1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/St Bernard Passes

ST BERNARD PASSES, two of the best-known passes across the main chain of the Alps, both traversed by carriage roads. The Great St Bernard (8111 ft.) leads (53 m.) from Martigny (anc. Octodurus) in the Rhone valley (Switzerland) to Aosta (anc. Augusta Praetoria) in Italy. It was known in Roman times. The hospice on the pass was founded (or perhaps refounded) by St Bernard of Menthon (d. about 1081), and since the 12th or early 13th century has been in charge of a community of Austin canons, the mother-house being at Martigny. Annually the servants of the canons, and the famous dogs, save many lives, especially of Italian workmen crossing the pass. In May 1800 Napoleon led his army over the pass, which was then traversed by a bridle road only. The Little St Bernard (7179 ft.) also was known in Roman times, and the hospice re founded by St Bernard of Menthon, though it is now in charge of the military and religious order of SS. Maurice and Lazarus. The pass leads (39 m.) from Bourg St Maurice in the Isère valley (French department of Savoie) to Aosta, but is much less frequented by travellers than its neighbour opposite.  (W. A. B. C.) 

There is no certain mention of the road over the pass of the Great St Bernard (Alpis Poenina, Poeninus Mons) before 57 B.C. when Julius Caesar sent Servius Galba over it, “because he wished that the pass, by which traders had been accustomed to go at great risk and with very high transport charges, should be opened.” But even in Strabo's time it was impassable for wheeled traffic; and we find that Augusta Praetoria originally had but two gates, one opening on the road towards the Little St Bernard (Alpis Graia), the other towards Eporedia (Ivrea), but none towards the Alpis Poenina. But the military arrangement of the German provinces rendered the construction of the road necessary, and it is mentioned as existing in A.D. 69. Remains of it cut in the rock, some 12½ ft. in width, still exist near the lake at the top of the pass. On the plain at the top of the pass is the temple of Jupiter Poeninus (Penninus), remains of which were excavated in 1890–1893, though objects connected with it had long ago been found. The oldest of the votive-tablets which can be dated belongs to the time of Tiberius, and the temple may be attributed to the beginning of the empire; objects, however, of the first Iron age (4th or 5th century B.C.) were also found[1] and many Gaulish coins. Other buildings, probably belonging to the post station at the top of the pass, were also discovered. Many of the objects found then and in previous years, including many votive-tablets, are in the museum at the hospice of the Great St Bernard.

See Notizie degli scavi, passim, especially E. Ferrero (1890), 294; C. Promis, Antichità di Aosta (Turin, 1862).

The Little St Bernard was known to the Romans as Alpis Graia. It derived its name from the legend that Hercules, returning from Spain with the oxen of Geryon, crossed the Alps by this route, though the legend rather suits the route throughithe Maritime Alps. According to many modern scholars, Hannibal passed this way over the Alps, though the question has been much discussed (see art. Hannibal, and Partsch in Pauly-Wissowa, Realencyklopädie i., 1604). In any case it was the principal pass over the Alps into Gallia Comata until the pass of the Alpis Cottia (Mont Genèvre) was opened by Cn. Pompeius in 75 B.C., and became the principal route, though the road was only completed under Augustus by Cottius in 3 B.C. Various remains of the road are visible, and those of a building (possibly a temple of Jupiter) have been found on the summit of the pass.

See Notizie degli scavi (1883), 7 (1894), 46; and C. Promis, Antichità di Aosta (Turin, 1862), 115 sqq.  (T. As.) 

  1. So Not. degli scavi (1891), 81; but the statement is contradicted, ibid. (1894), 44.