Over the Alps

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Episode 4 of 6

Duration: 29 minutes

History and travel series in which three Australian brothers - Danny, Ben and Sam Wood - set out cycling on the trail of Hannibal, the Carthaginian warrior who marched from Spain to Rome at the head of an invading army accompanied by elephants.

The brothers take on the most challenging leg of their trek - crossing the Alps. Historians disagree about which route Hannibal took across the mountains, and the Woods split up and each cycle a different path. They brave snow, altitude and sheer exhaustion as they carry their bikes across some of the highest peaks in the Alps. Finally, they meet up in northern Italy, ready to take on Rome.

  • Photo: The Wood Brothers cross the Alps

    Photo: The Wood Brothers cross the Alps

    From left to right: Ben, Sam and Danny have a mountainous journey across the Alps in the forth part of their trip, On Hannibal's Trail.

  • Quote: Livy, 'The War with Hannibal', Book XXI, 60

    "My men, you are at this moment passing over the protective barrier of Italy - nay more, you are walking over the very walls of Rome."

  • Historical Moment: Crossing the Alps

    Hannibal is best known for crossing Europe's biggest mountain chain, the Alps with about fifty thousand men and forty elephants. More than two thousand years later we still don't know which path he took and this mystery continues to puzzle scholars and amateur adventurers. Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte had opinions on Hannibal's route and over the years more than half a dozen possible mountain crossings, or "cols", have been proposed.

    There are no archaeological remains of the crossing so our guides for our test are literary: Polybius and Livy. Hannibal scholars have come up with these criteria lifted directly out of the descriptions of Hannibal's crossing in Polybius and Livy:
    - A big bare or white rock where Hannibal sought refuge with part of his army when he was ambushed by hill tribes.
    - A site suitable for an army to camp, on or near the summit.
    - A spectacular view of Italy from the summit.
    - A descent that is steeper than the ascent.
    - At a high enough altitude to be covered with snow and ice all year round.
    - On the descent, evidence of a landslide and burnt rocks where Hannibal forced his way through using fire and vinegar to crack open the rocks blocking his path.
    - Pasture on the Italian side after the steep descent.

    There are many options which fit these Criteria. We tested three - Montgenevre at 1850 metres, Col du Clapier at 2500 metres, and Col de la Traversette at 2950 metres high. After our journeys, Traversette and Clapier were ahead on the criteria, although archaeological evidence is really needed to confirm where exactly Hannibal went.

  • The Call of the Wild

    The Call of the Wild

    This programme is part of The Call Of The Wild on BBC Four, a celebration of the great British love affair with the countryside - whatever the weather.

    Go to The Call of the Wild site
  • BBC TV Blog: Cycling from Spain to Italy via the Alps

    BBC TV Blog: Cycling from Spain to Italy via the Alps

    Ben Wood on how he and his brothers came to follow Hannibal's trail by bike, and what happened on the way.

    Read Ben's blog post at the BBC TV blog

Credits

Presenter
Danny Wood
Presenter
Sam Wood
Presenter
Ben Wood
Executive Producer
Chris Granlund
Producer
Robin Dashwood
Director
Fiona Cushley
Producer
Fiona Cushley
Writer
Fiona Cushley

Broadcasts

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