But the expedition narrowly escaped destruction at the crossing of the first Alpine chain, which rises precipitously like a wall, and over which only a single available path leads (over the Mont du Chat, near the hamlet Chevelu). The population of the Allobroges had strongly occupied the pass. Hannibal learned the state of matters early enough to avoid a surprise, and encamped at the foot, until after sunset the Celts dispersed to the houses of the nearest town; he then seized the pass in the night Thus the summit was gained; but on the extremely steep path, which leads down from the summit to the lake of Bourget, the mules and horses slipped and fell. The assaults, which at suitable points were made by the Celts upon the army in march, were very annoying, not so much of themselves as by reason of the turmoil which they occasioned; and when Hannibal with his light troops threw himself from above on the Allobroges, these were chased doubtless without difficulty and with heavy loss down the mountain, but the confusion, in the train especially, was further increased by the noise of the combat. So, when after much loss he arrived in the plain, Hannibal immediately attacked the nearest town, to chastise and terrify the barbarians, and at the same time to repair as far as possible his loss in sumpter animals and horses. After a day's repose in the pleasant valley of Chambery the army continued its march up the Isere, without being detained either by want of supplies or by attacks so long as the valley continued broad and fertile. It was only when on the fourth day they entered the territory of the Ceutrones (the modern Tarantaise) where the valley gradually contracts, that they had again greater occasion to be on their guard. The Ceutrones received the army at the boundary of their country (somewhere about Conflans) with branches and garlands, furnished cattle for slaughter, guides, and hostages; and the Carthaginians marched through their territory as through a friendly land. When, however, the troops had reached the very foot of the Alps, at the point where the path leaves the Isere, and winds by a narrow and difficult defile along the brook Reclus up to the summit of the St. Bernard, all at once the militia of the Ceutrones appeared partly in the rear of the army, partly on the crests of the rocks enclosing the pass on the right and left, in the hope of cutting off the train and baggage. But Hannibal, whose unerring tact had seen in all those advances made by the Ceutrones nothing but the design of procuring at once immunity for their territory and a rich spoil, had in expectation of such an attack sent forward the baggage and cavalry, and covered the march with all his infantry. By this means he frustrated the design of the enemy, although he could not prevent them from moving along the mountain slopes parallel to the march of the infantry, and inflicting very considerable loss by hurling or rolling down stones. At the "white stone" (still called -la roche blanche-), a high isolated chalk cliff standing at the foot of the St. Bernard and commanding the ascent to it, Hannibal encamped with his infantry, to cover the march of the horses and sumpter animals laboriously climbing upward throughout the whole night; and amidst continual and very bloody conflicts he at length on the following day reached the summit of the pass. There, on the sheltered table-land which spreads to the extent of two and a half miles round a little lake, the source of the Doria, he allowed the army to rest. Despondency had begun to seize the minds of the soldiers. The paths that were becoming ever more difficult, the provisions failing, the marching through defiles exposed to the constant attacks of foes whom they could not reach, the sorely thinned ranks, the hopeless situation of the stragglers and the wounded, the object which appeared chimerical to all save the enthusiastic leader and his immediate staff--all these things began to tell even on the African and Spanish veterans. But the confidence of the general remained ever the same; numerous stragglers rejoined the ranks; the friendly Gauls were near; the watershed was reached, and the view of the descending path, so gladdening to the mountain-pilgrim, opened up: after a brief repose they prepared with renewed courage for the last and most difficult undertaking, --the downward march. In it the army was not materially annoyed by the enemy; but the advanced season--it was already the beginning of September--occasioned troubles in the descent, equal to those which had been occasioned in the ascent by the attacks of the adjoining tribes. On the steep and slippery mountain- slope along the Doria, where the recently-fallen snow had concealed and obliterated the paths, men and animals went astray and slipped, and were precipitated into the chasms. In fact, towards the end of the first day's march they reached a portion of the path about 200 paces in length, on which avalanches are constantly descending from the precipices of the Cramont that overhang it, and where in cold summers snow lies throughout the year. The infantry passed over; but the horses and elephants were unable to cross the smooth masses of ice, on which there lay but a thin covering of freshly-fallen snow, and the general encamped above the difficult spot with the baggage, the cavalry, and the elephants. On the following day the horsemen, by zealous exertion in entrenching, prepared a path for horses and beasts of burden; but it was not until after a further labour of three days with constant reliefs, that the half-famished elephants could at length be conducted over. In this way the whole army was after a delay of four days once more united; and after a further three days' march through the valley of the Doria, which was ever widening and displaying greater fertility, and whose inhabitants the Salassi, clients of the Insubres, hailed in the Carthaginians their allies and deliverers, the army arrived about the middle of September in the plain of Ivrea, where the exhausted troops were quartered in the villages, that by good nourishment and a fortnight's repose they might recruit from their unparalleled hardships.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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