Episode 1.12 – Enter Dionysius – Part I – The Fall of Acragas

Temple of Concord, Acragas, Sicily

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During the 415 – 413 BC Athenian invasion of Sicily, a Syracusan aristocrat named Hermocrates had become the hero of the day, by uniting all the Sicilian Greeks against the Athenians. He was then sent as a naval commander to the Peloponnese to help the Spartans out against the Athenians there. But victory in this theatre of war was elusive, and Diocles, Hermocrates’ political opponent, used Hermocrates’ defeats as an excuse to get the Syracusan citizens’ assembly to have him exiled. They duly did this and voted a new corps to take the place of Hermocrates and his officers. Not only was Hermocrates forcibly retired, but he also could not even come home. So, with some Persian help, he rented five triremes and hired a thousand mercenaries and set sail for Sicily.

He arrived at Messina just as Hannibal was razing Himera to the ground. He took into his army a thousand of the refugees flowing out of Himera, bringing his ranks up to a total of two thousand soldiers. He then, through his friends inside Syracuse, tried to coax the assembly to have his exile revoked, but Diocles was able to convince them otherwise.

Hermocrates, then, took over Selinus, since it had no Punic garrison to protect it. He raised a call to all displaced Selinuntines to join him and his army. Together, they were going to avenge their defeat against Carthage. As a result, Hermocrates saw his ranks swell to six thousand men.

Hermocrates and his men then attacked the territories of Motya and Panormus and defeated any resistance they gave. The point of this was to rile up the Syracusans with patriotic fervour. Hermocrates had hoped that such patriotism would then lead to his recall since he was the only one that seemed to have any guts to fight the Carthaginians. But he failed to move anybody at Syracuse, enough to want him back.

Needless to say, this provoked Carthage. If Syracuse couldn’t control her own son, then Carthage would have to take measures to protect the Epikrateia herself and drive the renegades out of Selinus. Not only that, if Selinus somehow became independent again, then Carthage’s allies in the surrounding area were in danger. Carthage had to act.

Since nothing had worked so far, Hermocrates made his next move. He marched to Himera, where he collected the bones of dead Syracusan soldiers that had fallen here in their fight against Hannibal. He then had these bones delivered to Syracuse in the hopes of causing Diocles grief, since it was he who had left his dead unburied, a notably dishonourable act. Though this got Diocles banished, it didn’t get Hermocrates recalled.

When this PR stunt failed, Hermocrates then decided to launch a coup. He marched to Syracuse one night, where his friends opened the entrance to the city for him. But since his army was trailing, he decided to wait for them outside. While he stood at the gate, the sleepy Syracusans began to clue into what was happening and organized a defence. By the time Hermocrates was able to enter the city, the Syracusans were ready. In the clash that followed, Hermocrates was killed. The next morning, his supporters were tried, found guilty and executed.

Hermocrates would surely have known what he was doing and what the geopolitical ramifications of these raids were. By triggering Carthage, he was endangering Sicilian freedom and Syracusan ambitions on the island as well as ensuring the permanent loss of Selinus. There was also the danger that Acragas might join Carthage in any new war simply because Acragas enjoyed a lucrative trade with Carthage and was a rival with Syracuse for hegemony over Sicily. Except for Himera in 480 BC, every time Carthage allied with a city on the island, she won. In Hermocrates’ mind, by putting Syracuse in a difficult spot, he was trying to force his government’s hand. With Carthage provoked and with the possibility that Acragas might ally with her, Hermocrates knew that the Carthaginians needed to be driven out. And to drive them out, he knew, a pan-Siceliot alliance was needed. And though Carthage had now been provoked, Hermocrates’ raids also showed that her hold in the west of the island was quite vulnerable, and with the right configuration of alliances, Carthage could be driven out. What was missing was a leader who could unite everyone and lead them to victory; a true hegemon of Sicily. In Hermocrates’ mind, that true hegemon was himself. And so, by provoking Carthage, Hermocrates also hoped that he could endear himself to the people at Syracuse who would demand his return and hand him the reins.

Whatever form the Punic response to Hermocrates’ shenanigans ought to have taken, everyone expected it to be measured. There were reasons to suppose that the Punic assembly was satisfied with the status quo that Hannibal’s 409 BC campaign had established. The Greeks were effectively excluded from the Southern Mediterranean. The nearest free Greek city to the Epikrateia, Acragas, was 20 miles away. The closest after that, Gela, was 30 miles beyond that. There was a significant gap between Solus and Cephaloedium. It was, perhaps, as a result of Hermocrates’ raids that the Carthaginians occupied this gap by founding a settlement just east of Himera, called Thermae Himerae, as I had mentioned in the previous episode. The empire was now secure. There was no need to add new territory. Any further conquests meant that the new subject cities would require mercenaries to garrison them, which would be a drain on the financial resources of Carthage. It was much more cost effective to maintain friendly relations with the Greeks. But, interestingly enough, as we’ll soon see, none of that mattered. As Diodorus claims quite truthfully, the Carthaginians used this episode as an excuse to embark upon the conquest of Sicily.

Before I begin today’s episode, I’d like to mention that more folks have given me five-star iTunes reviews. To them, I say, please accept my sincere thanks. Your appreciation gives me the encouragement to work harder and produce more material. So, ladies and gentlemen, please give Historyteller an honest rating and a review on iTunes. It keeps me focused and helps others discover the podcast.

I had also mentioned in the last episode that I wanted the direction of this podcast to be determined by my listeners. To that end, I had asked two questions. The first was: How long (that is, how many episodes) would you like me to make the Punic Wars, which aren’t that far off from the current point in the narrative? And the second: After I’m done with Punic history, what other history would you like me to work on? I’m collecting answers to these questions, through a survey. I’ll include a link to that in the show notes for this episode. I’m going to close the survey on October the thirty-first. Until then, I’ll keep reminding you to respond in every episode.

I now have a Patreon account, too. So, if you’re inclined to help support the podcast, a one-dollar-a-month pledge can go a long way. Patreon can also allow for special content only for those patrons who contribute at or beyond a certain dollar-threshold. The one-dollar-a-month tier is for those who’d like to keep the free feed going. As of the last episode, I didn’t have a tier for those who would like to contribute more in return for extra content. Now, however, after having researched the material for this and the next episode thoroughly, there is enough supplementary material, that I can offer extra content. What you heard before the title music was a very condensed version of the story of Hermocrates. While that piece was intended for today’s episode, I realized that I could flesh the story out a bit more and offer it to Patrons who contribute five dollars a month to my Patreon account. Today’s episode will, very briefly, mention the great Syracusan tyrant Dionysius the Elder. Doing a complete history of this guy would detract from Punic history. So I won’t tackle it directly on the main feed. However, I am going to turn just the story of Dionysius into a mini-series that I am going to put on the five-dollar-a-month tier on Patreon. This is a smashing story and you won’t want to miss this.

Finally, at the end of the last episode I mentioned that this episode was going to be called “Enter Dionysius.” At the time I wrote that episode, I thought that the events I mention today and those that I will mention in the next one could be covered in one episode. That is not the case, so I have split the history of this new war into two episodes. Even though today’s episode has Dionysius in the title, Dionysius will not feature in it, except for a brief mention. Dionysius will get a fairer hearing in the next episode. And if you really want to delve into his life, I suggest becoming a Patron of Historyteller on Patreon.

With that, let’s go crack some eggs.

In the last episode we covered the return of the Magonid family on to the international geopolitical scene with a smashing military success in Sicily. Hannibal Mago had conquered Selinus and Himera within the space of a single campaigning season. When he left Sicily, he had not concluded a peace with anyone. Technically, a state of war between Syracuse and Carthage still existed, since Syracuse had violated her neutrality by supplying troops to Himera. Despite that, an uneasy truce existed between the two sides. Unfortunately for Syracuse, Hermocrates upset that delicate balance.

Though the Spartans had won against the Athenian Navy with Syracusan help in 409 BC, Carthage had no reason to be threatened by the Syracusans. They hadn’t exactly distinguished themselves at Himera. Not to mention, with the Hermocrates episode, the deep divisions within and between Siceliot and Syracusan societies had been exposed. In the 409 BC campaign, the distrust the allies showed each other was very obvious. And now, Hermocrates’ attempt at a coup would almost guarantee that any resistance the Syracusans showed the Carthaginians would be split right down the middle. And this, of course, will play right into Carthage’s hands. Time was ripe for Carthage to launch a new war.

As was the case with Himera in 480 BC, Carthage took her own sweet time in preparing a response. And as always, she didn’t want to jump the gun before covering her bases. A few decades ago, a partial inscription was discovered at Athens. This inscription revealed that in 406 BC Carthage had sent Athens an envoy to coax her into becoming a Punic ally. The Athenians received the Carthaginians warmly and invited them to participate in some entertainment, presumably a play. Though the inscription does not tell us what Carthage’s terms were, it is not unreasonable to assume that these were the same as those that Athens offered back in 413 BC, which Carthage had rejected at the time. The Athenian representatives indicated their inclination to accept the Punic terms, whatever they were if their citizens’ assembly were to ratify it. The inscription does not mention if it did. What it says is that a few Athenian generals made it to Sicily and joined up with the Carthaginian brass to “assess the situation.” What this means, the inscription does not make clear.

