Hannibal crosses the Alps – 3: Haute Ubaye

Posté par Michael Peyron le 19 septembre 2011

Haute Ubaye  September 2-5, 2011

   Résumé – Cet article en langue anglaise est le troisième d’une série consacrée à nos recherches sur les traces d’Hannibal, ses éléphants et ses cavaliers numides, ancêtres des Berbères d’aujourd’hui. Concernant le col fatidique traversé par le général carthaginois nous refusons une acceptation trop facile des thèses qui ont le vent en poupe; nous estimons, en effet, qu’il est dommageable de tout ramener au Clapier, ou à La Traversette. Bien au contraire, tout demeure possible.  Car rien n’est encore valablement prouvé sur le plan archéologique. Raison pour laquelle, après la Traversette, le col d’Ambin, le Mont-Cenis, le Clapier (2004-2009), ainsi que de mémorables pérégrinations à flanc des gorges du Guil, en haut des cols d’Agnel, de Lacroix et de Malaure l’an passé,  en 2011 nous avons dirigé nos pas au-delà du Col de Vars, vers des recoins encore plus reculés des Alpes du Sud. Quête qui a finalement connu son terme à « Barcelo », au pied de la montée du Col de Restefond. Ceci après avoir écumé quelques sites de l’Ubaye : le col de Larche, le col de Mary, le col Girardin. Pour chacun de ces hauts-lieux nous avons dressé un bilan provisoire de viabilité. Nous ajoutons, enfin, quelques considérations pertinentes sur l’actualité « hannibalienne », les neiges persistantes et le recul des glaciers ; une recension sommaire d’ouvrages divers sur Hannibal. 


   Col de l’Autaret (cleft on L) and Col de Mary (R of centre) from Col Girardin, Sep 5, 2011 (photo: M. Morgenthaler)


1. Overall picture 

2. Criteria for evaluating “Hannibalic” cols 

3. Col de Larche, or de Largentière (Maddalena)

4. Col de Mary (Maurin

5. Col de l’Autaret 

Appendix 1 Relevance of glacial retreat and/or snow-melt  

Appendix 2 Bibliography

Appendix 3 Where to stay 

1. Overall picture 

2011 was obviously going to be a busy year in terms of Hannibalic celebrations. The build-up had been noticeable through recent screen versions of the Carthaginian epic, most of which had been also shown on TV for good measure. Also, most significantly, there had been a Franco-Italian exhibition inaugurated in April 2011. Staged at the Musée Dauphinois in Grenoble, it was devoted to the Punic general, his army, their crossing of the Alps and the manner in which the Hannibal legend subsequently underwent construction and de-construction (see below for more). 


     Brochure publicising successful Hannibal et les Alpes expo, Apr 2011 (photo: Musée Dauphinois, Isère)

More prosaically, despite the economic down-turn, Alpine regions dependent on tourism had to get their act together to guarantee a successful season. Capitalizing on old legends is a well-known standby in such circumstances and nowhere was this more apparent than in Haute Maurienne. By early July a life-size aluminium elephant had been erected outside Bramans to attract passers-by, thus staking the village’s claim to fame in no uncertain terms as a genuine “Hannibalic” venue. 


 Bramans and its summer 2011 quiz centering on Hannibal’s elephants (photo: Communes of Bramans & Susa)

Nor was the fun factor neglected. Open to visitors young and old, a Hannibal-oriented quiz  was organised between July 15 and September 20, after which date winners would be announced and prizes distributed. It prominently featured elephants and the Col du Clapier route, by the same token visibly strengthening the case for the last-named pass. Not much scholarship involved here; but showmanship, did you say? Ah, yes! 

True, the Bramans Commune have been pushing hard for some time to get their pet pass acknowledged as the genuine article. A look at their website, however, http://www.bramanshautemaurienne.com/hannibal.html, will reassure the reader that they are being quite open about and businesslike about the matter. They fully appreciate that Hannibal’s harangue of the troops with Italy in view, far from being a failsafe identification criterion, may merely be “une aimable image d’Épinal”, thus leaving cols other than the Clapier with a sporting chance of collecting “Hannibalic” honours. 


    Hannibal’s elephants and Clapier as summer 2011 crowd-puller (photo: communes of Bramans & Susa) 

In fact, among the direct links provided to relevant websites is that of Pierre Ollier, a well-known exponent of the Col de Larche. (cf. http://ollier.pierre.free.fr/HANNIBAL.htm) Another link is to Patrick Hunt, an eclectic scholar and frequent speaker at bow-tie and dinner-jacket evenings in the ‘Frisco Bay area. Concerning Hannibal, he is better known as a successful student trip leader and Archaeological Project director at Stanford University, with 25 or more Alpine passes under his belt. A firm believer in the Clapier route, by all accounts he was preparing to take the field yet again during the summer of 2011. 

2. Criteria for evaluating “Hannibalic” cols 

As with fashion, so with Hannibal’s pass.  In 2010 we had been informed by a girl in the Tourism Office at Aime (Tarentaise) that Hannibal, in all probability, never crossed over to Italy by way of the Petit St Bernard. This remark would probably have infuriated the likes of Aimé Bocquet, who would have reminded the disloyal girl (disloyal to her own region, that is!) that for centuries numerous observers had been in favour of the Tarentaise route. Similarly, during our 2010 visit to Queyras we had noticed that interest in Hannibal was at best lukewarm, although people in tourism acknowledged visits by John Prevas and Hannibal-seekers from America. Again, this year, up-valley from Barcelonnette in a Jausiers restaurant, when questioned about Hannibal, the proprietor admitted that locals used to believe the Punic general had passed through their area, but that such ideas had since fallen out of fashion. Instead, they make capital out of their links to Mexico, where many former sons of « Barcelo » emigrated in the early XIXth century, and their town centre now boasts numerous curiousity shops selling Maya memorabilia, not to mention tapas bars to publicize this aspect of things (cf. illustration at end of article).

Fashion-wise, while authorities such as Saint-Simon had argued in favour of Hannibal travelling via the Grimone pass (1318m), past Mens, through the Champsaur, over the Col Bayard, then up the Ubaye and eventually over Col de Mary, 200 years later this kind of theory had gone out of the window. Ditto regarding the Col de Larche. Amusingly though, in a 1960 monograph promoting the Lamure area (Isère), L. Caillet, takes heart from what he interprets as Jumbo’s semi-failure at the Clapier the previous year, concluding that “on en revient aux anciennes hypothèses”, hinting that this somehow rehabilitates the Ubaye route which passes by is front door! Very much a case of what the French call esprit de clocher, or inter communal rivalry.


     Tête de Miéjour (L) and general view of Chambeyron Aiguilles from Col Girardin,  Sep. 5, 2011 (photo: M. Peyron)

It was specifically to look into these “anciennes hypothèses” that Eric Hatt, Michel Morgenthaler and the present writer were directing their footsteps to this remote Alpine backwater. Having examined three Queyras cols the year before, as described on http://michaelpeyron.unblog.fr/2010/10/13/tracking-hannibal-over-queyras-passes, for the 2011 instalment of our investigation into Hannibal’s saga we had decided to focuss on the adjoining Ubaye region between Guillestre and Barcelonnette. As usual, after perusal of the primary sources, our approach would remain that of a field team inspecting the viability of each potentially “Hanibalic” pass, taking into account the following factors and the extent to which they matched historical data:-

2.1  Accessibility > low-valley approach; 

2.2  medium-altitude considerations > climb towards col; 

2.3 availability of resources (water, firewood, grazing, etc.) on final approach to col; 

2.4 environmental criteria applicable to actual col (altitude, terrain, wind and cloud factor, snow-cover, visibility, etc.); 

2.5 feasibility of descent from col towards Italy (potential terrain hazards, strategic considerations, etc.). 

Ultimately, our aim was to produce a tabulated summary of our findings going back to our  initial 1977 Col de Mary crossing, itemizing the above factors of each pass earmarked for scrutiny, and, in terms of whether it would “go”, awarding grades ranging from “go-go” and  “go”, to “doubtful” or definitely “no-go”. Though this perfectly harmless exercise would not, per se, solve the riddle of the “col perdu d’Hannibal” (Morabito, 2003), we felt it should provide the reader with useful elements of comparison. 

3. Col de Larche, or de Largentière (Maddalena


  St Madeleine chapel, Col de Larche, Sep 2, 2011 (photo: M. Peyron)

One of the southernmost and usually snow-free cols of the Alps, the relatively low altitude (1991m) and easy accessibility of the Colle della Maddalena, all the way up the Ubaye and Ubayette valleys, speak in its favour as a possible route for Hannibal. And yet it has fallen out of grace in recent years, not being deemed high enough to match references to residual snow in accounts by Polybius and Livy; also for military reasons. According to arm-chair strategists, it would have taken Hannibal too far south, along a route debouching onto Cuneo (Coni), hence leaving his right flank vulnerable to Roman attack. Conversely, one can argue that it was precisely the kind of gamble that one would have expected the daring 29-year-old general to take. 


  Present-day frontier crossing, Col de Larche,  Sep. 2, 2011 (photo: M. Peyron)

Be that as that it may, the present writer and his party were greatly impressed by this pass. Nowhere before on our quest had we seen such user-friendly mountain terrain: a gently-sloping, well-watered and -wooded, open valley calculated to have provided Hannibal and his elephants with the smoothest ride possible. Not to mention fine meadows and springs at the col itself, a nearby lake, with larch trees (mélèzes) growing in the vicinity – ideal for a bivouacking army. Even the initial descent beyond the lake to Argentera village on the Italian side, rightly described as mildly difficult by P. Ollier, would not have proved too tough a nut to crack for Hannibal’s engineers. 


   Zig-zag turns on descent to Argentera village from Col de Larche, Sep. 2 2011 (photo: M. Peyron) 

Our conclusion: col definitely qualifies as a “go-go”. 

4. Col de Mary (Maurin


   La Espena (L); col de Mary  (R) backed by lombarde clouds, Sep. 3, 2011 (photo: M. Peyron) 

An unfashionable route according to XXIst-century reckoning. However, our revived interest in this particular pass was kindled by an account entitled “De Grimone à Mary”, penned by a scholar living in the Hautes Alpes  called M. G. de Manteyer. His 1945 thesis, based on a text by Varro claiming that Hannibal’s pass lay between Monte Viso and the Col de Larche, contended that Col de Mary (or its close neighbour, Col de Roure) was the only feasible candidate. Barely twenty years later this theory had lost credit with the pundits; Guillaume (1967) for one, dismisses it out of hand. This route, he argues, descends into the unsuitably deep and narrow Maira valley, eventually reaching the Cuneo area, too far south of Taurini territory.   


  Grazing sheep on path to Col de Mary, lombarde clouds in background,  Sep. 3, 2011 (photo: M. Peyron)

Our investigations did not tally with this view. It took us just over 3 hours to reach the Col de Mary (2630m) from the French Alpine Club (CAF) Maljasset hut. A friendly trail way-marked in red and yellow first took us up through magnificent larch forest; then over some easily negotiable rock steps to gain comfortably sloping meadows; in September, sheep grazing here with anti-wolf dogs – large white patous – in attendance.


    Notice-board with instructions on how to proceed with  patou sheepdogs, below Col de Mary, Sep. 3, 2011(photo: M. Peyron)

Beyond, grassy slopes head onwards to the pass; just before it a large bowl could easily house an army. Interestingly, the path on this final section had been reinforced with stone slabs in Mussolini’s time. Pass proper found to be stony and fairly narrow, with two discordant signposts: one labelled “Col de Mary” (2637m), the other “Colle del Maurin”(2639m). On the Italian side, we enjoyed views far down Mara valley towards mysterious, cloud-wrapped peaks. 


   View down Italian slope from Col de Mary, Sep. 3, 2011 (photo: M. Peyron)

A few hundreds down the Italian slope a vantage-point revealed a succession of bumps and hollows subsiding smoothly towards a point where valley narrows. Both Eric Hatt and present writer recognized terrain they had come over in previous ears. 


  Skirting Lac de Marinet, afternoon, Sep. 3, 2011 (photo: M. Morgenthaler)

Weather-wise, it had been a cloudy day till 09:30, when things had brightened up considerably on the French side. Over and around the Mary, however, typical lombarde conditions had reigned. Luckily for us, though, the rain held off till 14:00, when, after a brief detour via Lac de Marinet, it caught us half way back to Maljasset and we took a healthy soaking. 


   Col de Mary Italian signpost, Sep. 3, 2011 (photo: M. Peyron)

The col itself could be pronounced as a “go”. The only qualification being that, on their way up the Ubaye valley, Hannibal’s engineers might have had their work cut out bypassing a forested gorge some way downstream between La Condamine and St Paul.  Regretfully then, it looks as though the Mary must be rated as “doubtful”. 

5. Col de l’Autaret 

One of those austere high-places, much frequented in the XIXth century by Italian colporteurs (‘pedlars’) from Belino seeking fame and fortune in France, the Col de l’Autaret constitutes a point of vantage, with far-flung views towards Queyras on the one hand, towards the Bellino area on the other.  Sadly, due to a combination of bad weather and miscalculation, we never actually made it to the top of this one, which means there’ll have to be a return match. We did, however reconnoitre its approaches in the rain. 


   Bottom of climb to Col de L’Autaret, Grand Bois (R), seen from Plan Parouart, Sep. 4, 2011 (photo: M. Peyron)

The route involves crossing the Ubaye a few hundreds upstream from Maljasset, taking the Col de Mary trail for a while, then heeding a signpost marked “Col de l’Autaret” that follows the Ubaye left-bank path through the Grand Bois. (On September 5, 2011, this stretch of larch forest was alive with the ringing of bells from grazing cattle). After an hour and a half or so, a valley junction is reached at Plan de Parouart, where the Ubaye broadens into a 300m-wide gravel-bed stunted with trees and bushes. One needs to do a right from here and follow on up the path, past some shepherds’ huts, skirting the Torrent de Chabrière for some three hours (according to the Maljasset Hut custodian), till the pass is reached. At 2874m it ranks as second-highest to Traversette among potential Hannibal cols. 


   Serrière de la Testeta ridge (R) from below Col Girardin, Sep. 5, 2011 (photo: M. Peyron)

On the last morning of our stay (September 5) we did an up-and-down in 4 hours 15 minutes from Maljasset to the Col Girardin on the GR 5, and back again. This enabled us to take some challenging pictures of the Aiguilles de Chambeyron, the Col de Mary and a cleft on the far left skyline marking Col de l’Autaret. 

Appendix 1 Relevance of glacial retreat and/or snow-melt   


 Approach to Col de Marinet, Chambeyron Aiguilles in background, Sep. 3, 2011 (photo: M. Peyron)

Hannibal experts usually list the presence (or absence) of late snow in the vicinity as a criterion when it comes to deciding which one is the bone fide col. In fact several venues, like the Col de Larche, have been put out of the running for that very reason. As mentioned in a previous article (cf.http://michaelpeyron.unblog.fr/2010/09/02/an-unsolved-riddle-as-old-as-the-hills), snow-melt and glacial retreat are constantly shifting variables, rendering a posteriori reconstruction of conditions in 218 BC extremely arduous. While tentative comparisons have been made between possibly milder weather conditions obtaining during the so-called “Roman climatic optimum” and today’s glacial retreat, apparently attributable to global warming, it is difficult to draw hard and fast conclusions there-from. The more so as finer points of climatic oscillation need to be taken into account and accurately evaluated (P. Leveau & L. Mercalli, 2011). 


 Patches of névé snow and rockglaciers; vestiges of Marinet glacier,  Sep. 3, 2011 (photo: M. Peyron)

This being so, the reader will forgive a brief digression. While returning from the Mary on September 4, 2011, we made a detour via Col de Marinet (2785m) and Lac du Marinet (2535m). This gave us a grandstand view of the northern side of the Aiguilles de Chambeyron (3410m) together with what used to be the Marinet glacier. When last seen by this writer in 1977, the Marinet still extended some way down into the corrie above the lake, as on accompanying map.


  Aiguilles de Chambeyron, Col de Mary & Col de l’Autaret (based on DR map, 1975)

Eight years on from the 2003 heat-wave, the glacier has been reduced to five or six separate patches of névé snow, huddling like orphans at the foot of individual buttresses and couloirs. As for the NW-facing Glacier de Chauvet, we noticed on September 5 that it was now limited to a small hanging glacier west of the main Aiguille, overlooking an extensive rock glacier. A sorry sight indeed! 


   Aiguilles de Chambeyron with hanging glacier (Chauvet) on R, Sep. 5, 2011 (photo: M. Peyron)

At the end of the day, we’re talking in terms of recent change readily observable over a 30-year period. The point being that one has to be very, very careful when attempting to “guestimate” snow and ice conditions at a specific point in past history. 

Appendix 2   Bibliography   

(Not limited to the Ubaye region; brief commentary given on each item)

A. Bocquet, Hannibal chez les Allobroges : La grande traversée des Alpes, Montmélian: La Fontaine de Siloé, 2009.

A  beautifully edited,  scholarly and well-documented account by a classical archaeologist. Hannibal’s itinerary is subjected to rigorous analysis as per Peutinger’s table, while  supporters of the Clapier route are invited to abandon a fashionable theory that no longer holds water (p.80). A book to keep and re-read. 

L. Caillet, La Mure d’Isère et ses environs – Corps – Mens – Valbonnais, Gap: Impr. Louis-Jean: 1960.

This is a workmanlike monograph on the La Mure area that includes a snippet of info on Hannibal’s supposed Haute Ubaye route (p. 129). 

P. Cassagne, R. Blanchard, M. Igout & M. Vyon, Lacs et Glaciers de Marinet, Association Haute Ubaye, 1975 (env.).

An unassuming map-guide written by local mountaineers containing a wealth of info on the Aiguilles de Chambeyron and Col de Mary area. 

A. Courtenay, “South of France: In search of Hannibal the Elephant Man”, © Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Ltd. 2011, available on http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/france/riviera 

An engagingly written re-run of Bernard Levin’s route, and possibly one of the best Hannibal articles ever in English. 

G. De Galbert, Hannibal et Cesar dans les Alpes, Grenoble : Ed. Belledonne, 2009. 

A painstaking, well-written reconstruction of the Maurienne-Clapier route based on perusal of primary sources and field-work. Unsurprisingly, as the author shares the latter’s views on the Clapier, Patrick Hunt has volunteered a preface. This volume deserves a place in your bookcase as a properly documented and illustrated work of reference. 

A.Guillaume (Général), Annibal franchit les Alpes, 218 av. J.-C., Grenoble: Ed. des Cahiers de l’Alpe, 1967.

Few were better qualified than General Guillaume, himself of Guillestre, to produce this exhaustive survey of “Hannibalic” passes from Savoy to Hautes Alpes. After extensive research and field-work, finally narrows down possibilities to Clapier and Traversette, though refrains from taking sides. 

J.-P. Jospin & L. Dalaine (eds.), Hannibal et les Alpes une traverse, un mythe, Grenoble: Musée Dauphinois, 2011.

A collective, Franco-Italian effort that deals with Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps from several angles: historical (Gallic and Carthaginian), military (includes an insightful piece on soldiers’ weapons and equipment), mythological, environmental and archaeological. Although pointing to Clapier as a strong probability, does not neglect other theories. Superbly illustrated; a book to keep

P. Leveau & L. Mercalli, « Hannibal et les Alpes : l’identification du col franchi et son contexte environnemental », in Hannibal et les Alpes : une traversée, un mythe, J.-P. Jospin & L. Dalaine (éds.), Grenoble, Musée dauphinois, 2011 (pp. 95-106).

Part of the previous festchrift, it analyzes the environmental background to Hannibal’s traverse, including the vexed question of snow-cover, and includes a useful chart on average temperatures in the Alps over the past 11000 years. 

G., Manteyer, de, « Le franchissement des Alpes par Annibal, de Grimone à Mary », Bulletin de la Société d’Etudes des Hautes-Alpes, 1945.

A one-off effort to solve the problem of Hannibal’s pass by a then prominent Egyptologist. The theory is a challenging one, though according to Guillaume, de Manteyer apparently never made it up to the Col de Mary on foot; Guillaume did – which makes all the difference! 

J.S. Morabito, Mais où est donc passé le fils d’Hamilcar ? ou sur la piste du col perdu d’Hannibal, Paris: Ed. La Bruyère, 2003.

This stimulating, scholarly account relies on a totally new time-and-motion analysis of Hannibal’s itinerary, dismissing earlier miscalculations, and ultimately sending him over the Col d’Agnel. Doubtful, however, as to whether author actually did field-work; photographs at end of volume look decidedly second-hand. 

Tite-Live, Hannibal, (M. Grimaud, trad.& G. Walter, éd.), Club du Livre d’Histoire (1970, env.).

A classic biography of Hannibal that contains extracts from Livy fluently translated and expertly commented upon. Black and white photographs, maps; the editors appear to favour the Montgenèvre route. 

Appendix 3    Where to stay ?



