Today’s photo shows Hannibal and his army crossing the Alps on his way to Italy to fight the Romans. Where Hannibal crossed the Alps has perplexped scholars for over 2,000 years but I hadn’t gave it a moments thought until today. I spotted a pass near to Bourg Saint Maurice called the Col de la Traversette and remembered that this pass had made international headlines a few months previously as a possible location for Hannibal’s Crossing of the Alps. This sparked my interest and I spent the whole day in Bourg Saint Maurice researching Hannibal’s route through the Alps. It turned out that there are a few Col de la Traversette’s in the Alps and that the Col de la Traversette in the headlines was nowhere near Bourg Saint Maurice and was actually 200 km away in the Queyras region of France. But the more I researched the more I realized that Hannibal probably didn’t go through the Queyras region or climb the Col de la Traversette but instead, went through Bourg Saint Maurice and then climbed the Petit Saint Bernard into Italy, the same climb I had came down the day before.
Camping Indigo beside the Versoyen river in Bourg Saint Maurice. With 2 weeks to travel 800 km to Paris, I worked out that I would have enough time for 3 or 4 rest days. Having been ill the night before and still groggy when I woke up this morning, I decided to take the first rest day here in Bourg Saint Maurice. The day’s rest gave me a chance to update my Twitter and Facebook accounts and also get all my clothes washed. I also was able to back up all my photos and this photo, in particular stood out.
Photo of the Petit Saint Bernard Hospice from near La Rosiere. I remember looking at the photo and thinking how much easier it would have been for an army to climb the Petit Saint Bernard rather than the Grand Saint Bernard. Of course, in 1800, Napoleon had climbed the Grand Saint Bernard with 30,000 troops to attack the Austrians in Italy and I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t just climbed the Petit Saint Bernard instead as it would have been a much easier pass to navigate. I then happened to look at Google Maps which was zoomed in on Bourg Saint Maurice and noticed a climb called the Col de la Traversette to the northeast of La Rosiere. This name immediately rang a bell as I had read a month or 2 previously about Col de la Traversette as being the place where Hannibal may have crossed the Alps.
Scientists retrieving soil samples from the Col de la Traversette. In April 2016, Canadian professor, Bill Mahaney announced that he had discovered evidence that a huge herd of horses had passed through the area 2,200 years ago. Samples of sediment from a lake near the Col de la Traversette were tested by Dr. Chris Allen at Queen’s University in Belfast and by Dr. Brian Kelleher at Dublin City University who concluded that they contained bacteria often found in horse manure. The samples were then carbon dated to around 200 BC, which coincided with the time that Hannibal had marched from Spain all the way to Italy to attack Rome. However, the more I researched the more I realized that the Col de la Traversette referred to in all the articles was not the Col de la Traversette near Bourg Saint Maurice but instead another Col de la Traversette about 200 km further south in the Queyras region of France. However, the controversy sparked my interest and I started researching more about where Hannibal may have crossed the Alps. This eventually would result in a 6,000 word article about Hannibal, which is far too long to include in a blog post about a rest day in Bourg Saint Maurice. So I decided to write a separate page on the website here all about Hannibal and why I believe he crossed the Alps via the Petit Saint Bernard pass and not the Col de la Traversette in the Queyras region of France.
Just some of about 1,000 books that have been written about Hannibal. The advantage of writing a page rather than a blog post is that it is easier to link to and it also means I can add on sub-pages if new evidence comes to light. It has been quite a struggle trying to make sense of different peoples interpretation of Hannibal’s route. Apparently, over 1,000 books have been written about Hannibal and most of them contain a different route for his crossing of the Alps. Thank goodness for Theodore Ayrualt Dodge’s book as it is by far the most convincing account of Hannibal’s trek through the Alps. But Dodge’s account was published 120 years ago and doesn’t contain any photos. So by adding some of my own photos from the Petit Saint Bernard, I have tried to better illustrate the some of the points Dodge made in his book about Hannibal’s route through the Alps.
Hannibal crossing the Alps with his army in 218 BC. If you read my page about Hannibal, you will see why I believe Hannibal crossed the Alps via the Petit Saint Bernard. I am hoping to re-visit Bourg Saint Maurice next year while cycling the Routes des Grandes Alpes from Geneva and will try and visit some of the landmarks Theodore Dodge described in his book about Hannibal. If I have time, I will climb the Petit Saint Bernard again this time from Bourg Saint Maurice to get a better idea of what Hannibal faced when he tackled the climb many many years ago. The Route des Grandes Alpes will also take me to Lanslebourg and I will try and climb the Mont Cenis from there to try and find out why Napoleon thought that this is where Hannibal crossed the Alpes. I am then hoping to then go to Briancon and may climb the route of the Via Domitia to Mont Genevre if the traffic is not too busy. I also hope to then climb the Col d’Izoard and may even tackle the Col de la Traversette afterwards if I have the time. But the Traversette would involve a big detour and I will probably have to hike part of the way so the chances are I will give it a miss. Visiting all the passes that Hannibal may have used would add at least a week to the 2017 Tour de Travoy but I will try and visit some of them to get a better idea of why some routes are favoured more than others.
Hannibal monument in Bramans. You know what they say how nature abhors a vacuum. As a result of all the uncertainty over where Hannibal crossed the Alps, the town of Bramans near the Col de Clapier has staked a claim to have been on Hannibal’s route. In July 2011, they unveiled this aluminium statue of an elephant behind a silhouette of Hannibal triumphantly making their way through the Alps. Of course, it helps that most French believe that Hannibal crossed the Alps here at Mont Cenis – Col de Clapier simply because this is what Napoleon said. But there is no evidence that Napoleon studied the writings of Livy or Polybius in detail or was aware of the location of the different Gallic tribes mentioned by them unlike Theodore Ayrault Dodge . I am sure if Napoleon was alive today, he too would change his mind, just like Theodore Dodge did after visiting the Alps, and agree that Hannibal crossed into Italy via the Petit Saint Bernard pass. Michael Peyron, the French mountain guide, states that an elephant skeleton was found near the Petit Saint Bernard pass in the 18th Century. To me this is much more significant piece of evidence for Hannibal’s presence than a layer of dung found at the Col de la Traversette or the view of the Po valley from the Col de Clapier. The Petit Saint Bernard also meets the Wood Brother’s 7 criteria from Polybius and Livy’s account of his crossing so I can’t understand why more people don’t agree with Theodore Dodge. Apparently, over a thousand books have been written on the subject of Hannibal Crossing the Alps and no two books have the same route. Indeed, it is also obvious after spending a few days researching Hannibal’s route and writing this article that some people have passionate views and have devoted a major part of their lives to discovering where Hannibal crossed the Alps so maybe it is best to agree to disagree.