Of the 59,000 picked troops with which he had advanced after the conquest of Catalonia, Hannibal reached the plains of Italy with but 12,000 African infantry, 8,000 Spanish and Gaulish infantry, and 6,000 cavalry — in all 26,000 men. A small force indeed with which to enter upon the struggle with the might and power of Rome. Of the 33,000 men that were missing, 13,000 had fallen in the passes of the Pyrenees and the march through Gaul, 20,000 had died in the passage of the Alps.
Well was it for the Carthaginians that Hannibal had opened communications with the Gaulish tribes in the plains at the foot of the Alps, and that on its issue from the mountain passes his army found itself among friends, for had it been attacked it was in no position to offer a vigorous resistance, the men being utterly broken down by their fatigues and demoralized by their losses. Many were suffering terribly from frostbites, the cavalry were altogether unable to act, so worn out and enfeebled were the horses. Great numbers of the men could scarce drag themselves along owing to the state of their feet; their shoes and sandals, well enough adapted for sandy plains, were wholly unfitted for traversing rocky precipices, and the greater part of the army was almost barefoot.
So long as they had been traversing the mountains they had struggled on doggedly and desperately; to lag behind was to be slain by the natives, to lie down was to perish of cold; but with the cessation of the absolute necessity for exertion the power for exertion ceased also. Worn out, silent, exhausted, and almost despairing, the army of Hannibal presented the appearance of one which had suffered a terrible defeat, rather than that of a body of men who had accomplished a feat of arms unrivalled in the history of war.
Happily they found themselves among friends. The Insubres, who had been looking forward eagerly to their coming, flocked in great numbers to receive them as they issued out into the plain, bringing with them cattle, grain, wine, and refreshments of all kinds, and inviting the army to take up their quarters among them until recovered from their fatigues. This offer Hannibal at once accepted. The army was broken up and scattered among the various towns and villages, where the inhabitants vied with each other in attending to the comforts of the guests. A fortnight’s absolute rest, an abundance of food, and the consciousness that the worst of their labours was over, did wonders for the men.
Malchus had arrived in a state of extreme exhaustion, and had, indeed, been carried for the last two days of the march on the back of one of the elephants. The company which he commanded no longer existed; they had borne far more than their share of the fatigues of the march; they had lost nearly half their number in the conflict among the precipices with the natives, and while the rest of the army had marched along a track where the snow had already been beaten hard by the cavalry in front of them, the scouts ahead had to make their way through snow knee deep. Inured to fatigue and hardship, the Arabs were unaccustomed to cold, and every day had diminished their numbers, until, as they issued out into the plain, but twenty men of the company remained alive.