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Crossing the Alps

2nd Punic war; Hannibal crosses the river Rône

218 bc

Hannibal prepares for war
After the conquest of Saguntum and the Roman declaration of war Hannibal sent his men home. Of course he paid them well, as Polybius explicitly states, but their loyalty depended only partly on the pay; Hannibal was one of those rare leaders, men would follow to the hell and back. And they would.

Winter in Spain
It may look a little strange, sending your men home right after a declaration of war, but the war season was over, nobody planned a campaign in winter time. This way Hannibal reckoned his men would be more motivated, when they had to leave home and heard for a long time. But Hannibal used his time well. He sent out embassies to the peoples (mainly Celts) through who's territories he had to pass. He exchanged troops from N. Africa with troops from Spain, to achieve mutual loyalty.

Hannibal prepares for war in Italy
Hannibal sent 13850 infantry and 850 slingshots and 1200 cavalry to Carthago. Livius describes the troops he left in Spain under command of his brother Hasdrubal. His own army consisted of 90,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry. Oh and not to forget also the 37 elephants, everybody knows of, but would hardly play any role in the war. An army of 90,000 foot seem a little exaggerated (many modern scientist won't believe it to be true) and we discussed the problems with the logistics of large contingents of men before, but Hannibal seems to have planned to leave troops as garrisons on his way to the Alps. So it may have been possible he started out with this huge army. (After all nobody doubts the Romans could raise an army of 80,000 foot for the battle of Cannae.)

What was Scipio doing between March and July?
Presumably Hannibal left at the end of April 218 bc New Carthago. He needed more time than he had expected. Since he didn't reach the top of his journey through the Alps before November, he can't have reached the river Rhône before the end of August. Four months that is. Remember he had to pass several peoples still to be subdued and he had to climb the Pyrenees. That means also Scipio who needed ten days to reach Hannibal's last position at the Rhône will have left Pisae not before end of July.

Hannibal's crossing of the Rhône obstructed
Hannibal moved north, crossed the river Ebro (Iberia) and crossed the Pyrenees. He moved north along the Rhône. On his way he negotiated or fought his way through Celtic territories. Once arrived at the point where he wanted to cross the river he sa w a Celtic tribe waiting for him and his army on the other side of the river. Obviously they didn't want him to enter their territory. Crossing wouldn't be possible without great losses. If he moved his army along the river they would do the same. Hannibal sent a detachment of cavalry a few days north to cross the river there. They left unseen by the enemy during the night. After they had crossed the river, they came south again. When they were close again to Hannibal's position they made this known to Hannibal (maybe smoke, maybe a guard a little north at the river). Then Hannibal, who had bought a lot of boats, canoes and rafts, started to cross the river as if he wanted to attack. At the same moment his detachment cavalry attacked and the Celts fled. Hannibal crossed the river safely.


Pass in the Pyrenees where Hannibal probably passed

    River Rhône    

The river Rhône as Hannibal may have seen it; in the background the Alps.


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