Hannibal Crosses the Alps

As soon as Hannibal had got established in the fort, he sent around small bodies of men to seize and drive in all the cattle and sheep that they could find. These men were, of course, armed, in order that they might be prepared to meet any resistance which they might encounter. The mountaineers, however, did not attempt to resist them. They felt that they were conquered, and they were accordingly disheartened and discouraged. The only mode of saving their cattle which was left to them was to drive them as fast as they could into concealed and inaccessible places. They attempted to do this, and while Hannibal’s parties were ranging up the valleys all around them, examining every field, and barn, and sheepfold that they could find, the wretched and despairing inhabitants were flying in all directions, driving the cows and sheep, on which their whole hope of subsistence depended, into the fastnesses of the mountains. They urged them into wild thickets, and dark ravines and chasms, and over dangerous glaciers, and up the steepest ascents, wherever there was the readiest prospect of getting them out of the plunderer’s way.

These attempts, however, to save their little property were but very partially successful. Hannibal’s marauding parties kept corning home, one after another, with droves of sheep and cattle before them, some larger and some smaller, but making up a vast amount in all, Hannibal subsisted his men three days on the food thus procured for them. It requires an enormous store to feed ninety or a hundred thousand men, even for three days; besides, in all such cases as this, an army always waste and destroy far more than they really consume. During these three days the army was not stationary, but was moving slowly on. The way, though still difficult and dangerous, was at least open before them, as there was now no enemy to dispute their passage. So they went on, rioting upon the abundant supplies they had obtained, and rejoicing in the double victory they were gaining, over the hostility of the people and the physical dangers and difficulties of the way. The poor mountaineers returned to their cabins ruined and desolate, for mountaineers who have lost their cows and their sheep have lost their all.

The Alps are not all in Switzerland. Some of the most celebrated peaks and ranges are in a neighboring state called Savoy. The whole country is, in fact, divided into small states, called cantons at the present day, and similar political divisions seem to have existed in the time of the Romans. In his march onward from the pass which has been already described, Hannibal, accordingly, soon approached the confines of another canton. As he was advancing slowly into it, with the long train of his army winding up with him through the valleys, he was met at the borders of this new state by an embassage sent from the government of it. They brought with them fresh stores of provisions, and a number of guides. They said that they had heard of the terrible destruction which had come upon the other canton in consequence of their effort to oppose his progress, and that they had no intention of renewing so vain an attempt. They came, therefore, they said, to offer Hannibal their friendship and their aid. They had brought guides to show the army the best way over the mountains, and a present of provisions; and to prove the sincerity of their professions they offered Hannibal hostages. These hostages were young men and boys, the sons of the principal inhabitants, whom they offered to deliver into Hannibal’s power, to be kept by him until he should see that they were faithful and true in doing what they offered.