A history of Hamilcar Barca's flight to Hispania, emphasizing clothing and architecture.
| Not guilty! pleaded Hamilcar Barca, father and predecessor of Hannibal Barca, at his trial. Or so Diodorus Siculus tells us from two centuries later. A merchant-prince and outsider to Carthaginian politics, Hamilcar may have had an acquaintance with the victorious Spartan mercenary general, Xanthippus (Strange Horse). Carthage’s long-robed council of elders had hired the iron-shod Spartan force under Xanthippus to spearhead the defense of their whitewashed penínsular city before a Roman legionary advance from the west. Shortly thereafter, Xanthippus departed by galleys with his men for neighboring Alexandria to the east and another assignment.
Ancient sources disagree on the fate of Xanthippus. One ancient legend has Xanthippus drowning in transit with his Spartans, while another has him arriving in Alexandria and being hired by the local governor, Cleomenes, to be a nomarch or provincial governor of a nome, a Macedonian territory in northern Egypt. Everyone in the ancient world knew that Cleomenes headed a shadowy crime syndicate based in Alexandria, Ptolemy’s capital. As such, he was Ptolemy III (Euergetes) right-hand man, keeping order in the largest city in the world. It was said that the Cleomenes cartel was so powerful that nothing went into or came out of Alexandria without their say-so.
To the west in neighboring Carthage, Hamilcar’s acquaintance with the Spartan general may account for his martial acumen in a pacifist society of merchants. Hamilcar had grabbed iron sword in hand, donned Greek-ish armor, and had grappled face-to-face with the Roman hordes in defense of his city and now was on trial for his life for treason.
Established in the late Bronze Age by Canaanite explorer-merchants as a meager trade outpost, Carthage was an oasis for trade with scattered Macata and Meshwesh tribespeople in the west Libyan deserts. By 656 BC, the early settlers to Carthage were flooded by refugees from warfare among the great Eastern kingdoms and empires. Consequently, the merchant princes of Tyre ("Rock") had their viceroys (usually female members of the royal family in Tyre) expand the city off the original Byrsa Hill settlement to the surrounding environs. The subsequent acropolis came to include the religious heart of the city - the Tophet of Salammbo or “The Peace of Tanit.” The oligarchs of the city would have argued that what their acropolis lacked in height it made up for in sheer Greekness. Everywhere one looked one saw white marble steps and white columns, topped by white triangular roofs. Surrounded by a protective limestone wall, seventy-two steps at three locations ascended the Byrsa. The walled acropolis overlooked the flat-roofs and square workshops of downtown Carthage north of the all-important harbors.
To the northeast on the diamond-shaped peninsula sprawled the green and white residential Megaron Quarter. The Megaron was home to the rolling green hills and whitewashed suburbs for homesick Greek immigrants who had come to make their fortunes. Unlike the block-ish downtown district, the Megaron housed many elaborate Greek buildings whose only purpose was entertainment and pleasure. Theaters and colonnaded shops surrounded food courts, while schools, libraries, baths, and other interesting buildings served the movers and shakers in any affluent Greek polis.
“Salaamum a-le-kram!" had been the greeting in ancient Babylonia since time immemorial. Believing in "peace and good fortune," later colonists from Phoenicia into the west transplanted the name Le Kram for "Good Fortune" onto the southern harbor district of Carthage. It was no coincidence that so many representations of smiling faces could be found throughout The New City. From glazed cosmetic jewelry in the marketplaces to smiling masks hanging off the walls of temples and homes, the desire to bestow blessings and peace onto others was extant throughout the city.
To the immediate north of the harbor sprawled the square, paved public agora or marketplace with its many colorful stalls. Although there had always been women merchants and women oligarchs, the numbers of women who entered all aspects of the workforce increased dramatically beginning in the Hellenistic Age. It was a trend that would continue to increase throughout the Roman imperial period. One new occupation in particular that attracted many poorer women was that of restaurateur. Prepared food could either be eaten on site or ladled out through a public window or over a public counter.
The Temenos - the high council chamber lining the eastern edge of the square agora had a classical Greek facade, with white marble steps and columns topped by a triangular marble roof. Inside, sunlight from large grilled windows filled the chamber, while parallel rows of marble benches lined two high walls. Men and women in colorful and expensively gilded robes crowded the long benches, creating a raucous din, while the ceiling was vaulted to lend power to their voices. The Council of Elders made the decisions for the lives of hundreds of thousands of people living in Carthage.
At either end of the Temenos, two men sat on backless "thrones" set high on pedestals. These were the two executive heads of the republic of Carthage. They were called "shofets" or "judges" of the laws in peacetime while in wartime they were the supreme military commanders. Long-bearded, ornate patterns decorated both men’s long robes.
Beside the throne of the nearest shofet stood the majordomo -- the steward who maintained order in the proceedings. Bathed in white light from the windows, the steward wore a long tunic of humble brown wool. One bang with the heel of his long oak wood staff of office brought a hush over the assemblage.
