Hamilcar Barca flees Carthage for Spain.
|THE SON OF BA'AL
Fleeing from Carthage
Pow-er, the mob of white-swathed Senators screamed within the white marble Curia Hostilia - the ornate Republican Senate chamber in the center of Rome. (The imperial era Curia Julia was in east Rome, over the site of earlier tenement housing of the Subura - Rome's sprawling slums.) Pow-er! Pure, unbridled power! They were happy, and with reason. The First Punic War between Rome and Carthage in Tunisia over dominance on Sicily had been an opportunity for each Roman general to strut his stuff as the first Roman to conquer outside of Italy itself. Having wrested control of most of Sicily from its Greek inhabitants, Roman galleys now landed an invasion force on the sandy yellow beach of Africa west of the peninsula city of Carthage.
According to Herodotus, Carthage was established in the late Bronze Age by Canaanite explorer-merchants who were following the counter-clockwise sea currents north of the equator - from Canaan to Greece, island hop to Libya, then follow the coast to Egypt and home to Canaan. Carthage began as a meager trade outpost, an oasis for trade with scattered Macata and Meshwesh aboriginal tribespeople in the west Libyan deserts. The original settlement at Carthage was founded in 814 BC atop a low bald hill in the middle of a diamond-shaped peninsula, overlooking a narrow anchorage to the south for their galleys. According to Herodotus, the Canaanite merchants had named this hill Byrsa for "ox hides" because this was where they had slung the ox hides that they had traded for from the Libyans to dry in the sun. (During the Bronze era, ox hides were in common use as a less-heavy form of armor.)
Later merchants hired workers to enlarge this natural anchorage by hand. By 656 BC, the early inhabitants atop the low Byrsa Hill were flooded by refugees from repeated warfare among the great Eastern kingdoms and empires - predominantly women with children and old men. Over time, the population living atop the Byrsa increased. The original trading post was replaced by more elaborate homes, and simple, rectangular Canaanite temples with simple front porches were erected in the center of the homes and shops.
Here they paid fearful tribute to Eshmoun god of healing, Ba'al Hammon Lord of Storms, Tanit goddess of wisdom, and Astarte goddess of love, as well as Yam the Destroyer, and El the father of the gods. (From Canaanite El came the later word Eloi and the Aramaic word Ellah which became Allah.) The other buildings on the Byrsa were shops and houses. Later, a thick surrounding wall was added around the Byrsa, cutting off the view of the blue sea. They called their new city in the Ugarit language of Canaan "Kart Hadash" - The New City. As trade increased, so did the number and diversity of people, causing the settlement to expand well beyond its wall.
Consequently, the merchant princes of Tyre - called "Rock" because it was on a rocky island just off the coast of northern Canaan - had their viceroys (usually female members of the royal family in Tyre) expand the city off the original Byrsa Hill to the surrounding environs. The subsequent acropolis on the Byrsa came to be the religious heart of the city, dominated by cults of shaven-headed eunuch priests wearing square red caps and short tasseled tunics of humble beige wool.
With the Persian conquest of Canaan and mother Tyre, Carthage became both flooded by more refugees and politically independent. A Carthaginian general named Mayo was leading a small force of aboriginal Libyan mercenaries on the island of Earth and (modern Sardinia). When word reached him of the Persian subjugation of Tyre, he shipped his aborigines by galley back to Carthage, making himself king. This began what historians call the Magonid dynasty of Carthage. It would last just a mere hundred years, until the sixth century. The last Magonid king over Carthage was Hanno the Navigator, who was ousted by a bloodless coup of his advising Council while he was away, exploring the Atlantic Coast of Africa. The council ushered in a constitutional republic over Carthage, increased the numbers of their membership to include political cronies, and disenfranchised the priestly cults atop the Byrsa.
By the Hellenistic Age, the merchant oligarchs of the city would have argued that what their acropolis lacked in height (it was much lower than the acropolis in Athens) it made up for in sheer Greekness. Everywhere one looked one saw white marble steps and white columns, topped by white triangular roofs, often superimposed onto the earlier temples. Surrounded by its protective wall, by the Hellenistic Age seventy-two sacred steps at three locations ascended the Byrsa. The walled acropolis overlooked the flat-roofs and square workshops of downtown Carthage to the south, north of the all-important harbors.
