Alps and Elephants, by Gavin de Beers. London: Geoffrey Bles, 1955. 89 pages; appendices and references; map. Price 10 s 6 d.
Gavin de Beers’ very readable re-examination of Hannibal’s route across the Alps begins by testing the original narratives of Livy and Polybius. By a reasonable elimination of what seemed to be unjustified, and arbitrary changes introduced into their translations by modern printers, he puts Hannibal across the Rhône near Arles, and then marches him up the east bank, not to the Isère, as so many of us have been led to believe. Instead, short of the Isère he turns him eastward up the River Drome; thence over the Grimone Pass to the Durance. Then, following up that river, he routes him off to the right up the gorge of the confluent Guil instead of over the obvious open Mount Genèvre route. In this way de Beers is able to conform the description in the two classical accounts with what is present-day topography.
At the very head of the Guil he takes the invaders over the Col de la Traversette. That must have been an astounding feat. That pass is over 9000 feet high, rising up on the shoulder of Monte Viso. But one of the principal reasons for holding to that pass in this analysis is that it is one of the three watershed passes from which one can see the plains of Piedmont, a fact referred to by both Livy and Polybius. But Hannibal and his army must have had wonderful stamina. Consider that they roamed over Italy from coast to coast for 15 years, living off the country without reinforcements, defeating the Romans three times, first at Ticinus, then at Lake Trasimene, and finally at Cannae. Included in the publication is a list of 31 earlier authorities, with an analysis of each of their proposed routes. I commend this book particularly to those who have traveled in the Graian Alps or who have visited the sites of Hannibal’s great battles.
Joel E. Fisher