What this treaty, if there ever was one, was supposed to achieve is not known either. Athens had been fighting Sparta, and by this time in the war, she had been stretched to her limits. Things had turned so sour that even the 409 BC withdrawal of the Syracusan Navy from the war meant nothing. The Spartans had Persian help, now, so that they could use the war to exclude Athens from Asia Minor and the Aegean, giving Sparta the upper hand. Soon, Sparta would dictate terms to Athens. And, as if to rub salt in her wound, Alcibiades, the star Athenian general of the war had been exiled, and Athens was on the brink of a civil war. Had the Athenian terms been accepted back in 413 BC, we might have seen a different outcome, not just for Hannibal and the Carthaginians, but even for the Athenians and the Spartans.

While the effects of this alliance aren’t evident, it’s fun to speculate what would have happened had this alliance not been in place (again, that is, if it ever was in place). Though at the moment, Athens was quite weak, she may have hoped that with this alliance the Syracusan Navy, pulled out for the previous engagement with the Carthaginians, would stay in Sicily, thus, weakening Sparta. Lack of Syracusan support for Sparta meant that the Athens could give the Spartans a tough time. That, in turn, would ensure that the Carthaginians could prosecute their war without any hindrance from Sparta. What the Carthaginians did not want at this time was for Athens to capitulate, allowing Sparta and Corinth to come to Syracuse’s aid.

A weak side effect of the alliance may have been that the Greek Sicilian cities of Naxos and Catane, being of Ionic Greek stock, the same as that of Athens, did not send any troops to join Syracuse in the coming war, perhaps out of deference to their Ionic kin.

The Carthaginians also sent embassies to Iberia and the Balearic Islands to gather mercenaries, while they imposed a levy on their Libyan, Numidian and Mauretanian subjects and allies. They were able to gather 300,000 men, according to Ephorus, while Timaeus puts that number at 120,000. The number of the fleet ranges from 90 to 120 triremes, depending on who you read, while Diodorus adds a 1000 transport ships to that number. Except for the triremes, whose range of 90 to 120 seems realistic, the 120,000 and 300,000 numbers for the infantrymen are most certainly an exaggeration. Modern estimates range from 30,000 to 60,000 men. Diodorus’ 1,000 number for the transports seems to be estimated based on the 120,000 figure for the infantry, so it’s quite safe to assume that that number is also an exaggeration.

Reports of Carthage’s diplomatic efforts reached Syracuse, and, in response, she sent an embassy to Carthage, protesting, that they had nothing to do with Hermocrates. He was a renegade, and the good news was that he had been adequately disposed of. Such pleas only fell on deaf ears, however. Carthage had chosen the warpath, and there was no going back.

The Carthaginian Senate appointed Hannibal again as the war leader, but this time, owing to his advanced age, they also gave him a younger relative, Himilco, the son of Hanno the Navigator, as an assistant. His job was to share his duties with Hannibal and, presumably, to succeed him should the grim reaper call to harvest Hannibal’s soul.

In the April of 406 BC, Hannibal sent an advanced guard of 40 triremes. Syracuse, now on her guard after her failed embassy to Carthage, had sent out a naval guard of her own to the West of Sicily to intercept any Punic warships. When the Punic maritime vanguard arrived, the Syracusans attacked. Fifteen Punic ships sank, and the rest escaped to the Aegates Islands, West of Sicily.

When word of the Syracusan attack reached Hannibal, he quickly set out with the bulk of his army. On the way, he was joined by the remainder of his advance guard. Not encountering any Syracusans this time, Hannibal landed somewhere in Western Sicily, though the sources do not specify the exact location. He left 40 ships in Motya and Panormus and sent the rest home, the literature not clarifying how many ships each city got.

Though no source mentions this, it is not unreasonable to assume that, if any of Hermocrates’ men were still in Selinus, Hannibal must have cleaned them out before doing anything else first. Since there are no reports of any fighting in Selinus, it is safe to assume that even if Selinus was occupied and even if Hannibal sent men there to clean it out, the occupants just packed up and left upon the arrival of Hannibal’s men.

Because Hannibal was going to direct his wrath against Syracuse, a city on the Eastern edge of the island, he wanted to make sure that the rear of his army was safe from attack. This meant ensuring that the Greek city of Acragas would not be a threat.

Acragas was the nearest city to Selinus and a few miles inland from the Southern coast. She became exceedingly prosperous by carefully navigating her neutrality in the various wars of the previous decades. She had a reputation for wealth and luxury, notable public buildings, especially temples, and a taste for fine Greek art.

As it so happens, she was also one of Carthage’s trading partners, supplying her with olives. In Hermocrates’ calculations, she ought to have been a Carthaginian ally. Not only was her olive trade with the Punic city one of the sources of her wealth, but she was also in competition with Syracuse for hegemony over the island. Both reasons ought to have made her a natural friend of the Carthaginians. But she was Greek, and Doric to boot. Would she opt to fight her ethnic brethren?

Hannibal offered her two options; a formal alliance against Syracuse, or neutrality. She could join Carthage, under whose aegis she could be the rising star of Sicily after Syracuse’s fall, or she could elect to stay safe, and not engage in any hostilities. No pressure.

Unexpectedly, however, Acragas chose war. She rebuffed Hannibal’s, quite reasonable, offer, harvested her crops, moved everyone outside the walls, inside and began the dreadful wait. Allying with barbarians against their fellow Greeks was unthinkable for them. Perhaps Hannibal’s treatment of the Himerans in 409 BC made them think long and hard about what the Carthaginians could do. In their minds, no Greek was safe under the Carthaginians.

The Acragantines had founded their settlement upon some hills, while to Acragas’ west ran the river Hypsas. The hills and the river gave Acragas an excellent defensive position, supplemented by fortifications, making the city almost impregnable. The Western side, thus covered, left the Eastern side which, though secure, was open to aid from the Eastern cities. Taking both these facts into account, Hannibal split his army into two. The primary division he placed in a fortified camp on a plain in the South West of the city. This division retained all the engines that Hannibal wanted to use to conduct his siege. He then placed a detachment consisting of Iberians and Libyans on the Eastern side, so that they could intercept any help that came from that direction.

Acragas had taken into service, Dexippus, a Spartan soldier of fortune, who had served under Hermocrates. He brought 1500 mercenaries from Gela who were joined by the 800 Oscan mercenaries who had previously fought for Hannibal. They had decided to work for the Greeks now since they were unhappy with their share of the loot from the last war. Dexippus and his mercenaries were stationed on the Hill of Athena in the North East of the city. Despite being close to Hannibal’s Eastern division, neither side offered battle and held on to their positions. The main Acragantine army was inside the walls, waiting for a breach occur so that they could either quickly repair it, or fight the oncoming Carthaginians.

After dividing his force, Hannibal began a vigorous assault on the walls of the city, which the Acragantines vigorously defended. Every day the Carthaginians managed to make a breach and every night the Acragantines were able to repair it. On one particular night, a couple of Acrangintes managed to sneak outside their walls and set the two Punic siege towers on fire.

And as if the loss of the two towers wasn’t enough, the Hypsas river was also proving to be a formidable obstacle for the besiegers. So Hannibal ordered that the tombs of long-dead Acragantines that lay outside the city be destroyed and their stones used to fill the bed of the Hypsas river. One of the graves they dared to desecrate was that of Theron, the tyrant whose acquisition of Himera in 483 BC became the trigger for Hamilcar’s humiliating defeat more than 70 years earlier. During its desecration, lightning struck the tomb. This scared the shit out of the Carthaginians. Priests began to foretell of damned portents, while soldiers reported seeing Theron’s ghost at night crying out for vengeance against those who dared defile his final resting place. And then, almost as if the gods themselves sought revenge on Theron’s behalf, a plague struck the Carthaginian camp. One of the first ones it carried off was Hannibal himself. A fitting end for a man wanted to awaken the dead.


With Hannibal’s demise, Himilco, Hannibal’s younger assistant, now took the reins of the Punic field command. He didn’t become a basileus, though, because Diodorus tells us that that didn’t happen until 396 BC, an issue we’ll discuss later. As soon as he did so, he ordered that the destruction of the tombs be stopped. He then sacrificed a male child to Baal Hammon as atonement for the sins of his predecessor and proceeded to drown a few unfortunate animals in the sea, presumably to appease Poseidon. These were not the child immolation sacrifices since those were meant to protect against utter destruction, which was not the case here. These were purification rituals to cleanse the Punic host of their collective sins, especially the sin of the desecration of the Greek tombs. After the purification rituals were complete, Himilco proceeded to assault the walls of Acragas once again, just as his predecessor had done.

