Hanno, an able general, was to command the force which was to be left in southern Gaul to keep open the communications between the Pyrenees and the Alps, while the youngest brother, Mago, a youth of about the same age as Malchus, was to accompany him to Italy. Hannibal’s wife and a child which had been born in the preceding spring, were sent by ship to Carthage.
In the early spring the march commenced, the army following the coast line until it reached the mouth of the Ebro. The mountainous and broken country lying between this river and the Pyrenees, and now known as Catalonia, was inhabited by fierce tribes unconquered as yet by Roman or Carthaginian. Its conquest presented enormous difficulties. There was no coherence between its people; but each valley and mountain was a stronghold to be defended desperately until the last. The inhabitants, accustomed to the mountains, were hardy, active, and, vigourous, ready to oppose a desperate resistance so long as resistance was possible, and then to flee across their hills at a speed which defied the fleetest of their pursuers.
Every man was a soldier, and at the first alarm the inhabitants of the villages abandoned their houses, buried their grain, and having driven away their cattle into almost inaccessible recesses among the hills, returned to oppose the invaders. The conquest of such a people was one of the most difficult of undertakings, as the French generals of Napoleon afterwards discovered, to their cost. The cruelty of the mountaineers was equal to their courage, and the lapse of two thousand years changed them but little, for in their long struggle against the French they massacred every detachment whom they could surprise among the hills, murdered the wounded who fell into their hands, and poisoned wells and grain.
The army which Hannibal had brought to the foot of this country through which he had to pass, amounted to 102,000 men, of which 12,000 were cavalry and 90,000 infantry. This force passed the Ebro in three bodies of equal strength. The natives opposed a desperate resistance, but the three columns pressed forward on parallel lines. The towns were besieged and captured, and after two months of desperate fighting Catalonia was subdued, but its conquest cost Hannibal twenty-one thousand men, a fifth of his whole army. Hanno was for the time left here with ten thousand infantry and a thousand cavalry. He was to suppress any fresh rising, to hold the large towns, to form magazines for the army, and to keep open the passes of the Pyrenees. He fixed his headquarters at Burgos. His operations were facilitated by the fact that along the line of the sea coast were a number of Phoenician colonies who were natural allies of the Carthaginians, and aided them in every way in their power. Before advancing through the passes of the Pyrenees Hannibal still further reduced the strength of his force by weeding out all those who had in the conflict among the mountains shown themselves wanting in personal strength or in military qualities. Giving these leave to return home he advanced at the head of fifty thousand picked infantry and nine thousand cavalry.