Unlike neighboring Egypt to the east which was a Macedonian/Greek monarchy that utilized bureaucrats from Nubian dynastic families, Carthage was a constitutional republic. Aristotle, in his Politics a century earlier, had singled out the “mixed” constitution of Carthage for particular praise. It was termed “mixed” because it held elements of democracy, elements of aristocracy, and elements of dual-monarchy. The people voted on matters that had, by law, to be brought before them. The councilors set the agenda and came up with periodic budgets. They also elected new members into their body, and elected every year from among their membership two executive co-heads who held sway over them even while being answerable to them.
In 241 BC, at the end of the last war with the Roman hosts on Sicily (Greek Sikelia), the ruling Council of Elders of Carthage had called their most combative son to come down from his makeshift stronghold on naturally square, fortress-like Mount Eryx along the coast of western Sicily. Under the circular rayed-sun military standard of Carthage topped by two prongs of the crescent moon, Mount Eryx towered over the coastal Greek polis of Drepanum to the north, then under Roman legionary occupation.
Hamilcar and his officers had set up in a big villa house - the only building in the town of Eryx that Hamilcar hadn’t allowed his men to burn upon their arrival. (Warfare at the time involved at least some pillage and the mercenary men and women from Africa had signed on expecting at least some plunder.) That and the big Greek temple to Venus that Hamilcar was having his men use as a forward base against the legionaries. Many of the peoples of Sicily and southern Italy at this time, worn out by centuries of intermittent local warfare, had become pacifists. The town that had been atop Eryx had been one of those societies.
It was here, on Mt Eryx, that Hannibal Barca first cried into the world. His mother was probably a priestess/prostitute dedicated to the all-female cult of the Erycinian Venus. It was a new development from the East, since earlier Greek religion hadn’t had priestess/prostitutes. The priestesses of the Erycinian Venus almost certainly dressed after the fashion of Greek priestesses of the period: long white gowns, sleeveless, with long dark hair piled in waves atop their heads, all pulled back into cones behind their heads, to hang loose about their bare necks and shoulders. Protecting them in the big house on Eryx was Hamilcar’s hoplite-clad personal bodyguard, his Sacred Band: big hairy fellows in Greek helmets and muscle armor. Each man bore a short throwing spear and a plain round “aspis” shield (meaning no central boss) painted in yellow linseed oil paint. Most Greek hoplites painted personal protective talismans on their aspis shields - boars’ heads, horses, otr the ever popular gorgon-heads - or else the crest of the aristocratic Greek family that they served. Macedonian shields were painted with the sun insignia of the royal household of Macedonia, while Ptolemaic shields were painted with the horsehead insignia of the Ptolemies. (Most of the Ptolemaic armies were Nubian warriors spearheaded by Greek hoplite mercenaries.)
But in Canaanitic Carthage, shields were issued by the state and painted an unadorned yellow. Because of his conquests, Alexander the Great had become immoderately popular with men of action over the next century. No one knew for certain the secret of Alexander's success. Some Greek rulers in the East, regardless of their age, imitated Alexander’s fashion sense. Because Alexander had golden hair curled into ringlets, many Greek rulers of the great Eastern empires wore their hair dyed gold and curled into ringlets. Because Alexander began his conquests while still beardless, clean-shaven became popular with many upper class Greek rulers. And because Alexander had a personal band of friends called the diadochi or companions surrounding him, many leaders adopted personal bodyguards. Like Hamilcar's Sacred Band.
On Eryx, Hannibal became a favorite of the soldiers who always had a moment to spare for the son of the lord Hamilcar. Within the irregular floor plan camp of white tents and thatch huts, they told Hannibal to hold the weight of an iron shield close to his shoulder and lift with his legs. They told him that oiling armor and weapons regularly was necessary or they would rust and become useless. (It was something that history records that they often didn’t do since Hamilcar, and later Hannibal, would often have to negotiate for replacement weapons for their mercenaries.)
On Eryx, Hamilcar also had advice for little Hannibal: never befriend the Romaion (the Greek name for the Romans).
Young Hannibal would have seen little of men wearing personal body armor since ancient soldiers eschewed armor when not on field duty. Instead, he saw a big, burly bare-chested Libyan wearing the long white kilt of the desert tribes who was vain of his long gold-loop earrings. People stepped aside whenever the big Libyan walked past; the other mercenaries considered him a first among equals among the scutari ranks. In camp, Hannibal saw colorfully clad women in ornate geometric and flowing robes who were camp followers. (Black robes for the desert tribes wouldn’t come in until the Middle Ages.). The women were wont to string copper coins of little worth into headdresses atop swirling head scarfs. They explained to little Hannibal that it was a nominal surety against hard times.
He also saw many Greek Sicilians and even brown-clad Italians who were slaves who had run away from their masters estates. Hoping to take up arms against their former owners, they had fled to Hamilcar’s camp before the mercenaries had secluded themselves on Eryx.
Here, the irregular force fended for themselves, farming while the elder boys grazed sheep and horses on Eryx’s grassy slopes, while the soldiers received fish smuggled under cover of night by local fishermen.
The ironclad square Roman legionary formations couldn’t climb Hamilcar’s mountain, but likewise Hamilcar’s polyglot mercenaries couldn’t come down either. Hamilcar’s tiny force and the Carthaginian colony of Lilybaeum on the extreme northwestern tip of the island were the only hold-outs whom the Roman legions couldn’t overwhelm. When word of the tenacity of Hamilcar’s men and women on Eryx was smuggled into Carthage, Hamilcar’s name was cheered in the streets.
