Carthaginian Coinage Timeline

Carthaginian Coinage Timeline - History

For additiional reading view "Carthaginians in the New World" on this site

The Phoenician coin presumed to contain a map of the ancient world

If Mark McMenamin is correct, neither Columbus nor the Vikings were the first non-natives to set foot on the Americas. McMenamin, the Mount Holyoke geologist who last year led an expedition that discovered the oldest animal fossil found to date, may have made another discovery--one that sheds radical new light on present conceptions of the Classical world and on the discovery of the New World.

Working with computer-enhanced images of gold coins minted in the Punic/Phoenician city in North Africa of Carthage between 350 and 320 BC, (please see sketch of coin right and where the world map is supposed to have been inscribed) McMenamin has interpreted a series of designs appearing on these coins, the meaning of which has long puzzled scholars. McMenamin believes the designs represent a map of the ancient world, including the area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and the land mass representing the Americas.

If this is true, these coins not only represent the oldest maps found to date, but would also indicate that Carthaginian explorers had sailed to the New World.

In fact, it was his interest in the Carthaginians as explorers that led McMenamin to study the coins. The Carthaginians were closely linked to the Phoenicians of the Middle East in terms of origin, culture, language, and naval enterprise. Both peoples are widely credited with significant sailing exploits through the Mediterranean, to the British Isles, and along the coast of Africa.

This detail of a gold coin shows what McMenamin believes is a map of the Mediterranean area, surrounded by Europe, Britain, Africa, and (at left) the Americas. The image appears on coins minted in Carthage between 350 and 320 BC. The enhanced and colorized version is based on the illustrations courtesy of Mark McMenamin.

In one of the coins studied by McMenamin, a horse stands atop a number of symbols at the bottom of the coin. For many years, scholars interpreted these symbols as letters in Phoenician script. When that theory was discounted in the 1960s, it left scholars baffled. Working over the past few months, McMenamin was able to interpret the design as a representation of the Mediterranean, surrounded by the land masses of Europe and Africa, with, to the upper left, the British Isles. To the far left of the representation of the Mediterranean is what the geologist believes is a depiction of the Americas.

A number of classical texts bolster this theory. For example, in the first century bc, Diodorus of Sicily wrote ". in the deep off Africa is an island of considerable size. fruitful, much of it mountainous. Through it flow navigable rivers. The Phoenicians had discovered it by accident after having planted many colonies throughout Africa."

"I was just the lucky person who had the geologic and geographic expertise to view these coins in a new light," McMenamin notes. "I have been interested in the Carthaginians as the greatest explorers in the history of the world."

McMenamin's interest in Carthage led him to master the Phoenician language. He has published two pamphlets on his work regarding the Carthaginian coins. One is written in ancient Phoenician, representing probably the first new work in that language in 1500 years.

He has submitted a paper on his theory to The Numismatist , a leading journal in the study of coins, which has accepted McMenamin's paper on the theory for publication. At the same time, the scholar is trying to gain access to a number of coins --or casts of their impressions-- currently held in European collections. These impressions will further aid him, he hopes, in proving the world map theory's validity. "If I had the time and the money," McMenamin observes, only half-kidding, "I'd be in North Africa with my metal detector trying to find Carthaginian coins to further confirm my hypothesis."

Additional study may well reveal that it was Punic explorers not Europeans who "discovered" the New World. At the very least, McMenamin hopes his theory will focus new scholarly attention on ancient Carthaginian culture.

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Chronology of World Coins

Copyright © 2010-2021 Ken Polsson
internet e-mail: [email protected]
All rights reserved. Permission is granted to create web links
to this site, not to copy these pages to other web sites.

This document is an attempt to bring various published sources together to present a timeline about World Coins.

References are numbered in [brackets], which are listed here. A number after the dot gives the page in the source.

Last updated: 2021 January 22.

900 BCE (approximate)

  • Chi-mo state of ancient China creates first government issued coin, in form of bronze miniature knife called a tao. [580.28]

About 650 BCE

  • First coins are struck by mallett on die, in the kingdom of Lydia in the western part of Asia Minor (western Turkey). [474.166] [583.22] [594.50] [1037.1934]

460 BCE (approximately)

305 BCE

  • Ptolomy proclaims himself king of Egypt, and begins custom of placing his own portrait on his coins. [1035.1578]

About 269 BCE

211 BCE

  • Rome switches method of coin production from cast to striking, and replaces the quadrigatus with the first silver denarius coin. [589.204]

125 BCE (approximate)

  • First coins struck in England, Belgic gold and silver coins, by immigrants from Gaul (France), copying designs of Macedonia. [623.42]

January 44 BCE

  • Roman Republic emperor Julius Caesar has his portrait used on coins struck at the mint in Rome. [388.96]
  • (approximate date) Rome strikes coins commemorating Emperor Hadrian's visit to Britain depicting "Britannia" as the goddess of the island of Britain for the first time. [589.184]
  • King Henry III of England commands the public to accept a new 20-pence gold coin, about 3 grams of pure gold. [309.xiv] [690.54]
  • England first mints the gold florin, 108 grains weight, valued at 6 shillings. Also minted are 1/2 and 1/4 florin gold coins. [309.xiv]
  • England first mints the gold noble coin, 136.7 grains weight, valued at 6 shillings 8 pence. Also minted are 1/2 and 1/4 florin gold coins. [309.xiv]

  • In Compiègne, King Jean II the Good of France signs a decree creating the franc gold coin to pay a ransom of 200,000 livres for his release from England. [547.38] [568.208]
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From Byrsa to the Tiber: Carthaginian Coins and History

New evidence from hoards, overstrikings, and excavation finds across the western Mediterranean in the last 50 years has significantly increased our knowledge of Carthaginian coins and their circulation patterns in the core regions of the Punic world, from North Africa to Spain. As mediums of payment, stores of value, and social artifacts, Carthaginian coins were used in diverse contexts and by different ethnicities.

In this lecture, Paolo Visonà, associate professor at the University of Kentucky at Lexington, will discuss how these coins provide essential information on the history and the economy of Carthage, underscoring its connectivity with other Punic centers and its relations with its Mediterranean neighbors and rivals, particularly Cyrene, Syracuse, and Rome.

Following the lecture, select galleries related to the talk will remain open until 8pm.

The lecture will take place in Menschel Hall, Lower Level. Please enter the museums via the entrance on Broadway.

Complimentary parking available in the Broadway Garage, 7 Felton Street, Cambridge.

To honor the memory of renowned numismatist and scholar Leo Mildenberg (1912–2001) and his years of friendship with Harvard University, a fund was established by his friends and colleagues and endowed in 2005 by his wife, Ilse Mildenberg-Seehausen.