      Real estate agent unrealistically advertising « Pissevin » orchard and genuine « Mexican » villas,  Barcelonnette, Sep. 4, 2011 (photo: M. Peyron)


     Ideal Hannibal base camp: Lavis-Trafford guest-house at Le Planay, at foot of Clapier route (Hte. Maurienne), Aug. 2009 (photo: M. Peyron)



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Hannibal crosses the Alps – 2: Queyras

Posté par Michael Peyron le 13 octobre 2010

Résumé – Avec nos fidèles compagnons Eric Hatt et Michel Morgenthaler nous avions déjà parcouru le val d’Ambin, le lac Savine, et le Clapier, sur les traces d’Hannibal, ses éléphants et ses cavalier numides, sans parler de nos excursions passées avec Fernand Beragner et Jo Pramotton au Mont Viso et, surtout, au Mont Cenis. Intéressé, mais guère convaincu, ni par le Clapier, ni par la Traversette comme étant le « col d’Hannibal », il paraissait opportun de voir de plus près certains cols du Queyras: Agnel, Col de Lacroix, Malaure. Visiter, également, l’ancienne voie suspendue, à mi-hauteur de la gorge du Guil. Déterminer la faisabilité des ces points de passage, autrefois à la mode, mais depuis en grande partie délaissés par les spécialistes du grand général carthaginois. Nos investigations queryrassiennes devaient s’avérer passionnantes ; mieux, elles démontraient clairement que bon nombre de points positifs militaient en faveur de ces trois cols. Une autre conclusion pouvait se défendre : Hannibal n’aurait-il pas emprunté deux cols différents, bien que voisins, pour des raisons de disperson stratégique ?

Tracking Hannibal over Queyras passes (October 4-7, 2010)

by Michael PEYRON  


  E. Hatt on path between Col Lacroix and La Monta, Oct. 5 2010 (photo: M. Peyron)

An earlier article on this website sketched out the search for Hannibal’s col and summarized the author’s own endeavours in the field, chiefly around the Clapier and Traversette passes. The present entry is the fruit of four days spent in the Queyras at precisely the time of year when Hannibal carried out his historic crossing of the Alps. We had decided to concentrate our investigations there since various factors pointed to this region of the Alps as containing several likely cols, not to mention a slightly unscientific sort of intuition on our part pointing to a more southerly route, based on Hannibal’s understandable reluctance not to venture too far north on a time-consuming roundabout route, together with references in Polybius/Livy to the river Durance (Druentia), and to envoys bearing olive leaves (unknown in Tarentaise or Maurienne). Actually, a case can be made out for no fewer than four Queyras passes, all of which had been referred to as possible Hannibalic sites on earlier occasions by other researchers. First and foremost, the Traversette, (or Col du Viso) chief rival of the Clapier Pass for Hannibalic honours (cf. Guillaume, De Beer, Prevas & Mahaney), which we decided to ignore this time around, having been over it during a couple of previous tours of the Viso. 

The Guil gorge 

Once we had decided to limit our investigations to the purely Alpine part of the traverse, we considered the feasibility of the Guil gorge (or Combe du Queyras). There is little doubt that a follow-through of the Guil from near present-day Guillestre to Château-Queyras would have proved extremely arduous, natural obstacles alone making it an ideal venue for an ambush. This would have appeared to have tallied with the local tribes’ apparent game-plan: luring Hannibal off the easy Mont-Genevre route and up into the killing-ground of the treacherous Guil gorge. An episode richly documented by Mahaney (2008). Admittedly in early October the water-level is practically at its lowest, facilitating the passage of men and pack-animals along the river-banks, yet this is rendered awkward in places due to the presence of pebbles, rocks and large boulders. Up to the early XXth century, for their travels on foot, Queyrassians from the Upper Guil had three ways open for communications with Guillestre: 

1)      a right-bank high-level route for summer and early autumn, now used by a section of the GR 58 foot-path running via Château-Queyras,Villargaudin, Vale of Furfande and Col Garnier (an itinerary dating back to pre-Roman times and defended by Guillaume as Hannibal’s probable itinerary; 1967, pp. 67-69).); 

2)      the old, so-called  “Voie romaine”, a medium-altitude, right-bank path via Les Escoyers, La Lauze, Villeneuve, and Les Girards, maintained at the expense of much labour by locals and  used chiefly in winter; 


  Our guide, M. Debrune, with author on voie romaine above Guil gorge, Oct 7, 2010, (photo: M. Morgenthaler)

3)      the deeply entrenched Guil gorge itself, impassable from November to March because of snow and ice, and in April-May due to flooding.  If he came through here at all, Hannibal obviously had the choice between top and bottom, the medium-altitude route being unsuitable for the passage of an army. On the morning of October 7, 2010, kindly guided by Marylène Debrune from the Chalet du Lonza (at Abriès, where we had stayed for three nights) we followed it for an hour or so from Les Escoyers to just below Le Chatelard and negotiated a footpath that sometimes developed into a ledge-trail, bolstered with logs, overlooking stupendous drops.


  Medium-altitude R-bank ledge-trail below Le Châtelard, Guil gorge, Oct 7, 2010 (photo: M. Peyron)

In fact, it is so dangerous that it remains un-waymarked to this day, the local mayor being understandably reluctant to bear responsibility for any hiker who might care to risk life or limb along there. The existence of the more congenial Col Garnier/ Vale of Furfande route, however, enabling Hannibal to outflank the Guil gorge, quashes the argument, put forward by some experts, that an invading army would never have been enable to penetrate the Queyras region. 

Col d’Agnel 


  The Rocher d’Hannibal & commemorative plaque,below Col d’Agnel (photo: M. Morgenthaler)         

Dismissed by many (including this writer in an earlier article) as a poor choice, on closer inspection the Col d’Agnel actually proves a fairly promising candidate. Relatively high at 2744m, it presents several favourable factors: a large, gently sloping expanse of ground at and below the top on which other armies have bivouacked; the Torrent d’Agnel valley would have provided water and firewood aplenty; the initially steep eastern (Italian) slope but not totally impassable, comparing favourably with other cols in the area. A plaque on “le Rocher d’Hannibal”, referring to the passing of Carthaginian troops is meagre enough proof, but it’s there! A recent researcher also believes that here we have “le col perdu d’Hannibal” (Morabito, 2003, p. 109). The nearby peak of Pin de Sucre is offered as Hannibal’s vantage-point for the pep-talk he gave his troops, Italy being plainly visible from the top.  


 M. Morgenthaler & E. Hatt at abandoned Alpini hut, Col Lacroix, Oct 5, 2010 (photo: M. Peyron)     

   Col Lacroix     

A much lower pass, the Col Lacroix (2299m), would be the almost perfect choice, with initially passable slopes on the Italian side, were it not for a particularly steep section above the Jervis Hut. Defended as Hannibal’s pass as early as the 1830s by Imbert Desgranges, a Grenoble magistrate, it had already been disqualified for that very reason (Schaub, 1854, p. 9). However, such steepness is not necessarily incompatible with Hannibal’s crossing as Livy mentions a particularly steep section at one point on the descent, where the famous episode of the vinegar-fired rock could have been situated. A propos of this incident, it should be borne in mind that ancient armies used to stock vinegar for the troops, as a mild pick-me-up or pain-killer.   


