Hannibal’s Address to his Soldiers: His sacrifice and vision
THEN Hannibal called his soldiers together, and told them openly that he was going to lead them into Italy. 'The Romans', he said,' have demanded that I and my principal officers should be delivered up to them as malefactors. Soldiers, will you suffer such an indignity? The Gauls are holding out their arms to us, inviting us to come to them, and to assist them in revenging their manifold injuries. And the country which we shall invade, so rich in corn and wine and oil, so full of flocks and herds, so covered with flourishing cities, will be the richest prize that could be offered by the gods to reward your valour.’ One common shout from the soldiers assured him of their readiness to follow him. He thanked them, fixed the day on which they were to be ready to march, and then dismissed them.
In this interval, and now on the very eve of commencing his appointed work, to which for eighteen years he had been solemnly devoted, and to which he had so long been looking forward with almost sickening hope, he left the head-quarter of his army to visit Gades, and there, in the temple of the supreme god of Tyre, and all the colonies of Tyre, to offer his prayers and vows for the success of his enterprise. He was attended only by those immediately attached to his person; and amongst these was a Sicilian Greek, Silenus, who followed him throughout his Italian expedition, and lived at his table. When the sacrifice was over, Hannibal returned to his army at New Carthage; and every thing being ready, and the season sufficiently advanced, for it was now late in May, he set out on his march for the Iberus.
And here the fullness of his mind, and his strong sense of being, the devoted instrument of his country's gods to destroy their enemies, haunted him by night as they, possessed him by day. In his sleep, so he told Silenus, he fancied that the supreme god of his fathers had called him into the presence of all the gods of Carthage, who were sitting on their thrones in council. There he received a solemn charge to invade Italy; and one of the heavenly council went with him, and with his army, to guide him on his way. He went on, and his divine guide commanded him, 'See that thou look not behind thee.' But after a while impatient of the restraint, he turned to look back; and there he beheld a huge and monstrous form, thick set all over with serpents; wherever it moved, orchards and woods and houses fell crashing before it. He asked his guide in wonder, what that monster form was? The god answered, 'Thou seest the desolation of Italy; go on thy way, straight forwards, and cast no look behind.' Thus, with no divided heart, and with an entire resignation of all personal and domestic enjoyments for ever, Hannibal went forth, at the age of twenty-seven, to do the work of his country's gods, and to redeem his early vow.
Passage of the Rhone
We must understand that Hannibal kept his army as far away from the sea as possible, in order to conceal his movements from the Romans; therefore he came upon the Rhone, not on the line of the later Roman road from Spain to Italy, which crossed the river at Tarasco, between Avignon and ArIes, but at a point much higher up, above its confluence with the Durance, and nearly half way, if we can trust Polybius' reckoning, from the sea to its confluence with the Isere. Here he obtained from the natives on the right bank, by paying a fixed price, all their boats and vessels of every description, with which they were accustomed to traffic down the river: they allowed him also to cut timber for the construction of others; and thus in two days he was provided with the means of transporting his army. But finding that the Gauls were assembled on the eastern bank to oppose his passage, he sent off a detachment of his army by night with native guides, to ascend the right bank, for about two and twenty miles, and there to cross as they could, where there 'was no enemy to stop them. The woods which then lined the river, supplied this detachment with the means of constructing barks and rafts enough for the passage; they took advantage of one of the many islands in this part of the Rhone, to cross where the stream was divided; and thus they all reached the left bank in safety. There they took up a strong position, probably one of those strange masses of rock which rise here and there with steep cliffy sides, like islands out of the vast plain, and rested for four and twenty hours after their exertions in the march and the passage of the river.
