Once Hannibal entered Italy, at first he encamped at the very foot of the Alps to refresh his forces. For his men had not only suffered terribly from the toil of ascent and descent of the passes and the roughness of the road but they were also in wretched condition owing to the scarcity of provisions and neglect of their persons, many having fallen into a state of utter despondency from prolonged toil and want of food. For it had been impossible to transport over such ground a plentiful supply of provisions for so many thousand men, and with the loss of the pack-animals the greater part of what they were carrying perished. So that while Hannibal started from the passage of the Rhone with thirty-eight thousand foot and more than eight thousand horse he lost in crossing the passes about half his whole force, while the survivors, owing to the continued hardships they had suffered, had become in their external appearance and general condition more like beasts than men. Hannibal, therefore, made every provision for carefully attending to the men and the horses likewise until they were restored in body and spirit.
After this, his forces having now picked up their strength, when the Taurini who live at the foot of the mountains quarrelled with the Insubres and showed no confidence in the Carthaginians, he at first made overtures for their friendship and alliance, but on their rejecting these he encamped round their chief city and reduced it in three days. By massacring those who had been opposed to him he struck such terror into the neighbouring tribes of barbarians that they all came in at once and submitted to him. The remaining Celtic inhabitants of the plain were impatient to join the Carthaginians, as had been their original design, but as the Roman legions had advanced beyond most of them and cut them off, they kept quiet, some even being compelled to serve with the Romans. Hannibal, in view of this, decided not to delay, but to advance and try by some action to encourage those who wished to take part in his enterprise.
Such was the purpose he had in view when the news reached him that Publius had already crossed the Po and was quite near at hand. At first he refused to believe it, reflecting that he had left him only a few days previously near the crossing of the Rhone and that the coasting voyage from Marseilles to Etruria was long and difficult, and learning further by inquiry that the road through Italy from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Alps was likewise very long and not suited for the march of troops. But when more messengers continued to arrive bringing the same news in a more definite form, he was struck with amazement at the whole project of the Consul and the way he had carried it out. Publius had very much the same feeling; for at first he had never expected that Hannibal would even attempt to cross the Alps with foreign forces, and if he ventured on it he thought that certain destruction awaited him. So that, his anticipations being such, when he heard that Hannibal was safe and was already besieging towns in Italy he was amazed too at his daring and venturesomeness.
In Rome itself the intelligence had much the same effect. The stir created by the last news of the Carthaginians that they had captured Saguntum had only just subsided, measures had been taken to meet this situation by sending one Consul to Libya who was to besiege Carthage itself, and the other to Spain to fight, as they thought, with Hannibal there; and now news came that Hannibal was in Italy with his army and already laying siege to some cities. The thing therefore seemed altogether astounding to them, and in great alarm they sent urgent orders to Tiberius at Lilybaeum, informing him of the arrival of the enemy and bidding him abandon his present project and hasten to the help of his own country. Tiberius at once collected the crews of his fleet and dispatched it with orders to make for home. From his soldiers he exacted through the Tribunes an oath that they would all be at Ariminum on a certain day before bed-time. This is a city on the Adriatic at the southern edge of the plains of the Po. So that as there was great stir and activity all round, and as the news that arrived was what nobody expected, there was on both sides that intense concern for the future which an enemy cannot afford to neglect.
Hannibal and Publius were now near each other, and they both thought it proper to address their troops in a manner suitable to the occasion. The device by which Hannibal tried to encourage his men was as follows. Mustering the troops, he brought forward certain young men from among the prisoners he had taken molesting his march in the difficult part of the Alpine pass. He had purposely, with a view to the use he was going to make of them, ill-used them : they wore heavy fetters, they had suffered much from hunger, and their bodies were disfigured by the marks of blows. Placing them in the middle of the meeting he exhibited some Gaulish suits of armour, such as their kings are wont to deck themselves with when about to engage in single combat. In addition to these he placed there some horses and had some rich military cloaks brought in. He then asked the young men which of them were willing to do combat with each other, the prizes exhibited being destined for the victor, while the vanquished would be delivered by death from his present misery. When all shouted out with one voice that they were willing to fight, he ordered them to draw lots, and the two on whom the lot fell to arm themselves and do combat. The young men, the moment they heard this, lifted up their hands and prayed to the gods, each eager to be himself one of the chosen. When the result was announced, those on whom the lot had fallen were overjoyed and the rest mournful and dejected, and after the combat was over the remaining prisoners congratulated the fallen champion no less than the victor, as having been set free from many and grievous evils which they themselves were left alive to suffer. The sentiment of most of the Carthaginians was identical; for looking on the misery of the other prisoners as they were led away alive, they pitied them on comparing their fate with that of the dead whom they all pronounced to be fortunate.