  Path through gold-tinted larch forest on climb to Col Lacroix, Oct 5, 2010 (photo: M. Peyron)  

Accessible in less than two hours from the valley-floor (La Monta or l’Echalp), it is approached up easy zigzags and gentle gradients through gold-tinted larch forest (in autumn), till the open valley-head immediately below the col is reached. 


    On path from l’Echalp: possible camping area slightly below Col Lacroix (photo: M. Morgenthaler)  

 This strip of ground (used nowadays as a summer grazing-ground by local shepherds) would have constituted an ideal camping area, thanks to the proximity of fire-wood, abundant springs and plentiful fodder for animals. The Lacroix was historically much used as a link between the Queyras and Pellice valleys, being the only feasible supply route since medieval times for Queyrassians in need of fresh fruit and vegetables, or for Italians employed in the salt trade (according to Stéphane Simiand of Ristolas). Under Mussolini, and again more recently, a road project was briefly contemplated.  Nowadays there is an an abandoned Alpini hut at the col itself, with the former border post – « Refuge Napoléon« , dynamited by the Italians in World War II - just below on the French slope.


 Potential Hannibalic country from Col Lacroix: Monte Granero (R), Oct 5, 2010 (photo: M. Peyron)

   Col de Malaure 

   With its steep slopes on both sides, the Col de Malaure (2522m) is possibly the most spectacular of the passes visited. An important point: the plains of Italy are readily visible from the summit (Bonus, 1925 & Torr, 1924), although on October 6, 2010, rather typically, lombarde conditions (known as nebbia in the Queyras dialect) prevailed, somewhat hampering visibility.


  Author at Col de Malaure with nebbia conditions impeding view of plains of Italy, Oct 6, 2010 (photo: M. Morgenthaler)

This for the famous harangue to the troops, or more probably to Hannibal’s immediate entourage, perhaps his staff and OCs and 2-in-Cs of the Numidian, Gallic and Iberian troops, as it would have been difficult to get more than 50 or so people to stand up there – certainly not 26,000!



  Author’s companions measuring slope on Italian side of Malaure pass  (photo: M. Peyron) 

However, over 50m on the E side, the slope is somewhat steep, though not impossible for Hannibal’s engineers to cope with, to have allowed the elephants to descend to a spur, after which a small alpage is seen, next to a former outpost of Italian Alpini troops.


 Abdanoned Alpini outpost on Italian side of Col de Malaure (photo: M. Morgenthaler)

From there on, the path zigzags downward to gentler slopes, after which there is no visible difficulty till the green expanses of Alpa Crossenna are reached. Beyond that point the going is easy into the Pellice valley and much flatter ground, with the plains a few miles away. In terms of relative ease of access and speed, then, the Malaure pass scores handsomely. And yet it loses out in comparison to the Lacroix, in terms of suitable camping. There is, for sure, a sizeable area below the col on the west side with good grazing, and even a totally flat area measuring about an acre, with a small rain-water tarn.


 Potential bivouac area below Malaure pass on French side (photo: M. Peyron).

Otherwise, in early October 2010 there was not a drop of spring water at this height. During their 2-day bivouac at altitude – allowing stragglers to catch up – the Carthaginians would have had to send frequent foraging parties some 300m down the W slope to fetch water and fire-wood. The Malaure is a wild spot, this impression enhanced by the immature Golden eagle that circled above our heads and the lone, big-horned male Ibex who surveyed us proudly from a spur above the col.


 E. Hatt coming down off the Col de Malaure (top centre) on Valpreyvère path, Oct 6, 2010, (photo: M. Peyron)


Our interest in the above passes may appear untimely.  For instance (apart from favourable forum opinions expressed on the web by Queyras-based bloggers), neither Col Lacroix nor the Malaure, have been fashionable in recent times in discussions surrounding Hannibal’s possible route, though the latter would appear to have acquired an influential backer in the person of John Prevas (Simiand, 2002). Even Col d’Agnel boasts relatively few supporters, one of whom, however, after painstaking scientific research, has recently selected it as the probable pass (Morabito, 2003).


  Upper Guil valley with Malaure, Lacroix and Agnel passes, highlighting Traversette route (map by A. Guillaume, 1967)

Of the three cols we visited the Agnel certainly appeared the most suitable for elephants, while high (2744m) enough to retain late snow (this to suit classic descriptions of conditions on descent), despite the fact that there was only a dusting of fresh snow there when we visited on October 4, 2010.  Finally, to achieve strategic dispersal, we believe that Hannibal may have divided his task force into separate detachments and simultaneously crossed over two or three passes, a view already aired by Guillaume (1967, p. 112). In the light of the above in situ investigations, then, our contention is that the Queyras passes in question appear to have provided the most suitable combination for a successful crossing of the Alpine range, possibly over more than one col, with geographic proximity on the Italian side conducive to rapid reunion between the different components. 


Grenoble October 2010

Text copyright by Michael Peyron; material and illustrations from same may be quoted in compliance with current academic practice.


Bonus, A.R., Where Hannibal passed, London: Methuen, 1925. 

 Beer (de), G., Alps and Elephants, London: 1955. 

Guillaume, A., Annibal franchit les Alpes, 218 av; J.-C., Grenoble: Imprim. de l’Allier, 1967.

Mahaney, W.S. & Tricart, P., “Hannibal’s debacle in the Combe de Queyras in 218 BC: The unknown Gallic Commander”, Military Geography and Geology: History and Technology, C.P. Nathanail & al, eds.), Nottingham (UK): Land Quality Press, 2008: 88-97. 

Morabito, J. S., Mais où est donc passé le fils d’Hamilcar ? ou sur la piste du col perdu d’Hannibal, Paris: La Bruyère, 2003.

Prevas, J., Hannibal crosses the Alps: the enigma re-examined, London: Sarpedon, 1998.

Schaub, C., Réfutation de l’ouvrage de M Jacques Relat, intitulé ‘Note sur le passage d’Annibal’ et défense de l’opinion de De Luc d’après lequel Annibal a franchi le Petit Saint-Bernard, Geneva: Imprim. Ch Gruaz, 1854.

Simiand, S., “Dossier: Hannibal crosses the Alps”, Le Transiton, n° 1, February 2002.   

Torr, C., Hannibal crosses the Alps, London: Cambridge University Press, 1924.

    Specimen book covers




Useful addresses in Queyras valley


   Lanza chalet-hotel situated in centre of Abriès contact@chaletdelanza.fr




Publié dans Hannibal crosses the Alps | Pas de Commentaire »

Hannibal crosses the Alps – 1: general survey

Posté par Michael Peyron le 2 septembre 2010

An unsolved riddle as old as the hills: the quest for Hannibal’s pass (218 BC) 

by Michael PEYRON

As a Grenoble-based ski-mountaineer, back-packer and specialist in Berber history and culture (Hannibal’s Numidians were the ancestors of to-day’s Berbers), and with extensive field experience of early XXth-century Atlas mountain battlefields between French and Moroccan Berber fighters, Michael Peyron has long felt attracted by this specific exercise in classic warfare, the more so as it is relevant to Amazigh history. 