After Syracuse’s protest embassy had failed to coax the Carthaginians into abandoning their imperial ambitions, she had sent embassies all around Sicily and Italy to convince the Greek populations there to join their efforts against the oncoming Punic onslaught. Many rallied to this call, and gathered at Messina, from whence they marched to Acragas, taking the coastal road. On the way, they marched through Gela and Camarina and collected more troops. Diodorus tells us that in all, there were 30,000 hoplites and 5,000 horsemen, while 30 triremes covered their seaward flank. This cohort was commanded by the elected Syracusan general, Daphnaeus whose adjutant was none other than our friend, Dionysius. Brian Caven, a British classicist, suggests that Diodorus’ 30,000 figure is smaller than what actually may have been the case. He makes the argument that apart from the hoplites, there may also have been light infantry accompanying the Greek cohort, as they always did. The numbers of the hoplites may have been the official number gleaned from the records, since these soldiers, though middle class, belonged to the propertied classes. The lighter infantry did not belong to the propertied classes, and hence, was not as well documented. In Caven’s estimation, the grand total was probably closer to 60,000 men.

Upon their arrival, Himilco commanded his Eastern division to descend into the plains facing the city and prevent them from entering Acragas. The two sides were probably evenly matched. And given the result of the engagement, there might have been slightly more Greeks than Carthaginians, with the heavy-armoured hoplites outnumbering their heavy-armoured Punic counterparts. Details of the battle do not survive, but Diodorus tells us that the Carthaginians were routed and lost 6,000 men in the melee.

The Carthaginians withdrew and marched back to join their main camp. Daphnaeus could have given them chase, but didn’t. He recalled Hannibal’s feigned retreat from Himera in the last war, and how that ended up in a disaster. As the Eastern Punic division marched along the Southern wall of Acragas, the Acragantines were observing them go by. With the enemy so close, the Acragantine soldiery was keen on ambushing them. But the generals wouldn’t have it, on the same grounds as Daphnaeus.

Daphnaeus now occupied the Hill of Athena alongside Dexippus and his men. The Acragantines, too, poured out of the gates to join them, clearly agitated by the inaction of their leaders. Rumours spread in the camp that the generals were taking bribes from the Carthaginians. Clearly, someone was exploiting already existing class tensions among the Acragantines, since their soldiery was composed of commoners, while the generals were elected from amongst the aristocracy. With everyone now gathered, an impromptu assembly was now held to discuss the situation.

Brian Caven claims that such rumours gained currency because hoplites were taught to believe that wars ought to be settled quickly via pitched battles. In the face of what could appear to be a clear-cut victory, a general’s inaction was considered cowardice. A Hannibal Barca, the famous Carthaginian general of the Second Punic War, or one of the Scipione, Roman generals who fought Carthage, with professional soldiers at their disposal, could have pulled off an attack in the flank of the withdrawing Punic division, and pulled back quickly enough to avoid being attacked himself. A citizen militia, however, trying to do the same would not have been victorious. They could not have withdrawn quickly enough to avoid Himilco attacking their flank. Daphnaeus was at least a mile away, so by the time he would reach to help, the deed would have been done. At the root of this belief was the genuine concern that the soldiery were ordinary citizen-farmers. While they were at war, their farms were unattended. The quicker they end the war, the sooner they could get home and tend to their farms.

Based on the rumours now spreading like wildfire in the camp, the Acragantine generals were tried in the assembly, and were sentenced to… Drum roll please… Death by stoning. Four out of the five Acragantine generals thus met a grisly end. Dexippus was spared, perhaps because of his association with Sparta or probably because he didn’t really get a chance to engage the Carthaginians. In their stead, a new cohort of generals was elected to continue with Acragas’ defence.

Daphnaeus now moved in closer to the Punic camp. He couldn’t assault it directly since it was heavily fortified. The only thing he could do was to put Hannibal’s cohort under a blockade, preventing the Carthaginians from bringing in any supplies. This was an excellent strategy. It would ensure that hunger would set in at the Punic camp. With the plague already having struck once, the summer and the swampy conditions around the river would make sure that another bout was just around the corner. Of course, hunger and disease would result in death, but they could also prompt the healthier contingents to either mutiny their general or switch sides. And Daphnaeus, though he was being supplied by Gela, didn’t need to hold out too long either. How long does it take to kill a man through starvation, especially when the plague is looming?

Himilco would have been at his wit’s end trying to figure out what to do. But this time, he was in luck. The counter-siege would have resulted in its intended consequences had it not been for a piece of news that reached Himilco’s ear. He learnt that a convoy of grain had left from Gela for Acragas. He was able to immediately dispatch heralds to Motya and Panormus to send in the forty triremes that had remained there, with instructions to intercept the Gelan grain convoy. The convoy was inadequately protected since the Syracusans were not expecting an attack. The Punic fleet had, thus far, been inactive. And winter was approaching, so it wasn’t likely to become active any time soon. This was a gross miscalculation. The Punic fleet sunk eight of Syracuse’s triremes, while the rest were driven aground. All the grain transports were captured.

This might not have been so bad if the only effect of this attack was the seizing of the grain. In that case, the Carthaginians and Greeks would have been evenly poised from a supply point of view. And that would mean that Daphnaeus would have to extend his siege a little longer. In any case, winter would come, and Himilco would have to go home. However, such was not the case. Acragas had eaten her way through her supplies. Gela could supply only so much before running out herself. The position was now reversed. Just as the besiegers had become the besieged, those causing the starvation were now the ones being starved.

The non-Greek mercenaries in the Greek camp were now getting edgy. Sensing this agitation, Himilco bribed the 800 Oscans with 15 talents of silver to switch sides. Being experienced military men, they could see which way the wind was blowing and jumped ship. The tide was clearly turning.

After the Oscans deserted, the Italian Greeks withdrew, too. With winter now approaching, crossing the straits to get to Italy would be impossible if they hadn’t moved earlier. Though, a rumour ran rampant that Dexippus had bribed the Italians to go home. With the status quo now having been upended, Daphnaeus too decided to withdraw. Supplies were low, and it was better to live to fight another day. If a siege had to be conducted, then it better be undertaken when conditions were favourable. Greek supplies ought to last long enough for the Carthaginians to abandon their siege and go home. And lo and behold, the soldiery accused Daphnaeus of succumbing to bribery, too. Seriously! When will these guys stop? Spoiler alert, they won’t, to their own detriment.

Because Acragas could be defended no longer, the top brass decided to evacuate her. On a cold night in the middle of December, everyone left the town. The old, the infirm and the sick were left behind. Daphnaeus, as a precaution, had some soldiers light torches on the walls to give the Carthaginians the impression that nothing was happening.

At daybreak the next morning, after seven months of besieging and being besieged, Himilco entered the abandoned city. Those left behind were killed since they were of no value as slaves. The army plundered the houses and the temples, which seemed to have lived up to their reputation as bastions of luxury. The choicest paintings and sculptures, Himilco kept for himself. This included the legendary brazen bull of Acragas’ long-dead tyrant, Phalaris, in which he used to roast his victims, alive. With all this loot, Himilco ordered his ships to go back to Carthage. He and his men then settled at Acragas to enjoy a comfortable winter.

Under military protection, Acragantine refugees arrived at Gela. Though Dexippus stayed here (his remaining mercenaries were Gelan, after all), the refugees went further on to Leontini. Some settled here for the time being, while others decided to make Syracuse their temporary home. Many sent their families and movable possessions further on to Italy. Everyone was in a state of fear. Everyone knew that Gela and Camarina were next.

Next time, we will see how Himilco continues the war, and how the Sicilians, this time under Dionysius, will defend themselves. Join me in the next episode, “Episode 1.13 – Enter Dionysius Part II – The Battle of Gela.”

If you’ve got any comments or questions, or would just like to connect feel free to drop me a line. My email is ahsan.irfan@historytellerpodcast.com. You can also connect with me on Twitter. I post under the moniker @historyteller32. Historyteller is also on Facebook at facebook.com/historyteller85.

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Thanks for listening! And have yourself a wonderful day!


  1. Warmington, B. H. Carthage. London: Roberta Hale & Company, 1969 (Buy from Amazon, also here here)
  2. Miles, Richard. Carthage Must Be Destroyed. London: Penguin Books, 2010 (Buy from AmazonBuy audiobook from Audible)
  3. Picard, Gilbert-Charles and Collette Picard. The Life and Death of Carthage. Translated by Dominique Collon. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1968 (Buy from Amazon, also here)

Episode 1.11 – Revenge of the Magonids

Temple of Hera, Selinus

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With ten episodes on Carthaginian history under our collective belts, we have come to a close on what we can call the “early history” of Carthage. From this episode, that is Episode 1.11, onwards, we will open up a new chapter. For the next little while, maybe five to ten episodes, we will cover a fifty-year long period of almost constant warfare with the Greeks on Sicily.

Before we get there, though, I would like to use this juncture to summarize what we know of Carthaginian history so far.