The elders on the council in Carthage had thought that choosing such a die-hard enemy to the Romani as Hamilcar might perhaps glean them a few concessions. If he succeeded - good. If not, nothing was lost.
Much to his personal distaste, Hamilcar came down to discuss terms with the Roman general and Senator, Gaius Lutatius Catulus. Back in Italy, the war was financially bleeding Rome: leaders - non-Roman as well as Roman - had resorted to donating private funds for its continuance. Consequently, the Roman Senate was pressuring Catulus to “Get it done!” But neither the elders in Carthage nor Hamilcar knew this.
Because Greek hoplite armor was considered the best after the conquests of Alexander the Great, it is possible that Hamilcar dressed after the fashion of the Greeks, or at least after a type that Greek writers called Hellenize (Greek-ish). The only thing which history specifically records is that many Carthaginian officers at this time wore about their shoulders short red riding capes of a type the Greeks called a chlamys. During the Hellenistic Age, the only difference between a Greek and a Greek-ish breastplate was that a Greek breastplate was ornately decorated with geometric patterns and wings for shoulder straps. Greek-ish breastplates were simple unadorned muscle cuirasses. Even Roman breastplates at this time were Greek-ish.
Hamilcar was accompanied by his hand-picked bodyguard of Libyan mercenaries dressed in Attic Greek hoplite armor (meaning no nose-guards to their helmets), the Sacred Band. Within the square Roman camp below that bustled with ironclad Roman troops, Catulus - speaking in Greek, the language of international trade and diplomacy - claimed that he could only make a treaty if it was ratified by the Roman people. In the end, Carthage gave up all of its holdings on Sicily to Rome except for Lilybaeum and even Lilybaeum was to be handed over to Rome once Hamilcar’s mercenaries were evacuated. (The enlarged city-state of Syracuse under King Hiero on the southeastern tip remained politically independent although allied to Rome.) The council of elders in Carthage would also pay a huge indemnity of 320,000 talents of silver (about eight tons of silver) to Rome, emptying their coffers. Furthermore, the Carthaginian merchants could retain their commercial ships but Carthage could only maintain one warship. With that, Catulus withdrew with his force back to Italy.
Back in the irregular mercenary camp on square Eryx, rumors were rampant. Upon returning to the big house, Hamilcar was surprised the next morning to find his polyglot people arrayed according to their nations before the gate to the courtyard. The white-clad and scantily armored caetratiand scutari Libyan mercenaries stood in orderly ranks while the slaves, having no right to speak, kneeled before Hamilcar and simply begged him for mercy. The big Libyan with the gold-loop earrings, standing with the other white-clad mercenaries, pushed his way to the front and spoke for the Italian slaves.
They’re afraid, he said. They’re worried that they’re going to be returned to their Italian and Roman masters. Being runaways, the standard punishment for them would be crucifixion on big T-shaped Roman crosses.
No one will be given up, Hamilcar assured them all, and no one will be crucified.
After calming his frightened troops and captives, the next day Hamilcar led his white-clad Libyan scutari and caetrati mercenaries and war captives, as well as the Italian deserters and runaway slaves, down from Mount Eryx and encamped them outside the block walls of Lilybaeum. He left the payment and dissolution of his mercenaries to the Carthaginian governor Himilco the son of Gisco of Lilybaeum. Hamilcar then sailed by galley with his private entourage for Carthage in an effort to arrive there ahead of news of the surrender terms and deflect blame from himself. That Hannibal’s mother went with them is practically a no-brainer: whether she was a camp follower who had arrived on Eryx with the army or a priestess/prostitute, she was Hamilcar’s slave. At least, at first. Over time, it’s possible that any relationship between the evolved.
South of the diamond-shaped peninsula that was Carthage but still north of the jutting rectangular commercial harbor, was the round military harbor for Carthage’s military fleet. Like the spokes of a wooden wagon wheel, 220 military galleys, along with tons of spare wood and ships’ tackle, were stored. Beneath the surrounding red-roofed porticos were naval sheds, each supported by a white marble pillar, giving the impression of a round, watery colonnade. At the hub in the center dominated a low round edifice of wood. With an overlooking wooden balcony, this edifice was the official home of the “amir,” the single admiral in charge of Carthage’s fleet. It was here that Hamilcar’s galley would have put into harbor.
Meanwhile, back on Sicily, the governor or of Lilybaeum had his hands full while the rowdy mercenaries propositioned every woman in the area, even while they calculated their back pay and everything they were going to do with it. A soft-spoken man of subtlety, Himilco had been chosen to replace the earlier garrison commander, a combative man named Hasdrubal, for precisely those qualities. The Council had felt that a delicate touch would be necessary for dealing with disbanding the mercenaries, especially since the city’s public coffers were empty! Himilco later shipped the mercenaries to Carthage to await payment in small groups. Unfortunately, once in the suburbs outside of Carthage, the city fathers recollected them together into a single group. And failed to disarm them.
Modern archaeology has most of the aristocratic families of Carthage living in the Old City just east of the surrounding propylaea wall atop the Byrsa acropolis. Here, the terraced blocky houses gently sloped down toward the cemetery district of Boujou and the blue sea to the east, after the fashion of homes at Knossos on Crete which was also a wall-less city. Carthaginian homes of means at this time were far from austere, with indoor running water and ornate decoration. Carthaginian builders claimed that they were the first to invent mosaic floor tiles, while their Greek counterparts made the same claim. Houses were entered through gateways in gray-block walls facing the streets.
Hamilcar brought back to his home in the Old City not one but three new wives, all Greek priestess-prostitutes and all mothers of his three new young sons: Hannibal, Hasdrubal, and Mago. History does not record what Hamilcar’s two grown daughters who were living in the house at the time made of that. In ancient estates, the women of the harems lived in entirely different buildings from the main house, called in the East the maakad. In Eastern society, this building was called the haremlik, while in Egyptian it was called the hut-netjer.
Women of the harems often competed with each other, usually through their sons through whom they hoped to one day have power or influence.
Your son is so handsome.
A pity he’s a trifle cross-eyed. Oh, not that anyone would notice.
Mingling in the agora of Carthage, like-minded younger men gravitated to Hamilcar, hero-worshipped as he was by the public. Young men in particular, like a young oligarch named Hasdrubal, sometimes called The Splendid, approached him. Although history does not clearly record the minutiae of Hamilcar’s attire, the record is clear on the apparel chosen by Hasdrubal called by his peers The Splendid. Ornate silken robes from the east that shimmered in the light with every movement adorned the dark-bearded young man’s muscular frame, topped by a gold Egyptian status neck collar. Hasdrubal was a member of the merchant-class whose fortune had been ruined by the Roman victory.
In Carthage, the aristocratic party had dominated politics since 248 BC. Hasdrubal told Hamilcar that city politics had become overshadowed by a young aristocrat named Hanno, sometimes called The Great by his followers. Hanno had only recently, finally, after years of trying, ingratiated himself with the ruling oligarchs of the city-state. Having made himself “first citizen” of the city republic through the established channels, Hanno favored a return to business as usual, to a return to the prewar status quo.
Hasdrubal recounted how Hanno had favored abandoning the war with Rome in favor of expanding south, into Africa. In the council chamber, Hasdrubal the Splendid had emerged as the leader of people who had been hurt by the war and marginalized by the disruption of overseas trade operations. Fortunately for them, the political clout of the council of elders with the masses living in Carthage had been hurt by their defeat in the war. It was something that their own faction could use.
Hamilcar and Hasdrubal became fast friends and went everywhere together in Carthage, followed by Hanno’s spies. Like Hamilcar, Hasdrubal felt that the war should have been continued, even after Carthage’s defeat at the naval battle of the Aegates Islands just off the western coast of Sicily. Hamilcar was so impressed by the young merchant that he promised the young man the hand of his eldest daughter (whose name history did not preserve). That the young woman was comely was likely since Hasdrubal was called The Splendid and Hamilcar clearly liked the young man.
Hanno and Hamilcar stood at opposite ends of the human spectrum. Hanno was the dignified veteran politician, while Hamilcar, on the other hand, was, well, Hamilcar: boisterous, aggressive, as much a force of nature as a servant of it. Within the high council chamber, the white-bearded Adherbal kept the peace between the two men, even as some councilors hurled accusations against Hamilcar, accusations to the effect that his terms to the Roman Catulus were too generous.
Would you prefer to resume the war? Hamilcar finally asked them, according to Livy. No one replied. Carthage, the men who gravitated to the politically besieged Hamilcar - men like his handsome new son-in-law Hasdrubal the Splendid, his other son-in-law Numidian Prince Narravas, the young veteran admiral Carthalo, and Hamilcar’s veteran officers Maharbal and Heart - were men of similar martial opinion as Hamilcar.
In Hamilcar’s villa atop the old city, a Spartan scribe whom Hamilcar had picked up while on Sicily - a young man named Sosius - told the little sons of Hamilcar hero tales from Homer’s Iliad. Sosius wrote histories, although no part of any of these works survives. It was said that he obtained his information from barber shop gossip. Little nine-year-old Hannibal and his two younger half-brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago, would have leaned forward while they avidly listened.
Later, the private family physician, also a young man, named Synhalus, a Greek-Egyptian from Alexandria, would have entered. Like all Greek physicians of classical antiquity, Sinhala would have worn the extra-thick white headband that signified his profession. Synhalus would have shooed Sosilyus away.
All right, you’ve had your fun for the day. It’s time for these young sirs to receive some REAL education. Sinhalus then proceeded to tutor the young Barca brothers in basic science. Lessons like how to crack rocks with vinegar.
Hamilcar also had a lesson to impart to his sons: never trust the high council of Carthage.
These were lessons that Hannibal would remember all his life.
In his spare time, while Hamilcar politicked, Hannibal is recorded as having spent much of his time on the sandy piers of the square outer commercial harbor of the Le Kram district, listening to the sailors. As in the earlier camp on Eryx, the men always had a moment to spare for Hannibal. It was from the merchant sailors that he gleaned news and information about the larger world. For example, he learned that Carthage - mistress of the western seas though she was - was not considered a major power. That distinction was reserved for the three main successor kingdoms of Alexander the Great: Macedonia, Asia, and Egypt, with several tiny breakaway kingdoms from these three.
These were the societies that had by far the most wealth and the most people (save for Macedonia), although the large cities of the East were scattered across vast empty stretches of desert. These three societies fielded vast polyglot hordes of troops: a combination of soldiers, warriors, and, in the case of Persia, slaves. By comparison, Carthage and Rome were considered by everyone to be bit-players, barbarian states beyond the borders of what Greek writers called the oikoumene, the inhabited world.
In Carthage, Hamilcar’s eldest daughter who was married to Hasdrubal the Splendid became pregnant and gave birth. She and Hasdrubal named the boy Hanno (The Son of Tanit). (This was the same Hanno who, as an adult, would be ambushed at Beneventum.) Hamilcar had his first grandchild and had achieved the first step of his ambition to found a personal dynasty.
Meanwhile, while Hamilcar and Hasdrubal the Splendid enjoyed the sights of Carthage, the council of elders directed the city smithies along the southern and western slopes of the Byrsa Hill in melting the silver to pay the 320,000 talents to the Senate in Rome. The atmosphere inside the foundries would have been both dark and fiery, the emotions grim. Very few oligarchs enjoyed giving away eight tons of silver.
The Carthaginian leaders gave the Roman Senate 320,000 talents’ weight of silver, most likely in the form of silver bars. That would allow the Carthaginian elders to melt down anything else of silver that might be needed to make up the difference. Remember, the Carthaginian high council had only sued for peace in the first place because they were broke. The government of Carthage also owed a huge war debt to the national Bank of Egypt with its main office in coastal Alexandria, Ptolemaic Egypt’s capital city.
Coined money first began as units of measurement some two millennia earlier. Mesopotamian talents and mina and parsu. (The ancient Greek coin was the drachma, doubled into bi-, tri-, and quatro-drachmae, as well as being subdivided into half- and quarter-drachmae. The Greek standard unit of weight was the stater, giving us the word stadium as well as later Celtic stater coins.) The first coins were minted in the Classical Age kingdom of pastoral Lydia (modern north-central Turkey). The city of Rome’s first use of coinage had been in 326 BC. The Senate had hired out a contract to silversmiths in Neapolis (Naples). The. Greek coin that the Roman Senate contracted was a two-drachma piece with “ROMAION” or ROMANS emblazoned on one side. The first Roman coins - denarii and the larger, more valuable sestertii - wouldn’t be minted until 210 BC, and even then Greek coins would remain in use throughout Italy during this time.)
Within the Greek Temenos along the eastern side of the square agora, the council of gray-bearded elders came to a decision. They decided to have the hoplite city garrison march the caetrati mercenaries and camp-following prostitutes south, along the muddy banks of the Mactar or “Slow-Flowing” River, to the environs of the fortress-citadel of Sicca in the desert. Here, the Council of Elders kept a large force of caetrati Libyan mercenaries with whom to intimidate the surrounding farming villagers. It was also here that Hamilcar allowed the surviving civilians from Eryx to rebuild their beloved temple to Venus (Gilbert and Colette Charles-Picard, 1958). When the revolt broke out after internal fighting among the rebels, the mercenaries convinced the garrison of Sicca to join them. A train of slaver-merchants riding horse-drawn carts laden with chains followed in their wake to enslave the Carthaginians.
The revolt of the Libyan scutari and caetrati against the wall-less citadel of Carthage had been brutal and protracted. The hoplite defenders pulled down outlying warehouses to create barricades. The insurrection was made worse by the fact that most of the Libyan swordsmen came from the west Libyan Meshwesh and Macata tribes. In Libyan tribal society, a chief was called an aguillard, while a shaman or medicine man was a mas. The desert Libyan mas at that time were bidding for political power against the aguillards, exploiting a fundamentalist religious movement that included dancing around desert campfires to rapid drums and tambourines in order to whip the people into an ecstatic frenzy. It was a movement that left the chiefs mere spectators to subsequent events. The shamans of the Meshwesh and Macata nations chose to coincide their own guerilla-style uprising against Carthaginian commercial dominance with the uprising of their brethren in the southern suburbs of Carthage and Greek Utica to the immediate west.
The mercenary revolt lasted three years, from 241 to 238 BC. Every Carthaginian leader who tried to lead young men from Carthage against the more experienced rebels was captured and killed. Even Himilco, the former governor of Lilybaeum on western Sicily, whom the elderly councilors had recalled to negotiate with the rebels at the beginning of hostilities. Young Hanno the Great was given 106 war elephants and placed in command of Carthage’s new caetrati and scutari mercenaries and was sent to lift the siege of the coastal and equally wall-less polis of Utica under Carthage’s rule on the western arm of the Bay of Carthage. But Hanno proved himself only good at outfit. In the field, the smoothe diplomat was timid and indecisive. Utica was situated atop high white limestone cliffs, giving the city’s besiegers the high ground advantage over Hanno’s force. Time and again the caetrati and scutari and their elephants were driven back. Eventually, Hanno called for a retreat back to Carthage.
