A Bayesian Search for Hannibal’s marauding army during the Second Punic War

At the time of writing, the hunt is still on for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Bayesian search theory has become topical (again). Bayesian search has been used to find crashed planes, lost hikers, sunken submarines and even missing hydrogen bombs. Bayes’ theorem is perfectly suited to search because it provides a mathematical framework for deductive reasoning.

Let’s try it out.

Here’s our (semi-fictionalised) search scenario: In 217BC, Rome and Carthage are at war. Dido’s curse still haunts the two civilisations. Carthaginian General Hannibal Barca has just annihilated a Roman army at Lake Tresimene, 180km northwest of Rome. He had already inflicted a series of crushing defeats on the Romans to the point that, after Lake Tresimene, Rome was left virtually without any field army at all. The great fear was that Hannibal would now march his war elephants on the city of Rome itself. In times of dire emergency, the Roman republic allowed for the temporary appointment of a dictator. Five days after Lake Tresimene, the senate appointed Quintus Fabius Maximus as dictator. The first question for him was: where is Hannibal now?

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