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First winter in Italy

2nd Punic war; Hannibal crosses the Alps

218 bc

Once Hannibal crossed the river Rhône he sent out scouts in all three directions. Scipio who had arrived with his army in Marsilia did about the same, once he had learned Hannibal had moved his army to a couple of days north of his position. Two of these scouting parties met. The Carthaginians were under strict orders not to engage and retired as soon as possible. The Roman party returned and reported a victory.

How difficult can it be, crossing the Alps?
As it was, it was in fact already too late in the season to cross the Alps in a safe way. Though Hannibal lost half his army in the Alps, his passage is generally seen as a major achiefment. Just a couple of years earlier (225 bc) the Celts of Gallia Cisalpina (Plains of the river Po) had hired an army of the Gaesatae a Gallic people living near the river Rhône. That people crossed the Alps without any problems.
So what is the difference?
Well two differences in fact:
1. They passed in late spring, when the passes were free of snow and ice.
2. They passed friendly peoples and weren'r attacked.

Strategic mistake
Even now he had been spotted by Roman scouts, Hannibal clang to the idea of surprising the Romans in Italy. To win a war you have to destroy enough of the armies of the enemy to make him surrender. Now with Hannibal's army still intact, Cornelius Scipio would have been hardly a match and Hannibal had at least 5 days to find a good spot for an ambush. Had he done so he would have convinced the Gauls he was dangerous and an enemy of Rome. He could have tried and taken Marsilia by surprise and waited for the next spring.

He would have saved his brother Hasdrubal a lot of trouble in Spain. The plan was Hasdrubal would follow Hannibal into Italy. But now he would get his hands full with the Scipios. But when he did come the Alps weren't a big problem for him.
But Hannibal did nothing like this. Hannibal set out to cross the Alps and lost many of his men caused by slippery slopes and Gallic attacks. Gauls who didn't know what to think of an army that seemingly fled for the Romans. It took him 15 days and half his army. He must have been an inspiring and charismatic leader. Carthaginians had crucified their leaders for less. But the men who survived would become the coherent and loyal core of his army.

Not where but when
A lot of studies about Hannibal look into the possible route he took through the Alps. Nobody knows for sure, because his army left no visible traces or other evidence. Even though I take my guests along one possible route, to give them an idea of what happenend, I don't think that the road is the major issue here. As we have seen the season when he did cross the Alps was of much greater importance. In 207 bc his brother Hasdrubal would prove crossing the Alps was possible without losses and fights.

    The Alps in May    

The Alps in May


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