HANNIBAL CROSSES THE ALPS
 IN the year 235 B.C. the gates of the Temple of Janus
were closed, for the first time since the reign of Numa
Pompilius, the second king of Rome, nearly five
centuries before. During all that long period war had
hardly ever ceased in Rome. And these gates were soon
to be thrown open again, in consequence of the greatest
war that the Roman state had ever known, a war which
was to bring it to the very brink of destruction.
The end of the first Punic War—as the war with Carthage
was called—left Rome master of the large island of
Sicily, the first province gained by that ambitious
city outside of Italy. Advantage was also taken of some
home troubles in Carthage to rob that city of the
islands of Sardinia and Corsica,—a piece of open piracy
which redoubled the hatred of the Carthaginians.
Yet Rome just now was not anxious for war with her
southern rival. There was enough to do in the north,
for another great invasion of Gauls was threatened. And
about this time the Capitol was struck by lightning, a
prodigy which plunged all Rome into terror. The books
of the Sibyl were hastily consulted, and were reported
to say, "When
 the lightning shall strike the Capitol and the Temple
of Apollo, then must thou, O Roman, beware of the
Gauls." Another prophecy said that the time would come
"when the race of the Greeks and the race of the Gauls
should occupy the Forum of Rome."
But Rome had its own way of dealing with prophecies and
discounting the decrees of destiny. A man and woman
alike of the Gaulish and of the Greek race were buried
alive in the Forum Boarium, and in this cruel way the
public fear was allayed. As for the invasion of the
Gauls, Rome met and dealt with them in its usual
fashion, defeating them in two battles, in the last of
which the Gaulish army was annihilated. This ended this
peril, and the dominion of Rome was extended northward
to the Alps.
It was fortunate for the Romans that they had just at
this time rid themselves of the Gauls, for they were
soon to have a greater enemy to meet. In the first
Punic War, Carthage had been destitute of a commander,
and had only saved herself by borrowing one from
Greece. In the second war she had a general of her own,
one who has hardly had his equal before or since, the
far-famed Hannibal, one of the few soldiers of supreme
ability which the world has produced.
During the peace which followed the first Punic War
Carthage sent an expedition to Spain, with the purpose
of extending her dominions in that land. This was under
the leadership of Hamilcar, a soldier of much ability.
As he was about to set sail he offered a solemn
sacrifice for the success of the
enter-  prise. Having poured the libation on the victim,
which was then duly offered on the altar, he requested
all those present to step aside, and called up his son
Hannibal, at that time a boy of but nine years of age.
Hamilcar asked him if he would like to go to the war.
With a child's eagerness the boy implored his father to
take him. Then Hamilcar, taking the boy by the hand,
led him up to the altar, and bade him lay his hand on
the sacrifice, and swear "that he would never be the
friend of the Romans." Hannibal took the oath, and he
never forgot it. His whole mature life was spent in
warfare with Rome.
From the city of New Carthage (or Carthagena), founded
by Carthage in Spain, Hamilcar gradually won a wide
dominion in that land. He was killed in battle after
nine years of success, and was succeeded by Hasdrubal,
another soldier of fine powers. On the death of
Hasdrubal, Hannibal, then twenty-six years of age, was
made commander-in chief of the Carthaginian armies in
Spain. Shortly afterwards his long struggle with Rome
Hannibal had laid siege to and captured the city of
Saguntum. The people of Saguntum were allies of Rome.
That city, being once more ready for war with its
rival, sent ambassadors to Carthage to demand that
Hannibal and his officers should be surrendered as
Roman prisoners, for a breach of the treaty of peace.
After a long debate, Fabius, the Roman envoy, gathered
up his toga as if something was wrapped in it, and
said, "Look; here are peace and war; take which you
choose." "Give whichever you please," was the haughty
 reply. "Then we give you war," said Fabius, shaking out
the folds of the toga. "With all our hearts we welcome
it," cried the Carthaginians. The Romans left at once
for Rome. Had they dreamed what a war it was they were
inviting it is doubtful if they would have been so
hasty in seeking it.