Hannibal allowed eight and forty hours to pass from the time when the detachment left his camp; and then on the morning of the fifth day after his arrival on the Rhone, he made his preparations 'for the passage of his main army. The mighty stream of the river, fed by the snows of the high Alps, is swelled rather than, diminished by the heats of summer; so that, although the season was that when the southern rivers are generally at their lowest, it was rolling the vast mass of its waters along with a startling fullness and rapidity. The heaviest vessels were therefore placed on the left, highest up the stream, to form something of a. breakwater for the smaller craft crossing below; the small boats held the flower of the light-armed foot, while the cavalry were in the larger vessels; most of the horses being towed astern swimming, and a single soldier holding three or four together by their bridles. Everything was ready, and the Gauls on the opposite side had poured out of their camp, and lined the bank in scattered groups at the most accessible points, thinking that their task of stopping the enemy's landing would be easily accomplished. At length, Hannibal's eye observed a column of smoke rising on the farther shore, above or on the right of the barbarians. This was the concerted signal which assured him of the arrival of his detachment; and he instantly ordered his men to embark, and to push across with all possible speed. They pulled vigorously against the rapid stream, cheering each other to the work; while behind them were their friends, cheering them also from the _ bank; and before them were the Gauls singing their war songs, and calling them to come on with tones and gestures of defiance. But on a sudden a mass of fire was seen on the rear of the barbarians; the Gauls on the bank looked behind, and began to turn away from the river; and presently the bright arms and white linen coats of the African and Spanish soldiers appeared above the bank, breaking in upon the disorderly line of the Gauls. Hannibal himself, who was with the party crossing the river, leaped on shore amongst the first, and forming his men as fast as they landed, led them instantly to the charge. But the Gauls, contused and bewildered, made little resistance; they fled in utter rout; whilst Hannibal, not losing a moment, sent back his vessels and boats for a fresh detachment of his army; and before night his whole force, with the exception of his elephants, was safely established on the eastern side of the Rhone.
The Elephants carried over
Meanwhile Hannibal, on the day after the skirmish with Scipio's horse, had sent forward his infantry, keeping the cavalry to cover his operations, as he still expected the Romans to pursue him; while he himself waited to superintend the passage of the elephants. These were thirty-seven in number; and their dread of the water made their transport a very difficult operation. It was effected by fastening to the bank large rafts of 200 feet in length, covered carefully with earth: to the end of these, smaller rafts were attached, covered with earth in the same manner, and with towing lines extended to a number of the largest barks, which were to tow them over the stream. The elephants, two females leading the way, were brought upon the rafts by their drivers without difficulty; and as soon as they became upon the smaller rafts, these were cut loose at once from the larger, and towed out into the middle of the river. Some of the elephants in their terror leaped overboard, and drowned their drivers; but they themselves, it is said, held their huge trunks above water, and struggled to the shore; so that the whole thirty-seven were landed in safety. Then Hannibal called in his cavalry, and covering his march with them and with the elephants, set forward up the left bank of the Rhone to overtake the infantry.
March through Gaul
In four days they reached the spot where the Isere, coming down from the main Alps, brings to the Rhone a stream hardly less full or mighty than his own. In the plains above the confluence two Gaulish brothers were contending which should be chief of their-tribe; and the elder called in the stranger general to support his cause. Hannibal readily complied, established him firmly on the throne, and received important aid from him in return. He supplied the Carthaginian army plentifully with provisions, furnished them with new arms, gave them new clothing, especially shoes, which were found very useful in the subsequent march, and accompanied them to the first entrance on the mountain country, to secure them from attacks on the part of his countrymen.
The attentive reader, who is acquainted with the geography of the Alps and their neighbourhood, will perceive that this account of Hannibal's march is vague. It does not appear whether the Carthaginians ascended the left bank of the Isere, or the right bank; or whether they continued to ascend the Rhone for a time, and leaving it only so far as to avoid the great angle which it makes at Lyons, rejoined it again just before they entered the mountain country, a little to the left of the present road from Lyons to Chamberri. But these uncertainties cannot now be removed, because Polybius neither possessed a sufficient knowledge of the bearings of the country, nor sufficient liveliness as a painter, to describe the line of the march so as to be clearly recognized. I believe, however, that Hannibal crossed the Isere, and continued to ascend the Rhone; and that afterwards, striking off to the right across the plains of Dauphine, he reached what Polybius calls the first ascent of the Alps, at the northern extremity of that ridge of limestone mountains; which, rising abruptly from the plain to the height of 4,000 or 5,000 feet, and filling up the whole space between the Rhone at Belley and the Isere below Grenoble, first introduces the traveler coming from Lyons to the remarkable features of Alpine scenery.
