precedent for centuries of sieges in the future.

Today’s article explores the highlights of this siege, presenting facts about the countries and their leaders, the tactics and strategic of the siege, the effects of siege warfare, and Lachish’s influence on World History. Continue reading

Kadesh: Searching For Glory

with-spears-shields-ancient-battles

One of the challenges with Ancient History is the primary sources. In ancient cultures, kings supposedly did no wrong (some cultures even thought their rulers were gods!). So…what if a king lost a battle in a far distant land, but escaped to rule another day? Would he really tell his subjects back home that he lost? Would he inscript a defeat on his memorial walls and columns? Would historians centuries later take this king at his word when he claimed a victory?

The Battle of Kadesh in 1285 B.C. illustrates some of these challenges in Ancient Military History. The battle is significant in the history of Ancient Egypt and the Hittite Kingdom, and its story concludes with the first “recognized” peace treaty in World History.

This blog post delves into some of the most important things you should know about this battle: armies and leaders, the battle, the propaganda, and the historical conclusion. Continue reading

Elephants, Food Supply…Logistics – Oh My!

How many elephants did Hannibal have? How did he feed his army? These were questions swirling in my mind as I put together the last few posts about Hannibal crossing the Alps. (You can find Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here, if you missed them.)

Hannibal and Elephant (Painting c. 1626 AD)

Hannibal and Elephant (Painting c. 1626 AD)

Elephants

So elephants? Yeah…elephants. To my knowledge, Carthage was the only nation in the ancient Mediterranean world using elephants in battle. Why? Because they scared enemies, frightened opposing cavalry, crushed shield walls of infantry, and made enough noise to scare almost any soldier on the opposite side of the battlefield. (Think ancient world tanks).

I had always supposed the Carthaginians had captured and bred African elephants or had perhaps traded for an initial elephant herd from India. I was surprised to discover that most historians believe the elephants were the African Forest Elephants (now extinct) which were a little smaller even than the Indian elephant. The African Forest Elephants were about 8 feet tall at the shoulder and since there’s no evidence of a breeding program, it’s assumed the Carthaginians captured them from the wild and then trained them. The beasts were trained to obey their “drivers” and when charging into battle would spread their ears and trumpet loudly. Some were trained to snatch enemy soldiers with their trunk and fling them…well…somewhere. (Scary!)

The Carthaginian army in Spain had elephants, thus Hannibal had elephants. According to Roman historians, Hannibal took 37 elephants with him on the long march. It’s not confirmed, but it’s believed that the elephants were transported by boat while the army marched to Gaul (France) and then the animals joined there.

There are a number of legends surrounding the elephants at the crossing of the Rhine River. The Carthaginians had built huge pontoon bridges (take note here, General Burnside – oops…sorry that’s Civil War!) and even covered the structures with dirt so their elephants wouldn’t be frightened. Didn’t work… Someway, somehow, the elephant herd got scared and at least some of them (other accounts say all of them) plunged into the river, walked on the bottom with their trunks in the air, and arrived safely on the other side.

Surprisingly, all 37 elephants survived the march across the Alps! However, by the next year – after several large battles, probably limited food supply, and colder climate – there was only one elephant left. Hannibal rode the lone survivor.

Food Supply

How do you feed 37 elephants? How do you feed an army of thousands and thousands without a supply base? This is a problem. In fact it’s such a large problem it’s surprising Hannibal stayed in Italy as long as he did.

First of all, let’s clarify the numbers. Roman historians claimed large, inflated numbers for the total troops in Hannibal’s army. This may have been because 1) they didn’t know and were guessing or 2) wanted to make the Roman victory story seem more impressive in the end. In a recent biography about Hannibal, the author compared ancient accounts and has proposed “adjusted” numbers for the Carthaginian army: 40,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry!

Now: the food supply. If we calculate 3 lbs. of food per soldier, this army is going to need 135,000 lbs. of rations per day. (And this isn’t calculating for any camp followers, or the feed for cavalry horses, war elephants, pack horses, or baggage wagon horses).

If each pack horse could carry 150 lbs. of rations, you’re still going to need 900 horses to carry the soldiers’ food. We haven’t even factored food for all the animals; these calculations are for ONE day food supply for the men. YIKES!

Hannibal was a smart general. He’d “counted the cost” of the campaign and would’ve recognized the logistical challenges.

Therefore, while the Carthaginians would undoubtedly have had a baggage wagon and some supplies with them, during the march to the Alps and the campaign in Italy, they were living off the land.

The Logistic Problem

Even though losses during the crossing and Italian battles reduced the size of the Carthaginian army, it was still a massive force…to keep fed. Thus, during the years that Hannibal and his army were in Italy, they were almost constantly moving through the land, trying to convince the Romans to battle…but mostly to search for new food supplies.

Logistics can be as hard as moving and feeding elephants...literally! (Image: Public Domain)

Logistics can be as hard as moving and feeding elephants…literally!
(Image: Public Domain)

One of the major difficulties in the “Italian Years” was: Hannibal never captured a seaport. Therefore, even if Carthage had been inclined to send supplies, they simply couldn’t. In the spring of 215 B.C. some supplies were smuggled into Hannibal (including a few additional elephants). But the lack of the seaport was a severe hardship in the logistical situation of the Carthaginian army.

Conclusion

The war elephants are fascinating. The logistics are mind-boggling.

And Hannibal was one amazing general with a story that still inspires us to “climb great mountains.”

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. What was most interesting to you in the overview of Carthage and Hannibal’s Campaign? Please leave a comment.

Check out the our Facebook Page. I’m going to share some info about another historical event involving war elephants on the Facebook Page.