War with Rome was what Hannibal most desired. He was
pledged to hostility with that faithless city, and had
assailed Saguntum for the purpose of bringing it about.
On learning that war was declared, he immediately
prepared to invade Italy itself, leading his army
across the great mountain barrier of the Alps. He had
already sent messengers to the Gauls, to invite their
aid. They were found to be friendly, and eager for his
coming. They had little reason to love Rome.
A significant dream strengthened Hannibal's purpose. In
his vision be seemed to see the supreme god of his
fathers, who called him into the presence of all the
gods of Carthage, seated in council on their thrones.
They solemnly bade him to invade Italy, and one of the
council went with him into that land as guide. As they
passed onward the divine guide warned, "See that you
look not behind you." But at length, heedless of the
command, the dreamer turned and looked back. He saw
behind him a monstrous form, covered thickly with
serpents, while as it moved houses, orchards, and woods
fell crashing to the earth. "What mighty thing is
this?" he asked in wonder. "You see the desolation of
Italy," replied the heavenly guide; "go on your way,
straight forward, and cast no look
 behind." And thus, at the age of twenty-seven,
Hannibal, at the command of his country's gods, went
forward to the accomplishment of his early vow.
His route lay through northern Spain, where he
conquered all before him. Then he marched through Gaul
to the Rhone. This he crossed in the face of an army of
hostile Gauls, who had gathered to oppose him. He had
more difficulty with his elephants, of which he had
thirty-seven. Rafts were built to convey these great
beasts across the stream, but some of them, frightened,
leaped overboard and drowned their drivers. They then
swam across themselves, and all were safely landed.
HANNIBAL CROSSING THE ALPS.
Other difficulties arose, but all were overcome, and at
length the mountains were reached. Here Hannibal was to
perform the most famous of his exploits, the crossing
of the great chain of the Alps with an army, an exploit
more remarkable than that which brought similar fame to
Napoleon in our own days, for with Hannibal it was
pioneer work, while Napoleon profited by his example.
The mountaineers proved to be hostile, and gathered at
all points that commanded the narrow pass. But they
left their posts at night, and Hannibal, when nightfall
came, set out with a body of light troops and occupied
all these posts. When morning dawned the natives, to
their dismay, found that they had been outgeneralled.
Soon after the day began the head of the army entered a
dangerous defile, and made its way in a long slender
line along the terrace-like path which
 overhung the valley far below. The route proved
comparatively easy for the foot-soldiers, but the
cavalry and the baggage-animals only made their way
with great difficulty, finding obstacles at almost
The sight of the struggling cavalcade was too much for
the caution of the natives. Here was abundant plunder
at their hands. From many points of the mountain above
the road they rushed down upon the Carthaginians, arms
in hand. A frightful disorder followed. So narrow was
the path that the least confusion was likely to throw
the heavily-laden baggage-animals down the precipitous
steep. The cavalry horses, wounded by the arrows and
javelins of the mountaineers, plunged wildly about and
doubled the confusion.
It was fortunate for Hannibal that he had taken the
precaution of the night before. From the post he had
taken with his light troops the whole scene of peril
and disorder was visible to his eyes. Charging down the
hill, he attacked the mountaineers and drove them from
their prey. But it was a dearly bought victory, for the
fight on the narrow road increased the confusion, and
in seeking the relief of his army he caused the
destruction of many of his own men.
At length the perilous defile was safely passed, and
the army reached a wide and rich valley beyond. Here
was the town of Montmelian, the principal stronghold of
the mountaineers. This Hannibal took by storm, and
recovered there many of his own men, horses, and cattle
which the natives had taken,
 while he found an abundant store of food for the use of
his weary soldiers.
After a day's rest here the march was resumed. During
the next three days the army moved up the valley of the
river Isere without difficulty. The natives met them
with wreaths on their heads and branches in their
hands, promising peace, offering hostages, and
supplying cattle. Hannibal mistrusted the sudden
friendliness of his late foes, but they seemed so
honest that be accepted some of them as guides through
a difficult region which he was now approaching.