When Hannibal had by this means produced the disposition he desired in the minds of his troops, he rose and told them that he had brought the prisoners before them designedly in order that clearly seeing in the person of others what they might themselves have to suffer, they should thence take better counsel at the present crisis.
“Fortune,” he said, “has brought you to a like pass, she has shut you in on a like listed field of combat, and the prizes and prospects she offers you are the same. For either you must conquer, or die, or fall alive into the hands of your foes. For you the prize of victory is not to possess horses and cloaks, but to be the most envied of mankind, masters of all the wealth of Rome. The prize of death on the battle-field is to depart from life in the heat of the fight, struggling till your last breath for the noblest of objects and without having learnt to know suffering. But what awaits those of you who are vanquished and for the love of life consent to fly, or who preserve their lives by any other means, is to have every evil and every misfortune for their lot. There is not one of you so dull and unreflecting as to hope to reach his home by flight, when he remembers the length of the road he traversed from his native land, the numbers of the enemies that lie between, and the size of the rivers he crossed. I beg you, therefore, cut off as you are entirely from any such hope, to take the same view of your own situation that you have just expressed regarding that of others. For as you all accounted both the victor and the fallen fortunate and pitied the survivors, so now should you think about yourselves and go all of you to battle resolved to conquer if you can, and if this be impossible, to die. And I implore you not to let the hope of living after defeat enter your minds at all. If you reason and purpose as I urge upon you, it is clear that victory and safety will follow; for none ever who either by necessity or choice formed such a resolve have been deceived in their hope of putting their enemies to flight. And when the enemy have the opposite hope, as is now the case with the Romans, most of them being sure of finding safety in flight as their homes are near at hand, it is evident that the courage of those who despair of safety will carry all before it“.
The object-lesson and the speech were well received by the troops, in whom they produced the enthusiasm and self-confidence that the speaker desired, and after commending them he dismissed them, ordering them to be ready to start at daybreak.
At about the same date Publius Scipio, who had already crossed the Po and had decided to advance across the Ticinus, ordered those qualified for that task to build a bridge and, summoning a meeting of the rest of his forces, addressed them. Most of what he said related to the exalted position of their country and the achievements of their ancestors; what concerned the present situation was as follows. He said that even if they had had no recent experience of the enemy, the knowledge alone that they were going to fight against Carthaginians should give them unshaken hope of victory. They should regard it as altogether an outrageous and surprising thing that Carthaginians should dare to face Romans, by whom they had been so often beaten, to whom they had paid so much tribute, and whose slaves almost they had been for so many years.
“But now“, he went on to say, “when apart from this we can judge more or less by our own experience that these actual men here on the spot do not venture to look us in the face, what should our opinion be as to the future, if we estimate chances correctly? Why! not even their cavalry when they met ours near the Rhone came off well, but after losing many of their number fled disgracefully to their own camp, upon which their general and all his forces, as soon as they knew our soldiers were coming, made a retreat more resembling a flight, and contrary to their original intention chose the route through the Alps from pure fear of us. Hannibal has now arrived“, he said, “but he has lost most of his army and the rest are weak and useless owing to hardship; he has lost most of his horses too, and those he has left he has rendered fit for nothing by the length and difficulty of his march“.
From all this he tried to convince them that they had only to show themselves to the enemy. He bade them above all be encouraged by his own presence, for never would he have abandoned his fleet and the Spanish expedition on which he was dispatched, and made such haste to reach Italy, had it not been evident to him that he was doing a necessary service to his country and that victory was a matter of certainty. When all the troops, owing to the authority of the speaker, and the truth of what he said, showed themselves most ardent for a battle, he commended their alacrity and dismissed them, bidding them hold themselves in readiness to execute his orders.
Next day they both advanced along the Po on the bank nearest the Alps, the Romans having the stream on their left and the Carthaginians on their right.
(Source: Polybius, The Histories, Vol.II, Book III, Loeb Classical Library)
Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus