Sunday, 29 April 2012

Hannibal Crosses the Alps (218 BC)

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The Crossing of the Alps
A. Charpentier, 1905
Some details of Hannibal's famous crossing of the Alps have been preserved, although the actual route is not entirely clear.

Hannibal's army approached the Alps either by the Col de Grimone or the Col de Cabre, then through the basin of the Durance, or else by the Genèvre or Mont Cenis passes into the upper Po Valley, descending into the territory of the hostile Taurini, where Hannibal stormed their chief town (modern Turin).

At first danger came from the Allobroges, who attacked the rear of Hannibal's column (probably along the gorges of the Drac). Along the middle stages of the route, other Celtic groups attacked the baggage animals and rolled heavy stones down from the heights on the enfilade below, thus causing both men and animals to panic and lose their footings on the precipitous paths. (Probably the valley of Durance at the defile at Argentierre-la-Bessee.) Hannibal took countermeasures, but these involved him in heavy losses in men.)

On the third day he captured a Gallic town and provided the army from its stores with rations for two or three days. Harassed by the daytime attentions of the Gauls from the heights and mistrusting the loyalty of his Gallic guides, Hannibal bivouacked on a large bare rock to cover the passage by night of his horses and pack animals in the gorge below.

Snow was falling on the summit of the pass, making the descent even more treacherous. Upon the hardened ice of the previous year's fall, the soldiers and animals alike slid and foundered in the fresh snow. A landslide blocked the narrow track, and the army was held up for one day while it was cleared.
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Finally on the 15th day, after a journey of five months from Cartagena, with 20,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and only a few of the original 38 elephants, Hannibal descended into Italy, having surmounted the difficulties of climate and terrain, the guerrilla tactics of inaccessible tribes, and the major difficulty of commanding a body of men diverse in race and language under conditions to which they were ill fitted. Hannibal was subsequently able to increase the size of his army to about 30,000 by recruiting Gauls.

Detailed examination of the possible routes by Jona Lendering | The texts |

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