Intrigued by the endeavours of countless amateurs, historians, scholars and scientists to locate the strategic alpine pass crossed by Hannibal and his 26,000 or so soldiers during the Second Punic War, this writer volunteers a brief summary of a long disputed topic, following frequent summer visits to the Mont-Cenis and other Alpine border areas over the past forty years. 


Possible site of Hannibal’s crossing, Col du Mont-Cenis, Aug 2008, (photo: M. Peyron)

With regard to the exact location of Hannibal’s crossing there is at present insufficient hard evidence to decide in favour of a northern, intermediate or southern route(s).  It should also be borne in mind, that these events took place over two millennia ago and that the terrain may have undergone more than cosmetic change in the interval. If neglected, a mountain track can be wiped out rapidly by repeated erosion (avalanche, rain, stone-fall or land-slide), to say nothing of changes in glacial- and snow-cover in early times for which there is a paucity of reliable data. 

A problem compounded by the fact that in re-charting each route, historians base their topographical estimations on prominent land-marks that appear to match Polybius’ and/or Livy’s description. This highly subjective approach results in miscellaneous interpretations and distortions. A typical example is identification of a low pass in the foot-hills crossed on Day 1 of Hannibal’s alpine traverse, coinciding with an attack by Celtic tribesmen – probably the Allobroges (Torr 1924) – on the Carthaginian column, for which there are as many possible candidates as route variations (Dent du Chat, Pas de la Coche, Col de Grimone, Col de Cabre, etc.), some of them involving apparently unnecessary detours.  Trying to make sense out of two totally different accounts – that of Polybius and Livy – probably explains why there is so much disagreement between self-appointed experts in their attempts to establish the bona fide route.

Not to mention that, coming after Hannibal, his brother Hasdrubal’s fateful traverse of the Alps (207 BC) would appear to have followed a different path, possibly the Mont-Cenis (Torr 1924), which would explain discrepancies between Livy’s description compared with that of Polybius, neither of which were based on eye-witnesses accounts (though the latter did subsequently go over the route), thus further blurring the issue. 

Finally, there have not been any convincing archaeological finds datable to the Punic period near any of these mountain passes, a long expected break-through that would otherwise have clinched the matter. Though an elephant’s skeleton was discovered below the Petit St Bernard in the XVIIIth century (Torr 1924, quoting Saint-Simon, 1770), such a relic is inconclusive since the Romans used elephants too. There have also been unconfirmed reports of javelins and helmets being found at various times and locations in the Verdon valley, another possible itinerary. This writer has likewise heard rumours of supposedly Carthaginian coins near St Jean-de-Maurienne, but nothing tangible. Declares Hunt (2006): “Until compelling archaeological evidence is found, (…) the question remains unanswered”. 


   Hannibal’s choice of passes (map: Editions Berger-Levrault)

Potential Northern routes 

Mommsen (1865), Aimé Bocquet (2009), and many others are staunch advocates of the Petit St Bernard linking the Tarentaise to the Val d’Aosta. However, despite the relatively smooth going on this route, one is hard put to explain why Hannibal should have made such a long detour to the north. 

The Haute Maurienne route has also tempted many an expert, mainly  via the Mont-Cenis, a choice approved in his day by Napoleon Bonaparte. Over a century later, after different French officiers (Colonel Perrin, Captain Colin, etc.) had concluded that the Clapier must be the vital col, British chamois-hunter Lavis Trafford (1956) looked into oral tradition at Bramans. Buttressed by a local claim that a general named Hannibal had crossed the Clapier in bygone times, he pushes hard for that pass and/or the nearby Savine-Coche saddle.


On approach to Clapier Pass, from below Lake Savine, Dents d’Ambin on R, Aug 2009 (photo: M. Peyron)

It is currently fashionable to name the Clapier as being Hannibal’s pass, a stance supported by Geoffroy de Galbert (2008); not to mention Patrick Hunt, who has recently scoured the region with parties of keen students from Stanford University. As a result the latter has penned a book on mountain archaeology (2007), studies on lichen growth, pollen records and glacial evolution; also speculations about a potentially disease-ridden Carthaginian army as partial explanation for its inordinately high losses during the Alpine traverse (Hunt & Seicean, 2006). Interestingly, sections of this route have been tested with live elephants in recent times, though far from 100% convincingly (Boser 2007). 



The much-favoured Bramans-Clapier-Susa route

Bocquet (2009), on the other hand, defending his stand in favour of the Petit St Bernard, derides the advocates of the Clapier route, labelling them as “well-meaning people who make unsupported statements”. He contends that, apart from the steepness of the descent on the Italian side, even the Savine-Coche variant would have entailed traversing a small glacier, but which in Hannibal’s day, before “the Roman climatic optimum”, was arguably more extensive and would have impeded the passage of elephants and horses. 


Author’s companions photographing plaque at Col de Clapier, Aug 2009, (photo: M. Peyron)


Yet this is debatable, since recent findings (Neumann 1992) suggest that the glacial cover around 218 BC was similar to today, with old snow lasting into mid-summer above 2500m, but fresh falls occurring early-autumn, when swift shifts in weather patterns are not unknown. For example, October 10, 2009, was a crisp, sunny day in Vallon d’Ambin, near Col de Clapier, while next morning the weather had broken, overnight snow covering slopes of Dent Parachée down to 2200m. 

However, present-day (2010) climatic conditions, glacial cover and early-autumn presence of névé snow, used as a yard-stick to speculate on what a specific pass may have looked like in 218 BC (matching classic source material), must allow for the fact that since the summer 2003 heat-wave, glaciers have receded dramatically in the Alpes du Nord. As a result, today’s conditions offer but a poor indication of those prevalent in Hannibal’s time. 


St. Pierre d’Extravache and Dent Parachée, its summit névé threatened with disappearance due to climate change, Haute Maurienne, Aug 2009 (photo: M. Peyron)

In August 2009 the present writer made a three-day tour on foot of the Mont-Cenis area. The over-riding impression was that: 1) even the ascent from Bramans to Le Planay, would have been a strenuous undertaking in far-off times without a road; 2) the steep, narrow and rocky, though favourably exposed forest section up from Le Planay to Petit Mont-Cenis, presenting signs in places of an ancient caravan track, apparently used at the time of Charlemagne, would have been extremely arduous for elephants. The elephants used by Hannibal, however, belonging to the now extinct medium-sized, nimble North African variety might have found their way up.

Even if the Arc valley narrows dramatically upstream from Termignon (Blache 1962), how much easier to have climbed mild slopes to Mont-Cenis from present-day Lanslebourg, then over the Italian side, thus precluding the unnecessary effort of hoisting an entire army to nearly 2500m at Col de Clapier.  On the positive side, however, an approach from the Mont-Cenis and the Petit Mont-Cenis guarantees plain sailing, so to speak, with a minimal slope up to the Clapier.


Potential site of Hannibal’s « regrouping area » near Lake Savine, below Clapier Pass, Aug 2009, (photo: M. Peyron)

And, on the eve of the actual crossing, one can visualize Hannibal’s 26,000 footsore fighting men bivouacking below the pass in freezing discomfort on that large pasture by Lake Savine. Depending on early autumn snow-cover, there would have been water and grass for the animals and flat ground for setting up shelters. With little or no firewood in the vicintiy. Onward progress down the Italian side, however, appears uncompromisingly steep – even precipitous in places – as Bocquet (2009) points out, thus casting serious doubt on the feasibility of this route. 