Passage of the Alps
At the end of the lowland country, the Gaulish chief, who had accompanied Hannibal thus far, took leave of him: his influence probably did not extend to the Alpine valleys; and the mountaineers, far from respecting his safe conduct, might be in the habit of making plundering inroads on his own territory. Here then Hannibal was left to himself; and he found that the natives were prepared to beset his passage. They occupied all such points as commanded the road; which, as usual, was a sort of terrace cut in the mountain side, overhanging the valley whereby it penetrated to the central ridge. But as the mountain line is of no great breadth here, the natives guarded the defile only by day, and withdrew when night came on to their own homes, in a town or village among the mountains, and lying in the valley behind them. Hannibal having learnt this from some of his Gaulish guides whom he sent among them, encamped in their sight just below the entrance of the defile; and as soon as it was dusk, he set out with a detachment of light troops, made his way through the pass, and occupied the positions which the barbarians, after their usual practice, had abandoned at the approach of night.
Day dawned; the main army broke up from its camp, and began to enter the defile; while the natives, finding their positions occupied by the enemy, at first looked on quietly, and offered no disturbance to the march. But when they saw the long narrow line of the Carthaginian army winding along the steep mountain side, and the cavalry and baggage cattle struggling at every step with the difficulties of the road, the temptation to plunder was too strong to be resisted; and from many points of the mountain above the road they rushed down upon the Carthaginians. The confusion was terrible; for the road or track was so narrow, that the least crowd or disorder pushed the heavily loaded baggage cattle down the steep below; and the horses, wounded by the barbarians' missiles, and plunging about wildly in their pain and terror, increased the mischief. At last Hannibal was obliged to charge down from his position, which commanded the whole scene of confusion, and to drive the barbarians off. This he effected: yet the conflict of so many men on the narrow road made the disorder worse for a time; and he unavoidably occasioned the destruction of many of his own men, At last, the barbarians being quite beaten off, the army wound its way out of the defile in safety, and rested in the wide and rich valley which extends from the lake of Bourget, with scarcely a perceptible change of level, to the Isere at Montmeillan. Hannibal meanwhile attacked and stormed the town, which was the barbarians' principal stronghold; and here he not only recovered a great many of his own men, horses, and baggage cattle, but also found a large supply of corn and cattle belonging to the barbarians, which he immediately made use of for the consumption .of his soldiers.
In the plain which he had now reached, he halted for a whole day, and then, resuming his march, proceeded for three days up the valley of the Isere on the right bank, without encountering any difficulty. Then the natives met him with branches of trees in their hands, and Wreaths on their heads, in token of peace: they spoke fairly, offered hostages, and wished, they said, neither to do the Carthaginians any injury, nor to receive any from them. Hannibal mistrusted them, yet did not wish to offend them; he accepted their terms, received their hostages, and obtained large supplies of cattle; and their whole behaviour seemed so trustworthy, that at last he accepted their guidance, it is said, through a difficult part of the country, which he was approaching. For all the Alpine valleys become narrower, as they draw nearer to the central chain; and the mountains often come so close to the stream, that the roads in old times were often obliged to leave the valley and ascend the hills by any accessible point, to descend again when the gorge became wider, and follow the stream as before. If this is not done, and the track is carried nearer the river, it passes often through defiles of the most formidable character, being no more than a narrow ledge above a furious torrent, with cliffs rising above it absolutely precipitous, and coming down on the other side of the torrent abruptly to the water, leaving no passage by which man or even goat could make its way.
