The army was now moving through the passes of the Pyrenees. The labour was great; no army had ever before crossed this mountain barrier; roads had to be made, streams bridged, and rocks blasted away, to allow the passage of the elephants and baggage wagons. Opinions have differed as to the explosives used by the Carthaginian miners, but it is certain that they possessed means of blasting rocks. The engineers of Hannibal’s force possessed an amount of knowledge and science vastly in excess of that attained by the Romans at that time, and during the campaign the latter frequently endeavoured, and sometimes with success, by promises of high rewards, to induce Hannibal’s engineers to desert and take service with them. A people well acquainted with the uses of sulphur and niter, skilled in the Oriental science of chemistry, capable of manufacturing Greek fire — a compound which would burn under water — may well have been acquainted with some mixture resembling gunpowder.
The art of making this explosive was certainly known to the Chinese in very remote ages, and the Phoenicians, whose galleys traversed the most distant seas to the east, may have acquired their knowledge from that people.
The wild tribes of the mountains harassed the army during this difficult march, and constant skirmishes went on between them and Hannibal’s light armed troops. However, at last all difficulties were overcome, and the army descended the slopes into the plains of Southern Gaul.
Already Hannibal’s agents had negotiated for an unopposed passage through this country; but the Gauls, alarmed at the appearance of the army, and at the news which had reached them of the conquest of Catalonia, assembled in arms. Hannibal’s tact and a lavish distribution of presents dissipated the alarm of the Gauls, and their chiefs visited Hannibal’s camp at Elne, and a treaty was entered into for the passage of the army.
A singular article of this treaty, and one which shows the esteem in which the Gauls held their women, was that all complaints on the part of the natives against Carthaginian troops should be carried to Hannibal himself or the general representing him, and that all complaints of the Carthaginians against the natives should be decided without appeal by a council composed of Gaulish women. This condition caused much amusement to the Carthaginians, who, however, had no cause to regret its acceptance, for the decisions of this singular tribunal were marked by the greatest fairness and impartiality. The greater part of the tribes through whose country the army marched towards the Rhone observed the terms of the treaty with good faith; some proved troublesome, but were wholly unable to stand against the Carthaginian arms.
The exact route traversed by the army has been a subject of long and bitter controversy; but, as no events of very great importance occurred on the way, the precise line followed in crossing Gaul is a matter of but slight interest. Suffice that, after marching from the Pyrenees at a high rate of speed, the army reached the Rhone at the point where Roquemaure now stands, a short distance above Avignon.