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Sea expedition of Carthaginian admiral Hanno

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Probable sea expedition of Carthaginian admiral Hanno
Probable sea expedition of Carthaginian admiral Hanno | Author: Bourrichon | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Hanno was a high Carthaginian admiral who lived in the 6th or 5th centuries BCE and who commanded a sea expedition that passed through the “Pillars of Heracles” (Strait of Gibraltar) and sailed along the coast of West Africa. We know about the expedition thanks to two copies of periplus1, preserved in Greek.

Hannon, after returning from the expedition, was to deposit numerous trophies at the temple of Baal Hammon in Carthage. There, too, was placed in Phoenician, on one of the steles, a travel record, which was later translated by the Greeks in the 4th century BCE.

According to the researchers, Hannon’s expedition can be divided into three stages.

  • originally the expedition was a colonization expedition and reached the mouth of the Draa River [in periplus “Lixus”] in Morocco;
  • then the expedition set out to capture gold deposits (the mouth of the Senegal River was reached [in periplus “Chretes”] in Senegal);
  • in the end, the Carthaginians focused on discovering new lands and probably reached the height of the equator, where they probably saw apes.

Importantly, most scientists believe that Hannon’s expedition did take place, which only highlights how amazing and brave the Carthaginians/Phoenicians were. Interestingly, Hannon’s expedition was also remembered by later historians, geographers and ancient researchers, including Pomponius Mela, Pliny the Elder and Gaius Julius Solinus.

Content of the periplus of Hanno

1. It pleased the Carthaginians that Hanno should voyage outside the Pillars of Hercules, and found cities of the Libyphoenicians. And he set forth with sixty ships of fifty oars, and a multitude of men and women, to the number of thirty thousand, and with wheat and other provisions.
2. After passing through the Pillars we went on and sailed for two days’ journey beyond, where we founded the first city, which we called Thymiaterium ; it lay in the midst of a great plain.

3. Sailing thence toward the west we came to Solois, a promontory of Libya, bristling with trees.

4. Having set up an altar here to Neptune, we proceeded again, going toward the east for half the day, until we reached a marsh lying no great way from the sea, thickly grown with tall reeds. Here also were elephants and other wild beasts feeding, in great numbers.

5. Going beyond the marsh a day’s journey, we setded cities by the sea, which we called Caricus Murus, Gytta, Acra, Melitta and Arambys.

6. Sailing thence we came to the Lixus, a great river flowing from Libya. By it a wandering people, the Lixitas, were pasturing their flocks; with whom we remained some time, becoming friends.

7. Above these folk lived unfriendly Ethiopians, dwelling in a land full of wild beasts, and shut off by great mountains, from which they say the Lixus flows, and on the mountains live men of various shapes, cave-dwellers, who, so the Lixitse say, are fleeter of foot than horses.
8. Taking interpreters from them, we sailed twelve days toward the south along a desert, turning thence toward the east one day’s sail. There, within the recess of a bay we found a small island, having a circuit of fifteen stadia; which we settled, and called it Cerne. From our journey we judged it to be situated opposite Carthage ; for the voyage from Carthage to the Pillars and thence to Cerne was the same.

9. Thence, sailing by a great river whose name was Chretes, we came to a lake, which had three islands, larger than Cerne. Running a day’s sail beyond these, we came to the end of the lake, above which rose great mountains, peopled by savage men wearing skins of wild beasts, who threw stones at us and prevented us from landing from our ships.

10. Sailing thence, we came to another river, very great and broad, which was full of crocodiles and hippopotami. And then we turned about and went back to Cerne.

11. Thence we sailed toward the south twelve days, following the shore, which was peopled by Ethiopians who fled from us and would not wait. And their speech the Lixitse who were with us could not understand.
12. But on the last day we came to great wooded mountains. The wood of the trees was fragrant, and of various kinds.
13. Sailing around these mountains for two days, we came to an immense opening of the sea, from either side of which there was level ground inland; from which at night we saw iire leaping up on every side at intervals, now greater, now less.
14. Having taken in water there, we sailed along the shore for five days, until we came to a great bay, which our interpreters said was called Horn of the West. In it there was a large island, and within the island a lake of the sea, in which there was another island. Landing there during the day, we saw nothing but forests, but by night many burning fires, and we heard the sound of pipes and cymbals, and the noise of drums and a great uproar. Then fear possessed us, and the soothsayers commanded us to leave the island.

15. And then quickly sailing forth, we passed by a burning country full of fragrance, from which great torrents of fire flowed down to the sea. But the land could not be come at for the heat.

16. And we sailed along with all speed, being stricken by fear. After a journey of four days, we saw the land at night covered with flames. And in the midst there was one lofty fire, greater than the rest, which seemed to touch the stars. By day this was seen to be a very high mountain, called Chariot of the Gods.
17. Thence, sailing along by the fiery torrents for three days, we came to a bay, called Horn of the South.
18. In the recess of this bay there was an island, like the former one, having a lake, in which there was another island, full of savage men. There were women, too, in even greater number. They had hairy bodies, and the interpreters called them Gorillie. When we pursued them we were unable to take any of the men ; for they all escaped, by climbing the steep places and defending themselves with stones; but we took three of the women, who bit and scratched their leaders, and would not follow us. So we killed them and flayed them, and brought their skins to Carthage. For we did not voyage further, provisions failing us.

  1. An ancient record of successive ports and characteristic coastal features, along with approximate distances between them.
  • Kotłowski Grzegorz, Identyfikacja nazw geograficznych w periplusie Hannona, [w:] Sajkowski Ryszard, Wolny Miron (red.), Grecja, Kartagina, Rzym, Olsztyn 2009
  • Morta Krzysztof, Relacja z wyprawy Hannona w pismach greckich i łacińskich. Problem deformacji treści w procesie transmisji tekstu, Classica Wratislaviensia 31, 2011

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