Carthaginian Coinage Timeline - History

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Roman Africa, Carthage, c. 4th-5th century AD. Beautiful red ware "discus" type oil lamp.Central medallion consists of a hare / rabbit hopping left, with semi-circular design around. Spout still charred from use in ancient times! About 4.5" long and in choice condition. Ex. David Pierson Collection. #1711: SOLD

Ancient Carthage, c. 6th - 5th Century BC. A very early Carthaginian ceramic 'Cocked-Hat' oil lamp. Wheel made, with wide rim and rounded base, the spouts pinched with traces of soot. W: 4 5/8" (11.8 cm). Intact with old collection notes in ink giving collection numbers on rim and 'Phoenician c. 800 BC' on bottom. A very rare lamp form! Ex Collection of Prof. P.M.S. Jones of England. #AG2021: $950 SOLD

Ancient Sicilo-Punic bronze arrowhead, found in Sicily. Time of the Carthaginian Wars. 34 mm (1 5/16") with olive green patina and earthen deposits. Rare! #WP2027x2: $199 SOLD
Zeugitania, Carthage. Ca. 300-264 B.C. Bronze shekel. Wreathed head of Tanit left, wearing earring and necklace / Horse's head right, star to right. 20.7 mm, 5.47 g. ref: MAA 57a SNG Cop 144. VF, black patina. Ex Malloy XLIX, 227. #CG2091: $299 SOLD
Zeugitania, Carthage. Ca. 300-264 B.C. Bronze shekel. Wreathed head of Tanit left, wearing earring and necklace / Horse's head right, star to right. 20 mm, 3.61 g. ref: MAA 57a SNG Cop 144. Brassy tone. #CG2321: $99 SOLD
Ancient Rome. Galerius, 305-311 AD. Huge bronze follis, Carthage mint, struck 299-303 AD. His laureate head right, MAXIMIANVS NOB CAES / Carthage standing left with fruits in both hands, SALVIS AVGG ET CAESS FEL KART. Mintmark (officina) Delta. Huge 29 mm, 11.83 g. and very thick! ref: RIC VI Carthage 32b Cohen 191 Sear 14411. Crisp detail, rich chocolate-brown patina. ex-Frank S. Robinson, Albany, NY. #CR2512: $135 SOLD
Ancient Carthage. Zeugitana, c. 350-300 BC. Bronze drachm. Head of Tanit left, wreathed with corn / Horse right, palm behind. ref: Sear #6444, SNGCop 109, Calciati 20, GCV 6444. 16x18 mm, 2.68 g. Nice black patina. #CG2003: $175 SOLD De Père, WI collection. A budget example! #CG2491: $99
Carthage, Roman North Africa, c. 5th - 6th Century. Nice and large red-ware lamp with a palm tree. The tree well-detailed with fill-holes to either side, the shoulder decorated with alternating circular and cruciform punches, raised circular base on bottom. L: 5 1/2" (14 cm). Few repairs on base, well-preserved surfaces. Ex Orange County private collection. #AR2281: $599 SOLD
Carthage, c. 300-264 BC. Bronze Shekel, Carthage mint. Wreathed head of Tanit left / Head of horse right three pellets to right. 20mm, 4.98 g. ref: MAA 57f CNP 252t SNG Copenhagen 154. Earthen dark green-brown patina. VF. From the Matthew Curtis Collection ex-CNG. Gorgeous portrait! #CG2565: $325 SOLD
Carthage, Zeugitana, c. 300-264 BC. Bronze drachm. Wreathed head of Tanit left / Horse head right. 19mm, 4.38 g. ref: SNG Copenhagen 149. Black patina with green areas. Wonderful detail, terrible photo! ex-De Père, WI collection. #CG2490: $175 SOLD
Carthage, c. 300-264 BC. Bronze drachm, Carthage mint. Wreathed head of Tanit left / Head of horse right palm tree to lower right. 21mm, 4.76g. ref: SNG Copenhagen 173–5. ex-De Pere, WI collection. #CG2522: $225 SOLD
Carthage. Time of the Second Punic War, circa 220-215 BC. Bronze Shekel, Carthage mint. Head of Tanit left / Horse standing right, head turned back, star above, Carthaginian letter to right. 22mm, 7.06 g. ref: SNG Cop 316-var. Dark olive-green patina. Nicer than photo suggests. Quite large for these! ex-De Père, WI collection. #CG2491: $125 SOLD
Ancient Carthage. Zeugitana, c. 400-350 BC. Bronze drachm. Head of Tanit left / Horse standing right, palm tree behind, three pellets before, within circular border. ref: SNG Cop 109-var. 14mm, 1.72 g. ex De Pere, WI collection. Dark coppery tone. Good detail, better than this photo allows. #CG2578: $150 SOLD
Ancient Carthage. Zeugitana, c. 400-350 BC. Bronze drachm. Head of Tanit left / Horse standing right, palm tree behind, three pellets before, within circular border. ref: SNG Cop 109-var. 14mm, 2.41 g. ex De Pere, WI collection. Dark coppery tone. Good detail, better than this photo allows. #CG2579: $125 SOLD

Ancient Carthage. Zeugitana, 4th-3rd century BC. Bronze drachm. Head of Tanit left, wreathed with corn / Horse right, palm behind. ref: Sear #6444, SNGCop 109, Calciati 20. 16 mm, 3.28 g. ex-Frank S. Robinson collection. #0412017x2: $199 SOLD

Roman Carthage.
Maximianus Herculeus. Silvered-bronze follis, 299-303 AD. IMP MAXIMIANVS P F AVG, laureate head right / SALVIS AVGG ET CAESS FEL KART, Carthage standing left with fruits in both hands, B in ex. RIC VI 31b of Carthage, Cohen 510, sear 3638. Huge 29 mm, 8.97 g. Nice silvering remains on surfaces! Sharp detail. Ex-Frank S. Robinson coll. #0412297x2: $125 SOLD

