Had the Romans placed a corps, as they might have done, of 30,000 men thoroughly fresh and ready for action somewhere near Turin, and immediately forced on a battle, the prospects of Hannibal's great plan would have been very dubious; fortunately for him, once more, they were not where they should have been, and they did not disturb the troops of the enemy in the repose which was so greatly needed.(4)
The object was attained, but at a heavy cost. Of the 50,000 veteran infantry and the 9000 cavalry, which the army had numbered at the crossing of the Pyrenees, more than half had been sacrificed in the conflicts, the marches, and the passages of the rivers. Hannibal now, according to his own statement, numbered not more than 20,000 infantry--of whom three-fifths were Libyans and two-fifths Spaniards--and 6000 cavalry, part of them doubtless dismounted: the comparatively small loss of the latter proclaimed the excellence of the Numidian cavalry no less than the consideration of the general in making a sparing use of troops so select. A march of 526 miles or about 33 moderate days' marching--the continuance and termination of which were disturbed by no special misfortunes on a great scale that could not be anticipated, but were, on the other hand, rendered possible only by incalculable pieces of good fortune and still more incalculable blunders of the enemy, and which yet not only cost such sacrifices, but so fatigued and demoralized the army, that it needed a prolonged rest in order to be again ready for action--is a military operation of doubtful value, and it may be questioned whether Hannibal himself regarded it as successful. Only in so speaking we may not pronounce an absolute censure on the general: we see well the defects of the plan of operations pursued by him, but we cannot determine whether he was in a position to foresee them--his route lay through an unknown land of barbarians--or whether any other plan, such as that of taking the coast road or of embarking at Cartagena or at Carthage, would have exposed him to fewer dangers. The cautious and masterly execution of the plan in its details at any rate deserves our admiration, and to whatever causes the result may have been due --whether it was due mainly to the favour of fortune, or mainly to the skill of the general--the grand idea of Hamilcar, that of taking up the conflict with Rome in Italy, was now realized. It was his genius that projected this expedition; and as the task of Stein and Scharnhorst was more difficult and nobler than that of York and Blucher, so the unerring tact of historical tradition has always dwelt on the last link in the great chain of preparatory steps, the passage of the Alps, with a greater admiration than on the battles of the Trasimene lake and of the plain of Cannae.
Notes for Chapter IV
1. Our accounts as to these events are not only imperfect but one- sided, for of course it was the version of the Carthaginian peace party which was adopted by the Roman annalists. Even, however, in our fragmentary and confused accounts (the most important are those of Fabius, in Polyb. iii. 8; Appian. Hisp. 4; and Diodorus, xxv. p. 567) the relations of the parties appear dearly enough. Of the vulgar gossip by which its opponents sought to blacken the "revolutionary combination" (--etaireia ton ponerotaton anthropon--) specimens may be had in Nepos (Ham. 3), to which it will be difficult perhaps to find a parallel.
2. The Barca family conclude the most important state treaties, and the ratification of the governing board is a formality (Pol. iii. 21). Rome enters her protest before them and before the senate (Pol. iii. 15). The position of the Barca family towards Carthage in many points resembles that of the Princes of Orange towards the States-General.
3. It was not till the middle ages that the route by Mont Cenis became a military road. The eastern passes, such as that over the Poenine Alps or the Great St. Bernard--which, moreover, was only converted into a military road by Caesar and Augustus--are, of course, in this case out of the question.
4. The much-discussed questions of topography, connected with this celebrated expedition, may be regarded as cleared up and substantially solved by the masterly investigations of Messrs. Wickham and Cramer. Respecting the chronological questions, which likewise present difficulties, a few remarks may be exceptionally allowed to have a place here.
When Hannibal reached the summit of the St. Bernard, "the peaks were already beginning to be thickly covered with snow" (Pol. iii. 54), snow lay on the route (Pol. iii. 55), perhaps for the most part snow not freshly fallen, but proceeding from the fall of avalanches. At the St. Bernard winter begins about Michaelmas, and the falling of snow in September; when the Englishmen already mentioned crossed the mountain at the end of August, they found almost no snow on their road, but the slopes on both sides were covered with it. Hannibal thus appears to have arrived at the pass in the beginning of September; which is quite compatible with the statement that he arrived there "when the winter was already approaching" --for --sunaptein ten tes pleiados dusin-- (Pol. iii. 54) does not mean anything more than this, least of all, the day of the heliacal setting of the Pleiades (about 26th October); comp. Ideler, Chronol. i. 241.
If Hannibal reached Italy nine days later, and therefore about the middle of September, there is room for the events that occurred from that time up to the battle of the Trebia towards the end of December (--peri cheimerinas tropas--, Pol. iii. 72), and in particular for the transporting of the army destined for Africa from Lilybaeum to Placentia. This hypothesis further suits the statement that the day of departure was announced at an assembly of the army --upo ten earinen oran-- (Pol. iii. 34), and therefore towards the end of March, and that the march lasted five (or, according to App. vii. 4, six) months. If Hannibal was thus at the St.