previous next

Of the Gallic Alps and the various passes through them.

This country of Gaul, because of its lofty chains of mountains always covered with formidable snows, was formerly all but unknown to the inhabitants of the rest of the globe, except where it borders on the coast; and bulwarks enclose it on every side, surrounding it naturally, as if by the art of man. [2] Now on the southern side it is washed by the Tuscan and the Gallic Sea; where it looks up to the heavenly Wain, 1 it is separated from the wild nations by the channels 2 of the Rhine. Where it lies under the west-sloping sun 3 it is bounded by the Ocean and the Pyrenaean heights; and where it rises towards the East it gives place to the bulk of the Cottian Alps. There King Cottius, after the subjugation of Gaul, lay hidden alone in their defiles, trusting to the pathless ruggedness of the [p. 183] region; finally, when his disaffection was allayed, and he was admitted to the emperor Octavian's friendship, in lieu of a remarkable gift he built with great labour short cuts convenient to travellers, since they were midway between other ancient Alpine passes, about which I shall later tell what I have learned. [3] In these Cottian Alps, which begin at the town of Susa, there rises a lofty ridge, which scarcely anyone can cross without danger. [4] For as one comes from Gaul it falls off with sheer incline, terrible to look upon because of overhanging cliffs on either side, especially in the season of spring, when the ice melts and the snows thaw under the warmer breath of the wind; then over precipitous ravines on either side and chasms rendered treacherous through the accumulation of ice, men and animals descending with hesitating step slide forward, and waggons as well. And the only expedient that has been devised to ward off destruction is this: they bind together a number of vehicles with heavy ropes and hold them back from behind with powerful efforts of men or oxen at barely a snail's pace; and so they roll down a little more safely. And this, as we have said, happens in the spring of the year. [5] But in winter the ground, caked with ice, and as it were polished and therefore slippery, drives men headlong in their gait and the spreading valleys in level places, made treacherous by ice, sometimes swallow up the traveller. Therefore those that know the country well drive projecting wooden stakes along the safer spots, in order that their line may guide the traveller in safety. But if these are covered with snow and [p. 185] hidden, or are overturned by the streams running down from the mountains, the paths are difficult to traverse even with natives leading the way. [6] But from the peak of this Italian slope a plateau extends for seven miles, as far as the post named from Mars 4 ; from there on another loftier height, equally difficult to surmount, reaches to the peak of the Matrona, 5 so called from an accident to a noble lady. After that a route, steep to be sure, but easier to traverse extends to the fortress of Briançon. [7] The tomb of the prince, who, as we said, built these roads, is at Susa next to the walls, and his shades are devoutly venerated for a double reason: because he had ruled his subjects with a just government, and when admitted to alliance with the Roman state, procured eternal peace for his nation. [8] And although this road which I have described is the middle one, the short cut, and the more frequented, yet there are also others, constructed long before at various times. [9] Now the first of these the Theban Hercules, 6 when travelling leisurely to destroy Geryon and Tauriscus, constructed near the Maritime Alps and gave them the name of the Graian 7 Alps. And in like manner he consecrated the castle and harbour of Monaco to his lasting memory. Then, later, after the passage of many centuries, the name Pennine was devised for these Alps for the following reason. [10] Publius Cornelius Scipio, [p. 187] father of the elder Africanus, when the Saguntines, famous both for their catastrophies and their loyalty, were besieged by the Africans 8 with persistent obstinacy, wishing to help them, crossed to Spain with a fleet manned by a strong army. But as the city had been destroyed by a superior force, 9 and he was unable to overtake Hannibal, who had crossed the Rhone three days before and was hastening to the regions of Italy, by swift sailing he crossed the intervening space-which is not great-and watched at Genoa, a town of Liguria, for Hannibal's descent from the mountains, so that if chance should give him the opportunity, he might fight with him in the plain while exhausted by the roughness of the roads. [11] At the same time, having an eye to the common welfare, he advised his brother, Gnaeus Scipio, to proceed to Spain and hold off Hasdrubal, who was planning to burst forth in like manner from that quarter. But Hannibal learned of this from deserters, and being of a nimble and crafty wit, came, under the guidance of natives from among the Taurini, through the Tricasini and the extreme edge of the Vocontii to the passes of the Tricorii. Starting out from there, he made another road, where it hitherto had been impassable; he hewed out a cliff which rose to a vast height by burning it with flames of immense power and crumbling it by pouring on vinegar; 10 then he marched along the river Druentia, dangerous with its shifting eddies, and seized upon the district of Etruria. So much about the Alps; let us now turn to the rest of the country.

[p. 189]

1 The septentriones, the constellation of ursa major, representing the north.

2 As it enters the sea, the Rhine divides into several branches.

3 As there is no specific western constellation, sidus seems to mean “sun”; cf. Pliny, N.H. ii. 12; etc., and solis ortus, below, of the east.

4 Modern Oulx, in the Ant. Itin. called mansio Martis; in the Itin. Burdigalense, ad Martis. Amm. uses statio both of a military post, and of a station on the cursus publicus, but see Hyde, R. Alp. Routes, p. 59.

5 Mont Genèvre.

6 See note, p. 176.

7 “Grecian,” but see Hyde, R. Alpine Routes, p. 59.

8 That is, the Carthaginians, in 218 B.C. See Hyde, pp. 197 ff.

9 After a siege of eight months.

10 Cf. Livy, xxi. 37, 1–3; Juvenal, x. 153; etc. Pliny, N.H. xxiii. 57, attributes this power to vinegar, but Polybius does not mention the story, which is doubted for various reasons.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1940)
load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1939)
load focus Introduction (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1935)
load focus Latin (John C. Rolfe, Ph.D., Litt.D., 1935)
hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), ALPES
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), SEGU´SIO
    • Smith's Bio, Co'ttius
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: