Hannibal's passage through the Alps has been extensively studied, regarding the route chosen and logistics involved in passing a large army through difficult terrain.

Before that, Hannibal would have had to lead his army out of the Iberian Peninsula into what is now southern France. This question is about how he did it, and where he could/must have passed the Pyrenees.

The maritime option seems to be easily ruled out, since the Romans largely had control over the Gulf of Lion. However, their presence "on the ground" seems to have been limited to several ports, such as Empuries, with less influence further inwards. This leads us to a possible route that would follow approximately the coast line, but some distance inland - similar to the modern-day highway system between Catalonia and the south of France and passing the Pyrenees at what is now Col du Perthus.

However, there exists also a popular legend in north-western Catalonia stating that Hannibal's army marched up along the Segre river valley[1], passing what is now La Seu d'Urgell and going over the Pyrenees either through Andorra or through the region of Cerdanya (modern Puigcerdà). Opinions diverge on this last bit.

Which hypothesis seems more plausible to our esteemed users, and why?

[1] For example, published in the local newspaper El Periodic (in Catalan).


6 Answers 6


This is a subject of some dispute, but perhaps the most common view is that Hannibal probably crossed the Pyrenees via the mountain passes of modern Le Perthus.

He crossed the Pyrenees by the Col du Perthus, a relatively low pass near the eastern end of the mountains near the Mediterranean Sea. The Col du Oethus is less than 800 meters high and even in ancient times was an easy passage over the mountains.

- Prevas, John. Hannibal Crosses the Alps: the Invasion of Italy and the Punic Wars. Da Capo Press, 2009.

This is inferred from historical records. In his Histories, the Greek historian Polybius described Hannibal's passage through the Pyrenees as:

From Emporium to Narbo it is about six hundred stades ... this part of the road having now been carefully measured by the Romans and marked with milestones at every eighth stade (3:39:8).

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This suggests that Polybius thought Hannibal followed an ancient route, one that the Romans later surveyed and paved as the Via Domitia. The Via Domitia leads into Iberia (where it links up with the Via Augusta) through the Col de Parnissars and its neighbouring Col du Perthus, both to the west of the Albères. During antiquity these were the main passes across the Pyrenees, and it would have been perfectly sensible for Hannibal to make his crossing here as well

The Via Domitia leads to the most popular (and lowest) pass in the eastern Pyrenees, the Col de Panissars, now known as the Col de Portus. Hannibal probably came through this pass in 218 BC.

- Salisbury, J. E. Rome's Christian Empress: Galla Placidia Rules at the Twilight of the Empire. JHU Press, 2015.

Another possibility on the Via Domitia route was the Col de Banyuls, which was closer to the Mediterranean coast. Some have suggested that Hannibal might have crossed here, but this is not considered likely because it would make the Carthaginians much more likely to be noticed.

The exact pass or passes by which the army went over the eastern spurs of the Pyrenees is not known, but J. Colin was of opinion that it was by the Col de Banyuls, about 360 metres high, 37 kilometres from Emporiae and 33 to Illiberis (Elne).

- De Beer, Gavin. Hannibal: Challenging Rome's Supremacy. Viking Press, 1969.

Both options are in the Eastern Pyrenees, a not inconsiderable distance from Andorra.

In addition to the Via Domitia passes, the other theory is that Hannibal crossed at the Col de Perche in the Central Pyrenees. This route, through the basin of the Segre as mentioned in the question, would indeed bring Hannibal close to Andorra, as the question's alternative hypothesis argues. However, it makes relatively less sense for Hannibal to choose this unnecessarily difficult path.

The main arguments for this route is that Hannibal may have chosen it so that he could defeat the nearby tribes. The military and strategic benefits of such a move is dubious, though. If the Carthaginians had any hopes for maintaining a logistical link to Spain, it was dashed within months.

  • Nice answer, and references. I am not convinced by Col de Banyuls, since there would have been more chances of detection by the Romans - and I am under the impression the aim was to get to Italy before Romans were aware of his presence ("Blitzkrieg" before its time? ;-) ) Interesting: Col de la Perche is precisely on the route coming up the Segre river, just after modern-day Puigcerdà and Saillagouse.
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 10:29
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    @ALANWARD Yes indeed, the stealth is why Col du Perthus is considered the much more likely choice.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 10:59

I am quite surprised that nobody mentionned Livy's History of Rome Ab Urbe Condita. In book 21 - parts 23 and 24, the historian says about Hannibal that:

  1. He placed Hanno in charge of the whole coast-line to secure the passes which connect Spain with Gaul
  2. He crossed the Pyrenees with the remainder of his force and fixed his camp at the town of Iliberri.

Illiberri is modern-day Elne. If Livy is to be believed, then it would seem very awkward to secure the coastline, cross far away near Urgell and then go to Elne. Securing the coastline means he crossed at Le Perthus or Banyuls, probably not Urgell.

I might even say that from Empuries to Elne, it is more straightforward to cross at Banyuls. On the other hand, given that he then wanted to meet Gaulish leaders in Ruscino (near modern-day Perpignan) who were skeptical about him, he may have taken the way through Le Perthus, then towards Ruscino, but was obliged to step aside in Illiberris, given the opposition in Ruscino.


