Story of Carthage - Alfred J. Church

Carthaginian Discoveries

"Story of Carthage" is mainly a story of war. Of the people themselves and of their life we hear very little indeed, and that little either from enemies or strangers. But there are some exceptions, and of them the most interesting is the account of the voyage of colonization and discovery made by Hanno, an account which has been preserved; not indeed in his own language—for of the Carthaginian tongue we have but a few words remaining—but in a Greek translation. The date of Hanno is not certain. He is supposed to have been either the father or the son of the Hamilcar who fell at Himera. There is little to make the one supposition more probable than the other. On the whole, I am inclined to accept the earlier time. Carthage was certainly more prosperous, and therefore more likely to send out such an expedition before the disaster of Himera than after it. In this case the date may be put as 520 B.C. Hanno's account of his voyage is interesting enough to be given in full. I shall add a few notes on points that seem to require explanation.

"It was decreed by the Carthaginians that Hanno should sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules and found cities of the Liby-Phoenicians [a mixed population springing from marriages of Carthaginians with native Africans, and regarded with much jealousy by the authorities of Carthage]. Accordingly he sailed with sixty ships of fifty oars each, and a multitude of men and women to the number of thirty thousand, and provisions and other equipment. [This number is probably exaggerated. It need not, however, be supposed that all the colonists were conveyed in the sixty ships. These were probably ships of war which convoyed a number of merchantmen, which discharged their cargoes of passengers as the various colonies were founded.]

"When we had set sail and passed the Pillars, after two days' voyage, we founded the first city and named it Thymiaterium. Below this city lay a great plain. Sailing thence westward we came to Soloeis [Cape Cantin], a promontory of Libya, thickly covered with trees. Here we built a temple to Poseidon; and proceeded thence half-a-day's journey eastward, till we reached a lake lying not far from the sea, and filled with abundance of great reeds. Here were feeding elephants and a great number of other wild animals.

"After we had gone a day's sail beyond the lakes we founded cities near to the sea, of which the names were the Fort of Caricon, Gytta, Acra, Melita, and Arambys. Sailing thence we came to Lixus [the Wadi Draa], a great river which flows from Libya. On its banks the Lixitae, a wandering tribe, were feeding their flocks. With these we made friendship, and remained among them certain days. Beyond these dwell the inhospitable Ethiopians, inhabiting a country that abounds in wild beasts and is divided by high mountains, from which mountains flows, it is said, the river Lixus. About these mountains dwell the Troglodyte, men of strange aspect. Of these the Lixitae said that they could run swifter than horses. Having procured interpreters from these same Lixitae, we coasted for two days along an uninhabited country, going southwards. Thence again we sailed a day's journey eastward. Here in the recess of a certain bay we found a small island, about five furlongs in circumference. In this we made a settlement, and called its name Cerne. [Cerne is probably to be placed at the mouth of the Rio de Ouro. Some of the French charts give the name of Herne, which is said to resemble a name used by the natives.]

"We judged from our voyage that this place lay right opposite to Carthage, for the voyage from Carthage to the Pillars was equal to the voyage from the Pillars to Cerne. After this, sailing up a great river which is called Chretes, [The Senegal, which opens out into such an expanse near its mouth. But there is a difficulty about the mountains, which it is not easy to identify with anything in the lower course of this river.] we came to a lake, in which are three islands greater than Cerne.

""Proceeding thence a day's sail, we came to the furthest shore of the lake. Here it is overhung by great mountains, in which dwell savage men clothed with the skins of beasts. These drove us away, pelting us with stones, so that we could not land. Sailing thence, we came to another river, great and broad, and full of crocodiles and river-horses. Thence returning back we came again to Cerne; and from Cerne we sailed again towards the south for twelve days, coasting along the land. The whole of this land is inhabited by Ethiopians. These would not await our approach, but fled from us; and their tongue could not be understood even by the Lixitae that were with us. On the last day, we came near to certain large mountains covered with trees, and the wood of these trees was sweet-scented and of divers colours. Sailing by these mountains for the space of two days, we came to a great opening of the sea; and on either side of this sea was a great plain, from which at night we saw fire arising in all directions. Here we watered, and afterwards sailed for five days, until we came to a great bay, which the interpreters told us was called the Western Horn [The Gulf of Bissagos].

"In this bay was a large island, and in this island a lake of salt water, and again in this lake another island. Here we landed; and in the daytime we could find nothing, but saw wood ashes; but in the night we saw many fires burning, and heard the sound of flutes and cymbals and drums and the noise of confused shouts. Great fear then came upon us, and the prophet bade us leave this place. We sailed therefore quickly thence, being much terrified; and passing on for four days found at night a country full of fire. In the middle was a lofty fire, greater than all the rest, so that it seemed to touch the stars. When day came we found that this was a great mountain which they call the Chariot of the Gods [Mt. Sagres]. On the third day of our departure thence, having sailed by streams of fire, we came to a bay which is called the Southern Horn. [Sherboro' Island and Sound, a little distance south of Sierra Leone.] At the end of this bay lay an island like to that which has been before described. This island had a lake, and in this lake another island, full of savage people, of whom the greater part were women. Their bodies were covered with hair, and our interpreters called them Gorillas. We pursued them, but the men we were not able to catch; for being able to climb the precipices and defending themselves with stones, these all escaped. But we caught three women. But when these, biting and tearing those that led them, would not follow us, we slew them, and flaying off their skins, carried these to Carthage. Further we did not sail, for our food failed us."

This account was set, we are told, by Hanno on his return to Carthage in the temple of Chronos or Saturn—the same, as has been already said, as the Moloch of Scripture.

The elder Pliny, after mentioning the voyage of Hanno, which he strangely enough supposes to have extended as far as the borders of Arabia, says, "At the same time Himilco was sent to discover the northern coasts of Europe." Unhappily, we possess no account of Himilco's voyage that can be compared to the "Circumnavigation" of Hanno. All that we know of his narrative comes to us from Avienus, a very indifferent Latin poet, who wrote about geography towards the end of the fourth century of the Christian era. And what Avienus professes to quote from him has a very incredible look. It took him four months to sail from Carthage to a country which was probably Britain; not, as we might suppose, on account of rough seas and stormy winds, but because there are no breezes to make a ship move, or because there were such quantities of seaweed that it was held by them as much as if it were passing through a wood. Perpetual fogs covered everything. Besides these difficulties the sailor had to steel himself against the terrible sight of strange sea-monsters with which these waters abounded. Avienus professes to have seen the narrative of Himilco, and to quote from it directly. The ancients were not very scrupulous in such matters, and it is just possible that Avienus took his information at second hand. It has been suggested that the Carthaginians, jealous about their trade and afraid that other dealers should meddle with their markets, instructed Himilco to write such an account of his voyage as would deter everyone else from following in his steps. It is certainly not sluggish seas and winds not strong enough to move a ship which are the obstacles a traveller sailing north would chiefly have to dread. However this may be, Himilco the discoverer is little more than a name to us.