To the northeast on the diamond-shaped peninsula sprawled the green and white residential Megaron Quarter. On higher ground than the rest of the city, the Megaron was home to the rolling green hills and whitewashed suburbs for homesick Greek immigrants who had reluctantly left home 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 and later in Canaan 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.
Lining the eastern edge of the square agora, the Temenos - the high council chamber - 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 of linen and silk - some wearing broad Egyptian status collars - crowded the long benches, generally 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, one bang with the heel of his long oaken staff of office brought a hush over the assemblage.
Unlike neighboring Egypt to the east which was a Macedonian/Greek monarchy that utilized bureaucrats left over from earlier 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.
By the end of the First Punic War, Carthage and Rome had been at war for twenty-four years. The earlier generation of Carthaginian oligarchs who had hungered for Sicily was passing, giving way to a new generation of young men and women who had no experience of trade with Sicily. This new generation had grown up taking advantage of a variety of economic opportunities, especially an increase of trade with the interior of the African continent. Nor were Roman naval blockades designed to hem in Carthaginian ships. Rather, Roman blockades were intended to keep Carthaginian mariners out of Italian waters, leaving Carthaginian merchants free to ply their trade.
While the working men and women of Carthage went about their daily routines, modern archeology reveals that the middle and upper classes were avidly contracting the construction of new workshops and lavish new villas after the fashion of the palace of Knossos on Crete.
By the late 3rd century BC, Carthaginian farmers and especially wheat merchants were aggressively expanding agricultural production specifically as a surplus for export. Southwest of Carthage, along the muddy banks of the ancient Mactar or "Slow-flowing" River (modern Bagradas), workmen were breaking new ground. (All of the ancient names for the rivers of Northwest Africa - Muchatch, Mulucatch, Maltas - are Canaanite synonyms for "Slow-flowing.") The overpopulated city-states of Greece were excellent markets for wheat, especially Carthage's biggest customer: Athens.
In Carthage, a contemporary plantation-owner named Mago had penned a new treatise on agriculture, citing new techniques for crop rotation to keep fields fertile. In his text, Mago cites extensive use of the new hydraulic screw pump invented by the famous Greek mathematician, Archimedes, on Sicily. Archimedes' new corkscrew design would allow for rapid and extensive irrigation of formerly desert plains previously held to be too far above the water table to farm. Carthaginian agriculture at this time was expanded from its original three agricultural districts south of the city to a total of seven, with the new "On" district being the largest and most productive of the four new districts. (Possibly the name On derived from the northern Egyptian city of On that Greeks called Heliopolis.)
All of which provided the new merchant princes and princesses with new products for sale. This new generation wanted to focus on making money, raising families, and generally living their lives. Raising the argument that the end of the war might have been caused less by a shortage of money on the part of the Carthaginians as on a lack of interest on the part of the new leaders in donating to the cause as their elders had done.
So intimidated were the Carthaginians by the sight of tthe sheer numbers of Roman troops and vessels emerging onto their beach that they merely watched from an overlooking hillock as the invading Roman legionaries worked like ants in systematically off-loading supplies and setting up their square floor plan encampment. They would march on the whitewashed city across the desert isthmus that connected the mainland to the west with Carthage to the east. Nothing could stop Rome.
The leader of this new Roman force was one Marcus Atilius Regulus, from one of the lesser aristocratic families within the Roman Senate. Conquest of North Africa would make his fame back in Rome.
The silken robed city fathers of Carthage sent out a delegation to Regulus' big central command pavilion in the center of the fortified camp to ask for surrender terms. In accordance with ancient Canaanite custom, the delegates got on their knees and kissed the invading general's feet. Inflated by this, Regulus replied in Latin through an interpreter: "You either conquer or accept the lot of the conquered."
