The Voyage of Hanno, King of the Carthaginians, to the Libyan regions of the earth, beyond the Pillars of Heracles..." These are the opening words of the Periplus of Hanno, a Greek translation of a Punic inscription on a bronze plaque that Hanno dedicated in the Temple of Chronos (Baal Hammon) at Carthage.(1) In this document the shophet Hanno relates how, in the first half of the sixth century BC, he conducted an expedition that brought new colonists to four Carthaginian settlements established where the chain of the Atlas reaches the Atlantic and then, having founded a new colony at the Tropic, proceeded from there to explore the coast of Africa as far as the Equator.
In the Greek translation, Hanno was called king, which means he was probably a high Carthaginian magistrate known as a suffete. On his return, as testimony to his voyage (it is possible that he was not the author.) There is only one Greek version, dating perhaps to the third century BC , a translation of his 18-line travelogue, or "Periplus," into a rather mediocre Greek. It was not a complete rendering; several abridgments were made. The abridged translation was copied several times by Greek and Byzantine clerks. At the moment, there are only two copies, dating back to the ninth and the fourteenth centuries. The first of these manuscripts is known as the Palatinus Graecus 398 and can be studied in the University Library of Heidelberg. The other text is the so-called Vatopedinus 655; parts of it are in the British Museum in London and in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
The eighteen lines of Hanno's artless account of his journey along the west coast of Africa are a unique document. It is the only known first-hand report on these regions before those of the Portuguese, which were written two thousand years later. It is the longest known text by a Phoenician author. Besides, Hanno has a fascinating story to tell: He then describes his various stops along the way and his interaction with the natives. stories of men that can run faster than horses, we visit a mysterious island, have to fight hostile natives, encountered crocodiles and water horses (hippopotami), survive an erupting volcano and encounter gorillas. They then Probably, Hanno made his voyage on the outer sea in the first half of the sixth century BC.
"Record of the voyage of King Hanno of Carthage round the lands of Libya which lie beyond the Pillars of Hercules. It has been engraved on tablets hung up in the Temple of Chronos.
"The Carthaginians decided that Hanno should go past the Pillars and found Carthaginian cities. He set sail with sixty pentekontas ( fifty-oared ships) carrying thirty thousand men and women with provisions and other necessities. After passing the Pillars of Hercules and sailing for two days beyond them we founded the first city, which was named Thymiaterion. Around it was a large plain. Next we went on in a westerly direction and arrived at the Libyan promontory of Soloeis, which is covered with trees; having set up a shrine to Poseidon, we set sail again towards the rising sun for half a day, after which we arrived at a lagoon close to the sea covered with many tall reeds. Elephants and large numbers of other animals were feeding on them. Leaving this lagoon and sailing for another day, we founded the coastal cities named Carian Wall, Gytte, Acra, Melitta and Arambys."
Leaving this place we arrived at the great river Lixos which comes from Libya. On the banks nomads, the Lixites, were feeding their flocks. We stayed for some time with these people and made friends with them. Upstream from them lived the unfriendly Ethiopians whose land is full of wild beasts and broken up by high mountains where they say the Lixos rises. They also say that about these mountains dwell the strange-looking Troglodytes. The Lixites claim that they can run faster than horses. Taking Lixite interpreters with us we sailed alongside the desert in a southerly direction for two days, then towards the rising sun for one more day. We then found at the far end of an inlet a little island five stades in circumference. We named it Cerne and left settlers there. judging by our journey we reckoned that it must be opposite Carthage, since we had to sail the same distance from Carthage to the Pillars of Hercules as from the Pillars of Hercules to Cerne. From there, sailing up a big river named the Chretes, we arrived at a lake in which there were three islands, all larger than Cerne. Leaving these islands, we sailed for one day and came to the end of the lake, which was overshadowed by high mountains full of savages dressed in animal skins that threw stones at us and thus prevented us from landing. From there we entered another river, which was big and wide, full of crocodiles and hippopotamuses. Then we retraced our journey back to Cerne."
From there we sailed south along a coast entirely inhabited by Ethiopians, who fled at our approach. Their language was incomprehensible even to the Lixites, whom we had with us. On the last day we disembarked by some high mountains covered with trees with sweet-smelling multicoloured wood. We sailed round these mountains for two days and arrived in a huge bay on the other side of which was a plain; there we saw fires breaking out at intervals on all sides at night, both great and small. Having renewed our water supplies, we continued our voyage along the coast for five days, after which we arrived at a huge inlet, which the interpreters called the Horn of the West. There was a big island in this gulf and in the island was a lagoon with another island. Having disembarked there, we could see nothing but forest by day ; but at night many fires were seen and we heard the sound of flutes and the beating of drums and tambourines, which made a great noise. We were struck with terror and our soothsayers bade us leave the island."