Carthage, Zeugitana. Circa 264-241 BC. Bronze coin. Head of Tanit left / Horse's head right. Amazing coin with sharp detail and nice patina. 19 mm, 5.17 g. #19433: $250 SOLD
Ancient Carthage. Zeugitana, c. 240-146 BC. Bronze drachm. Head of Tanit left / Horse standing right, palm tree behind, three pellets before. 16 mm, 2.86 g. ref: SNGCop 109v. Olive-green patina. Great detail! #CG2035: $250 SOLD
Ancient Carthage. Zeugitana, c. 350-300 BC. Bronze drachm. Head of Tanit left, wreathed with corn / Horse right, palm behind. ref: Sear #6444, SNGCop 109, Calciati 20, GCV 6444. 15 mm, 2.37 g. Great emerald-green patina. #CG2001: $145 SOLD
Ancient Carthage. Zeugitana, c. 350-300 BC. Bronze drachm. Head of Tanit left, wreathed with corn / Horse right, palm behind. ref: Sear #6444, SNGCop 109, Calciati 20, GCV 6444. 16 mm, 2.63 g. Gorgeous coin with chocolate-brown to deep olive-green patina, choice detail. #CG2055: $299 SOLD
Ancient Carthage. Zeugitana, c. 350-300 BC. Bronze drachm. Head of Tanit left, wreathed with corn / Horse right, palm tree behind. ref: Sear #6444, SNGCop 109, Calciati 20, GCV 6444. 16 mm, 2.58 g. Excellent coin with great detail, nice deep green patina and light earthen highlights. #NAV009: $250 SOLD
Ancient Carthage. Zeugitana, c. 350-300 BC. Bronze drachm. Head of Tanit left, wreathed with corn / Horse right, palm tree behind, 3 pellets to right. 17 mm, 3.04 g. ref: Sear #6444, SNGCop 109, Calciati 20, GCV 6444. AVF, green-brown patina withlight highlights, great detail on horse. Nicer than photo allows. ex-Frank S. Robinson, Albany, NY. #CG2088: $175 SOLD
Ancient Carthage. Zeugitana, c. 241-210 BC. Large bronze drachm. Head of Tanit left / Horse standing right, head turned back, palmette standard behind. ref: SNG Cop 318. Large 22 mm, 6.63 g. Great chocolate-brown patina. #CG2032: $325 SOLD
Ancient Carthage. Zeugitana, c. 240-146 BC. Bronze drachm. Head of Tanit left / Horse standing right, palm tree behind, three pellets before, within circular border. 17 mm, 3.32 g. ref: SNGCop 109v. Olive-green to deep reddish brown patina. ex-Maxim Schick collection, Jerusalem, Israel. #CG2033: SOLD
Carthage, Roman North Africa, c. 4th-5th century AD. Marvelous large Carthaginian redware oil lamp, the discus decorated with a large central dolphin! Ornate decoration of heart-shaped and round elements along rim. Losses to back of handle, otherwise intact and a marvelous example! L: 135 mm (5 1/4"). ex-Mark Reid, The Time Machine. #AR2725: $700 SOLD
Carthage, Zeugitana, c. 300-264 BC. Bronze Shekel, Carthage mint. Wreathed head of Tanit left / Head of horse right. 19mm, 4.42 g. ref: MAA 57f CNP 252t SNG Copenhagen 154. Chocolate-brown patina with green highlights. VF. Great portrait! ex-London, UK collection. A gorgeous coin! #CG2570: SOLD
Carthage, Zeugitana, c. 300-264 BC. Bronze Shekel, Carthage mint. Wreathed head of Tanit left / Head of horse right. 19mm, 5.36 g. ref: MAA 57f CNP 252t SNG Copenhagen 154. Dark coppery-brown patina with green highlights. VF. Great portrait! ex-London, UK collection. Excellent detail! #CG2571: $299 SOLD
Ancient Carthage, c. 4th-3rd century BC. Rare Punic (Carthaginian) bronze ring. Depicts a standing horse with palm tree behind, within a circular border. A depiction common to Phoenician colonial sites on the Iberian peninsula. ref: T.N. Polio, "Ancient Rings" p. 51 for type. US size 7 3/4. Olive-green patina with earthen deposits. Ex Los Angeles, CA collection. #JR2362: $350 SOLD

The 19th Century

Dollars were minted in the tradition of the Spanish 8 reales. English speakers referred to the Spanish 8 reales as the Spanish milled dollar. The word "milled" referred to the fact that coin blanks called planchets were "milled" on a milling machine to stay consistent with weights and sizes and prevent counterfeiting.   The advanced milling process allowed these Spanish coins to be used in many countries worldwide.

The Coinage Act of 1834

The official U.S. government price of gold remained consistent at $19.75 per troy ounce from 1792 until it was raised to $20.67 in 1834. In 1934, the price was raised to $35. In 1972, the price was increased to $38 and in 1973 it went up to $42.22.  

Congress reconciled the new value of gold with the passage of the Coinage Act of 1834 under the presidency of Andrew Jackson. A new regulation of weight and value of gold was adopted to bring the value of gold in sync with the marketplace and its relative value to silver.   The act revised the ratio of gold to the dollar to the equivalent of $20.67 per ounce of gold, increasing the value of gold and increasing the ratio of silver-to-gold to about 16:1.  

The Coinage Act of 1873

The Coinage Act of 1873 was also called the "Crime of 1873" by western silver miners. The act demonetized silver, effectively ending a silver boom that had enriched western states' economies. Silver was dropped for the gold standard that would later be adopted by governments around the world.  

A powerful force called the Free Silver Movement was established that would be instrumental in the passage of the 1878 Bland Allison Act. This act allowed the Treasury Department to purchase $2 to $4 million a month of domestic silver to be coined into silver dollars for circulation. This act passed Congress after overriding the veto of President Rutherford B. Hayes.  

The Sherman Silver Purchase Act passed in 1890 replaced the previous law and saw an increased purchase of 4.5 million ounces of silver bullion a month.   President Cleveland later repealed this act in 1893 because the U.S. Treasury's gold reserves were being depleted by investors selling silver in exchange for gold.

Southern ministers encouraged Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase in 1861 to inscribe "In God We Trust" on coins. Congress approved and first used the phrase on the two-cent coin in 1864. The inscription was expanded to gold and silver coins with the passage of the 1865 Act. By 1873, all coins were approved with "In God We Trust" without further congressional approval.  

The Carthaginian State


Internally, the Carthaginians got rid of their monarchy and replaced it with a republican constitution somewhat similar to Rome’s. The city-state was ruled by two chief magistrates, called suffets, elected annually. More junior magistrates handled affairs in public administration, taxation and so on. A council of state (the One Hundred and Four) limited the authority of the suffets, supervised the junior magistrates, and dealt with matters of war and foreign policy.

This council was filled by members of the aristocracy, and Carthage remained dominated by a closed group of powerful families down to the end of its independent existence.

There was also a popular assembly, which at times made its views felt in a decisive way. Nevertheless it was the factional struggled between the leading families which provided the meat of Carthaginian politics. In the 3rd century the Barcid family came to the fore, and provided many of the generals, including Hannibal, who fought against Rome.

The Army

Carthage’s army was built around a core of Carthaginian and Berber troops recruited from the city’s home territory in North Africa. However, these were greatly outnumbered by foreign mercenaries, fighting in their own national units. Spaniards and Gauls probably formed the majority of these. They were used especially in wars fought overseas.

