Hannibal Crosses the Alps

Hannibal had aroused a strong body of his men at the earliest dawn, and led them up, by steep climbing, to the places which the mountaineers had left, so as to be there before them. The mountaineers paused, astonished, at this spectacle, and their disappointment and rage were much increased on looking down into the valley below, and seeing there the remainder of the Carthaginian army quietly moving through the pass in a long train, safe apparently from any molestation, since friends, and not enemies, were now in possession of the cliffs above. The mountaineers could not restrain their feelings of vexation and anger, but immediately rushed down the declivities which they had in part ascended, and attacked the army in the defile. An awful scene of struggle and confusion ensued. Some were killed by weapons or by rocks rolled down upon them. Others, contending together, and struggling desperately in places of very narrow foothold, tumbled headlong down the rugged rocks into the torrent below; and horses, laden with baggage and stores, became frightened and unmanageable, and crowded each other over the most frightful precipices. Hannibal, who was above, on the higher rocks, looked down upon this scene for a time with the greatest anxiety and terror. He did not dare to descend himself and mingle in the affray, for fear of increasing the confusion. He soon found, however, that it was absolutely necessary for him to interpose, and he came down as rapidly as possible, his detachment with him. They descended by oblique and zigzag paths, wherever they could get footing among the rocks, and attacked the mountaineers with great fury. The result was, as he had feared, a great increase at first of the confusion and the slaughter. The horses were more and more terrified by the fresh energy of the combat, and by the resounding of louder shouts and cries, which were made doubly terrific by the echoes and reverberations of the mountains. They crowded against each other, and fell, horses and men together, in masses, over the cliffs to the rugged rocks below, ‘ where they lay in confusion, some dead, and others dying, writhing helplessly in agony, or vainly endeavoring to crawl away.

The mountaineers were, however, conquered and driven away at last, and the pass was left clear. The Carthaginian column was restored to order. The horses that had not fallen were calmed and quieted. The baggage which had been thrown down was gathered up, and the wounded men were placed or, litters, rudely constructed on the spot, that they b might be borne on to a place of safety. In a short time all were ready to move on, and the march was ‘accordingly recommenced. There was no further difficulty. The column advanced in a quiet and orderly manner until they had passed the defile. At the extremity of it they came to a spacious fort belonging to the natives. Hannibal took possession of this fort, and paused for a little time there to rest and refreshes his men. One of the greatest difficulties encountered by a general in conducting an army through difficult and dangerous roads is that of providing food for them. An army can transport its own food only a very little way. Men traveling over smooth roads can only carry provisions for a few days, and where the roads are as difficult and dangerous as the passes of the Alps, they can scarcely carry any. The commander must, accordingly, find subsistence in the country through which he is marching. Hannibal had, therefore, now not only to look out for the safety of his men, but their food was exhausted, and he must take immediate measures to secure a supply.

The lower slopes of lofty mountains afford usually abundant sustenance for flocks and herds. The showers which are continually falling there, and the moisture which comes down the sides of the mountains through the ground keep the turf perpetually green, and sheep and cattle love to pasture upon it; they climb to great heights, finding the herbage finer and sweeter the higher they go. Thus the inhabitants of mountain ranges are almost always shepherds and herdsmen. Grain can be raised in the valleys below, but the slopes of the mountains, though they produce grass to perfection, are too steep to be tilled.