In the early part of the 1st millennium, BC Tyrian traders were out and about in the Mediterranean buying and selling with impunity and planting colonies all over the place. One of the colonies they founded, was Carthage. The legend of Carthage’s founding tells us how Elissa escaped the clutches of her brother, Pygmalion, King of Tyre. After a long chain of events, she ended up becoming the legendary founder of the city. Though Carthage’s outlook has always been commercial, Carthage’s political leaders possessed a military streak. The first king that the Greco-Latin literature mentions is Malchus, who, despite winning territory on behalf of Carthage, was exiled. He returned the favour by laying siege to his own city, for which he was eventually sentenced to death. After him, Mago became the first monarch of the Magonid dynasty. These monarchs were imperialists and were only interested in expanding the Punic domains and attaining military glory. The Magonid kings are still in power at the current point in our narrative. Carthage faced a number of challenges during this early period, mainly from the Greeks. First, there was the Battle of Alalia, then there were Dorieus’ colonies. In 480, they fought a battle in Sicily and lost. This was apparently such a catastrophic defeat that for the next seventy years, Carthage stayed out of any Sicilian business. During this time, Carthage began to control the Western Mediterranean metals trade and made North Africa part of her empire. Also, during this time, Sicily presented her with many opportunities to intervene in her affairs, which Carthage, as you’ll keep hearing me repeat over and over again in this episode, obstinately refused to take advantage of. As we turn over a new page in the history of Carthage, this is where we stand.

But before we get to the meat and potatoes of today’s episodes, I’d like to make a few housekeeping remarks. This is going to get long, so if you want to skip over this part of the episode you can jump ahead to maybe 10 minutes from now when the title music starts. For those intrigued enough to listen to what I have to say, keep on listening.

First: my subscriber count is almost at the 500 mark. In fact, the podcast currently has 480 subscribers. And, at the rate the podcast is going, I will have 500 subscribers by the end of this month. I want to take this opportunity to thank you so very very much for having confidence in a newbie podcaster, like me. Thank you so much, guys! I really, really appreciate it.

Second: Despite my subscriber count having hit somewhat of a milestone, I’ve had only one iTunes review so far. Now, before today’s episode, I have been reading out a generic script at the end of the episode asking for a 5-star review. I am going to change tactics here and instead of using a generic script asking for reviews, I will make my request personal every time, starting today. Please, leave me a rating and a review. I will really appreciate it, and it will also help others find the podcast. Also, as opposed to what my generic script was saying up until this point, I am going to actually ask for an honest review, instead of just a five-star one. And for whatever rating you give the podcast, please do provide feedback in the review so that I can incorporate it and make the show better. I will really appreciate it. After all, the success of this podcast really depends on you. So, the short of it is: Please leave me a rating, make it an honest one, and give me feedback to make the show better!

Third: Since the success of this podcast depends largely on the listeners, I want to make this a community project. That means that you guys, yes, you, the listeners, will have a hand in determining the direction that this podcast takes. To that end, I have two questions that I would like you guys to answer.

The first question relates to the direction of the History of Carthage specifically. Very soon, perhaps by the end of this year, or even before that, we will be able to begin our discussions on the Punic Wars. However, a lot of material already exists out there that covers this subject in considerable detail. I don’t necessarily want to rehash a subject that has been done to death already, that is, unless, you guys want me to. So, there are two options here: I can do perhaps a five to ten episode series on the Punic Wars, covering the bare essentials, or I can do a comprehensive battle-by-battle retelling of the period. The choice is yours. There are only two options so I will decide my course of action on a simple 51% majority basis. If more than half of you guys want one option, everyone will get that option. In the event that the votes are tied, I will default to just summarizing the Punic wars. ‘Cause that’s how I roll.

The second question is: What subject would you like me to talk about after I’m done with the history of Carthage? I’m asking the question because I need to begin preparing for the next topic and need to collect all the necessary materials to be able to do so. I have two topics in mind: (1) Being Canadian, I am immensely interested in Canadian history. Canadian history is a vast subject area so naturally, I won’t be able to do it in its entirety on this podcast. What I had in mind though, was to cover the very narrow topic of the founding of Canada. This will basically be an account of the hundred or so years after the British take control of the French North American territories in the late 18th century, up until the passing of the British North America Act in 1865. My emphasis will be on the lives of the three confederation superstars: Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir George Brown and Sir George Etienne Cartier, names synonymous with the Canadian Confederation. (2) The second topic that I suggest is the history of the Great Seljuk Empire. The Great Seljuk Empire was a Muslim empire that lasted from the early 11th century to the late 12th century, centred in today’s Iran and Iraq, and then lasted as a rump state in Anatolia till the beginning of the 14th century. This may just be my anecdotal perception but the early history of Islam under the Umayyads and the Abbasids and the later history of Islam under the Ottomans gets a lot more attention than the middle Mamluk, Ayyubid or Seljuk periods. And since obscurity and I are the best of friends, I thought it would be a really nice idea to study the really obscure history of the Seljuk period. These are the two topics I have in mind. If you have a topic of your own, by all means, let me know. Whatever topic gets the most votes that is what I will set myself to work on. In the event that there is no clear winner for any of these topics or any other topics you may suggest, I will default to doing a series on the Confederation of Canada.

You can either email me at ahsan.irfan@historytellerpodcast.com to let me know your answers to either question, or I have actually created a survey form which you can find at http://bit.ly/historytellersurvey1. I’ve also provided the link in the show notes for this episodes, so after you’re done listening to this episode, head on over to historytellerpodcast.com and you’ll find the link on the very first page. Since I need to act relatively quickly on both these questions, I’m setting a deadline of October 31st, 2018. That is, I need to have your answers to these questions in by October 31st, for me to able to prepare for the future appropriately. The future of this podcast is in your hands!

Okay, now my fourth and final housekeeping remark for the day, and arguably the most important of all: When I started this podcast, I had mentioned upfront, that this will be a for-profit venture. Don’t worry. The main Historyteller feed will always remain free. The problem, though, is that it will either always be free or it won’t be there at all. I need to find a way to make it sustainable in the long run. To that end, I have done two things that can allow you to support the podcast starting today. With your support, I can free up some time from my day job, and work on the podcast a little bit more, to provide more content and more content more frequently.

One thing I’ve done is that I’ve added a separate bibliography page where I list all the books I am referring to, to develop these episodes, and I’ve added a reference section at the end of each transcript that lists the particular books that I used to compile that particular episode. In both cases, I’ve provided Amazon links to the books, so that if you’re interested in purchasing them, you can do so through those links. If you buy through those links, I will get a small commission. That way you will be helping me out at absolutely no cost to you.

The second thing I’ve done is set up a Patreon account. For those of you who don’t know, Patreon is a service that allows creators of content to connect with patrons who are willing to support them. Payment is through Paypal or Stripe so you can rest assured that your money is safe and secure. Creators can create tiers on Patreon that can allow creators to provide extra content to those who contribute more. So, I could set up a one-dollar-per-month tier for those who wish to support the free feed and then set up a five-dollar-per-month tier for those who would like to see extra content in return for their contributions. At the moment, I have not set up a tier that provides extra content to those who contribute more. I only have the one-dollar-per-month tier, for those who wish to keep the free feed alive. I will judge based on the number of pledges that I get before I decide to add a second tier with extra content. Content creation takes time and to free up more of it from my job, I need your support!

So, after you’re done listening to this episode, head on over to https://www.patreon.com/historyteller and sign up to support the Historyteller podcast! I’ve also provided this link in the show notes for this episode. Once again, the future of this podcast is in your hands!

With that rather long ramble out of the way, I say: On with the show!

As I’ve already told you guys before, Carthaginian history is very sparse. Because of that, after the episode on the Battle of Himera, I had to abandon the narrative a bit so that I could paint a clearer picture of Carthage’s entry into the metals trade and her conquest of North Africa, unencumbered by issues created by sticking strictly to the timeline. I stopped the narrative in Episode 1.8 at the point where Hamilcar falls. After that, the only time I mention Carthage’s internal politics is when I talk about how Hanno the Navigator got his commission to sail to the Atlantic coast of Africa from the Punic Senate. This made Episodes 1.9 and 1.10 thematic, as opposed to a narrative. Hanno’s voyage probably took place somewhere around 450 BC, after which Hanno resumed his duties as basileus of Carthage. Between Hanno’s reign and the events of today’s episode, however, we have no information about what Carthage was up to. And because nobody bothered recording what Carthage was doing during this time, we can safely assume that Carthage was internationally inactive, except for the stuff I’ve already talked about in the last two episodes.

And it is quite possible that it was because Carthage was not swashbuckling about in the Mediterranean, that the relations between the Phoenicians and Greeks in Sicily were a lot calmer than they were before Himera. That didn’t mean that Sicily herself wasn’t in turmoil. While things with the Phoenicians had been patched up, the Greeks, slowly, but surely, were descending into chaos. When Gelon died in 478 BC, Hieron came to power. A number of his subjects opposed his rule. And because of that, he kicked them out of Syracuse. This was but one example of this chaos. Syracuse kept losing her power over the next few decades and by the middle of the century, she no longer controlled any territory other than her own. As a result, Sicily, once again, became a patchwork of different city-states.