Possible Southern routes 

Arguments are not lacking in favour of the Southern routes such as Montgenèvre (Connolly 1978). Also a less well-known candidate: Col de Malaure (Queyras), at 2522m a somewhat tricky undertaking, supported by Bonus (1925), and Renaud (1994) who points out that the pass presents a promontory on its steep southern side from which, with Italy in sight, Hannibal could have exhorted his troops for a final effort.  Other contenders are the Col de La Croix near Échalp (Queyras), for long the main route for shepherds and journey-men from Queyras to Piedmont; Col Mary in Upper Ubaye, crossed by this writer in the summer of 1977 and defended by G. de Manteyer (1945). Finally, Col de Larche, for which Pierre Ollier makes out a reasonably strong case on the Web (2008), while dismissing Clapier and Savine-Coche as unnecessarily high compared to more suitable and highly feasible Mont-Cenis, and “offering no advantages, other than to create a diversion on military grounds”. Most of these are based on an approach up the Durance, referred to as Druentia, according to one interpretation of the old texts.

British author Bernard Levin (1987) makes little contribution to the discussion. After grudgingly admitting that the Montgenèvre and the Mont-Cenis are “both strong candidates”, he lamely concludes his TV-sponsored caper at the Col Agnel, a pass with which the present writer was initially unimpressed as a feasible crossing-point for elephants, despite the presence of a plaque commemorating Hannibal’s troops some 7 km from the col. Cecil Torr (1924) dismisses the Petit St. Bernard, even the Mont-Cenis and Clapier, as taking Hannibal unnecessarily far north (especially with winter approaching and Scipio’s army having re-embarked). He examines the evidence in favour of Col de Clapier before presenting a fairly convincing case in favour of a route up the Durance to Col de Larche, or Traversette. 


Approaching Monte-Viso from N with lombarde effect  materialising, Sep 2004, (photo: M. Peyron)

Sir Gavin De Beer (1955), a museum director and mountaineer of some repute, supports the Traversette route, but is also adamant that Hannibal passed the Col de Grimone (Cremonis) in the Diois area on the way, only to have his findings dismissed within a year – as often happens in such circumstances – by colleagues of the Royal Society and Alpine Club.



Various proposed routes, including Sir Gavin de Beer’s (Guillaume, 1967)

Augustin Guillaume (1967), a veteran Atlas Mountain campaigner of the 1920s and native of Guillestre, conducts an exhaustive survey both of the Clapier (Petit Mont-Cenis) and Traversette route. While deciding in favour of neither, he does rehabilitate the possibility of a route through the Queyras region, pointing out that Hannibal need not have followed the treacherous Guil gorge. An ancient, previously overlooked trail (probably used since Roman times) via Eygliers, de Gros, the vale of Furfande and Col Garnier, would have enabled Hannibal to outflank the Guil gorge, thus reaching the upper part of the valley without serious mishap. 


Author’s party at foot of Traversette slope; Monte-Viso on L, Sep 2004 (photo: M. Peyron)  

John Prevas(1998), combining the field experience of an alpinist with the qualities of a Greek scholar, argues in favour of a route via the upper Durance valley and over the Traversette pass, in an authoritative and brilliantly documented work that convinces all but a few sceptics. 

Most recently, geologist William Mahaney (2009), late of York University (Ontario), after a thorough scientific re-appraisal of the evidence, has made out a strong case for Traversette, based on the presence of a two-tier rock-fall at 2600m on the lee side of the pass, and the late presence of névé snow, that seemingly tallies with description by Polybius (Mahaney, 2008b). 


Monte-Viso from Traversette pass showing terrain distinctly unsuitable for elephants, Sep. 2004 (photo: M. Peyron)

Intrigued by this explanation, the present writer believes the Traversette pass, given the sheer steepness of the initial descent towards Italy would have been impossible unless  Hannibal’s elephants had been belayed with ropes over the initial section below the pass on the Italian side. In his book Guillaume publishes photographs that clearly show how steep those slopes were (see above photo), not to mention the presence of snow. On the other hand, Mahaney’s identification of the alpine meadows below the Traversette on the Italian side, where this writer twice picnicked, as the “regrouping area”, makes sense in terms of altitude and resources. It contrasts favourably with the Savine alpage on the French side of rival Clapier pass, a similar “regrouping area”, but exposed and uncomfortable. Hunt, who apparently almost came to grief there, calls the Traversette a “killer” and naturally judges it less plausible as Hannibal’s pass than Col de Clapier (Jia 2007). 

Miscellaneous items 

In the realm of conjecture and hypothesis surrounding Hannibal’s crossing, other items have caught researchers’ imagination. No doubt the most interesting is the matter of the rock-splitting vinegar, or fired rock (Hunt, 2007; Mahaney 2008b), which arose through Hannibal’s alleged use of bundles of vinegar-soaked firewood tied round boulders, then lit up so as to crack said boulders that were blocking downward progress by elephants and horses. Evidence of such activity has been found down the Italian slope from Clapier, though scientific measurements have failed to date it to the Punic period. 

The second point is whether or not Hannibal gave his troops a Caesar-after Dyrrachium-style speech to coax them over the pass (a typical device in classic military accounts), whence the plains of northern Italy and the road to Rome were clearly visible. Most experts contend that a pass presenting such a criterion would be the right one. In fact in the 1960s Guillaume had already commented on the clear view of Italy one could obtain from this pass, especially in early winter. Understandably, this has become a bone of contention among researchers, both Clapier and Traversette apparently fitting this description, though on his website Bocquet (2009) challenges anyone to actually see Torino from Col de Clapier!  A journalist named Boser (2007) seems to have done just that. Having accompanied Hunt up to Clapier, he claims: “Peering through a purple haze, I see Turin some 70 miles away.” Truth is in the eyes of the beholder… The debate is possibly pointless, anyhow, as the veracity of this episode is dismissed by some researchers as a mere figment of Livy’s imagination (Connolly 1978). 


Plaque at Clapier Pass makes cautious reference to Hannibal (photo: M. Peyron)

Meanwhile, even admitting that Hannibal was able to descry the Pô plain in the distance, such a clear view would have required perfect weather. Anyone familiar with the Franco-Italian frontier ridge will have experienced the lombarde factor – billowing clouds that move in from Lombardy, accompanied by foehn effect – regularly contributing to poor visibility (Grard & Mathevet 1967; Morel & Bonnet 2008), specifically in autumn – when Hannibal made the crossing. A point apparently downplayed by some specialists, who may have only visited during fair-weather summer spells. Suffice it to say that this author’s party met with typical lombarde conditions on various occasions in summer and early autumn between 1986 and 2009, both near the Traversette, and at or near Clapier, when Torino remained discreetly veiled. 