With his sons and sons-in-law, and harem of wives all ensconced within the family estate atop the eastern Byrsa slope, once again Hamilcar stepped forward. Using his eldest daughter’s arranged marriage to Numidian Prince Narravas out in the western deserts, Hamilcar raised an army of 9,000 of his in-laws’ mounted bondsmen. Hiring a train of 30 war elephants out of pocket from the North African bush country, Hamilcar set out, a train of slaver-merchants with carts laden with chains for the captives following him. In the desert, he used his private force's greater mobility to bait the bulk of the rebels into a deep ravine where they were slaughtered.
From within the pit, the mercenaries made several attempts to gain the lip of the depression. Each time, Naravvas’ chiton-clad Numidian riders flung bolts of javelins as they stampeded their horses at the struggling mercenaries.
Hamilcar then ordered the survivors crucified on X-shaped Greek crosses along the dirt path that led back to Carthage, and the camp-following women and children handed over to the slaver merchants. He also had his eldest son, little Hannibal, watch in an effort to harden his son to the cruelties of war.
Among those crucified was the big Libyan who had been vain of his earrings. The ornately robed and scarved Berber women would have looked up as they were led away in chains.
A triumvirate of political power was later formed over Carthage. Because of his advanced age and popularity with the polyglot masses of Carthage, a white-bearded former admiral named Adherbal was chosen by the ruling Council of Elders from among their members to occupy one of the two seats of shofet. It had been his reward for earlier naval successes during that war with the Romani or Romans. As reward for putting down the late mercenary rebellion, Hamilcar, in spite of his youth, was elevated to the other seat. The triumvirate ended when Adherbal died, pitting the money faction, also self-called the peace faction, under Hanno the Great against the hawks under Hamilcar!
After the Libyan uprising, Hanno returned to political life within the Temenos and attempted to foment animosity against the Barca family. Hamilcar, for his part, agitated in the council chamber for the need to have engineers construct a massive new defensive wall to surround Carthage. It was one of the complaints about Carthage’s defenses that the Spartan mercenary general, Xanthippus, had made to the sub-committee on the conduct of the last war with the Romans. Hamilcar garnered enough support among committee members for a wall and a budget was created and engineers and workmen hired.
Hamilcar then returned to his private army of mercenaries in the Great Erg Desert west of Carthage, as Greek explorers had named Algeria (the Latin name for the area was Algeria since “alger” is Latin for “desert.”) His self-appointed mission was to “civilize” (absorb) the wandering Numidian tribespeople there. The word “Numidian” derives from ancient Greek NOMADES for nomads. It wasn’t a name that the people of the tribes applied to themselves. The people of the northwest African tribes were a distinct culture from their Libyan neighbors to the east, with a desert chief being called a caid (CAH-EED). The Carthaginian council had been maneuvering caids of their choosing into positions of influence among the tribes and now wanted to ensure that the Numidian herders’ were loyal to those caids. The elders in Carthage even went so far as to arbitrarily recognize one of the caids, Narravas’ father, Gaia, king over all of the Numidian tribes (a king whom the Numidians themselves had never previously heard of). Carthage sent out engineers who built a capital city in the desert for the king of the nomadic Numidians at Cirta (from “Cart” for City). Surrounded by nothing but a rocky canyon, Cirta was serviced upriver by another city, a coastal port city called Rusicade (for “Rustic”) that the Carthaginian engineers under Hamilcar also built. At Rusicade, wheat from Carthage was routinely disembarked.
Years later, upon Adherbal’s death, his elderly wife took over his seat on the Council of Elders. This was not unusual. The East had known women empresses and women high priestesses as well as women who had been both. But advocates of both Hanno and Hamilcar had intimidated her to ineffectuality. With a vote of the councilors, Hanno swept into Adherbal’s vacant shofet seat.
With the death of Adherbal, Hanno now leveled accusations of gross criminal negligence against Hamilcar in his handling of the dissolution of his mercenary troops at Lilybaeum. Hanno and his small group of followers on the council went so far as to accuse Hamilcar of having deliberately engineered the situation so that he, Hamilcar, could sweep in with his own mercenaries and appear to be the city’s savior, thereby using his popularity to have the masses install him as king.
Polybius (Volume II) has Hamilcar out west in Algeria when mounted messengers from the city reach him with word of the treason charges, making his decision to flee into Spain from his camp in the desert. Diodorus Siculus, however, claims that Hamilcar returned with his force to Carthage to face his accusers. Diodorus’ account seems more likely, given the mafia-style nature of politics at the time. With his hold on political power within the Temenos shaky, it is unlikely that Hamilcar would have chosen such an inopportune moment to absent himself from the center of power as Polybius claims.
The trial of Hamilcar Barca was a kangaroo trial and everyone knew it. With Adherbal gone and his elderly wife frightened, the verdict of guilty against Hamilcar was a foregone conclusion. The only question that remained was how to have the elite hoplites of the city garrison arrest a man who commanded his own private army? A man who was very popular with the polyglot people of Carthage? Any effort by the city hoplites would result in the assorted masses of the people rioting to rescue Hamilcar.
A situation would have to be orchestrated.
