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Previous Histories of this March either False or Inconsistent

The elephants having been thus got across, Hannibal formed them and the cavalry into a rearguard, and marched up the river bank away from the sea in an easterly direction, as though making for the central district of Europe.

The Rhone rises to the north-west of the Adriatic Gulf on the northern slopes of the Alps,1 and flowing westward, eventually discharges itself into the Sardinian Sea. It flows for the most part through a deep valley, to the north of which lives the Celtic tribe of the Ardyes; while its southern side is entirely walled in by the northern slopes of the Alps, the ridges of which, beginning at Marseilles and extending to the head of the Adriatic, separate it from the valley of the Padus, of which I have already had occasion to speak at length. It was these mountains that Hannibal now crossed from the Rhone valley into Italy.

Some historians of this passage of the Alps, in their desire to produce a striking effect by their descriptions of the wonders of this country, have fallen into two errors which are more alien than anything else to the spirit of history,—perversion of fact and inconsistency. Introducing Hannibal as a prodigy of strategic skill and boldness, they yet represent him as acting with the most conspicuous indiscretion; and then, finding themselves involved in an inextricable maze of falsehood, they try to cut the knot by the introduction of gods and heroes into what is meant to be genuine history. They begin by saying that the Alps are so precipitous and inaccessible that, so far from horses and troops, accompanied too by elephants, being able to cross them, it would be very difficult for even active men on foot to do so: and similarly they tell us that the desolation of this district is so complete, that, had not some god or hero met Hannibal's forces and showed them the way, they would have been hopelessly lost and perished to a man.

Such stories involve both the errors I have mentioned,— they are both false and inconsistent.

1 This statement has done much to ruin Polybius's credit as a geographer. It indicates indeed a strangely defective conception of distance; as his idea, of the Rhone flowing always west, does of the general lie of the country.

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  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ALPES
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ARDYES
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), RHO´DANUS
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