The Romans' demands were simple: they only wanted Sicily. And maybe Carthage. And then possibly Egypt. Judea, Babylon, Damascus, Tyre, Ephesus, Antioch, Athens, and maybe Sparta.
Shocked by this, Carthage’s long-robed council of elders sent purchasing agents to the mercenary markets in Cape Tenare in the Peloponnese to hire soldiers of fortune. The agents came back with a small force of iron-clad Spartans under an independent general named Xanthippus (Strange Horse). History doesn't describe Xanthippus' appearance but it does record that he was a reformer general back in Sparta. The reform movement in Sparta had been an effort to return to traditional militaristic ways in a modernizing world. Therefore, Xanthippus and his men likely showed up in the luxurious desert world of Carthaginian high society with long dark hair beneath classical Greek helmets, all over long red capes above iron muscle cuirasses. (The Carthaginian garrison's own acoutrement at this time was likely stockpiled Greek-ish armor that had never been worn before. Carthaginian field armies - now vanquished - had all been hastily-assembled Libyan tribal mercenaries dressed in cheap and simple caetrati plate armor and simple leather caps.)
Traditional Spartan ways included a lifetime of militarism, with red tunics to hide the blood, worn under hoplite Greek armor, and long hair that Spartan warriors sometimes made a display of combing before enemy lines to show contempt for the other side. Such as Xanthippus may have sat down oand done before the Romans’ lines.
Xanthippus hastily gave the enthused but inexperienced young men from Carthage a crash course in Greek phalanx fighting, with an emphasis on long pikes to keep the veteran enemy at a distance. (Spartan fighting was actually at close quarters, chest-to-chest, utilizing a short sword called a xiphos and a short spear called a dory.)
In the flat plain of Tunis west of Carthage, Xanthippus placed the thirty-eight midget African elephants that Carthage's leaders gave him in the front line of his Carthaginian volunteers. His Spartans were the right end of his line. Goaded by their human masters, the elephants quickly charged across the plain into the Romans' line, followed by a heavily-armored line of aristocratic cavalry. The front Romans were able to encircle and eventually kill all of the elephants with some effort, but their defensive line was broken and their front ranks were thrown into chaos. The elephant charge was quickly followed by the cavalry charge. Using the distraction of the legionaries, the cavalrymen tore through the Romans' front ranks, using their long slashing sabres to devastating effect as they quickly rode through the massed Romans. This charge was followed by an orderly line advance of Xanthippus' infantry.
Outnumbering the Carthaginians, the Romans of the rear ranks were able to hold their line and even drove back the Carthaginian volunteers. Only the Spartans on the right held their ground and drove deeper into the legionaries. Xanthippus and his Spartans pushed forward behind the charging Carthaginian cavalry, driving the Romans before them and eventually capturing Regulus.
Regulus became a guest-hostage in a noble family's villa on the Byrsa Hill in Carthage. He eventually agreed to bring the Carthaginians' peace terms to the Roman Senate on condition that he return to Carthage. When Regulus returned to Rome he harangued the Senate to continue the war at all costs and refused to return to Carthage. To retain their honor and abide by Regulus' agreement, the Roman leaders forcibly returned Regulus to Carthage, where he was punished for his treachery by having his eyelids cut off and being forced to look at the sun.
When word of this reached Regulus' wife in Rome, she went down to Rome's subterranean jails beneath the Capitoline Hill and there tortured several Carthaginian prisoners of war to death.
Shortly after this, the oligarchs in Carthage gave Xanthippus galleys for transport and the Spartans lifted the Roman siege of Lilybaeum on the tip of northwestern Sicily. After this, Xanthippus departed by galleys with his men for the neighboring metropolis of Alexandria to the east and another assignment. Perhaps the Spartan general knew that political jealousy haunted successful general's.
Ancient sources disagree on the fate of Xanthippus. One ancient legend has him 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 had become the head of an international crime syndicate based in Alexandria, Ptolemy III (Eurgetes') capital. As such, he was Ptolemy's right-hand man, keeping order in the largest city in the world. It was said that the Cleomenes crime cartel was so powerful that nothing went into or came out of Alexandria without their say-so.
