Hannibal Barca lived in the second century BC, and was a military commander in Carthage, now part of Tunisia. During his lifetime there was ongoing unrest between the growing Roman Empire and the Mediterranean regions. Hannibal successfully won over several of Rome's allies and commanded much of Italy for 15 years, but was eventually defeated and, after a few years as a political reformer, he was forced into exile and eventually betrayed to the Romans. He is considered one of the greatest military tacticians in history.
Hannibal is most famous for his journey, in 218 BC, from Carthage through the Pyrenees and Alps and into Italy. Accompanied by an army of 46,000 on foot and horse and 37 war elephants, the mountain ranges and major rivers made the crossing difficult and on his arrival it is believed that more than half of his forces were lost. The image of the elephants forging through the snows, and of their role in battle, is powerful enough to make Hannibal a recognisable figure even to those with no other knowledge of early history. However, of those which survived the crossing, only Hannibal's own elephant called Surus ('The Syrian') survived the war in Italy.
There is some debate as to where Hannibal obtained elephants. Indian elephants are smaller, easier to tame and most often used in circuses - Colonel Kearney's beasts are almost certainly Indian. However most imagery of the march depicts African elephants, based on the evidence of a Carthaginian coin, contemporary with Hannibal, which clearly shows him alongside a larger, African elephant.