Hannibal took the ferry home

Posted: Tuesday, September 26, 2000

I hate to correct Rosalee Walker, one of the best sixth-grade teachers in the history of Capital School, but Hannibal and the elephants crossed the Alps in 218 B.C., not 247 B.C. It's probably true, however, that modern road-construction techniques are better than Carthaginian ones. Livy, the Roman historian, says that when Hannibal's army encountered a landslide, and the soldiers trying to work their way around the slide kept slipping on the ice, and the mules started getting stuck, the soldiers piled a lot of timber against the rock outcrop that was in the way of the detour, set the timbers on fire, and then, when the rock had gotten hot enough, threw their sour-wine rations on the rock to make it friable (crumble it), cleared it out of the way, and went on to Italy. (Livy really says this, right down to the sour wine, Book XXI, 36-37, so it must be true, or at least as true as the demand projections and financial estimates in Murray Walsh's beloved pro-road draft EIS.) Apparently the Carthaginians' heat-the-rock, wine-the-rock, split-the-rock, clear-the-rock earth-moving took them four days. Presumably explosives and a D-9 Cat could have done this faster, although DOT's performance in clearing mere snow and bushes from last spring's DOT-caused Thane Road avalanche might make you wonder.

On the other hand, has anyone definitively established why Hannibal spent almost 15 bloody years fighting his way around Italy once he had gotten past that landslide, instead of returning the way he had come, across those avalanche chutes? He ultimately got back to Carthage by fast ferry, not by road [Livy, Book XXX, 20]. Shouldn't Juneau voters follow his example?

Mark Regan


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