He had reason for his mistrust, for they treacherously
led him into a narrow and dangerous defile, which might
have easily been avoided; and while the army was
involved in this straitened pass an attack was suddenly
made by the whole force of the mountaineers. Climbing
along the mountain-sides above the defile, they hurled
down stones on the entangled foe, and loosened and
rolled great rocks down upon their defenceless heads.
Fortunately Hannibal, moved by his doubts, had sent his
cavalry and baggage on first. The attack fell on the
infantry, and with a body of these he forced his way to
the summit of one of the cliffs above the defile, drove
away the foe, and held it while the army made its way
slowly on. As for the elephants, they were safe from
attack. The very sight of these huge beasts filled the
barbarians with such terror that they dared not even
approach them. There was no further peril, and on the
ninth day of its march the army reached the summit of
 It was now the end of October. The grass and flowers
which carpet that elevated spot in summer had become
replaced by snow. In truth, the climate of the Alps was
colder at that period than now, and snow lay on the
higher passes all through the year. The soldiers were
disheartened by cold and fatigue. The scene around them
was desolate and dreary. New perils awaited their
onward course. But no such feeling entered Hannibal's
courageous soul. Fired by hope and ambition, he sought
to plant new courage in the hearts of his men.
"The valley you see yonder is Italy," he said, pointing
to the sunny slope which, from their elevated position,
appeared not far away. "It leads to the country of our
friends, the Gauls; and yonder is our way to Rome."
Their eyes followed the direction of his pointing hand,
and their hearts grew hopeful again with the
cheerfulness and enthusiasm of his words.
Two days the army remained there, resting, and waiting
for the stragglers to come up. Then the route was
The mountaineers, severely punished, made no further
attacks; but the road proved more difficult than that
by which the ascent had been made. Snow thickly covered
the passes. Men and horses often lost their way, and
plunged to their death down the precipitous steep.
Onward struggled the distressed host, through appalling
dangers and endless difficulties, losing men and
animals at every step. But these troubles were trifling
compared with those which they were now to endure. They
 found that the track before them had entirely
disappeared. An avalanche had carried it bodily away
for about three hundred yards, leaving only a steep and
impassable slope covered with loose rocks and snow.
A man of less resolution than Hannibal might well have
succumbed before this supreme difficulty. The way
forward had vanished. To go back was death. It was
impossible to climb round the lost path, for the
heights above were buried deep in snow. Nothing
remained but to perish where they were, or to make a
new road across the mountain's flank.
The energetic commander lost not an hour in deciding.
Moving back to a space of somewhat greater breadth, the
snow was removed and the army encamped. Then the
difficult engineering work began. Hands were abundant,
for every man was working for his life. Tools were
improvised. So energetically did the soldiers work that
the road rapidly grew before them. As it was cut into
the rock it was supported by solid foundations below.
Many ancient authors say that Hannibal used vinegar to
soften the rocks, but this we have no sufficient reason
So vigorously did the work go on, so many were the
hands engaged, that in a single day a track was made
over which the horses and baggage-animals could pass.
These were sent over and reached the lower valley in
safety, where pasture was found.
The passage of the elephants was a more difficult task.
The road for them must be solid and wide. It took three
days of hard labor to make it.
Mean-  while the great beasts suffered severely from
hunger, for forage there was none, nor trees on whose
leaves they might browse.
At length the road was strong enough to bear them. They
safely passed the perilous reach. After them came
Hannibal with the rear of the army, soon reaching the
cavalry and baggage. Three days more the wearied host
struggled on, down the southward slopes of the Alps,
until finally they reached the wide plain of Northern
Italy, having safely accomplished the greatest military
feat of ancient times.
But Hannibal found himself here with a frightfully
reduced army. The Alps had taken toll of their invader.
He had reached Gaul from Spain with fifty thousand foot
and nine thousand horse. He reached Italy with only
twenty thousand foot and six thousand horse. No fewer
than thirty-three thousand men had perished by the way.
It was a puny force with which to invade a country that
could oppose it with hundreds of thousands of men. But
it had Hannibal at its head.
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