Everyone knows that Hannibal led an army with elephants over the Alps to attack Rome. That was one of the boldest and most colorful deeds in military (or any other) history.
Hannibal’s Famous Crossing of the Alps (public domain photo)
But more astounding and a much greater achievement was what Hannibal did AFTER that.
Though he was never able to seize Rome itself, he led his small army of mercenaries around Italy for nearly twelve years, living off the land, with no real base of operations or help from Carthage; and he beat every Roman army ever sent against him, sometimes two at a time. He was one of the most astute men who ever lived. The best Roman general, Fabius, decided that the only way to deal with him was to stay out of his reach.
Hannibal’s most famous trick was the one he used in Campania to get his army out of a trap. His army was in a valley locked in by mountains and Fabius’s army was all around him. There was only one way out: a pass through the mountains; and it was heavily guarded by Roman troops. What did Hannibal figure out? Along a path that ran parallel to the mountain road he stampeded a herd of cattle at night with flaming torches on their horns. The guards, thinking the cattle were Hannibal’s soldiers, rushed to confront them, abandoning their positions on the mountain. While they were dealing with the animals, Hannibal quickly sent his army through the pass and got free.
If that had been old America and Davy Crockett, he might have told everyone the cattle ruse was an old Indian trick he’d learned from them when he was a boy.
Hannibal learned it in Spain. At least he saw bulls with torches on their horns running through the streets during certain Celtiberian festivals.
Toro embolao: a Spanish bull with torches clamped to its horns (photo appeared in EL MUNDO nov 26 2009 file)
But thinking of how to use them when they could help his army out of a jam–that was his genius.