Hannibal’s trip over the Alps in the fall of 218 B.C. is often cited as an amazing feat (which it was), but where was he going and why?
At the age of 26, Hannibal was put in charge of the Carthaginian army in Spain during the period before The Second Punic War. Acting with the approval of his superiors in Carthage, he provoked the Romans into war by attacking the Roman ally Saguntum in Northern Spain. Then, after forming his army, Hannibal crossed the Pyrenees Mountains into Southern Gaul and made his way to the Rhone Valley to block Roman attempts to move an army over land to Spain. As Hannibal crossed the Rhone, the Roman army was arriving at the mouth of the river after being transported there by ship. The Romans were hoping to block Hannibal from any move eastward into Italy, but had not anticipated his rapid advance. When scouts of the two armies encountered each other, Hannibal made the decision to head north rather than fight an enemy of unknown size.
The Carthaginian army followed the Rhone River and proceeded to what is now Grenoble, France during fourth week in October. Snow was already on the ground, and the prospects for the 46,000 infantry and cavalry were not good. Because of a missed turn and harassing attacks from the native tribes, Hannibal was forced to cross the Alps by an unconventional route. It took nine days to reach the highest point and six more days to descend into western Italy near Torino (Turin). The Carthaginian army lost 20,000 men in its trek over the Alps, although his 37 elephants survived. Even with these losses, Hannibal was able to prepare for battle and won his first great victory over the Romans at Trebbia on December 21st, 218 B.C.
In 217 B.C. Hannibal moved into the Italian peninsula hoping to get the Roman allies to defect to his cause but was unable to do so. He stayed until 203 B.C, harassing the Romans until he was recalled to Carthage to help oppose a Roman invasion. Hannibal was defeated by Scipio Africanus at the battle of Zama in 202 B.C, ending the second Punic War.
Map shown taken from Google Earth.
I wrote a follow up post to this story called Hannibal's March Over the Alps revisited. The date was August 19, 2010. You can find it by searching this blog with the keyword Hannibal. Among other details about the story you will find a better map.