Minard’s map of Hannibal’s crossing

As you know, I love maps, especially historical maps, and I like to play with them to make points.

For instance, in this post, I turned a map of Hannibal’s invasion of Italy upside down to illustrate the arc of his and his enemy’s lives.

And in this post I paid my respects to Charles Minard, a Frenchman who, in the 19th century, launched the field of data visualization by producing a new kind of map — one that graphically as well as geographically shows Napoleon’s invasion of Russia.

Now I get an email from one Jonnie Lappen, a senior at Arizona State University who is studying geography and considering doing his honors thesis on a different map by Minard.

I didn’t even know about that map until Jonnie showed it to me. Which is shocking: On it, Minard depicts Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps.

If it’s not famous, that’s probably because it is not nearly as good as the Napoleonic map: Minard gives us an angle of the Riviera we’re not used to seeing, and the shrinking line of the Carthaginian army is not as striking as in the Napoleonic map. (Still, look at that Alpine crossing: suddenly the line shrinks by half. That’s a lot of human beings dropping into gorges, slipping off ice sheets, dying of dysentery…)

Anyway, Jonnie is now engrossed in Livy to improve upon this map and give it its proper drama. A great idea. Good luck, Jonnie!

6 thoughts on “Minard’s map of Hannibal’s crossing

  1. No, we don’t know you love maps. If you loved them so much, you wouldn’t have removed the one you had at the top of your previous blog theme.

    And frankly, I don’t believe anyone ever crossed the Alps on elephants no matter how many maps may turn up to perpetuate that myth.

    Alps. Elephants. Preposterous. Like crossing Antarctica on a camel.

  2. With regard to Hannibal’s other companions and obstacles:

    According to Hannibal’s March: Alps & Elephants, by Sir Gavin R. De Beer, Hannibal built elaborate “60 metre” piers and long earth-covered rafts to escort his thirty-seven jittery elephants safely across an especially shallow and slow part of the Rhone.

    Need he have bothered?

    • That crossing of the Rhone (into an onslaught of Volcae, a tribe of Gauls, on the other bank) is a dramatic highlight in the story.

      The video is great. Livy or Polybius — I can’t remember now — does say that some elephants toppled from the rafts, but then swam — exactly as in the video — to the other side, using their trunks as snorkels. But their mahouts drowned.

      Also, what a “thrilling” feeling that must have been for this cameraman. He seems to have been swimming just next to and below these giants.

  3. That’s a gorgeous map. Besides being fascinating, I’m impressed by how much aesthetic beauty maps can have. I’d be great to see an actual copy of the print. My dad collects some and the character on some of the really enlivens the content.

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