It appears that the barbarians persuaded Hannibal to pass through one of these defiles, instead of going round it; and while his army was involved in it, they suddenly, and without a provocation, as we are told, attacked him. Making their way along the mountain sides above the defile, they rolled down masses of rock on the Carthaginians below, or even threw stones upon them from their hands, stones and rocks being equally fatal against an enemy so entangled. It was well for Hannibal that, still doubting the barbarians' faith, he had sent forward his cavalry and baggage, and covered the march with his infantry, who thus had to sustain the brunt of the attack. Foot soldiers on such ground were able to move, where horses would be quite helpless; and thus at last Hannibal, with his infantry, forced his way to the summit of one of the bare cliffs overhanging the defile, and remained there during the night, whilst the cavalry and baggage slowly struggled out of the defile. Thus again baffled, the barbarians made no more general attacks on the army; some partial annoyance was occasioned at intervals, and some baggage was carried off; put it was observed, that wherever the elephants were, the line of march was secure; for the barbarians beheld those huge creatures with terror, having never had the slightest knowledge of them, and not daring to approach when they saw them.
Without any farther recorded difficulty, the army on the ninth day after they had left the plains of Dauphine, arrived at the summit of the central ridge of the Alps. Here there is always a plain of some extent, immediately overhung by the snowy summits of the high mountains, but itself in summer presenting in many parts a carpet of the freshest grass, with the chalets of the shepherds scattered over it, and gay with a thousand flowers. But far different is its aspect through the greatest part of the year: then it is one unvaried waste of snow; and the little lakes, which on many of the passes enliven the summer landscape, are now frozen over, and covered with snow, so as to be no longer distinguishable. Hannibal was on the summit of the Alps about the end of October: the first winter snows had already fallen; but two hundred years before the Christian era, when all Germany was one vast forest, the climate of the Alps was far colder than at present, and the snow lay on the passes all through the year. Thus the soldiers were in dreary quarters: they remained two days on the summit, resting from their fatigues, and giving opportunity to many of the stragglers, and of the horses and cattle, to rejoin them by following their track; but they were cold and worn and disheartened; and mountains still rose before them, through which, as they knew too well, even their descent might be perilous and painful.
But their great general, who felt that he now stood victorious on the ramparts of Italy, and that the torrent which rolled before him was carrying its waters to the rich plains of Cisalpine Gaul, endeavoured to kindle his soldiers with his own spirit of hope. He called them together; he pointed out the valley beneath, to which the descent seemed the work of a moment: 'That valley', he said, 'is Italy; it leads us to the country of our friends the Gauls; and yonder is our way to Rome.' His eyes were eagerly fixed on that point of the horizon, and as he gazed, the distance between seemed to vanish, till he could almost fancy that he was crossing the Tiber, and assailing the Capitol.
After the two days’ rest the descent began. Hannibal experienced no more open hostility from the barbarians, only some petty attempts here and there to plunder; a fact strange in itself, but doubly so, if he was really descending the valley of the Doria Baltea, through the country of the Salassians, the most untameable robbers of all the Alpine barbarians. It is possible that the influence of the Insubrians may partly have restrained the mountaineers; and partly also they may have been deterred by the ill success of all former attacks, and may by this time have regarded the strange army and its monstrous beasts with something of superstitious terror. But the natural difficulties of the ground on the descent were greater than ever. The snow covered the track so that the men often lost it, and fell down the steep below: at last they came to a. place where an avalanche had carried it away altogether for about three hundred yards, leaving the mountain side a mere wreck of scattered rocks and snow. To go round was impossible for the depth of the snow on the heights above rendered it hopeless to scale them; nothing therefore was left but to repair the road. A summit of some extent was found, and cleared of the snow; and here the army was obliged to encamp, whilst the work went on. There was no want of hands and every man was labouring for his life; the road therefore was restored, and supported with solid substructions below; and in it single day it was made practicable for the cavalry and baggage cattle, which were immediately sent forward, and reached the lower valley in safety, where they were turned out to pasture. A harder labour was required to, make a passage for the elephants: the way for them must be wide and solid; and the work could not be accomplished in less than three days. The poor animals suffered severely in the interval from hunger; for no forage was to be found in that wilderness of snow or any trees whose leaves might supply the place of other herbage. At last, they too were able to proceed with safety. Hannibal overtook his cavalry and baggage and in three days more the whole army had got clear of the Alpine valleys, and entered the country of their friends, the Insubrians, on the wide plain of northern Italy.
Hannibal’s invasion of Italy