We left in haste and sailed along by a burning land full of perfumes. Streams of fire rose from it and plunged into the sea. The land was unapproachable because of the heat. Terror-stricken, we hastened away. During four days' sailing we saw at night that the land was covered with fire. In the middle was a high flame, higher than the others, which seemed to reach the stars. By day we realised that it was a very high mountain, named the Chariot of the Gods. Leaving this place, we sailed along the burning coast for three days and came to the gulf named the Horn of the South. At the end of it was an island like the first one, with a lake in which was another island full of savages. The greater parts of these were women. They had hairy bodies and the interpreters called them Gorillas. We pursued some of the males but we could not catch a single one because they were good climbers and they defended themselves fiercely. However, we managed to take three women. They bit and scratched their captors, whom they did not want to follow. We killed them and removed the skins to take back to Carthage. We sailed no further, being short of supplies."
He had orders to found several colonies on the Moroccan coast; after this, he established a trading post on a small island off the Mauritanian coast. Having completed this mission, he ventured further south, making a reconnaissance expedition along the African coast until he reached modern Gabon, where he was forced to return because he was running out of supplies. There is some reason to doubt the truth of the latter statement, because the Roman encyclopedist Pliny the Elder says that Hanno circumnavigated Africa and reached the borders of Arabia (below).
Reconstruction of the Journey
We don't know exactly where Hanno went or how far he traveled. He probably went at least as far as Sierra Leone and maybe as far as Corisco Bay in Equatorial Guinea. Pliny says Hanno was under orders to circumnavigate Africa, and may have done so -- or at least gone south of the equator. Depending on what he meant by gorilla, he may have gone as far as Sierra Leone where there are chimpanzees, or to the Congo where there are gorillas. Hanno thought they were human, so, as Ciaran Branigan suggests, following W.W. Hyde (Ancient Greek Mariners; London, 1947), perhaps they were a hairy band of pygmies. From all these accounts, it is clear there was at least occasional traffic down the western coast of Africa from the Mediterranean, if not all the way around the other way, from the Red Sea westward through the Straits of Gibraltar. Trade, however, rather than writing history or making maps was the travelers' purpose.
Except for a few omissions the document provides data that are precise and permit a detailed reconstruction of Hanno's voyage. But the interpretation of this precious text has been handicapped by the dogma that the ancients were vague in matters of measurement and used elastic standards. The general view is summarized by one commentator: "The distances are given in terms of day's sail, a variable unit more than usually uncertain in such strange waters."(2) If this were true Hanno would have composed a useless document, which would have been of benefit only to classical scholars to write upon it equally useless commentaries. But it can be shown that the ancients were extremely careful when they expressed their ideas in writing and, more specifically, that they left nothing to chance when they cut inscriptions.(3) The account of Hanno was cut in stone as an inscription and therefore was intended to be open and public. According to its own words, it had been "dedicated in the temple of Kronos, in order to make it known."(4)
He says he traveled with about 30,000 men and women in 60 ships with fifty oars each, although five thousand people in each ship sounds a bit crowded.
Several commentators state that the number of 30,000 colonists, men and women, is a gross exaggeration, whereas it is perfectly reasonable.(5)
Hanno's enterprise was so momentous that when the Romans in 146 B.C. razed the capital of the Carthaginians to the ground with such thoroughness that excavators today have difficulty in even tracing its outline, they must have felt that this achievement of their enemies could not be ignored. It is possible that the Romans, when they proceeded to destroy systematically the traces of Carthaginian glory, felt some piety before the inscription of Hanno and had it translated into Greek. The victor of Carthage, Scipio Africanus, sent his friend, the Greek historian Polybius, with an expedition to retrace step by step the route of Hanno. Perhaps the Romans could not believe in the truth and accuracy of Hanno's report. Perhaps it was the intellectual Polybius, being kept a prisoner by the Romans, and trying to educate them, who asked Scipio to grant him the use of a fleet for the purpose.(6)
It is significant that Pliny, writing about 250 years after the fall of Carthage, speaks of Hanno's report (commentarii) which we have, as no longer extant, and being substituted with longer accounts by Greek and Roman writers who expanded it with fabulous material (V. 1. 8).
The Greek of the translation could have been written at the time of Carthage's fall. It definitely belongs to the Hellenistic age, even though many peculiarities of style, such as the lack of connective particles, must be explained by the influence of the Semitic original. The Greek of the translation can be compared with the Septuagint translation of the Bible; it tries rather laboriously to produce an accurate Greek, but it is sufficiently literal so that we can still appreciate that vivid directness and simplicity of Canaanite literature which we have learned to appreciate in the Old Testament.(7) Possibly the Greek translation was introduced in the geographical part of Polybius' history which must have contained also the account of Polybius' own voyage that Pliny quotes. In introducing Polybius' account, Pliny qualifies him as annalium conditor, which suggests that the account was in these annales or chronological narratives.
