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The Romans, Andorra and Hannibal

This short historical note draws upon an extract from the book Discover Charming Andorra: A Country and Travel Guide. The book includes a chapter exploring Andorra’s history from prehistory to the present day.

Is there any connection between Andorra and Hannibal, the well-known Carthaginian general who crossed the Alps with thousands of troops and African elephants to attack the heart of the Roman Empire? His daring raid also required him to cross the Pyrenees mountain range. It is possible he crossed via Andorra?

Several centuries before the birth of Christ the two main powers in the Mediterranean region were Rome and Carthage. The Punic Wars were a series of conflicts between an expanding Rome and its rival Carthage, the dominant power in the Western Mediterranean, which was based in Spain and North Africa. These three conflicts took place between 264 and 146 BC when the Romans finally sacked Carthage. With the collapse of Carthage Rome took control of the Iberian Peninsula, including Andorra.

During the Second Punic War (218 – 201 BC) Carthaginian general Hannibal famously marched his army from Spain through Europe to cross the Alps with elephants and attack Italy. In order to carry out this daring and unorthodox plan Hannibal had to cross the Pyrenees from Iberia (Spain) during the early part of his campaign.

View of the Pyrenees across the lake at Banyoles, Girona

His crossing point of the mountain range remains a topic of discussion among experts. Three main routes have been suggested across the Pyrenees. The first is at the easternmost end of the mountain range by the Mediterranean Sea. It would certainly have been the easiest, with less height to navigate. However, being so close to the coast and enemy forces in the vicinity it is arguably unlikely Hannibal and his huge entourage could have passed through without being seen.

A second possible crossing point is further inland, at modern day Le Perthus, close to the Spanish border town of La Jonquera. It is far enough away from the Mediterranean to avoid being seen. It is also a relatively low crossing point of the mountain range and this appears to be the route favoured by the majority of scholars.

Recently I was in the area and drove up the GI-505 road to visit a monument to the Catalan leader Lluís Companys who was executed by the Franco regime after the Spanish Civil War. The views of the valley and mountain pass below are spectacular and give one a true perspective of the width and relative flatness of the valley. If Hannibal did pass this way one cannot help but wonder what went through the minds of the valley’s inhabitants as the many thousands of troops and numerous elephants from Africa crashed through on their way north to the Alps. I have written more about this interesting area in another post.

Flock of sheep on GI-505 above La Jonquera pass

A third route theorised is much further west, with Hannibal and his forces passing through the Andorran valleys before reaching the pass down into France. However, given the height and challenges of this route it seems perhapsless likely than the Le Perthus crossing point. So it cannot be stated with any certainty that Hannibal passed through Andorra. Yet it is possible.

Ordino parish near El Serrat
One of the main valleys in Andorra

What is certain is that with the eventual demise of Carthage the Roman Empire was free to expand its power to control the Iberian peninsula, including the territory of Andorra, within what became known as the Roman province of Hispania Tarraconensis. The Roman presence in Andorra lasted some five centuries and is evident to this day in the language and some of the laws and traditions of the principality.

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