The Carthaginian cavalry was composed chiefly of Berber mercenaries fighting n horseback, but it famously included a corps of elephants. These were drawn from elephant populations native to North Africa (which have been extinct since Roman times, thanks to the popularity of animal games in amphitheaters). These elephants were effective at frightening the enemy, but as the Romans showed, once tactics had been developed to deal with them, they proved to be more of a liability than an asset.

The Navy

During the wars with the Greeks, Carthage became probably the most powerful naval power in the ancient world. The city-state maintained a fleet of more than 300 galleys, which were manned mainly by Carthaginian citizens rather than foreign mercenaries. These developed a reputation for skilled seamanship and maneuver.

The Carthaginian Caliphate and its colonies in the year 1700 (A world without Rome)

Disclaimer: English is not my first language and I also don´t know much about arab languages so please excuse my mistranslations.

Imagining a world without rome is actually quite hard but basically carthage and the hellenic succesor states of Alexander the great become the main powers of the ancient world, eventually cristianity spreads across the hellenic world (at a much lesser extent to OTL) and when the arabs start conquering they eventually start to admire the carthaginian capital, after many civil wars between states claiming to be the true succesors of the caliphate, eventually from the great city of Qirtaj (Carthage) a new caliphate would assert their dominance above the rest, eventually the new world was found, mostly by accident and they were the first to grab parts of it, however now the traditions that have been standing for hundreds of years are starting to be questiones in the very autonomous regions of Egypt and Al Andalus which will soon revolt and the colonies might see a chance for independence.

I am still developing lore for a lot of the world but feel free to ask any questions or give sugestions.

Carthage A Major Sea Power

Carthage was an ancient city port established by the Phoenicians. This particular port became so powerful that it was able to form its own unique kingdom independent of Tyre. Ancient Phoenician traders from Tyre created the port as a western hub for trade within the Mesopotamian Sea. Once Carthage was established as a trade colony in time it grew to become a major power within the Mesopotamian region. The city was established in 841 B.C. which is where it appears on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History.

One of the reasons why Carthage became so powerful was because of their ability to dominate the waterways of the Mesopotamian Sea. Carthage not only controlled oversea trade routes for commerce they also had one of the most powerful navies in ancient history.

The Carthage navy was powerful for a number of reasons. The first being is that Carthage had a naval force that was feared by many kingdoms and empires in the ancient world. This city-state had a vast number of ships that they could use immediately for warfare. Historical sources claim that the Carthaginians could place about 350 warships into the sea for the purpose of defence or to assault an enemy.

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Many Carthaginians were excellent seafarers and they knew how to sail and fight on the open waters of the Mesopotamia. A lot of the sailors were trained in basic naval functions and military tactics. The Carthaginians were considered the best sailors in the ancient world and they were a deadly force to contend with if they were engaged on the seas by an enemy. The Carthaginians used quadriremes and quinqueremes. These were three-decked ships that were powered by rowers and sails. They were used to ram enemy vessels or they shot long bolts at enemy boats with large sized bolts that resembled modern day harpoons. The use of Greek Fire (burning oil or pitch) was also as a weapon when sea battles occurred.

God established the city of Tyre to be a powerful trading city-state. The Phoenician kings of Tyre had befriended both Kings David and Solomon before the kingdom of Israel split apart. King David had King Haram of Tyre supply him with supplies and other goods for Solomon when he was ready to build the Temple. King Solomon built the Temple he also used King Hiram’s assistance with supplies, goods and craftsmen for the project. Solomon and Hiram established an alliance and from this alliance Israel established its first navy that was based in Tyre. The powerful city-state of Tyre still remained allies with the people of Judah and Israel but their alliances are barely mentioned after the rule of Solomon.

Even though Carthage isn’t specifically mentioned in the Bible, it can be reasonably said that the city wasn’t too different from that of Tyre.


Carthage, one of the most famous cities of antiquity, was founded on the north coast of Africa by the Phoenicians of Tyre (sur) in 814 B.C. The founding of Carthage was closely followed by the establishment of other Phoenician cities in the western Mediterranean. From then on, Carthaginian power expanded into Spain, Sicily and numerous other places in the northern Mediterranean. This brought them into direct conflict with the empires in Rome and Greece. At the start of the 3rd century B.C., Carthage was supreme in the western Mediterranean, enjoying the security of sea power and trading with her stations in Sicily, Sardinia, and Spain as well as with the shores of Africa.

Rome was painfully struggling to obtain mastery of central and southern Italy, where she had absorbed the power and culture of the Etruscans and gradually forged a federation of small states. It must have already become clear that there was not going to be room in the Mediterranean for both Rome and Carthage. The clash came over Sicily in the First Punic War (264-241 B.C), at the end of which Carthage lost Sicily. The Roman victory in Sicily induced Rome to cross the narrow straits to Africa and attack Carthage directly. Fortunately for Carthage, a strong and honest man appeared in the person of Hamilcar Barca, a commander who had evacuated his forces undefeated from Sicily in the best tradition of Dunkirk. Hamilcar was able to put down a mutiny in the Carthaginian army and restore order to it. The political situation at that time had a strangely modern flavor. Rome pursued a policy of cold war during which time it annexed Sardinia and Corsica, increased the reparations which Carthage was obliged to pay, and declared the Roman sphere of interest in Spain to extend from the North down to the river Ebro.

In Carthage, the peace treaty was in power with the commercially minded. Hamilcar Barca, on the other hand, had popular support and the command of the armed forces. With these he proceeded to develop the Carthaginian hold on Spain, ostensibly to enable Carthage to pay repatriation to Rome, but in fact, be- cause he saw in Spain a source of manpower and supplies and a base from which to attack Rome.

With his son-in-law Hasdrubal and his four sons Hannibal, Hasdrubal, Hanno, and Mago, the 'lion's brood' as he called them. Hamilcar barca soon succeeded in turning southern Spain into a sort of empire where new Carthage or Carthagena was founded. In 228 B.C. he fell in battle and was succeeded by hasdrubal his son-in- law who, in his turn was murdered seven years later in 221 B.C.

The Rise of Hannibal

The army thereupon unanimously chose Hannibal to be their general in spite of his youth, "because of the shrewdness and courage which he had shown in their service."

Hannibal was then 26 years old. This strange man, whose name means "Joy of Baal", had accompanied his father on his campaign in Spain, at the tender age of nine. Hamilcar Barca had agreed to take him on his campaign on one condition, that before the sacrifice, which he was then making to the gods, Hannibal should swear eternal enmity to Rome. No man ever kept a promise more faithfully. Hannibal's first military success was in Saguntum, which precipitated the Second Punic War. It is quite clear that Hannibal carried out a carefully prepared plan, which he had inherited from his father. His object was nothing less than the destruction of the power of Rome before Rome destroyed Carthage, and Rome's most vulnerable spot was in Italy itself where the Roman federation of states was still loose and the Celtic tribes of Gauls in the North were in revolt. But since Carthage had lost command of the sea to Rome, how was Hannibal to get to Italy with his troops?

The Romans never imagined for one moment that he could or would make the journey of 1500 miles overland from Spain, across the Pyrenees, the south of France, and the Alps but that was exactly what Hannibal had decided to do. Having decided on his strategy and selected his theatre of operations? Hannibal followed two principles, which have grown no less important since his day: the seizure of the initiative, and the maintenance of the element of surprise. 218 B. C. may seem a long time ago. But, the manner in which Hannibal set about his task is identical with that which a competent commander would follow today. Hannibal first secured his bases at Carthage and Carthaginian. Next he collected detailed information about the countries and peoples through which he proposed to pass. For this purpose he sent for messengers (liaison officers) from the Gaulish tribes and asked for detailed accounts of the terrain and the fertility of the country at the foot of the Alps, in the midst of the Alps, and in the plain of the river Po. Today, this aspect of Hannibal's planning would come under the heading of logistics. He also wanted to know the number of the inhabitants of the various populations, their capacity for war, and particularly whether their enmity against the Romans was maintained.

This would be called political intelligence. He was particularly anxious to win over the Gauls on both sides of the Alps, as he would only be able to operate in Italy against the Romans if the Gaul&rsquos co-operated with him. He therefore planned a campaign of psychological warfare, to raise and maintain the morale of his supporters and to undermine the enemy's will and power to resist. The operations began in great secrecy in the spring of 218 B.C. after Hannibal delivered a morale boosting speech to his troops. Moved by the emotions of indignation and lust for conquest, his men then leapt to their feet and shouted their readiness to follow Hannibal. He praised them for their valor and fixed the date of D- day, which was about the end of May. In this episode Hannibal's actions were paralleled two thousand years later by another young general of about his age, like him about to cross the Alps, and again like Hannibal, to make his initial reputation thereby: Napoleon Bonaparte. From Carthaginian Hannibal marched his army to Ebro and then to Ampurias, through the Pyrenees and along the shore of the Mediterranean through the South of France, fighting much of the way. As far as the Rhone, there is little doubt about the route which Hannibal's army followed: but from the Rhone over the Alps into Italy, Hannibal's route has been a bone of contention for two thousand years.

Crossing of the Alps

Hannibal left Spain for Italy in the spring of 218 B.C. with about 35,000 seasoned troops. His force included a squadron of Elephants. The Romans planned to intercept him near Massilia (Marseille) and, after dealing with him, to invade Spain. Publius Cornelius Scipio was in charge of this operation, while Tiberius Sempronius led another army in Sicily, destined for Africa. However, Scipio had to send his legions to deal with a Gallic revolt, and by the time he reached Massilia by sea, he learned that he had missed Hannibal by only a few days.

Thereupon, Scipio returned to northern Italy and awaited Hannibal's arrival. In the meantime, Scipio had sent his brother Gnaue to Spain with an army to cut Hannibal off from his brother Hasdrubal. It appears that Hannibal crossed the Alps somewhere between the Little St Bernard and Montgenevre passes. He did not begin to cross until early fall, which meant that he encountered winter like conditions in the Alpine region. His force suffered greatly from the elements and the hostility of local tribesmen. He lost most of his elephants, and by the time he reached northern Italy, his army was reduced to about 26,000 men, 6,000 of whom were Cavalry. However, the number was quickly raised to about 40,000 by the addition of Gaul&rsquos.

The invasion of Italy

In the first engagement with Roman troops, Hannibal's cavalry won a minor victory over Scipio's forces near the Ticinus River. This was followed by a decisive victory at the Trebia River in December 218 B.C. over Roman legions led by Scipio and Sempronius, who was recalled from Sicily when Hannibal invaded Italy. Hannibal's superior numbers in cavalry and his skill in the combined use of cavalry and infantry were key factors in his success at Trebia, as in later victories. Hannibal had a decided advantage in northern Italy, where the Gauls were friendly to his cause and where his cavalry could operate in the broad plains. The Romans therefore decided to withdraw to central Italy and await Hannibal who began to cross the Apennines in the spring of 217. The mountains again proved costly both to his army and personally to Hannibal, who lost the sight of one eye from an infection. The Roman consuls for 217, Gaius Flaminius and Servilius Geminus, had stationed themselves at Arretium and Ariminum to guard both possible routs, west and east, by which Hannibal might cross the Apennines. Hannibal selected Flaminius' western rout, but the consul refused to give battle alone. Allowing Hannibal to pass, Flaminius followed, harassing the Carthaginian army and hoping to meet Geminus farther south, where they would jointly give battle.

However, Hannibal ambushed Flaminius in a narrow pass near Lake Trasimene and destroyed almost his entire army of 25.000. At Rome, Quintius Fabius Maximus was elected dictator by the centuriate assembly. Rather than join battle with Hannibal, who had marched south into Apulia, he decided on a policy of caution and harassment that would keep Hannibal moving and gradually wear him down. Hannibal moved from Apulia into Campania, followed and watched by Fabius, who finally bottled him up in an area unfavorable to cavalry and decided to give battle. At night, however, Hannibal sent oxen toward Fabius' army with burning sticks tied to their horns while the Romans investigated what they considered an attack he escaped with his army to ADulia, where he wintered.

The Battle of Cannae

When Fabuis' tenure as dictator expired, the consuls for 216, Lueius Paullus and Gaius Varro, took charge of the war against Hannibal. On learning that Hannibal had captured the Roman depot at Cannae, in Apulia, the consuls decided to give battle, and Hannibal now faced two formidable armies. However, at Cannae he again selected ground favorable to his tactics and strong cavalry. While the Romans relied on their superior numbers, and their fighting skill. Hannibal's plan called for his cavalry, positioned on the flanks of a crescent shaped line, to defeat the Roman horsemen quickly and to attack the Roman infantry from the rear, as it pressed upon a weakened center of Spaniards and Gauls: his superior African troops, at the crucial moment, Were to press from the flanks and complete the encirclement. The plan succeeded and the Romans suffered 25,000 dead and l0,000 captured.

Hannibal's Political Strategy

The ancients were fond of debating why Hannibal did not immediately march on Rome following his victory at Cannae, but clearly he could not have taken the city after having taken part in numerous battles across Italy. His main objective was not the total destruction of Rome but a settlement that would free Carthage from Roman intervention. Hannibal had hoped that his victories would bring about the wholesale defection of Italian cities from the Roman confederacy. However, the only major defection from Rome was Capua. When it was obvious to Hannibal that he could not effectively surround Rome with a ring of hostile Italian states, he broadened the conflict to draw off Roman's manpower and to spread its resources thin. In 215 he made an alliance with Philip V of Macedon doubtless he did not want Philip to invade Italy but merely to drain Roman strength by waging war in Greece.

The alliance came to naught because Hannibal could not supply Philip with a navy and because Rome checked Philip with its own navy and Aetolian allies (first Macedonian War, 214-205). Hannibal also brought Syracuse into the war against Rome. Hiero, ruler of Syracuse and long an ally of Rome, died in 215. His grandson, Hieronymous took control of the city and made an alliance with Hannibal. Hieronymous was soon killed in a revolt, but Punic agents gained control of Syracuse. However, Roman control of Sicily was generally restored by 211, when Syracuse fell.

First Reverses Following the defeat at Cannae, the Romans resorted back to Fabius' tactics of harassing Hannibal while avoiding formal engagements. This seemed to have rendered Hannibal's tactical skill and superior cavalry ineffective. Consequently, the Romans were able to retake Capua although their resources were heavily stretched by Hannibal 's international diplomacy. However, the real blow to Hannibal came from without. In 209, the Romans took Carthagena and forced Hasdrubal out of Spain. This cut his main supply route off. When Romans discovered that Hasdrubal had crossed the Alps to link up with Hannibal they left a small force to watch Hannibal and marched quickly with their main force to the Metaurus River, where they defeated Hasdrubal. Hannibal learned of the defeat when Hasdrubal's head was thrown into his camp. Hannibal knew that he was without hope of reinforcement. For the rest of the Italian campaign he was generally restricted to Bruttium. Hannibal had no supporting navy and appeared indifferent to that Roman naval supremacy which in the first place was able to cut off reinforcements and in the second to bring about unimpeded the invasion of Carthage.

Although his tactics in the field, as attested even by Scipio, were brilliant, and he himself by his personal appearances and quick marches up and down Italy dazzled the Romans and complicated their strategy, he was at a decided disadvantage as regards reinforcements and provisions. In 204, the Italian general Scipio landed in Carthage and was so successful that the following year Carthage sued for peace, terms were agreed upon, and Hannibal was recalled. The sight of Hannibal reinforced the Carthaginian will to resist, however, and hostilities were renewed. The two armies met at Zama in 202, in a battle that decided the outcome of the war. This time Hannibal met his match he was outnumbered by a superior cavalry and was let down by the commercially minded rulers of Carthage. Hannibal, his army destroyed, escaped. Peace was made the next year. Rome severely restricted the Carthaginian navy and demanded a heavy indemnity. Carthage was forbidden to make war outside its African domain, and could fight within Africa only with Roman permission. Since failure to accept the peace terms would have meant the destruction of Carthage, Hannibal worked for their acceptance and retired to private life in 200.

Hannibal was still only 43 and soon showed that he could be a statesman as well as a soldier. Following the conclusion of a peace that left Carthage stripped of its formerly mighty empire, Hannibal prepared to take a back seat for a time. However, the blatant corruption of the oligarchy gave Hannibal a chance to re-emerge and he was elected as suffete or chief magistrate. The office had become rather insignificant, but Hannibal restored its power and authority. The oligarchy, always jealous of him, had even charged him with having betrayed the interests of his country while in Italy, for neglecting to take Rome when he might have done so. So effectively did Hannibal reform abuses that the heavy tribute imposed by Rome could be paid by installments without additional and extraordinary taxation. He also reformed the Hundred and Four, stipulating that its membership be chosen by direct election rather than co-option. He also used citizen support to change the term of office in the Hundred and Four from life to a year, with a term limit of two years. Under the leadership of Hannibal, who proved to be as talented an administrator as he was a commander, the indemnity was paid well ahead of schedule and Carthage once again focused on trade. The city-state began once more to strengthen and grow wealthy, for the land she possessed, unlike today's Tunisia, was among the most productive farmland of its age.

In 196 Hannibal attacked the position, power, and corruption of the aristocrats so vigorously that they told the Romans he was scheming with Antiochus III of Syria and planning another war with Rome. A Roman investigation commission was sent to Carthage on a pretext, but Hannibal knew it was aimed at him, and he eventually made his way to Antiochus. The charge that Hannibal had plotted with Antiochus is unsupported, but after he became a member of the Syrian court he certainly advised the King to attack the Romans. After Antiochus IIIs defeat, Hannibal went to Anatolia in 183 B.C., but the Romans, by what means it is unknown, put themselves in a position to demand his surrender. Unable this time to escape arrest, In 183 B.C, Hannibal committed suicide in the ancient port city of Libyssa Anatolia (present-day Diliskelesi in Gebze Turkey), rather than face capture by the Romans.

The Third Punic War

The Numidian King Masinissa, (Numidia was an ancient Berber kingdom in present-day Algeria) whose country abutted Carthage to the west, indirectly provoked the Third Punic War. Through his alliance with Rome in the previous war, he was able to gain permission to reacquire lands Carthage had taken from Numidia. Since Carthage was originally established on Numidian land and with its cooperation, Masinissa could theoretically have occupied all of the territory Carthage controlled. Rather than attract too much attention from Rome, the Numidian king reclaimed small pieces of territory at a time when Rome was occupied in other parts of the Mediterranean world. In 155 b.c. Carthage complained to Rome about their ally's acquisitions, but received little satisfaction. Three years later Rome sent an embassy to investigate, the leading member of which was the senator Cato. Seeing the renewed bounty Carthage Within Carthage, political factions struggled. In 151 a strong democratic party that took an aggressive stance expelled those citizens who favored cooperation and perhaps even union with Numidia from the city. Carthaginian complaints to Rome grew more strident as their rejections of Masinissa's envoys grew more insulting. Masinissa also sent appeals to Rome, pressing his claims. In 151 a Carthaginian army under their leader Hasdrubal attacked Numidia, but was defeated and after being besieged in their camp was virtually destroyed by starvation. That violation of the peace terms, as well as Cato's oratory in the Senate, convinced the Roman government military action was necessary. Hasdrubal, however, was evicted from power in Carthage and emissaries were sent to beg forgiveness on any terms to avoid war. An army had been dispatched by the time the embassy arrived, and they gave the Senate a virtual blank check to avert conflict.

The Senate demanded that their army should be allowed to do anything it wished, all territory and possessions of Carthage to become Roman-controlled, and 300 hostages surrendered. The ambassadors agreed to this total surrender, a deditio in fidem. In return for their surrender, Rome guaranteed the Carthaginians freedom, their own laws, nominal control over all their territory, and possession of personal and public property. Unfortunately, the arrival of the army brought even more difficult conditions. The Roman commander Manius Mani-lius obliged the city to surrender all its weapons of war they did. Reportedly armor and weapons for 200,000 men were turned over to the Romans, as well as 2,000 catapults. One final condition was unacceptable: the demand that the city of Carthage be destroyed and all the inhabitants removed inland. "Whenever you look on the sea, you remember the great fleets you once had, the spoils you captured, the harbours into which you brought them, to fill your dockyards and arsenals" (Appian, quoted in Dorey and Dudley, Rome against Carthage, p. 161). Carthage responded by declaring war on Rome.