To the west in neighboring Carthage, another story was unfolding. Hamilcar Barca, father and predecessor of Hannibal Barca, returned to the city with the other aristocratic cavalrymen as victorious heroes. A merchant-prince from Barca on the north Libyan coast, and an outsider to Carthaginian politics, Hamilcar may have struck up an acquaintance with Xanthippus. An acquaintance with the Spartan general may account for Hamilcar's martial acumen in a pacifist society of merchants.
Now the polyglot people of Carthage cheered them along the streets. No longer was Hamilcar "that barbarian from Libya." Now people looked up to him; they listened to what he had to say and he liked it. His political star was rising.
But the city was out of money. Despite the victories that the Spartan mercenaries had brought, there was talk of surrender in the high council chamber. Eager to capitalize on the political opportunities of another victory, Hamilcar received permission to raise a private force of hired mercenaries and sail to Sicily and, in emulation of Xanthippus, do what he could.
By the end of the war with the Romani, western Sicily had been stalemated. Almost the whole island was under Roman rule save for independent Syracuse to the southeast and Carthaginian Lilybaeum to the northwest. Hamilcar had led his polyglot irregulars to seek refuge atop naturally square, fortress-like Mount Eryx (modern Mount Erkte near the northwestern coast of Sicily) along the coast of western Sicily. Mount Eryx towered over the coastal Greek polis of Drepanum to the north, then under Roman legionary occupation. On a clear day, one could see, blurry-brown in the distance, the coast of Africa, while equally blurry but white in the blue haze, one could see Sicily from Carthage.
Many of the peoples of Sicily and southern Italy at this time, worn out by centuries of intermittent local warfare, had become pacifists. (Indeed, the entire male population of the Samnite people to the southeast of Latium were exterminated by the end of the third Samnite War. Only the women and children remained.) The town that had been atop Eryx had been one such pacifist society. Under the circular rayed-sun military standard of Carthage topped by two prongs of the crescent moon, Hamilcar and his officers had set up in a big walled-off villa house - the only building in the town of Eryx that Hamilcar hadn’t allowed his men and women to burn upon their arrival. (Warfare at the time involved at least some pillage and the mercenary men and camp-following women from Africa had signed on expecting at least some plunder.) That and the big hilltop Greek temple to Venus that Hamilcar was having his men use as a forward base against the legionaries.
Hamilcar had all of the civilians of the town of Eryx rounded up and addressed them as a group. “You are all the servants of Carthage, your new master!” he informed them. “Do well and you will be treated well!”
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.
According to Polybius, Book III, the irregular camp of the mercenaries would have consisted of round thatch huts that came to ragged points, and white tents such as desert nomads used. Beyond these sat a series of irregular pens made of local brushwood that held the herds of the Numidians’ horses that were set out to graze the grassy slopes of Eryx each day and returned each evening. Unarmored men and women would have been everywhere, going about their daily chores - from washing clothing to mending old clothes, old sandals, and old weapons, from repairing broken wagons to tending the horses.
It was here, on Mount Eryx, among white-clad and simply-armored caetrati (round shields) and scutari (long oval shields) soldiers that Hannibal Barca first cried into the world. His mother was probably a Sicilian priestess/prostitute dedicated to the all-female cult of the Erycinian Venus. The cult 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.
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, or 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 coated an unadorned yellow in linseed oil paint. 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 the men often didn’t do themselves since Hamilcar, and later Hannibal, frequently had to negotiate for replacement weapons for their mercenaries.).
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 even the simple plate armor of the caetrati and scutari 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.
Hannibal saw colorfully clad women in ornate geometrically patterned flowing robes who were camp followers. (Black robes for the desert tribes wouldn’t come in until the Middle Ages.) The women sometimes danced to entertain the men. While Middle Eastern dance would - later, during the Middle Ages - involve women moving their feet little and making slow swirling arcs with their arms to gentle music, ancient dance involved young women acrobatically jumping and making rapid zig-zag motions with their arms and legs, all to the rapid beat of drums and tambourines.