An an effort to defame the popular Hamilcar to the people, Hanno had the city criers announce the high council’s verdict of treason against Hamilcar and the men of his family. Hanno even went so far as to have his personal retainers spread sordid rumors that Hamilcar and his handsome son-in-law, Hasdrubal the Splendid, were lovers. They were easy targets: both men are described by ancient sources as classically handsome. (These rumors were later picked up by Roman historians who used them as proof of “Punic perfidy.”)
Every merchant and craftsman in the city knew that Hamilcar would eventually have to “make a break for it.” The only question was when and how? Hamilcar certainly wouldn’t remain. Public executions in Carthage at the time were either by crucifixion on X-shaped Greek crosses or else ritual suicide by self-immolation. Life in Canaanite cities was dominated by craft guilds, even the criminal guilds, and it is likely that the gambling guilds of the city were laying odds on Hamilcar’s time and method of departure.
And time was definitely a factor in Hamilcar’s mind. Around the peninsular city, and particularly across the desert isthmus to the west that connected Carthage to the mainland, engineers were erecting a massive defensive “casemate” wall (interior rooms within the wall). It was a defensive measure that Hamilcar himself had voted for. The Barca family might be safe within their villa for the time being, by the goodwill of the people, but within a year they would be walled in. City walls had guards and curfews. If they were to slip away quietly and unnoticed, it would have to be soon!
Hamilcar and his followers planned their getaway from the city by sea. A strip of coastal north Africa at that time was well-forested, making travel by land easier. But a post road - a worn strip in the grass - connected Carthage to all of the other, smaller coastal communities !ining the Algerian coast en route to Cape Abila (The Pillars of Herakles). Namely, Sigo, Gouraya, Djidjelli, and Akra. If Hamilcar and his followers set out by land, a small party of messenger riders from the council of elders would easily have overtaken them. An army at that time could only move as fast as its slowest element, namely the camp-following civilians who typically moved in the protected center of any force. The western towns and desert tribes would almost certainly have obeyed word from the wealthy oligarchs in Carthage and waylaid Hamilcar’s force.
Hamilcar himself had his spies spread word throughout the city that he intended to offer a sacrifice. Naturally, he would go escorted by his Sacred Band, his private body of picked guardsmen dressed in Greek hoplite armor. He would draw Hanno’ spies and any city garrison hoplites toward himself.
But Carthage was a large metropolis - the second-largest city in the western world after Alexandria. There were many temples in the city, dedicated to many gods and goddesses, all of them serviced by cultist priests. Which one would Hamilcar and his entourage patronize? Hanno had his spies watch Hamilcar’s villa to learn exactly this. The answer was the Tophet (Temple) dedicated to Tanit, the Canaanite goddess of wisdom adjacent to the northern barrier of the harbor. This was also just north of the famous purple dye-makers’ district of Carthage and, as a result, the smell from thousands of crushed, rotting cretaceous mollusks would have been awful. (By custom, ancient dye-makers barred their women from participating in the dye-making process because of the smell.). This may have been the reason why Hamilcar chose the temple to Tanit, because Hanno and his followers would assume that Hamilcar would want to avoid the smells.
The temple dedicated to Tanit was much closer to the harbor than the temple to Ba’al Hammon, Lord of the Storms, atop the Byrsa acropolis. The route from here to the Le Kram harbor district also passed through more obscure warrens. It might also have reflected a power struggle between the cultist priestesses of Tanit throughout the city and the eunuch priests of Ba’al Hammon. (Neither cult at this time engaged in the practice of moloch, the ritual immolation of boy children - in Carthage - from aristocratic households. Moloch had been outlawed two centuries earlier in a bloodless coup that had ousted the last king of Carthage, Hanno the Navigator and ushered in the republic. So it is highly probable that Hamilcar’s sacrifice was, in fact, only an animal.)
The story of the blood-oath of Hamilcar was repeated by Hannibal late in life in the court of King Antiochus the Great of Asia, seemingly supporting Diodorus’ account of events. At the carved stone altar or bamah, after the shaven-headed family priest Bostar made the appropriate animal sacrifice (Canaanite priests were always shaven-headed), Hamilcar had his officers and in-laws swear an oath of loyalty to himself personally, as well as never to become A Friend and Ally of the Senate and People of Rome. It was a political oath. The coming adventure would not be a Carthaginian affair or even a Canaanite one. It would be their own personal venture, utilizing whatever people and resources, if any, became available.
Then Hamilcar walked over toward the back where Hannibal stood with the servants and kneeled before Hannibal, clasping his son on the shoulders.
Would you like to go with me to Hispania?
Oh, yes please!
He led his son to the altar. Then place your hand here; yes, on the blood. Hamilcar then extracted the same oath from Hannibal that he had extracted from his officers. Never to be A Friend and Ally of the Senate and People of Rome. (It was a moot point. Even if Hannibal had refused the oath, there was little chance that Hamilcar was going to leave his nine-year-old son behind to most likely be assassinated by Hanno’s spies.). It is at this point that the Barca family put away the rayed sun and crescent moon military standards of Carthage and begin flying the gold-on-red lion flag that was their family symbol.