Hieron kicking dissenters out Syracuse also indicated a second major shift in Sicilian politics. Cities in Sicily abandoned dictatorship as a government model and by the time Syracuse lost complete control of her holdings, pretty much every city in Sicily was now either an oligarchy or a democracy. Sicily was becoming impoverished, too. This meant that people were leaving the island to look for livelihood elsewhere, while those that remained weren’t having enough children to replace the lost population. The Elymian cities were hit particularly hard, so much so that some Elymian cities were totally abandoned.

It was this hard-hit Sicily that offered to Carthage many an opportunity to ravish her. But as we know from Episode 1.8, Carthage obstinately refused. The chief example of this is when rebellion rocked Greek Sicily from 460 to 450 BC. The Sicels had been under the Greek thumb ever since the Greeks landed there. In 460, they had decided that they had had enough. They chose a guy named Ducetius as their leader and launched a full-scale revolt under his leadership. But though the Sicels put up quite a fight, the Greeks eventually defeated them. Even though Carthage would have known how low-hanging a fruit this rebellion was, she chose to stay out of it.

Of course, this Carthaginian obstinacy created a power vacuum. And after her success against the Achaemenids, Athens now decided to play ball in Sicily. Her chance came in 453 BC when Selinus and Segesta decided to go at it again. Just like in 514 BC, they were fighting over where their border should be. Segesta pleaded to Carthage for help, but Carthage refused. So, just like a jilted lover, she turned to Athens instead. Segesta and the Sicel city of Halicyae sent Athens a desperate plea for help. Athens responded by granting them an alliance, at least on paper, since Athens took no actual military action.
Athens got another chance twenty years later, in the run-up to the First Peloponnesian War. In 431 BC, Athens decided to assume the role of protector for the cities of Rhegium and Leontini. She declared that she was doing so to protect the Ionian Greeks from the Dorian Greeks. The real reason, however, was to isolate Sparta from Syracuse, because an alliance between Syracuse and Sparta was brewing. Such a position could have been Carthage’s instead. But, as I keep saying, Carthage obstinately refused.

Then, in 424 BC, for reasons too complicated to get into right now, the Ionians on Sicily met at Gela and decided to exclude Athens from having any hand in protecting them. This created another vacuum on Sicily, but Carthage refused to take advantage of it, yet again.

While Athens was desperately trying to acquire a foothold in Sicily. Carthage was having issues of her own. In 431 BC, the Punic Senate decided to banish their basileus, Hanno the Navigator. Apparently, after returning from the voyage, he had turned quite eccentric. The literature describes him as walking around town with a parrot on his shoulder and a lion by his side. Alarmed by these eccentricities, the Punic Senate banished him.

At least, that’s how the literary record describes it. To say that the only reason the Punic senate could find to oust and exile Hanno was that he carried a parrot on his shoulder and roamed Carthage’s streets with a lion at his side is a tad a bit absurd. There are no clues within the texts that tell us the real reasons for Hanno’s banishment, but I speculate that Hanno, seeing Athens expand her role on Sicily wanted to make sure that there was a counterbalance to her presence there. Thus far, Hanno may have been satisfied with the status quo on Sicily given that Syracuse was in severe decline. But Athens’ entry into the Sicilian theatre may have been too much for Hanno to bear. He might have created a ruckus that led to his banishment.

In 416 BC, Selinus and Segesta went to war yet again and for the same reason. Syracuse backed Selinus, who under Syracuse’s shadow, harassed Segesta with impunity. Segesta, again, requested Punic help, but Carthage, again, refused. Segesta courted Athens again, who decided to throw in her lot with Segesta, yet again. Athens wanted to do so for the same reason as last time: isolating Sparta from any Syracusan help. She sent a fleet under the command of the general Alcibiades, to relieve Segesta. What’s interesting is that Alcibiades openly spoke of invading Carthage once he was done with Sicily. Yet, Carthage still did nothing.

Alcibiades, however, could not see the fulfillment of his mission. Due to politics at home, he was recalled, and another general was put in his place. The new general was obviously acting under a different set of instructions. He sent a trireme to Carthage with an embassy, requesting her help against Syracuse. Carthage, again, refused.

Without going into any details about Athens’ Sicilian expedition, the only thing I will say here is that this expedition showed everyone in the Mediterranean that despite the recent decline in her power, Syracuse was still a force to be reckoned with. By 413 BC, the Sicilian expedition was over. Athens had been soundly defeated.

Once the Athenians were kicked out of Sicily, Segesta was without a protector. Not only would the same justifications of war come back, this time around, Selinus would also want revenge against her for calling in the Athenians. In 410 BC, her nightmare came true when Selinus began another border war. To appease Selinus, Segesta relinquished her claims to the territory in dispute. But that did not please Selinus, and she continued to harass Segesta. With Athens now out of the picture, Segesta had no choice but to call upon Carthage for help, yet again. She made the same offer as before: she would accept Punic over-lordship in return for protection against Selinus.

The Segesta embassy arrived in Carthage in the year 410 BC. At the time, Hannibal was the basileus of Carthage. Hannibal was the grandson of Hamilcar, the basileus defeated at Himera in 480 BC at the hands of Gelon, the tyrant of Syracuse. He was the son of the supposedly exiled Gisco, whom we discussed back in Episode 1.8.

Hannibal was a member of the Magonid family. By Carthaginian standards, these guys were social outcasts. They didn’t fit in. You see, the Carthaginians, generally, did not take too kindly to making too much war, because it disrupted business and interfered with their ability to make money. The Magonids, on the other hand, were warriors, essentially, and had assumed the responsibility of fighting on behalf of Carthage since the middle of the sixth century BC. Maybe because the Carthaginians didn’t like war, they relied on mercenaries to do their fighting for them. But whatever the reasons for hiring mercenaries, the Magonids made damn sure that whatever happened, it was they, that is, the Magonids, who commanded these mercenaries and no one else. And maybe because war-mongering was second-nature to the Magonids, the Carthaginians tolerated them as their representatives on the geopolitical scene. To add to all of this, Hannibal hated the Greeks. He wanted to avenge his grandfather’s defeat. As far as he was concerned, revenge was more than enough reason to start a new war. Himera was a blemish on the near-perfect Magonid military record. Another victory could atone for that blemish.

Given this, then, the simple fact of Hannibal being the basileus of Carthage at this time opens up a plethora of questions, and I’d like to tackle them before moving ahead with the narrative.

First, when did Hannibal come to power? The simple answer is that we haven’t a clue, and no amount of speculation is going to get us anywhere.

Second, if Hannibal came to power right after Hanno, then why did he not take advantage of any of the opportunities for intervention that Sicily offered Carthage? This one’s easy. Hanno had just been exiled. It’s highly unlikely that Hannibal would attempt to engage in the very thing that likely got Hanno banished so soon.

Third, if Hannibal didn’t come to power right after Hanno’s banishment, then there is a gap of twenty years between Hanno and him. Who was in control during that time? The answer is that Hannibal had two cousins, Hasdrubal and Sappho. Either of them could have been the basileus before him. But, we don’t really know.

And finally, how did Hannibal come to power? Him being the son of the alleged exile, Gisco, could mean that he came to power as the result of a power grab. But as, I’ve already mentioned in Episode 1.8, the likelihood that Gisco was a true exile is quite low. Also, the fact that Hannibal stayed within the limits that the Senate put around his military activities, as we’ll see in just a minute, suggest that he came to power legally. This further proves that Gisco was not a true exile.

Segesta’s plea for help provoked an intense debate between the different rival factions in the Punic Senate. Simply put, there were two factions; the anti-war faction that had prevailed in Punic politics since 480 BC, and the pro-war faction that was gaining ground under the new leadership of Hannibal.

Diodorus tells us that, the pro-war faction in the Punic Senate prevailed over the peace party. But they didn’t concede defeat until they got some concessions of their own. Diodorus doesn’t tell us what those concessions were, but the fact that the war that was just about to begin was somewhat smaller and shorter than what the Magonids would have wanted tells us that Hannibal did indeed make such grants. In other words, being a Magonid, Hannibal would have wanted to go on a rampage all over Sicily. In point of fact, he did not. The only reason that I can think of for this is that the Senate only allowed him to aid Segesta, have his revenge and then come straight back to Carthage. In other words, the Senate only agreed to a war, if Hannibal kept it to a minimum, and not before the path of diplomacy had been traversed.

I don’t think that it is hidden from any of you that this was a complete reversal of the policy that Carthage had held on to for seventy years. As late as 416 BC, Carthage was refusing to help Segesta in any manner conceivable. Forget direct military aid, these guys didn’t even supply weapons to their supplicants. Before that, Carthage deliberately ignored all opportunities that came her way, including the time when Athens tried to gain ground in Sicily. Then suddenly, in 410 BC, she did a complete 180-degree turn.

The Temple of Victory, Himera. Little good it did for the Himerans when the Carthaginians destroyed the city in 409 BC.

That Western Sicily was important for Carthage cannot be understated. Since the middle of the 500s BC, Carthage had depended upon Tyrrhenian trading for her livelihood. Motya and Panormus were crucial ports that supported this trade. Being under Carthage’s control they supplied Carthage with all their wealth up until that point. Then Carthage switched to the metals trade, for reasons I’ve already discussed back in Episode 1.9. Though Carthage had stopped direct business on the Tyrrhenian route, she was still taxing the Italians and the Greeks that passed through it, making it a very lucrative cash cow. Western Sicily was also where the new trade with the Greeks was passing through. I’ve already talked about the Athenian goods that ended up in Carthage at around this time. Also, Diodorus mentions that during this interregnum Acragas became rich selling olives to Carthage. In addition to the trade with the Greeks, Motya and Panormus were ports on the way to Sardinia, which, by now, was Carthage’s breadbasket. Finally, though not as significantly, Motya and Panormus were also places where faithful allies were granted trading rights. If the conflict between Selinus and Segesta did not resolve in Carthage’s favour, then Syracuse, using Selinus as their proxy, could become a threat to Carthage’s hold on Western Sicily. They would lose the taxes from foreign merchants. They would lose the trade with the Greeks. And they would lose their access to their breadbasket, Sardinia. And that would be very bad. Very bad, indeed.

Economic reasons notwithstanding, the mere existence of these reasons does not explain Carthage’s volte-face. It merely tells us that she had interests on the island; interests that remained constant for the seventy years that Carthage chose to stay away from Sicily. If these interests had fueled Magonid war-mongering before 480 BC, then Magonid war-mongering in 410 BC needs no explanation other than the existence of these interests, besides Hannibal’s entirely human desire for vengeance and the essential war-mongering nature of the Magonids. What needs an answer, then, is why the Magonids decided not to be war-mongers during the seventy-year interregnum.

The reason is quite simple, and I’ve already mentioned it in Episode 1.8. I will just repeat now what I said back then. Carthage may have been the queen of the sea. But the defeat at Himera demonstrated that Carthage’s mercenaries were no match for Greece’s heavily armed cavalry and their formidable infantry, the hoplites. Out of all the Greeks, it was the Spartans, i.e., the Greeks of Doric stock, the same stock as that of the Syracusans that shone the most brightly. The Battle of Plataea that the Greeks fought against the Persians, without which the ever-celebrated Battle of Salamis would have been in vain, had demonstrated this Doric strength. None of this would have been lost on the Carthaginians.

In addition to this, as I alluded to just a few minutes ago, Syracusan power was waning. Not only was there a strong reason not to intervene, but there was also no actual need to, at least until Athens showed up on the scene.

This, however, is a geopolitical explanation. There is also an internal political one. While I do not agree with it, I think it should be given a fair hearing.

In the last two episodes, I have identified Hanno and Himilco as Magonids. That identification, however, reflects a recent consensus. Earlier in the history of the field of Carthaginian studies, no such agreement existed. The opposing camp believed that after Hamilcar’s defeat, the Magonid family was ousted from power. The new regime, whoever they were, concentrated their efforts towards conquering North Africa, acquiring West African gold and obtaining Iberian silver. That explains why Carthage chose to isolate herself. What re-ignited Carthage’s interest in Sicily, then, was the return of the Magonids under Hannibal.

Quite frankly though, I don’t think it is necessary to make such a claim. And we’ve already seen the reasons for the Magonids themselves to have paused their own ambitions, at least for a little while.

As has always been the case, Carthage didn’t immediately jump the gun. In this case, she tried diplomacy first. A combined Segestan-Punic embassy went to Selinus. They demanded an end to Selinuntine aggression against Segesta. The demands were heard by the Selinuntine oligarchy, who debated the proposal. The pro-war faction won out. The Carthaginians next offered Selinus to seek Syracusan arbitration. Again, the pro-war faction prevailed. After that, this embassy went to Syracuse, where they essentially demanded that Syracuse reign in their little bitch. Syracuse refused to intervene by feigning neutrality. This feigned neutrality gave Hannibal the green light to do with Selinus as he pleased.

And so it was. In 410 BC, Hannibal gathered 5000 Libyan soldiers and sailed to Sicily. It’s not clear if these were mercenaries or the result of a levy imposed on the conquered population surrounding Carthage. Regardless, after landing at Motya, Hannibal offered 800 Oscan mercenaries stationed in Sicily at the time to join them as well. These were elite Italian warriors who had come to Sicily as part of the Athenian expedition in 413 BC and stayed there after Athens was defeated. With this combined force, Hannibal marched to the disputed Segestan lands and sent the Selinuntines packing.

Knowing that Hannibal wasn’t going to call it quits any time soon, Selinus then went to Syracuse for help. This she granted, thus violating her neutrality. Since Hannibal was already expecting this, he had already sent embassies to Iberia & Greece to collect mercenaries. He had also made arrangements for the supply of a fresh contingent of additional Libyan troops. While Hannibal wintered at Motya, the Libyan and Iberian battalions gathered in and around Carthage. When the campaigning season opened again in the spring of 409 BC, the army in Carthage sailed to Motya aboard 150 transport ships accompanied by 60 war galleys. They were also accompanied by a plethora of siege engines and projectile weaponry; siege towers, battering rams, ballistic equipment, you name it. Once they had landed at Motya, the Greeks and the Segestans joined them, too. The sources do not tell us the numbers, but B. H. Warmington estimates that the combined army was about 50,000 strong.

After the army had assembled at Motya, Hannibal marched with them straight to Selinus and put her under siege. Even though she was entirely surrounded by fortifications, and thus, seemingly well-protected, the Selinuntines were shocked to see the size of the Punic army (that is, how big it was compared their own) and the amount of siege equipment it carried. Selinus was doomed. Hannibal, for his part, was as determined to take the city by storm as the Selinuntines were desperate. He brought six siege towers and placed them against various points along the city’s walls. Hannibal also brought battering rams against each of the city’s gates. He aimed to bring the walls down and take over the town before the Syracusans got there. Generally, Punic siege warfare had been adapted from Phoenician siege warfare, which the Phoenicians had acquired through centuries of observing how the Assyrians conducted their sieges. The idea was to throw as much firepower, metaphorically speaking, as possible at the walls and in as short a time as possible. Such concentration of resources in both space and time would ensure, at least for the Assyrians that the targeted walls were breached and the troops could enter the city. That was Hannibal’s aim, too.

The Selinuntines had sent appeals for help to the nearby cities of Gela and Acragas. But maybe because they didn’t want the Punic war machine to trample all over them, neither city sent in any aid. The Selinuntines were alone, at least until the Syracusans could get there.

That moment, however, never came. Diodorus claims that just before the war had started, the Selinuntines had spent massive amounts of cash on their temples at the expense of their walls, such that their walls had fallen into disrepair. The walls were so weak that within nine days of surrounding them and after continuous bombardment, the Punic army tore a massive hole in it. Since Hannibal had hired mercenaries for this momentous occasion, he could afford to throw as many of them into this hole as he wanted to. Selinus, however, was afforded no such luxury. All their soldiery was composed of citizens. If they began falling en masse, then who would protect the city? And so, they put up a very spirited defence. When Hannibal’s army was finally able to clear the breach off the Selinuntines, they still faced stiff resistance in the streets, with the soldiers resorting to hand-to-hand combat and the women and children pelting their enemies with stones and other things. Hannibal’s army pushed the Selinuntines all the way into the city’s Agora (that is, their marketplace). Here the Selinuntines put up their last stand but were cut down by Hannibal and his men. After that, Hannibal declared an open season upon the civilian population of the city. A general massacre ensured that saw 16,000 civilians killed, massive looting, rape, the mutilation of the dead, the burning of many of Selinus’ buildings and the enslavement of 5,000 civilians. Only a handful were able to escape to the nearby city of Acragas.

After all, was said and done, Syracuse sent an embassy to negotiate a settlement. They were able to ransom the captives and convince Hannibal to allow the Selinuntine refugees at Acragas to resettle the Selinuntine ruins. These refugees were to now live as subjects of Carthage. The embassy was also able to convince Hannibal not to harm the temples of Selinus. While he did agree to this request and only had his soldiers plunder them, he did remark that Selinus would have been protected had their gods not abandoned them.

After this defeat, the Greek population on the island knew what precisely Hannibal was going to do next and why he was going to do it. He was going to attack the city of Himera to avenge his grandfather’s defeat. He was joined by the Sicels, who, as I’ve talked about earlier in this episode, had fought the Greeks in the decade from 460 to 450 BC and were defeated. By the time Hannibal got to Himera, the Syracusans had already sent their general Diocles with a battalion of 4000 men to aid the Himerans. Warmington comments that the small size of this aid indicates that Syracuse was actually extremely cautious when it came to intervening in others’ affairs. Be that as it may, Hannibal used the same “storm the walls with a massive attack” approach here, too. His army was able to make a breach on the very first day. They tried entering the city the next day, but the Himerans and the Syracusans together pushed them back. This push was accompanied by civilians cheering them on from the walls. This startled the Carthaginians a little bit. Soon, however, maybe because they were outnumbered, the Greek lines fell into chaos, and Hannibal’s army gained the upper hand. The Greeks were driven back into the city with heavy losses.