In camp, the women were wont to string copper coins of little worth into headdresses atop swirling head scarfs. They explained to a curious little Hannibal that it was a nominal surety against hard times.
Little Hannibal also saw many Greek Sicilians in white work tunics and even brown-clad Italians who were slaves - many with iron collars still fastened around their necks - 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. 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.
In 241 BC, at the end of the war with the Roman hosts on Sicily (Greek Sikelia), the ruling Council of Elders of Carthage called their most combative son to come down from his makeshift stronghold. Publicly, the new generation may have admired Hamilcar Barca's courage and determination atop Mount Eryx - and we know that at least one small clique of these new young aristocrats, led by a silken-robed leader called Hasdrubal the Splendid, did - but privately it is possible that many thought that Hamilcar Barca was crazy.
The elders on the council in Carthage had thought that choosing such a die-hard enemy to the Romaion (the Greek name for the Romans) as Hamilcar might perhaps glean for 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 Hellenidze (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 officers’ breastplates beneath their red capes 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 caetrati and 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. Polybius (Volume II) has Hamilcar then declaring the emancipation of all slaves and all camp followers travelling with his army.
“You will all be travelling to Carthage!”
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 new Carthaginian governor, a man whom Polybius Volume One names Gesco (Gisco). A soft-spoken man of subtlety, Gisco had been chosen to replace the earlier garrison commander, a combative man named Himilco, 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! As an oligarch himself, Gisco may have been decked out in long silken robes to demonstrate to the army the new air of peace.
Hamilcar then sailed by galley with his private entourage and his new wives 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 had started her relationship with Hamilcar as his slave. At least, at first. Over time, it’s possible that any relationship between them evolved. Certainly Hamilcar's later actions in resettling the civilian population of Eryx to rebuild their town and their beloved temple to Venus outside the desert castle at Sicca in the south of Tunisia (Gerard and Collette Charles-Picard, 1954) speaks volumes on the nature of their relationship. Slaves were not resettled. Slave groups were broken up and sold. Free people were resettled.
South of the diamond-shaped peninsula that was Carthage but still north of the jutting rectangular commercial harbor, lay 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. The rowdy mercenaries were propositioning every woman in the area, even while they calculated their back pay and everything they were going to do with it. Gisco 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 a particularly thick propylaea wall atop the Byrsa acropolis. Here, the terraced blocky houses gently sloped down toward the cemetery district of Bou Mjou and the blue sea to the east, after the fashion of homes at Knossos on Crete which was also a wall-less city.
The main buildings of downtown Carthage south of the Byrsa were grouped around a large Market Square which served as a meeting place. Built of sun-dried bricks and large stone blocks, the buildings were faced with plaster and their floors decorated with mosaic or colored cements. Shops opened onto the streets and people gained access to the houses behind and above them through corridors leading to small courtyards.
Other houses down on the coast reveal the same basic plan but are larger. With colonnades surrounding the courtyards these were the seaside homes of the wealthy. Carthaginian homes of means at this time were far from austere, with indoor running water and ornate decoration. (Even the homes and tenements of the poor in cities of this time had perpetually running indoor water. Modern archaeologists in Tunisia claim that Carthage's system of public aqueducts and cisterns was intricate and elaborate.) 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.
Although local practices varied, both men and women often wore the same garment types. These were skirts of various lengths; shawls, or lengths of woven fabric of different sizes and shapes that could be draped or wrapped around the body; and tunics, T-shaped garments similar to a loose-fitting modern T-shirt, that were made of woven fabric in varying lengths. E. J. W. Barber (1994) suggests that the Latin word tunica derives from the Middle Eastern word for linen and she believes that the tunic originated as a linen undergarment worn to protect the skin against the harsh, itchy feel of wool. Later tunics were also used as outerwear and were made from fabrics of any available fibers.
