The Second Punic War

Date: 1883

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Chapter XV Hannibal and the Great Punic War



Passage of the Alps


. . . From the Druentia1 Hannibal marched through a country generally flat to the Alps, wholly unmolested by the Gauls in those parts. And then, though rumor which usually magnifies the unknown far beyond truth, had given some anticipation of the facts, still the near sight of the mountain heights with their snows almost mingling with the sky, the rude huts perched on the rocks, cattle and beasts of burden shriveled with cold, human beings unkempt and wild, and all things animate and inanimate stiffened with frost, with other scenes more horrible to behold than to describe, revived their terror. . . .

On the ninth day they reached the top of the Alps, passing for the most part over trackless steeps, and by devious ways, into which they were led by the treachery of their guides. Two days they encamped on the height, and the men, worn out with hardships and fighting, were allowed to rest. Some beasts of burden, also, which had fallen down among the crags, found their way to the camp by following the army’s track. The men were already worn out and wearied with their many miseries, when a heavy fall of snow added to their sufferings. At daybreak the march commenced, and as the army moved wearily over ground all buried in snow, languor and despair were visibly written on every face. Then Hannibal stepped to the front, and having ordered a halt on a peak which commanded a wide and distant prospect, he pointed to Italy and to the plains round the Po, as they lay beneath the heights of the Alps. "These are the walls," he told his men, "not of Italy only but of Rome itself that you are now scaling. What remains," he added, "will be a smooth descent; in one, or at the most, in two battles we shall have the citadel and capital of Italy in our grasp and power."

The army then began to advance, and now even the enemy attempted nothing but some stealthy ambuscades, as opportunity offered. The remainder, however, of the march proved far more difficult than the ascent, as the Alps on the Italian side have a shorter, and therefore a steeper, slope. In fact the whole way was precipitous, narrow, and slippery, so much so that they could not keep themselves from falling, or could those who had once stumbled retain their foothold. Thus they fell over one another and the beasts of burden over the men. . . .

At last, when both men and animals were worn out with fruitless exertion, they encamped on a height, in a spot which with the utmost difficulty they had cleared of the snow. The soldiers were then marched off to the work of making a road through the rock, as there only was a passage possible. Having to cut into the stone, they heaped up a huge pile of wood from great trees in the neighborhood, which they had felled and lopped. As soon as there was strength enough in the wind to create a blaze, they lighted the pile, and melted the rock, as it heated, by pouring vinegar on it. The burning stone was then cleft open with iron implements. . . . Four days were spent in this rocky pass, and the beasts almost perished of hunger, as the heights generally are quite bare and such herbage as grows is buried in snow.

Amid the lower slopes were valleys, sunny hills, too, and streams and woods. These were spots now at last more worthy to be the habitations of man. Here they sent the beasts to feed, and the men, worn out with the toil of road-making, were allowed to rest. In the next three days they reached level ground, and now the country was less wild, as was also the character of the inhabitants.1

1 Livy, , books xxi–xxv. , translated by A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb. London, 1883. Macmillan and Co.

2 Books xxi–xxx cover file entire period of the war (218–201 B. C.).

3 Livy, xxi, 32, 35, 37.

1 One of the eastern tributaries of the Rhone.

1 The particular pass by which Hannibal entered Italy cannot be identified from Livy’s narrative. The author’s description is powerfully written, but it is not the account of an eyewitness and participant in the experiences described.


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Chicago: A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb, trans., "Passage of the Alps," The Second Punic War in Readings in Early European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1926), 175–176. Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2023,

MLA: . "Passage of the Alps." The Second Punic War, translted by A. J. Church and W. J. Brodribb, Vol. xxi–xxv, in Readings in Early European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1926, pp. 175–176. Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: (trans.), 'Passage of the Alps' in The Second Punic War. cited in 1926, Readings in Early European History, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.175–176. Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2023, from