Before this conflict had begun, Syracuse’s warships had been helping Sparta against Athens in the Peloponnese. The Syracusans recalled twenty-five of these ships when Hannibal landed in Sicily. These now showed up at the shore north of Himera. Hannibal, confident that he’d be done with Selinus and Himera before any Syracusan ship could show up, hadn’t prepared for this possibility. However, he wasn’t dismayed. He had at least one trick up his sleeve. He feigned retreat from Himera and began to prepare to march to Syracuse. Alarmed, Diocles decided to pull his troops out of Himera and started to trek back to protect his city. He urged the Himerans to evacuate Himera aboard the 25 ships that had just shown up. With no choice left to them, the Himerans elected to do as Diocles suggested. Diocles began his homeward march accompanied by some Himerans, while half the rest of the population of Himera boarded the fleet. The remaining half would have to wait until the fleet returned. The fleet dropped off its passengers at Messana, but by the time it got back to Himera three days later, Hannibal was just about done with the city. When the fleet had left, the soldiers that remained were hopelessly outnumbered. Despite the grim outlook, they still put up a spirited defence. But just as the fleet was pulling up along the shore on the third day, Hannibal’s Iberian troops breached the walls again and this time successfully entered the city. Again, Hannibal declared an open season upon the Himerans. His troops plundered the town at will, including its temples. All remaining civilians were enslaved. The women and children were distributed amongst his soldiers as prizes. The men, who numbered about 3000 were gathered and taken to the spot where Hamilcar had fallen seventy years before. Here they were tortured and then executed as an offering to his spirit. Then, Himera was razed to the ground never to be occupied again. And with that Hannibal paid and disbanded his Greek mercenaries, let the Segestans and the Sicels go, marched back to Motya and sailed back to Carthage where he paid off and dispersed the rest of his troops. Hamilcar’s defeat had now been avenged.

In the next episode, I will discuss the Syracusan reaction to this blitzkrieg, at length. For now, though, I am going to close this episode by looking at some of the interesting economic and geopolitical after-effects of this particular campaign.
First, the most obvious one is that Selinus became part of the Punic Empire.
Second, Segesta’s coinage disappeared from the archaeological record, indicating that she had been wholly absorbed into the Punic Empire.

Third, Carthage encouraged the settlement of a site just east of Himera, called Thermae Himerae, so as not to leave the region unoccupied. Selinus, Segesta, Thermae Himerae, along with Solus, now constituted the border regions of the Punic territories in Sicily, the purpose of which was to protect the two economic powerhouses; Motya and Panormus.
Fourth, coinage at Panormus shifted from its mixed Phoenician and Greek style to a distinctly Punic one. Earlier, Panormus’ coins employed both Phoenician and Greek styles and motifs, including the use of the Greek alphabet alongside the Phoenician one. This was most likely the result of Panormus’ close economic links with the Greek cities. However, after this campaign, Panormus’ coins began to feature the slanted Punic version of the Phoenician script and no longer sported anything Greek on them. This suggests that Carthage now exerted greater administrative control over Panormus than it did so in the previous century.

Fifth, not only was Carthage now directly administering Panormus, as indicated by the change in the coinage, she was also investing her heavily with fortifications. If the border cities are a buffer zone, then the walls at Motya and Panormus were the direct defence. Except that until this time Panormus had no walls. They had to be built, so Carthage built them. When it came to the defence of the Epikrataeia, Carthage wasn’t pulling any punches.

Sixth, in the archaeological record after 410 both in North Africa and on Sicily, for the first time, we find coinage minted directly by Carthage. It features on one side a palm tree and on the other a horse. Some coins come with the inscription “Qart Hadasht” on it, while others come with the inscription “Qart Hadasht Mahnat,” which roughly translates to “The Carthaginian camp.” Maybe this meant something like “the Carthaginian military administration” according to Richard Miles. Such a phrase may be an indication that the only reason Carthage minted any coins at all was to pay their mercenaries, who, being from the Mediterranean themselves, wanted high-quality Greek-style coinage to be able to trade with the Greeks. Any other kind of pay would not have cut it. This tradition would continue until the last days of Carthage.

Finally, this campaign became the opening volley in an almost half a century-long conflict between the two sides. As we’ll see in the next episode, elements within Syracuse could not stay silent over the insult delivered to them by Hannibal. They were supposed to protect their wards, Selinus and Himera. At that, they failed. And the top brass at Syracuse did not seem to care. It was time for revenge. And its also time to show the Syracusan top brass that it was time for a change. It was time to revert back to a dictatorship.

Join me on Historyteller’s next episode, Episode 1.12 – Enter Dionysius.

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Alright, folks! Enjoy the rest of your day!


  1. Warmington, B. H. Carthage. London: Roberta Hale & Company, 1969 (Buy from Amazon, also here here)
  2. Miles, Richard. Carthage Must Be Destroyed. London: Penguin Books, 2010 (Buy from AmazonBuy audiobook from Audible)
  3. Picard, Gilbert-Charles and Collette Picard. The Life and Death of Carthage. Translated by Dominique Collon. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1968 (Buy from Amazon, also here)


Episode 1.10 – The Punic Empire

Carthage's North African Territories
Carthage’s North African Territories

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Last time, we had taken a look at how after the Battle of Himera, Carthage went through what was probably a voluntary program of austerity which correlated directly with her acquisition of the Western Mediterranean metals trade. We had seen how Carthage began with the silver and tin trade in Iberia and Europe and extended her reach to acquire gold from West Africa. Today we’ll continue to look at how Carthage consolidated her hold on the metals trade by bringing North Africa under her control. We’ll use the discussion on North Africa to segway into a discussion about Carthage’s Empire.

Before we get to that, however, there is a logistical issue I want to get out of the way. A few episodes ago, I had mentioned that I was going to be away on a work trip, because of which I would have to delay the release of an episode. As it so happens, I will be off on this trip in a few days. So, instead of getting the next episode 15 days from now, you will see it 30 days from now. From that point onwards, until there is another reason for me to take a break, there shouldn’t be any more gaps.

So, with that little logistical issue out of the way, let’s begin.

The Phoenicians had been in Africa long before the Carthaginians began their colonization efforts. The Greeks referred to the original inhabitants of the northern coast of Africa as the Libyans. Today, we know them as the Berbers. Traditionally, they occupied the North African coast, stretching from modern-day Libya all the way to the Atlantic coast of Africa. They lived either as semi-nomadic communities or in small permanent settlements. The Greeks referred to the Western-most Libyans as the Mauri. These were the Moors of medieval times. They called those in modern Algeria the Nomades, which the Romans rendered into Latin as the word “Numidians.” They referred to everyone east of Algeria as just the ‘Libyans.’ The closest Libyan towns to Carthage were Tunis and Maxula, the city of which Hiarbas was supposedly king.

One of the reasons for Tyre’s success at colonizing other lands was the fact that wherever they went, the native populations were still living in the Stone Age, or very close to it. The same was the case with the Libyans. The Mediterranean sea lies to her north, the Sahara lies to her south, the Atlantic Ocean lies to her west, and the Libyan desert lies to her east, making North Africa, effectively an island, cut off from the rest of the world. The lack of mineral wealth meant that Libyans couldn’t advance materially. The harsh mountainous and sandy terrain made movement and communication extremely difficult, so no fully-fledged states appeared. And, though some semi-permanent settlements emerged, the majority of the natives were still pastoral nomads. Combine all these reasons with the fact that North Africa has nothing to offer any potential migrants, except the northern Tunisian hinterland. With no contact with anyone outside of their communities, the natives remained in the Stone Age, while the world moved on.

For our purposes, this meant that the natives were militarily weaker. Had they possessed military strength, the Phoenicians were in a tight spot. In case of hostility, they didn’t have enough men to defend their settlements. But, since there were no military threats, the colonies could be manned with the smallest possible number of men.

Before the Carthaginians came, circumstances were very straightforward. The Phoenicians set up trading posts, and the natives bartered with them. With Queen Elissa’s arrival, however, things changed. When she arrived, two different sets of behaviors defined the relationship between the Carthaginians and the native tribes right from the get-go. The first set of behaviours was a continuation of the trading that the Phoenicians had begun. The Libyans then settled Carthage, to further their commercial interests. Further interaction led to intermarriage between the two groups. Later chroniclers dubbed the progeny of these mixed marriages as “Libyphoenicians.” Diodorus even records that these Libyphoenicians had the right to intermarry with the Carthaginians. The second set of behaviors was the attempt by Carthage to overpower the Libyans, symbolized by Elissa’s deceitful acquisition of Hiarbas’ land. One attitude was friendly and enhanced mutual interests; the other, necessarily, antagonistic.

To bring North Africa under her control, Carthage took three sets of measures: the first, diplomatic, the second, colonial, and the third, military. However, we do not have any precise chronologies for these sets of activities, so, what follows is an aggregate look at Africa, from the points of view of, both, the literature and the archaeology.