Another disputed point is the exact location of the ambush on Hannibal’s baggage train on Day 7. The most plausible sites are the Gorge de Vilette between Moutiers and Aime on the Isère; the gorges slightly upstream from Modane in the Maurienne; or, on the southern route, a point 10 km short of Briançon on the Upper Durance (Connolly 1978); all of which tally with the primary sources pointing to an ambush occurring some three days’ march from the vital pass, whether Petit St. Bernard, Mont-Cenis, or Montgenèvre. Or yet again, there is an interesting theory that the Carthaginian army underwent serious mauling on the Upper Guil, somewhere near present-day Château-Queyras (Mahaney & Tricart 2008c). 


Unlikely Hannibalic candidate; descending boulder-slope from Col d’Ambin towards Lac de Fond d’Ambin, 5 km W of Clapier, Aug 2009 (photo: M. Morgenthaler)

Recent Hannibal-related endeavours 

As if to differ from the prevailing Clapier/Traversette dispute a fresh tendency has emerged in favour of less conventional routes, especially in the south, some pundits arguing that Hannibal followed the Drac valley, the Verdon, the Ouvèze, or the Durance, for a crossing of the Montgenèvre.

The most ambitious of the recent studies is no doubt that undertaken by retiree Raymond Rozet, based on Polybius’ text coupled with painstaking field-work. The Carthaginian leader, he argues, must have followed the old “route des Ligures” between Buis and Mévouillon, eastward from the Baronnies towards Laragne-Monteglin, a rock-painting depicting an elephant discovered in a cave along the Toulourenc gorge beneath Mont Ventoux being presented as cast-iron evidence of Hannibal’s passage. As to the identity of the main pass, however, Rozet keeps his cards close to his chest, though it could be either Larche or Montgenèvre. 

The Wood brothers, an enterprising trio on mountain bikes, did a documentary feature for the BBC in the late autumn of 2009, complete with film crew and local guides, in a fun re-run of Levin’s Hannibal’s footsteps. All in all a pleasant read, and refreshingly devoid of media hype. Levin’s Gorges de Gats thus receives a new visit, though one of the Woods brethren gets to manhandle his bike up Traversette, rather than Agnel, as main col. To cover all possibilities another brother pedals blithely over Montgenèvre and a third checks out Clapier via Lanslebourg and Petit Mont-Cenis, somehow tallying with this writer’s conclusions as to the probable Hannibal trail. Most fittingly, he is greeted at the top by typical lombarde clouds, depriving him of the hoped-for vision of distant Turin! 

Meanwhile, as if to prove that the doughty Carthaginian’s exploit still commands respectful interest, the Sierra Club of California programmed “a hike the Alps” outing on Hannibal’s trail for July 2010, with Traversette as one of the main objectives! 


Thus, in practically each alpine border region, from Savoy to Haute Provence, do we find people prepared to focus intellect and imagination on proving that the great general once visited their “neck of the woods”. The sum total of unreliable historical sources, environmental criteria, time/motion studies of Hannibal’s column, logistics and sheer feasibility of the undertaking, appear to militate in favour of a route aiming at a frequently-used, relatively low-lying col (Montgenèvre, La Croix, Larche, etc.), and following sunnier valleys than the harsh clime of Haute Maurienne or Tarentaise. This notwithstanding Scullard (2002), who declares: “If any trend can be detected, it perhaps leans towards the Col du Clapier”.

Although he has relied on articles, books, field-work and web search to compile this survey, the present author does not feel qualified to volunteer a solution. While Clapier and Traversette remain red-hot favourites, in his opinion their excessive altitude and steepness on the Italian slope make them debatable candidates. More important, so long as archaeology fails to produce substantial finds, in terms of Carthaginian coins, elephant skeletons, weapons or suchlike artefacts – both Hunt and Mahaney are apparently awaiting permission to dig – discussion of this riddle may last indefinitely.                                 


The writer is an Anglophile Frenchman, a member of the London Alpine Club and long-time specialist of Berber History, Language and Culture. In 1975 he defended his doctoral thesis in Human and Rural Geography on a highland Berber region of Morocco at the Institut de Géographie Alpine (I.G.A.) in Grenoble and has since written guide-books in English on the Atlas Mountains. Not to mention similar publications on the Pre-Alps, entire sections of which he has crossed on foot, together with much of the Hannibalic country, presumed or real, in Diois, Dévoluy, Ubaye, Queyras and Haute Maurienne. From 1999 to 2009 he lectured on “History and Culture of the Berbers” at Al-Akhawayn University in Ifrane (AUI), Morocco. 


Beer (de), G., Alps and Elephants, London: 1955. 

Blache, J., « L’ancienne voie du Cenis », Mémorial du Docteur Marc de Lavis-Trafford, Travaux de la Société d’histoire et d’archéologie de Maurienne, t. XIV, 1962. 

Bocquet, A., « Le passage d’Hannibal dans les Alpes du Nord », Montmélian lecture, 25 Oct. 2008, available on http://www.amisdemontmelian.com/hannibal.htm 

Bocquet, A., « Hannibal et les Alpes », [retrieved Dec. 2009], available on :- http://aimebocquet.perso.sfr.fr/page111m.htm 

Bocquet, A., Hannibal chez les Allobroges : 218 avant Jésus-Christ : La Grande Traversée des Alpes, La Fontaine De Siloé, 2009. 

Bonnet, T., & Morel, A., “Clarée – Queyras – Ubaye – Mercantour, retour d’est de fin décembre 2008”, available http://www.vallouimages.com/brianconnais/claree/00-0812-0.htm 

Bonus, A.R., Where Hannibal passed, London: Methuen, 1925. 

Boser, U., “Hiking with Hannibal”, Archaeology, Vol. 60, n°1, January/February 2007; available on:- http://www.archaeology.org/0701/abstracts/hannibal.html 

Connolly, P., Hannibal and the enemies of Rome, London, 1978. 

Courtenay, A., « South of France: In search of Hannibal the Elephant Man », The Telegraph, 25 March 2000; available on http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/france/riviera…

Galbert (de), G., Hannibal et César dans les Alpes, Grenoble : Ed. Belledonne, 2008. 

Grard, R. & Mathevet, P., « Extension des précipitations de ‘Lombarde’ sur les Alpes françaises », available on http://iahs.info/redbooks/a106/iahs_106_0222.pdf 

Guillaume, A., Annibal franchit les Alpes, 218 av. J.-C., La Tronche-Montfleury : Éditions des Cahiers de l’Alpe, 1967. 

Hunt, P., & Seicean, A., “Alpine archeology and paleo-pathology: Was Hannibal’s army also decimated by epidemic while crossing the Alps?” 2006. 

Hunt, P., “Hannibal in the Alps: Stanford Alpine Archaeology Project 1994-2006”. 2006. 

_______, “Alpine archaeology: Hannibal expedition – Stanford Alpine Archaeology Project 2006 Field Report”. 2006. 

________, “Hannibal’s engineers and Livy (XXI.36-7) on burned rock – truth or legend?”, 2007. 

________, “Hannibal or Hasdrubal? Some numismatic and chronometric considerations for Alpine archaeology”. 2007. All above Hunt material available on http://www.patrickhunt.net 

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Text copyright by Michael Peyron; material from same may be quoted in compliance with current academic practice.



Critic of the Clapier route and staunch advocate of the Petit St Bernard, A. Bocquet has produced an eminently readable volume (2010)




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