Publius Cornelius the consul, some three days after Hannibal had left the bank of the Rhone, marched in fighting order to the enemy's camp, intending to offer battle without delay.
But finding the works deserted, and perceiving that he could not readily overtake the enemy, who had got so long a start of him, he returned to the sea, where he had left his ships, thinking that he would thus be more safely and easily enabled to confront Hannibal as he descended from the Alps.
Still, that he might not leave Spain stripped of Roman defenders —for the lot had assigned it to him as his province —he
sent Gnaeus Scipio, his brother, with the chief part of his troops, to deal with Hasdrubal, with the object not merely of protecting the allies and of winning over new ones, but also of driving Hasdrubal out of Spain.
He himself, with extremely scanty forces, sailed back to Genoa,1
proposing to safeguard Italy with the army which lay in the valley of the Po.
Hannibal, leaving the Druentia, and advancing for the most part through a champaign country, [p. 95]
reached the Alps without being molested by the2
Gauls who inhabited those regions.
Then, though report, which is wont to exaggerate uncertain dangers, had already taught them what to expect, still, the near view of the lofty mountains, with their snows almost merging in the sky; the shapeless hovels perched on crags; the frost-bitten flocks and beasts of burden; the shaggy, unkempt men; animals and inanimate objects alike stiff with cold, and all more dreadful to look upon than words can tell, renewed their consternation.
As their column began to mount the first slopes, mountaineers were discovered posted on the heights above, who, had they lain concealed in hidden valleys, might have sprung out suddenly and attacked them with great rout and slaughter. Hannibal gave the command to halt, and sent forward some Gauls to reconnoitre.
When informed by them that there was no getting by that way, he encamped in the most extensive valley to be found in a wilderness of rocks and precipices.
He then employed these same Gauls, whose speech and customs did not differ greatly from those of the mountaineers, to mingle in their councils, and in this way learned that his enemies guarded the pass only by day, and at night dispersed, every man to his own home. As soon as it was light, he advanced up the hills, as though lie hoped to rush the defile by an open attack in the daytime.
Then having spent the day in feigning a purpose other than his real one, he entrenched a camp on the spot where he had halted.
But no sooner did he perceive that the mountaineers had dispersed from the heights and relaxed their vigilance, than, leaving for show more fires than the [p. 97]
numbers of those who remained in camp demanded;3
leaving, too, the baggage and the cavalry and a great part of the infantry, he put himself at the head of some light-armed soldiers —all
his bravest men —and, marching swiftly to the head of the defile, occupied those very heights which the enemy had held.