The Battle

Carthage could not hope to take the war to Rome, only to force the Romans away from their capital. Carthage was the best-fortified city of its day, completely walled for its 21-mile perimeter and with access to the sea for resupply. The city was divided into northern and southern halves (Megara and Byrsa respectively). In spite of the earlier surrender of weapons, the citizens began producing new swords, spears, shields, javelins, and catapults at a prodigious rate. The women of the city cut their hair to serve as rope for the catapults. In their desperate situation, the Carthaginian government pardoned Hasdrubal and he took command of an army of 25,000 to 30,000 outside the city, based in the province of Byzacena to the south and southwest. The main city there, Nepheris, dominated the supply route to the farmland beyond.

Rome had 80,000 infantry and 4,000 cavalry on site, with the port city of Utica (which had surrendered without a fight) just to the northwest to serve as a base. They had no siege engines, however, and three direct assaults against the western walls proved disastrous. A foray across the Lake of Tunis to gather wood ran into serious Carthaginian cavalry opposition, but ultimately sufficient wood was gathered to build two rams. The Romans had some success against the southern fortifications, but the defenders rebuilt the walls, then sallied to destroy the rams. As the summer of 149 grew hotter, the Roman camp between the lagoons became too unhealthy, so they relocated to the southern end of the city. Roman ships anchored there to provision the army, but they were almost completely devastated by Carthaginian fire ships. By year's end the Romans had made little progress.

In 148 b.c. Manilius changed his strategy somewhat. He moved his camp from south of Carthage to the northern flank. Rather than press the siege he instead gathered supplies and made plans to attack Nephiris, where Hasdrubal's force was based. On Manilius' staff was the young Scipio Aemilianus, adopted grandson of the Scipio Africanus who had won glory in the Second Punic War. He advised against the Nephiris attack but was overruled. When Manilius was on the verge of defeat at the hands of the Carthaginian cavalry commander, Himilco Phameas, Scipio's timely arrival with reinforcements covered the Roman retreat. He then played a key diplomatic role. Masinissa's offer of assistance early in the conflict had been brusquely rebuffed now the Romans needed all the help they could get. Masinissa invited Scipio to join the Roman delegation visiting him. When they arrived, they found Masinissa dead (he was in his eighties) and his three sons awaiting Scipio, who was charged with choosing the successor. He chose all three: one to rule in the palace, one as minister of foreign affairs, one as minister of justice, each according to his talents. Scipio brought Foreign Minister Gulussa with him back to the Roman camp, along with a large cavalry force.

The arrival of Numidian reinforcements had a profound effect on Himilco Phameus, who perhaps sensed a change in the winds and defected to the Romans. That was the one high point of 148 for the Roman campaign. Mani-lius had decided to attack other Carthaginian cities both to keep his army busy and to allow them some booty to maintain their morale. These attacks had mixed success and Carthage even spared some manpower to aid at the siege of Hippo and some money for an uprising in Macedonia. With Roman fortunes at a low ebb, Scipio campaigned successfully in Rome for the command appointment the people overwhelmingly backed the Scipio name, and he seemed to be in the mold of his adopted grandfather. Scipio took charge in the spring of 147.

He arrived to confront a crisis. Manilius had gained some success against the Megara section of the city, but his men had been cut off and morale was low. Scipio went to work, expelling the multitude of camp followers and focusing the army on its task: no rewards without victory. In the meanwhile, Hasdrubal was recalled to take charge of the city's defenses, leaving Diogenes (probably a Greek mercenary) in charge of the mobile force. Scipio launched an attack on Megara with early success, but withdrew under pressure. Hasdrubal responded by concentrating his force in Byrsa, then torturing Roman prisoners on the walls. This was intended to stiffen his troops' defensive resolve, but it instead motivated the Romans. Even with Megara's defenses lightened, Scipio realized that an assault on Byrsa was necessary, since the harbor was there. He spent the summer building fortifications: a series of palisaded ditches with sharpened stakes at the bottom, a wall facing the city with regularly spaced observation towers, and a four-story tower in the center. This completely isolated Carthage from landward approaches.

Scipio next began attempts to block off Carthage's seaward supplies. He began building a mole across the mouth of the harbor. The Carthaginians responded by digging a new outlet to the sea due east from their circular harbor. They also began building ships out of whatever material they could find. When both fleet and outlet were complete they sallied, but inexplicably did not attack the empty Roman ships. When they finally mounted an assault on the third day, the Romans were ready and drove them back. Unfortunately, a bottleneck in the new outlet kept many Carthaginian ships exposed, and the Roman ships dealt with them harshly. Scipio then assaulted the outer quay protecting the commercial harbor, bringing in catapults and rams. This strategy suffered a setback when a night attack from the city destroyed most of them, but Scipio patiently rebuilt them and constructed fortifications as well. He finally managed to breach the walls, then breach them again after the first repair.

Scipio maintained pressure on the city but could not insert his men through the breach. He spent the remainder of 147 capturing what towns still remained loyal to Carthage, and defeated their mobile force at Nephiris after a twenty-two-day siege. That left the city of Carthage completely alone, with no source of supply. This provoked an offer to negotiate from Hasdrubal, but he would not concede to Scipio's demand that the city be razed. In the spring of 146 Scipio invoked the Carthaginian gods to abandon the city, then he launched his final assault. It came from the weakened walls near the outer quay and this time the Romans did break through. Hasdrubal set the harbor buildings alight but it did not slow the Romans down. What did slow them was the sack of the temple of Apollo, whose golden dome proved too inviting to the soldiers. When reinforcements entered the fray, the slow work of reducing the Byrsa citadel proceeded. Tall houses along narrow lanes proved to be individual fortresses, and the fighting was house-to-house, room-to-room, hand-to-hand for six days. Scipio finally ordered the houses burned to allow easier passage, and many noncombatants died in the conflagration. That proved the final blow to Carthaginian resistance. On the seventh day they surrendered wholesale, 50,000 men, women, and children giving themselves up to slavery. Hasdrubal and his family, along with 900 Roman deserters, were all that remained in the temple of Esmun. He did not display the valor of his earlier namesakes, but crawled to Scipio begging mercy as the deserters decided to die in the flames of the temple. Seeing his dishonor, Hasdrubal's wife called out to him: "&lsquoWretch!' she screamed, in a voice which raised itself above the universal din, &lsquois it thus you seek to save your own life while you sacrifice ours? I can not reach you in your own person, but I kill you hereby in the persons of your children.'" (Abbott, History of Hannibal, pp. 292-293). She stabbed his two sons, threw them into the flames, then dived in after them.