The essence of Polybius' report is transmitted by Pliny.(8) It can be gathered that Polybius' report followed verbatim that of Hanno and apparently had the sole purpose of indicating that Hanno was not telling fabulous stories.(9) However, whereas Hanno had provided data only in terms of latitude and longitude, Pliny, writing for a less scientific audience, converted the figures into Roman miles measured along the course of the coast.
Hanno and Himilco
From Avienus and Pliny we learn that Hanno and his brother Himilko were sent from Carthage beyond the Pillars of Hercules to explore the extreme lands of the world, Himilko being expected to move to the north and Hanno to the south, circumnavigating Africa. According to Pliny, (II. 67. 169) Hanno went on a voyage that took him to the limit of Arabia:
Also Hanno, at the time when the power of Carthage flourished, sailed round from Gades as far as Arabia, and published an account of his voyage, just as Himilko, sent at the same time to explore the outer regions of Europe.(10)
There are those who claim that the expedition mentioned by Pliny is the same one as that reported by Hanno; but Hanno's inscription does not mention that another expedition was sent at the same time under his brother. Avienus refers to Himilco's exploration of the northern regions: "The Carthaginian Himilco reports that the voyage can be made in less than four months, as he can testify by his own experience."(11) It is sophistry to argue that Avienus cannot be believed because there is no record of Himilko's voyage, when nothing of the extensive literature of the Carthaginians has remained, and when Hanno's report of a previous voyage has survived in a single manuscript.
It seems perfectly sensible that after the success of Hanno's first enterprise he tried to complete it by going all the way around Africa, while his brother went to the north of Europe; there is no reason to doubt this information, except for the assumption that one would be ascribing too much of a rational soul to the Carthaginians if he believed that they would have engaged in such a methodical process of exploration.
Having rejected this statement as preposterous, scholars discount the concomitant statement that Hanno and Himilko were the sons of the shophet Hamilkar who commanded the Carthaginians against the Greeks at the battle of Himera in 480 B.C.(12) In this battle the Greeks of Sicily defeated the Carthaginians at the very time that the Greeks of the mainland were defeating the Persians at Salamis. When the battle was turning against his side Hamilkar, in a vain last effort to retrieve the situation, threw himself into a fire, hoping to be accepted by the gods as a scapegoat in place of his army. The sons remained faithful to this spirit of fortitude and devotion to public service. Himilco succeeded his father as shophet in 480 B.C.; and it can be presumed that Hanno came into office roughly twenty years later. Thus Hanno was a contemporary of Herodotus, although scholars assign to him dates that range from 570 B.C. to about 450 B.C.(13)
(1) The document is preserved in a single manuscript, dating from the 10th century (Codex Heidelbergensis 398); it was published by Sigmund Gelenius in Basel in 1533.
(2) J. Oliver Thomson
(3) I do not believe in the existence of inscriptions intended to be kept confidential, and have strongly disagreed with epigraphists on the possibility of the existence of cryptic inscriptions.
(4) It is true that the Carthaginians aimed at excluding Greek-speaking merchants from their area of trade, but they obtained this result by occupying the key ports along the routes, not by withholding information.
(5) The assumption is that the ancients used numbers at random; a history of Carthage even develops what it calls "a psychoanalytic theory of ancient history" to explain the wild use of numbers by ancient writers. Pierre Hubac, Carthage second ed. (Paris, 1952), pp. 122f.
(6) The words of Pliny (V. 1. 9) accepta classe could be understood to have such a meaning.
(7) L. del Turco, who has edited the Greek text with a translation and commentary, has put forth the theory that Hanno set up the inscription in two languages, and that the Greek text is as old as the Punic original. (Annone, Il Periplo Florence, 1958, p. 12). This proves only that Del Turco, who has no respect for the contents of the text, does not give any consideration to its grammatical form either.
(8) Pliny makes use of his customary technique in which separate data are combined together and short quotations from other authors, often irrelevant or relevant only in terms of a misunderstanding of the original, are intercalated.
(9) Similar accusations were much later to be leveled against another explorer, Marco Polo.
(10) Et Hanno Carthaginis potentia florente circumvectus a Gadibus ad finem Arabiae eam navigationem prodidit scripto: sicut ad extera Europae noscenda missus eodem tempore Himilco.
(11) Quae Himilco Poenus mensibus vix quatuor, ut ipse semet re probasse retulit enavigantem, posse transmitti adserit.
(12) Iustinus, Pompei Trogi Historiae Phil. Epitomus, XIX.2.
(13) The date of 570 was suggested by Bougainville, Mémoires de l'Académie des Inscriptions, vol. XXVIII, (or is it XVII?] p. 288.
The Syro-Phoenician Hunno
and the Circumnavigation
The relation of Hanno’s voyage is a fine
fragment of antiquity.