Livy on Hannibal's Approach to the Alps


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Book 21, Chapters 21-29
21.1. Now that Saguntum had fallen to him, Hannibal retired to his winter quarters at New Carthage. There he received despatches reporting on the activities and decisions in Rome and Carthage. This made him aware of the fact that he was not only army commander for the Carthaginians but (in Roman eyes) the cause of the impending war, so he decided that there was no point in any further delay. 21.2. He shared out or sold off what remained of his war booty, and then summoned an assembly of his Spanish troops.

21.3. “My fellow soldiers,” he said, “I imagine that you yourselves are well aware that with the conquest of Spain now complete, we have two options open to us. Either we must put an end to our campaigns and send our armies home, or else we must move to another theatre of war. 21.4. If we do so, the peoples of Spain will not only enjoy the fruits of peace, but also the profits of victory when we seek plunder and glory in other lands. 21.5. Our next campaign will take place in far off lands; so we cannot be sure when you will next be able to visit your homes and all that is dear to you. So I have decided that if anyone wishes to visit his family, I am granting him permission to do so. 21.6. But I require you to report back for duty at the beginning of spring. For then we shall embark upon a war which, with the help of the gods, will be a source of glory to our country and of wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.”
21.7. The totally unexpected offer of home leave was widely welcomed by almost every soldier. They were already homesick and foresaw an even longer period of absence looming ahead. 21.8. The winter-long opportunity for rest and recuperation between two periods of intense campaigning, the one now over and the other soon to come, restored their physical strength and rebuilt their morale in preparation for enduring such hardship once again. They rejoined their contingents in early spring – as instructed.

24.1. Then, to prevent his men from being demoralised by further delay and inactivity, he crossed the Pyrenees with the remainder of his force and fixed his camp at the town of Iliberri.
24.2. The Gauls were well aware that an invasion of Italy was Hannibal’s objective, but the news had also reached them that the Spanish tribes on the other side of the Pyrenees had been forcibly subdued and powerful garrisons established among them. They were alarmed at the thought that they too might be enslaved, and in their panic a significant number of tribes took up arms and gathered at the town of Ruscino. 24.3. When this news reached Hannibal, he was more alarmed by the prospect of delay than of warfare, so he sent a delegation to their chieftains to say that he wanted to hold discussions with them. He invited them to come to Iliberris for face-to-face negotiations, or, if they preferred, he would be happy to advance to Ruscino. 24.4. He told them that he would be delighted to receive them in his own camp, but likewise would have no hesitation to come to theirs. He had come to Gaul as a friend, not an enemy and had no intention of fighting anybody until he reached Italy – provided that they allowed it. 24.5. The delegation duly delivered the message and the Gallic chieftains immediately moved their camp to Iliberris and readily came to the proposed meeting with Hannibal. Bribery also had its effect, and they were quite happy to grant the army safe conduct through their territories to Ruscino and beyond.
25.1. In Italy, meanwhile, there had been no further news since an embassy from Massilia had reported that Hannibal had crossed the Ebro. 25.2. But suddenly, almost as if he had already crossed the Alps as well, the Boii staged a revolt, having persuaded the Insubres to join them. They had long-standing grievances against Rome, but on this occasion the primary cause was the fact that two new colonies, called Placentia and Cremona, had recently been established on Gallic territory in the Po valley. This they found intolerable.

26.1. When the news of this sudden insurrection reached Rome, the Senate realised that as well as the war against Carthage, they now had a second war on their hands against the Gauls. They instructed the praetor, Gaius Atilius, to reinforce Manlius with one legion of Roman infantry and 5000 allied troops, newly recruited by the consul. They reached Tannetum without a fight, because the enemy had scattered rather than face such a force.

26.3. Meanwhile Publius Cornelius Scipio recruited a fresh legion to replace the one which had been sent off with the praetor, Gaius Atilius. He left Rome with 60 warships and followed the coast past Etruria, Liguria, and the Salluvian mountains. 26.4. When he reached the nearest of the estuaries of the Rhone (the river has a number of similar outlets to the sea) he encamped there. He still could not really believe that Hannibal had crossed the Pyrenees, but when he learned that in fact he was already planning a crossing of the Rhone, he was faced with a dilemma. He could not be sure where he would actually find him and his soldiers had endured a rough sea crossing, from which they had not yet fully recovered. As an interim measure, therefore, he picked 300 cavalry and sent them on ahead to reconnoitre the whole area and keep an eye on the enemy from a safe distance, with Massiliot guides and a support group of Gallic auxiliaries.