Sack of Carthage

Scipio rewarded his men with time to plunder the city at their leisure. That done, the remainder of the city was set ablaze and burned for ten days. Rome decreed that no house should be built nor crop planted there. But a hundred years later, the city was refounded by Julius Caesar in 44 B.C, and became the capital of the enlarged province of Africa. By the second century A.D, Carthage had become the largest city in the west after Rome. The "New" Roman Carthage became first a famous educational centre, especially for law and rhetoric, and then a focus for Christianity in the west, especially in the time of Tertullian and Cyprian (second and third centuries A.D.). Carthage fell to the Vandals in 439 A.D, and became the capital of their king Gaiseric, but after the victory of Belisarius (Byzantine general) in 533, it remained loyal to the Roman empire in the east, until the Arab conquest at the end of the seventh century, when it was destroyed a second time in 698 A.D.

It is said that as the original city burned, Scipio wept. His tutor, the historian Polybius, spoke to him. "&lsquoIs this not a splendid sight?' He grasped his hand and said: &lsquoA splendid sight indeed, Polybius, and yet I am in fear-I know not why-that some day the same order will be given to destroy my own country'" (Appian, quoted in Dorey and Dudley, Rome against Carthage, p. 174).

Control of the North African farmland provided the storehouse of grain for Rome for the next several centuries. Not until the Vandals conquered the region in the fifth century A.D. did it cease being Rome's granary. It became so once again, when Belisarius captured the province for the Eastern Emperor Justinian a century later.

Where did Hannibal get his Elephants from?

Many historians believe a likely source of Hannibal's elephants could have been the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria. Living there at the time was a forest subspecies of the African elephants &ndash now extinct. There are two subspecies of the African elephant &ndash the forest and the savannah elephant. The forest elephant is mostly found in central and western Africa's equatorial forests, while the savannah elephant is found throughout the grassy plains and bushlands of the continent. Forest elephants are an elusive species of African elephants and inhabit the densely wooded rainforests of west and central Africa. Their preference for dense forest habitat prohibits traditional counting methods such as visual identification. Their population is usually estimated through "dung counts"&mdashan analysis on the ground of the density and distribution of the feces.

Forest elephants are smaller than savanna elephants, the other African elephant subspecies. Their ears are more oval-shaped ears and their tusks are straighter and point downward (the tusks of savanna elephants curve outwards). There are also differences in the size and shape of the skull and skeleton. Forest elephants are found most commonly in countries with relatively large blocks of dense forest such as Gabon, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Cameroon and Central African Republic in central Africa and Côte d&rsquoIvoire, Liberia, and Ghana in West Africa.

Forest Elephants: 8-10 feet, Weight 2-5 tons
Savanna Elephants: 8.2 to 13 feet, Weight 2-7 tons


ARCHEOLOGISTS have tried. Students of ancient climate and ecology have tried, too. But no one has yet come up with a satisfactory answer: Where did Hannibal get the elephants for his heroic march across the Alps to attack the homeland of the Romans? The question was raised anew in the Sept. 6 issue of New Scientist, a British magazine. Derek Ager, a geologist, wrote an article casting doubt on all of the proposed sources of Hannibal's elephants. Once there were elephants nearly everywhere, but by the time of Hannibal's march in 218 B.C. they had already dwindled to the two species extant today, the Indian, or Asian, elephants and the African ones. If he had had a choice, Hannibal would presumably have gone into battle with Indian elephants, which had been used effectively a century before in charging against the forces of Alexander the Great. Indian elephants are not quite as large as the African species but much more easily trained, which is why they are favored by zoos and circuses. It is also the reason Indian elephants are seen tramping through fictional Africa in old Tarzan movies.

The bigger and ill-tempered African elephants are distinguished by their larger, fan-shaped ears, flat foreheads and concave backs. But how did Hannibal, in Carthage, on the Mediterranean in present-day Tunisia, get a troop of elephants all the way from Asia? Or from south of the Sahara, the bush habitat of the larger African species? Elephants have a voracious appetite. Mr. Ager noted that an adult male African elephant eats some 400 pounds of vegetation a day. Even though the North African climate was slightly wetter then and the Sahara not quite so extensive, conditions were still not conducive to transporting hungry elephants. Historians speculate that a few small elephants could have been brought down the Nile Valley into Egypt, or by the Red Sea, and then bred in captivity, but there is apparently no record of this. Nor is there any record of the large African species being indigenous to North Africa in the time of Hannibal. Drawings of elephants appear on the Tassili Frescoes in the Hoggar Mountains of southern Algeria, but a recent British expedition determined that the drawings predated Hannibal. Many historians believe a likely source of Hannibal's elephants could have been the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and Algeria. Living there at the time was a forest subspecies of the African elephants. These were smaller animals, standing about 8 feet tall at the shoulders in contrast to the 11-foot-tall sub-Saharan animals. The Atlas elephants later died out as the region grew increasingly arid.

Presumably these animals would have been just as difficult to train and would have been less imposing in warfare. In ancient military campaigns elephants hauled supplies and served somewhat the same function as modern tanks.In his 1955 study, ''Alps and Elephants,'' Gavin de Beer, who was director of the British Museum of Natural History, wrote, ''Not only did the elephants' appearance, their smell, and the noise of their trumpeting alarm both men and horses opposed to them, but they were highly dangerous when charged, fighting with their tusks and their trunks and trampling down their opponents. ''For these reasons, commenting on the small Atlas elephants, Mr. Ager said, ''I find the idea of Hannibal's using small elephants unsatisfying. ''By most accounts Hannibal's invasion force in 218 B.C., assembled in Spain, included 100,000 men and 37 or 38 elephants. Mr. Ager notwithstanding, many historians tend to accept Mr. De Beer's conclusion that most of these elephants were African, either from the Atlas Mountains or from south of the desert.

The evidence is a Carthaginian coin, struck in the time of Hannibal that bears an unmistakable image of an African elephant. Coins are often valuable to archeologists, and here it is about all historians have -a coin and a story told after the Second Punic War. Hannibal dealt the Romans under Scipio several crushing defeats but ultimately failed to seize Rome itself. Only one of the elephants survived the war, it seems. This was the elephant Hannibal himself had often ridden. Its name, according to the story, was Surus, meaning ''the Syrian.'' Because the Ptolemies of Egypt, successors to Alexander, were known to have seized some Indian elephants as booty in their campaigns in Syria, it seemed likely that some descendants of those elephants had found their way to Carthage. Egypt and Carthage enjoyed good relations in those days. Mr. De Beer, citing the story of Surus, concluded, ''It is therefore almost certain that Hannibal's elephants included at least one Indian Elephant.'