Hannibal’s Vanishing Soldiers
Hannibal might have mobilized 137,000 (Hannibal’s army: 102,000 troops, Hasdrubal's 15,000, army in Africa: 20,000) soldiers before setting out for Italy. After subduing the lands north of Ebro in Catalonia, Hannibal left Hanno there with 11,000 soldiers, and released another 10,000 troops from service. Hannibal’s army numbered 59,000 soldiers when he crossed the Pyrenees. It seems 22,000 soldiers had vanished with any information being available about their specific fate since crossing the Ebro. On the Rhone, Hannibal had 46,000 soldiers available; another 13,000 had disappeared although the army had fought no battles between the Pyrenees and the Rhone. When the Carthaginian army finally reached Italy, it supposedly numbered 26,000 (Polybius 3.56.4). The Punic army had lost 75% of its starting strength during the journey to Italy. The cause of this drastic reduction is speculated as: large scale desertion by new recruits, high casualties suffered in Catalonia from direct assaults on walled towns, garrisoning of parts of Gaul, severe winter conditions faced on the Alps, and unreliability of the figures given by Polybius.
Hans Delbruck proposed another hypothesis: Hannibal had mobilized a total of 82,000 troops, not 137,000. After leaving 26,000 in Iberia (with Hasdrubal Barca and Hanno), and releasing 10,000 prior to crossing the Pyrenees, he arrived in Italy with at least 34,000 soldiers. The balance was lost in battles or to the Alpine elements. The basis of this theory is:
- Hannibal received no Iberian/African troops as reinforcements before 215 BC, when Bomilcar landed 4,000 Numidians at Lorci.
- At the Battle of Trebia, there is mention of 8,000 slingers and other light infantry of non Celtic/Gaulish or Italian origins.
Given that Hannibal had at least 6,000 cavalry, 20,000 heavy infantry and 8,000 light infantry before the Gauls joined him, a total of 34,000 troops when he reached Italy. Which means that the Carthaginian army still lost 25% of its starting strength on the march to Italy.
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