26.6. Hannibal in the meantime had cowed into submission all the remaining tribes of the area by a mixture of terror and bribery and had already reached the territory of the Volcae, a powerful tribe whose lands occupied both banks of the Rhone. On this occasion they were not sure that they could keep the Carthaginians out of their lands on the western side of the river. They had therefore transported almost all their people to the eastern bank, which they were preparing to fight to hold, using the river as a line of defence.
27.1. With all the preparations for crossing now complete, the enemy cavalry and infantry massed all along the opposite bank proved a serious deterrent. 27.2. Hannibal needed to devise a counter-strategy. So he ordered Bomilcar’s son, Hanno, to take a detachment of his force (mainly Spanish troops) and travel about twenty miles upstream (a day’s journey), setting out as soon as night fell. 27.3. As soon as they could, they were to cross the river as secretly as possible, and then slip round behind the enemy lines and launch an attack on their rear at the best tactical opportunity. 27.6 They were exhausted by their night march and the effort involved in the crossing, but recovered after a day’s rest. Their commander was eager to carry out the plan as speedily as possible. 27.7. So he set out the next day, lighting smoke signals on high ground to indicate that his own crossing was complete and that they were now quite close. Hannibal reacted immediately to the signals and gave the signal for the main crossing to begin.
27.8. The infantry had their boats suitably adapted and ready; the cavalry for the most part crossed with the riders swimming beside their horses. A line of ships anchored upstream acted as a breakwater against the force of the current, and so provided somewhat calmer water for the boats to cross lower down. Most of the horses swam across attached by leading-reins to the sterns of the boats; but a number were brought across in the boats, already saddled and bridled, so that they could be fully operational for the cavalry the moment they disembarked on the other bank.
28.1. The Gauls formed up on the bank ready to meet them, howling and chanting as usual, shaking their shields above their heads and brandishing their weapons. 28.2. The vast array of ships deployed against them was a terrifying spectacle, made yet more formidable by the roar of the river and the different shouts of the soldiers and sailors. Some of them were struggling to force their way forward against the force of the current, while other were shouting encouragement from the other bank to their comrades as they crossed. 28.3. The uproar in front was terrifying enough for the Gauls. But even more terrible were the shouts that now came from behind them, showing that their camp had been captured by Hanno. A moment later and he was upon them in person. Now they were overwhelmed by twin terrors: in front, a huge force of armed men pouring out of the boats onto dry land; behind, a totally unexpected attack on their rear from a second assault group. 28.4. The Gauls made one attempt to give battle on both fronts and then made a break for it, taking whatever route seemed the most obvious, and in total panic scattered in every direction back to their villages. By now Hannibal had little but contempt for Gallic resistance, so he completed a leisurely crossing of the river with the rest of his army, and set up camp... 
29.1. While the elephants were being ferried across the river, Hannibal sent out a force of 500 cavalry in the direction of the Roman camp, to identify its location and discover the size and intentions of their army. 29.2. They happened to encounter the force of 300 Roman cavalry sent ahead to reconnoitre by Scipio from his camp on the Rhone estuary, as reported above. A savage battle ensued, much worse than the numbers would have warranted. 29.3. As well as a large number of casualties, losses on both sides were pretty well equal. But the Numidians panicked and fled, and this gave the Romans the final victory, though by then they too were pretty well exhausted. Though victorious, they lost about 160 men, not all Roman, some of them Gauls; the defeated Numidians lost more than 200. 29.4. This was the opening encounter of the war, and it also proved to be a portent of its ultimate and successful outcome. It was to prove undeniably bloody and the result was often in doubt. But in the end Rome won.

29.5. After these hostilities, both detachments returned to their generals. Scipio now made the decision that he had no option but to allow his opponent to take the initiative and then to react accordingly; 29.6. whilst Hannibal had a choice between continuing with the invasion of Italy which he had already launched, or seeking an immediate showdown with the first Roman army that had dared to challenge him. The arrival of a delegation of the Boii, led by their chieftain Magalus, dissuaded him from any immediate confrontation. They promised that they would act as guides and share the risks, and recommended that he should concentrate the whole of his war effort on the invasion of Italy without squandering his resources elsewhere first. 29.7. Most of his army regarded the Romans as frightening, since the memory of their previous war (First Punic War: 264 -241) was still fresh in many of their minds. But they were much more apprehensive of the long march and the crossing of the Alps, which camp gossip made to those who had no experience of such things all the more terrifying...

32.1. The consul, Publius Cornelius Scipio, reached Hannibal’s encampment on the banks of the Rhone about three days after he had moved out. He had arrived in full battle formation, determined on immediate hostilities, 32.2. but found the defences deserted. Realising that he would not easily catch up with him when he was so far ahead, he returned to the sea and his fleet, planning instead to confront his opponent as he came down from the Alps on what he thought would be safer and stronger ground.

32.3  He did not want to leave Spain deprived of Rome’s protection, since that was the province formally allocated to him. So he sent his brother, Gnaeus Scipio, there with the bulk of his army to challenge Hasdrubal, 32.4. to offer protection to Rome’s long-standing allies, to win over new ones, and if possible drive Hasdrubal out of Spain altogether. 32.5. He himself headed for Genoa with a relatively small contingent, intending to defend Italy with the troops already stationed in the Po valley.