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. “Tawab baekar, or good morning,” would have been heard in Ugaritic, the language of Canaan, as well as the “Kali meira” of the Greeks and the “Borouabwe” of sub-tropical tribespeople come north to trade, as market-goers greeted the popular Hamilcar. 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. Ornate silken robes from the east that shimmered in the light with every movement adorned the clean-shaven young man’s muscular frame (according to coins attributed to him), 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 men who gravitated to the politically besieged Hamilcar - men like his handsome new son-in-law Hasdrubal the Splendid, the young veteran admiral Carthalo (who had sailed under the popular and elderly amir or admiral, Adherbal), and Hamilcar’s veteran officers Maharbal and Hert - were men of similar martial opinion as Hamilcar.
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.
The Makthar texts, excavated from the ancient town of Makthar (Gilbert Charles Picard 1957, pp. 39-40 and 61) mention that a triumvirate of political power was later formed over Carthage, possibly due to earlier Numidian or Canaanite custom. 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. (Polybius relates that the young fleet commander Carthalo, who now traveled with Hamilcar, had been Adherbal’s co-commander at the sweeping Carthaginian naval victory at the battle of Drepanum -Greek Drepana.)
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.
In Hamilcar’s villa atop the old city, a Spartan scribe whom Hamilcar had picked up while on Sicily - a young man named Sosylius - told the little sons of Hamilcar hero tales from Homer’s Iliad. Sosylius 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, Synhalus would have worn the extra-thick white headband that signified his profession. Synhalus would have shooed Sosylius away.
All right, you’ve had your fun for the day. It’s time for these young sirs to receive some REAL education. Synhalus 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’ banter. 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 - denarius 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 pay their Greek hoplite mercenaries first and send them home by galleys. Then they found the funds to pay the white chiton-clad Massyli Numidian cavalrymen from west of Carthage and send them home. That left the bulk of Hamilcar's former army: the massed Libyan infantrymen and the Italian deserters and runaway slaves, as well as their camp-followers.
They'll get tired of waiting and gradually just go home, the elders on the council reasoned.
But the mercenaries didn’t go home. Popular leaders from among each nation's ranks - men like the Italian Spendius and the Libyan Matho - exploiting the convoluted language barrier between Carthaginian officers and the various nations, whipped the mercenaries and followers to ever greater anger. So the councilors then ordered the hoplite city garrison to march the caetrati and scutari 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. When the revolt broke out after internal fighting among the rebels, the mercenaries convinced the Libyan 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 rebellion had widespread moral support among the tribes and villages of the Libyans. City by City the African women gave up their jewelry en masse in order to feed the rebels’ war funds, enough for Matho and Spendius to pay back the owed pay and finance the rebellion. Matho divided the rebels - some reinforced besieged Utica while others were sent further northwest along the coast to seige Hippocritae on a promontory further northeast of Utica. Others went to reinforce the force camped around Tunis cutting the isthmus off from the hinterland.
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 the robed Gisco, the former governor of Lilybaeum on western Sicily, whom the elderly councilors had recalled to negotiate with the rebels at the beginning of hostilities.
Polybius has young Hanno the Great 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.
Utica (wall-less like Carthage, all of the North African coastal cities had been wall-less to demonstrate faith in the former Carthaginian fleet) was situated atop high white limestone cliffs - atop the modest height of the Djebel Mezel Ghoul, in fact - giving the city’s besiegers the high ground advantage over Hanno’s phalanx troops.
Hanno’s force and galleys - triremes and pentoconters - took up a position in Utica's sandy harbor far below the cliffside city. Hanno then made contact with the city council in Utica and got catapults and attacked the rebels rear. Hanno's force won and scattered the rebels. But Hanno proved himself only good at outfit. In the field, the smoothe diplomat was timid and indecisive. Hanno went into Utica to take care of his body and ignored his army. The more numerous rebels attacked Hanno’s army camp and scattered them. The caetrati and scutari and their elephants were driven back. (Elephants were unreliable at best during a battle, having a tendency to stampede off the field, trampling anyone in their path. Their unfamiliar odor tended to frighten enemy cavalry of which the Libyan rebels had none.)
