We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

Hannibal's Army Most Likely Burned an Ancient Village to the Ground

Piecing together clues from burned village reveals hasty, panicked evacuation ahead of Hannibal’s army.

By Paul Smaglik
May 17, 2024 5:15 PMMay 17, 2024 5:16 PM
Golden Earring
The gold earring found by the scientists, photographed against a dark background. (Credit: Marco Ansaloni)


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Sometimes one clue at a crime scene can provide the key to unlocking an entire mystery. Such is the case with a single gold earring found inside a building that burned to the ground about 2,200 years ago in Catalonia, according to a report in Frontiers in Environmental Archaeology.

The fact that the earring was hidden — both in a pot and in a nook inside a wall — suggests that its owners knew Hannibal’s Carthaginian army was heading their way. Because the earring was in one of the several burned buildings, experts think that the army laid waste to the entire village after its inhabitants fled. And since the piece of jewelry was first found in the 21st century suggests that its owner — and perhaps many other original villagers — never returned.

War with Hannibal

A team of archeologists and historians pieced together many physical clues and drew upon historical writings to paint a detailed picture of what happened to a village in what is now northern Spain when it was caught up in the Second Punic War between Carthage and Rome, says Oriol Olesti Vila of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and the article’s lead author.

The context was that Hannibal and about 50,000 soldiers, 7,000 infantry and 37 elephants had crossed the Pyrenees and were taking over the Iberian Peninsula village by village.

The hidden jewelry suggests that the villagers of Tossal de Baltarga knew they were next. After all, it’s hard to not know an army of that size was approaching — especially when it included elephants. The hillside complex provided some views, and some trade with neighbors implied that news travelled between villages.

“The gold earring was an indication of some kind of warning,” says Vila.

Read More: 5 Ancient Cities That No Longer Exist

A Once Peaceful Settlement

The archeologists found other signs of hasty retreat. In one building, they found the remains of four sheep, one goat, and a horse. Since animals were highly valued, their owners leaving them were in a hurry to flee.

“The people living there didn’t have time to open the stables,” says Vila.

And the fire was almost certainly not accidental; all six buildings in the village had been burned to the ground. The remains of a dog was found in one, the skeleton of a pig in another. The archeologists didn't unearth any human remains associated with the fire. They estimated the village held about 40-50 inhabitants, based on the number and size of the buildings.

Other signs pointed to a peaceful, productive settlement prior to the invasion. The second floor of the building that housed the majority of the animals in the lower level contained equipment for spinning and weaving wool, as well as an area for cooking. The archeologists found signs of edible grains like oats and barley, as well as residues from milk and goat stew.

Archaeologists still don’t know what became of the people who fled the village. Some suspect that the Romans eventually reoccupied it and used it as a military garrison. But the earring’s owner clearly never came back.

Read More: How Cadaver Dogs Sniff Out and Dig Up Decaying History

Article Sources

Our writers at Discovermagazine.com use peer-reviewed studies and high-quality sources for our articles, and our editors review for scientific accuracy and editorial standards. Review the sources used below for this article:

Before joining Discover Magazine, Paul spent over 20 years as a science journalist, specializing in U.S. life science policy and global scientific career issues. He began his career in newspapers, but switched to scientific magazines. His work has appeared in publications including Science News, Science, Nature, and Scientific American.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.