When Hannibal wanted to provoke a war with Rome he did so by besieging and capturing the Roman-allied Spanish city of Saguntum, but he then faced a problem. Rome had shown that it could continually produce more troops when required thanks to its many Italian allies and possessions, so a war of attrition on Spanish or North African soil was always going to favour Rome. His solution was to take the fight to Italy, and hopefully persuade many of the Italians to reject Rome, leaving a smaller, weaker state that Hannibal and Carthage might hope to defeat. Invading Italy by sea was too risky thanks to Roman naval power, so the remarkable overland route over the Alps was chosen instead. The army that he marched toward northern Italy included some 37 elephants, yet Hannibal was aware that the Romans no longer had a fear of these creatures, and knew how to combat them in battle, and he would also have known that they would present particular difficulties in crossing mountains. Nevertheless they were an undeniable image of power and prestige, so perhaps that is why they were brought along. Only a handful made it across the Alps, and all but one died in the following winter, so their impact on Hannibal’s battles was almost zero, yet they remain an evocative image and are probably the main reason many people have heard of Hannibal today.
While folk memory of the crossing tends to focus on the elephants, it was hard going for the men too, large numbers of whom had never experienced mountains or such cold before. Sources say the army picked up much warm clothing from friendly tribes along the way, so when wrapped up in furs and woollens many national distinctions would have been almost hidden. Nevertheless the box tells us that we have here a mix of North African, Iberian and Greek soldiers, all suitably dressed against the cold. The Carthaginian citizen soldier and commander both have splendid crests on their helmets, and some evidence of the armour worn underneath the cloaks. Both also wear large greaves, which we would suggest means they expect an attack (quite possible), since wearing metal next to the skin in very cold temperatures is not the best plan. The Greek mercenary carries a falcata or kopis sword, and wears a Thracian-style helmet. One of the archers carries his arrows in a quiver on his back, but we were unable to find out if this was normal practice that the time. All have cloaks, hoods, furs and whatever they can find to keep warm, plus assorted bundles and bags, so look good here.
Clearly the three elephants are the major characters in this set. All are about 38mm (275cm) tall at the shoulder, have large irregular-shaped ears, a concave back, a round head, curved tusks and trunks that end in two ‘fingers’, all of which tells us these are African elephants. Some sources suggest the African Forest elephant had straight tusks instead, and smaller ears, but this seems to be a matter of debate. The elephant that survived the initial battles was an Indian, but it seems perfectly likely that there were many Africans in the original army, so these animals look fine to us. Indeed, as models of magnificent animals these are truly magnificent too, moulded as a single piece yet with no compromises for tusks, ears or legs, save that the hind legs of the animal partly down are merged as the mould cannot reach between them. Still all three look terrific in the flesh, each being draped with some form of cloth or fur on their back. Two of these animals have riders, which are dressed like the foot figures, and while they fit their mounts well they do of course only perch on them and will require gluing to stay in place.
The poses are of men walking along and are perfect for the scene. The group with the mule are particularly pleasing, and an important reminder of how important the baggage animals were to the expedition. Again this is a single piece, but well-done so there is no extra plastic. The sculpting is good too, with lots of nice texture on the furs and clothing, and good detail where this is needed, though some items like sword scabbards and spear heads seem a bit over-sized to us. The figures and elephants have a bare minimum of flash round the seam, but the mule piece has a fair bit more flash in places. Nevertheless this is a nice neat piece of sculpting.
The elephants naturally give this set its ‘wow’ factor, but the whole thing has been beautifully produced, and having the one elephant on its knees adds a pathos which works really well in our view. Even modellers who only profess an interest in battle sets might well find this one changes their mind, as it shows there are many episodes in history apart from battles that are worthy of being modelled.