The survivors fled behind the city barricades of Utica. Hanno was timid and, watching from the ramparts, didn't attack the rebels when he had the chance - when they were in transit, passing through the nearby village of Goza. Eventually, Hanno was personally recalled by sea back across the blue bay to Carthage.
With his sons and son-in-law, and harem of wives all ensconced within the family estate atop the eastern Byrsa slope, once again Hamilcar stepped forward. Thinking like a merchant oligarch, he hired a small force of mercenary caetrati and scutari Libyans and augmented these with a train of 40 war elephants purchased out of pocket from the North African bush country. This small force then set out, followed by a train of slaver-merchants with carts laden with chains for prospective captives. Hamilcar's first action was to attack the rebels holding the bridge across the matter River. Hamilcar had his people pretend to give way under a rear attack from Utica, then order his people to turn and fight this disorganized attack.
Hamilcar was able to use his small mercenary force to bait the rebels out of their seige of Utica and out into the desert. As his force proceeded, he had them subdue in succession many of the Libyan villages and fortified ksours that had rebelled against Carthage. (A ksour was a desert village situated behind a small defensive wall with towers. Many Libyan villages of the bronze and iron ages were surrounded by a thick planting of surrounding palm trees to slow attackers and give archers atop the walls more time.)
Polybius recounts that one day in the desert a small party of Numidian riders from the deserts far to the west of Carthage rode up to the wooden palisade of Hamilcar's encampment. The lead rider called up to the sentries atop the wall that his name was Narravas and that, back home, he had heard of Hannibal and desired to fight under him. The unbelieving sentries sent for the lord Hamilcar in his big command pavilion. When Hamilcar was shoulder-to-shoulder, looking down at Narravas’ small retinue, the young man repeated his request. And added that he was a desert caid (cah-EED), a tribal chief with 9,000 riders under him. Hamilcar immediately admitted Narravas and his 9,000 into his camp.
Hamilcar used his private force's new 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 slave merchants. He also had his eldest son, little Hannibal, watch in an effort to harden his son to the cruelty 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 at this as they were led away in chains.
In Carthage, in gratitude for Narravas’ help, and approval of the young man overall, Hamilcar married his next oldest daughter to Narravas. Meanwhile, the winds of political change were stirring within the high council chamber, whose classical Greek facade lined the eastern edge of the bustling noisy square marketplace. As a 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.
Not guilty! pleaded Hamilcar Barca, at his trial within the Carthaginian council chamber. Or so Diodorus tells us. 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.
The trial of Hamilcar Barca was a kangaroo trial and everyone in the city 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.
In 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). To the west of the city, adjacent to this new stone wall, the builders were also erecting a massive new complex of wooden elephant pens, capable of housing hundreds of animals. Interspersed among these wooden pens were many new wooden stables with hay-strewn floors for the horses of the high council's messenger riders.
It was all 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 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 the Tophet district of Tanit 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 term “Friend and Ally of the Senate and People of Rome was reserved for subordinated allies outside of Italy itself.
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. 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.)
While Hamilcar and his friends sacrificed at the Temple District of Tanit, the hoplite garrison troopers swarmed across the wrong sections of the city. Meanwhile, Hamilcar’s daughters, 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 out 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 Sosylius in Hamilcar’s party - would have quipped about “being out at such an unseemly hour.”
Livy states that Bostar, the shaven-headed family priest, made the obligatory animal sacrifice to propitiate the gods for the coming journey. Then Hamilcar made the customary speech to the ships’ crews, telling them that they were all off on a great adventure. Now bare-chested sailors shimmied up thick bally lines to adjust the rigging.
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 Romaion. Hamilcar’s horse head galleys would have rowed at the standard half pace out of the harbor, then increased to full speed once they were in the sparkling blue Mediterranean. They would have 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, far to the east of the city. Ancient galleys traveled at a maximum speed of four knots if oar powered and five if powered by oar and sail while slowing down to two knots to tack (turn) to capture the wind. The flotilla headed west, never dreaming of danger before them. Overhead, the big white sail would have flapped in the wind.
End of Book One
Fleeing from Carthage