While Hamilcar and his officers sacrificed at the temple of Tanit, the hoplite garrison swarmed across the wrong sections of the city looking for them. Meanwhile, Hamilcar’s daughters, the the harem, and the REST of the family hustled from the Barca villa in the high Old City down through the square agora, past the Temenos and possibly one or two startled councilors, and then to the outer square commercial harbor. Here, a small flotilla of Hamilcar’s small, privately owned merchant galleys waited, bobbing in the water. Here the family would have rendezvoused. Perhaps Synhalus - the Alexandrian physician who definitely traveled with Hamilcar’s party - quipped about being out at such an “unseemly” hour.
A naval flight may also have been helped by the absence of the former Carthaginian fleet due to the treaty that had ended the war with the Romani. Hamilcar’s horse head galleys rowed at the standard half pace out of the harbor, then increased to full speed once they were in the sparkling blue Mediterranean. They made their way beyond the city and around a white rock outcropping past the Holy Mountain on the eastern edge of the bay of Carthage. Traveling at about five knots, they headed west, never dreaming of danger before them. Overhead, the big white sail flapped with the wind.
Galleys were built from hard and common Mediterranean pine above the water line, while below the water line they were constructed from even harder redwood. No metal nails were used in ancient galleys because of rust, only wooden pegs which, when wet, swelled, sealing the joint. Dovetail wedges were commonly employed in galley construction to hold zigzagged planks end-to-end, as were mortises and tenon-joints.
The Canaanite word for ship was hippo which, perhaps not coincidentally, was also the Greek word for horse. Canaanite explore merchants commonly called their galleys their “horses of the sea.” Larger Canaanite merchant galleys (there was no standard size or shape for merchant vessels) were tub-bellied vessels with extra-large cargo holds.
Because they were cheaper and relatively simpler to build, triremes were the warships of choice in the late classical period (both for official navies as well as protection for privately owned commercial fleets). Among Canaanite ships, only civilian merchant galleys sported wooden horse head prows bearing peaceful expressions. The prows of military ships were either plain or pushed out into bronze rams at the water level. (The linseed-oil “eye” commonly painted onto the prows of galleys at this time was reserved for Greek maritime trade.)
Rowers were always paid free men. Double rows of long oars - plain yellow pinewood - dipped in steady unison again and again.
As Hamilcar’s flotilla flew over the water, white spray foamed about them and a salty breeze would have flapped the twin ends of the large square sail. At the stern, beneath the umbel or giant reed fan, two young bare-chested helmsmen would have wielded the barge’s twin pinewood tillers.
Livy states that Hamilcar had made the customary speech to the crews, telling them that they would all be off on a great adventure together. Then Bostar, the shaven-headed family priest would have made the obligatory animal sacrifice to propitiate the gods for the coming journey. Now bare-chested sailors shimmied up bally lines to adjust rigging.
Eventually, a westerly breeze would have picked up, lifting the great white sail, and giving the rowers a break. The crew would have run the barge before the wind. The wind would have blown salty sea-spray into Hamilcar’s face as it ruffled his dark hair. He probably wore an iron muscle cuirass with short red cape as he gripped a tall Attic helmet sans nose-guard with red-dyed horse hair plume tucked into the crook of one arm.
Sailing westward for a month, the flotilla of small, privately owned horsehead galleys would have skirted the western Mediterranean coast of north Africa. There are no major underwater reefs here and the threat to shipping was light. To the galleys” south, the passengers would have seen on their left an almost straight coast dominated by low white limestone cliffs overlooking shallow beaches. The flotilla passed Gouraya (Mountain), Sigo (Head of Tanit), Djidjelli (modern Jejelli; Tower Gate), and Akra (Rock). These were all cliffside settlements surrounded by scrub country overlooking sheltered bays, looking down from a good height at the beach and any passing ships.
Travel by galley was faster than travel on horseback, so it was likely that Hamilcar’s small flotilla docked below each of these settlements ahead of any messengers who might have been sent west from Carthage. Consequently, they would have been able to rest - especially Hamilcar’s eldest daughter who would have been nursing his grandson, little Hano - and wash clothes, barter for needed goods, and check to see whether any word from the high council had arrived.
With the Barca dynasty in exile, Hanno’s later actions seem to indicate that the dominant remaining shofet believed that either the sea or the wilderness would swallow Hamilcar Barca alive. He ordered no one to pursue the Barca clan into the wilderness. Instead, he spent this same time using his influence on the Council of Elders to expand the council from 300 to 1,000 political cronies. The new councilors renamed their body The Council of the Thousand and Four, with a ruling inner cabal, including Hanno himself, called The Council of The Hundred and Forty.
Though still in a minority among the councilors, Hanno the Great favored an expansionist commercial policy south, into the heart of the dark, little-explored continent of Afar as Greek explorers called Africa. The southern trade included valuable commercial ivory as well as the trade in hematite and limonite ore, the alloy for all iron at that time.
Carthaginian merchant explorer-caravans traded south, along two desert routes to the main trade outposts at the northern beginning of the great tropical jungle of Africa: the independent thatch village of Jenne-jeno (modern Jenne), and the Carthaginian trade post of GAO (Mountain of Tanit). Nearby, on the island village of Timbuktu, Carthaginian merchant-explorers had established an iron foundry among the reed huts for smelting ore that was being mined by local workers.