Polybius clearly states the route - Ilergetes (the people of Ilerda, now Lleida) which is slightly north-east of the Ebro river and where the Segre (Sicoris) River flows through. He mentions the Aeronosii or Aierenossi which is interesting as Val d'Aran is mostly associated with this tribe, perhaps the region of Val d'Aran is just a region within the tribal lands of what are the Aeronosii as there are sufficient placenames near Andorra towards Sort with the Ares, Arros, Arreau, similarities.

Or, he managed to take two separate paths to ensure the protection of one contingent if the other was ambushed going through the Pyrenean passes. Val d'Aran would be a good choice, it's far away from any Roman influence of the time (Lugdunum Convenae or St Bertrand de Comminges) was not under Roman control.

Aside from Val d'Aran, Polybius mentions the Bargusii which is often and wrongly referred to Barcelona. Next is Andosini which is most likely Andorra and is derived from an Iberian term Andes or Indes (Indigetes) similarities and then Ceretani (Cerdanya).

All the place names Polybius mentions are within the Segre River basin. We also must remember the Ilergetes and Celtiberians nearby were, at one time, allied with the Carthaginians and they were sent to Carthage, Utica, as well as Sicily. The Ilergetes' alliance to Carthage was very well devised scheme by Hannibal and Hasdrubal.

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    It looks like this could be a great answer, but links and sources (Polybius ?) would improve it a lot.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Jan 31, 2018 at 14:53

Looking at ancient warfare strategy and tactics, it's likely Hannibal used two different routes through the Central Pyrenees. Any other option is unlikely as Hannibal had enemies on the North side and South side of the Eastern Pyrenees. The river Segre is the most promising as the secondary route.

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    Sources would improve this answer.
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 21:26

Living in the area, I've taken on board these comments and others. My background is geographic, following what sparse evidence there is and local legends I'm surveying all five possible routes.

Col de Panissars/Perthus is accepted locally as the most likely and certainly it's the most direct. Col de Banyuls has local claims as the crossing point for Hercules who was something of a reference for Hannibal. Puigcedra is the most interesting. There are thin claims finds at Tossal de Beltaga support that route based it seems there are of signs of destruction around that time?? It's an interesting idea and certainly its a reasonably easy early summer route to Perpignan and Elne.

There are issues regarding the absolute embargo on staying south of the Tech but that could be managed. The local thinking it was not the entire army but a substantial portion. https://fundacionpalarq.com/en/hannibal-and-his-troops-pass-through-the-pyrenees/

  • As a follow up I've found a paper on the Col de Coustogues and Col D'Ares. The former would be a hard climb, the latter was one of the route taken by those escaping to France from Spain during the civil war. I've visited and walked part of the route. Fit troops with minimal kit would have found it quite easy. The modern track assuming it follows the ancient track is tight in places so progress would have been slow for large numbers. francebleu.fr/infos/international/…
    – user56240
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 12:29
  • Focussing on the Perthus/Panissars and applying some very basic assumptions to Hannibal's use of local intel, line of sight communication, his acknowledged logistical and leadership skills this route was the main route. Visiting the crucial sites it's quite obvious how he managed the risk. The question is given his capacity as a field commander which other routes, if any did he use to provide support and reduce the impact on local resources. Further expeditions in the autumn/fall will hopefully prove useful.
    – user56240
    Commented Aug 29, 2022 at 11:57

The Segre River from the tribe of the Ilergetes makes a lot of sense as a secondary route. In fact, the route follows, for the most part, the tribal lands of the Aerenosii and Andosini. It is mentioned by Polybius that Hannibal conquered tribes north of the Iber and as far as the Pyrenees. We don't have any mention of the Ceretani (Cerdanya) as well as the Indigetes (Indika/Ullastret). How would Hannibal make it through Col de Perthus unnoticed by the Indigetes especially the Banyuls pass?

Furthermore, it is not entirely impossible to reach Ilerberris (Elne) or Perpignan from the Segre River basin. The River Tet reaches Perpignan, not too far north of Elne. As well, River Le Tech (from Elne) to the Col d'Ares (Aerenosii?) in today's Nord Catalunya. The only issue is that Andosini (Andorra) is too far east. Perhaps Andosini and Aerenosii are tribes further to the east in the Pyrenees? The difficulty is the Ilergetes who at one time were allied with the Carthaginians and they are clearly just barely north of Ebro River along the Segre River basin. Why would Hannibal even bother with them if they are so far west away from the route taken?

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    This seems to be a question in its own right. If memory serves me well you don't need any rep to do that. (Or at the very least, less rep than you currently have.) Commented Jun 30, 2018 at 8:12
  • Continuing our research we recently arranged a balloon flight over the Puigcerda - Mt Louis area of the Segre Valley. Lacking archaeological evidence we find the claim he used this route as quite unlikely, the Tet valley between Mt Louis and Prades is a dangerous tight defile. We have hiked the area many times. Hannibal was too good a commander to risk his army, the Alps would be dangerous enough. The local tales of Hannibal passing through confuse his battles with local tribes prior to his departure.
    – user56240
    Commented Oct 3, 2022 at 12:26
  • I have I believe within a reasonable margin of error determined the exact route, the how when and where. As outlined previously living in the area I have trekked all options and taken into account the very latest investigative methodology such as Least Cost analysis. My finding refer to very specific local features Hamilcar would have recognised when planned the traverse. I have been asked to present them formally early next year to local academics. Thanks all for your wisdom and insight, it has been invaluable.
    – user56240
    Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 9:17

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