Carthage directed her diplomatic energies towards the Tyrian colonies already present. Archeologically, the majority of Tyrian settlements in Africa began to make a “Punic” cultural shift in the fifth century. The Punic conquest of the Tyrian colonies, most likely, closely resembled that of Athens’ post-Plataea imperial activity. Colonies were promised protection in exchange for recognition of Carthaginian supremacy, payment of tribute and contribution to Carthage’s military endeavors. At least, that’s how it was supposed to look on paper. In all probability, however, the “promise of protection” part of the deal was merely window dressing and was, most likely, only used as an excuse to bring the colonies under Punic control forcibly.

Carthage aimed her colonization efforts at populating the North African coast to consolidate her hold on the shipping of the metals from the West. In most cases, the new colonies were nothing more than small trading posts, which the Greeks referred to as “Emporia” or “markets.” Conceptually, these were the same as the earlier trading posts that the Tyrians planted in centuries prior. They followed the same selection criteria that we discussed way back in Episode 1.2. They also served the same purposes: that of bartering with the coastal natives and that of temporary resting stops for shipment of the metals. As with the earlier Tyrian colonies, very few of these grew to “city size.” Those that did grow to “city size” didn’t do so because Carthage encouraged them. Instead, they expanded because either the surrounding native populations settled them or political refugees from mainland Phoenicia sought asylum there.

The Cape Bon Peninsula, which lies towards the South-East of the Cape Carthage Peninsula, shows signs of late seventh and early sixth-century activity. Since it was considered an integral part of the city of Carthage itself, the local population was forcibly moved out to make way for Carthaginian citizens’ country estates, which they occupied during the hot summer months.

The chief settlement on Cape Bon was the city today known as Kerkouane. Archaeology of the graves at this site reveals a habitation that began in the sixth century. Since this town housed the estates of the Punic elite, the structures here are built better than elsewhere in the Punic realm, with thicker walls and deeper foundations. Quarries on the western side of the Cape provided the stones for these structures. Pink cement, with white marble embedded in it, was used to make the floors, while purple colored stucco covered the walls. One notable feature, absent elsewhere, was the attention to hygiene. Houses featured baths and lavatories connected to a sewage system.

South of the Cape Bon Peninsula were the cities of Neapolis and Hadrumetum. The Greeks called Neapolis Neapolis, which simply means “New City” in Greek, because they didn’t know her original Phoenician name. She had a small trading station in the fifth century, but by the end of the fourth, she had become a formidable market town. A road ran from Neapolis to Carthage, cutting across the base of the Cape Bon peninsula. If for any reason, sailors couldn’t make landfall at Carthage, they could dock at Neapolis and send their goods to Carthage up this road.

South of Neapolis was Hadrumetum. She was the most significant Punic town east of Carthage. She was home to a shrine, a tophet (which is a Phoenician graveyard), and a harbor. The earliest we can date her to is the sixth century.

The eastern border of this African empire was at the Arae Philaenorum, whose story we discussed back in episode 1.7. The Carthaginian side of the Arae was called Tripolitania in Roman times, perhaps on account of the three principal settlements here: Lepcis Magna, Sabratha, and Oea. Archeologically, the oldest object found in this region, a Greek vase, is datable to the early fifth century and was discovered at Lepcis Magna.

It was, most likely, because of Dorieus’ foothold in the valley of the river Cinyps, just twelve miles east of Lepcis that Carthage began settling the region permanently. Before Cinyps, Lepcis was a small backwater town. Starting in the fifth century, however, Lepcis shows signs of significant infrastructure. She had a port and was home to administrative buildings, indicating that she may have been an administrative center for the entire region.

These settlements became incredibly wealthy on account of trading with the Garamantes tribe that inhabited the interior parts of Libya. Tripolitania lay at the end of the trading route that came out of the Niger region. Legend has one Carthaginian, named Mago, traveling across the Niger desert three times, without taking a drink each time he crossed it. It became a center for trade in precious stones like carbuncles, emeralds, and chalcedony. Sabratha became known for olive cultivation, while another prominent colony in the region, Zoucharis, became known for its salted fish and the famous Tyrian purple dye. This area also became a center of exchange between Carthaginian wine and a medicinal herb called silphium. The settlement of Charax became a black market for silphium traders since the Cyrenaican government wanted to monopolize the silphium trade.

Towards Carthage’s west also lay similar trading posts. Since this part of the North African coast was inhospitable, these settlements stayed small. The only ones that grew to a considerable size were Hippo Acra, known to the Latins as Hippo Diarrhytus, today known as Bizerta, and Hippo Regius, the home of St. Augustine at the end of Rome’s imperial days. Another settlement called Tingi was also quite substantial, which the Carthaginians conceived as a means of preventing the Greeks from crossing the Straits of Gibraltar. Other towns include Thapsus, Chullu, Saldae, Tipasa, Iol, and Gunugu.

Carthage directed her military efforts in the region towards all non-Phoenicians. From the literary record, we know that the first kings, Malchus and the early Magonids, fought wars in Africa for the sole purpose of making the Libyans relinquish any claims to a tribute owed to them. Though Malchus supposedly won his African conflict, the early Magonid defeats in Africa ensured that the tribute owed remained in place. Both Justin and Dio Chrysostom report, that the next time the Carthaginians went to war with the Libyans was after the defeat at Himera. The command was given to Hanno the Navigator who was successful in relieving Carthage of her tribute to the Libyans forever.

Hanno, the king who voyaged to West Africa in the last episode, also went to war against the Numidians and the Moors, both of whom he defeated. A war against the Numidians makes sense. The Numidian princedoms had no fixed border with the Carthaginian territories, making border skirmishes inevitable. A land war against the Moors, however, does not make sense. The Moors lived in what is now Morocco and Mauritania, which is nowhere near any immediate Punic territory. Some historians suggest that this wasn’t a land war. Or, at least, no armies marched all the way to Morocco or Mauritania. Recall, that in the last episode I mentioned that Hanno had founded six colonies along the coasts of Morocco and Mauritania. It’s possible that as part of that naval expedition and the founding of those settlements, Hanno faced resistance from the local Moors. Thus, he fought the Moors to keep those trading stations safe. We’ll never know for sure since we have no direct evidence for this.

In addition to the control and consolidation of the metals trade, the acquisition of Africa also meant population growth. Since Tunisia was the only fertile region in North Africa, population growth meant that the Carthaginian demand for food quickly outstripped the available supply from the hinterland. Carthage needed additional sources of food. Sicily was fertile, but she was mostly under Greek control. The only other region she could look to was Sardinia.

The archeological record at Nora, Caralis, Tharros, Olbia, and Sulcis exhibits a distinct and substantial Carthaginian influence. Funerary stelae, masks, and figurines at the various tophets and grave sites are identical to those found at the Tophet of Salammbo. The names on these stelae also indicate a strong presence of Carthaginian settlers.

There is also proof of clashes with the local Nuragic peoples. These signs of war in Sardinian archeology come only from the coastal regions where the Phoenicians had their settlements, which implies that the Phoenicians were merely trying to protect themselves. According to the literature, they also sought Punic help, which they got in exchange for giving up their liberty. Practically, though, Punic control probably never extended beyond the fertile coastal regions, which was the Punic aim in the first place.

The literature implies, though never states it outright, that the Sardinian colonies paid tribute to Carthage. At the very least they were obliged to cough up grain when Punic armies required it. There are also numerous instances of food moving from Sardinia to Carthage in times of emergency. Over the course of the fifth century, particularly after the Battle of Himera, Punic colonization on Sardinia intensified. Archeologically, we see the appearance of fortified market towns; fortified, presumably, to protect them from the perceived threat of the Nuragic population. Alongside this intense colonization was a rise in, both, large-scale agricultural operations, and smaller individual farmsteads.

The acquisition of Sardinian agriculture was Carthage’s aim. At least one ancient source confirms this by saying that, after conquering Sardinia, the Carthaginians destroyed the local fruit trees and forbade them to be regrown. Instead, they urged the settlers to grow grains and cereals. In other words, it was Carthage’s aim all along to make Sardinia her breadbasket. The development of Sardinia as Carthage’s breadbasket also provided Carthage with yet another reason to pay so much attention to Sicily. If Carthage lost the Epikrateia, then they would lose Sardinia, too. Hence, losing Sicily meant losing access to her primary source of food.

In return for Sardinia’s cooperation, Carthage bestowed upon Sardinia an enormous amount of wealth. At least, this is what is apparent in the archeology. This expenditure of capital in Sardinia lends support to the idea that Carthage didn’t, all of a sudden, become impoverished after the Battle of Himera. She just chose to spend her wealth, at least part of it, on Sardinia instead. As a result, Sardinia was able to import luxury goods both from the Levant and the Greeks. Luxurious private and public buildings popped up everywhere. The historical sources claim that the Carthaginians also granted honorary citizenship to the Sardinians.

Sardinian religious expression exemplifies this relationship between Carthage and Sardinia. At this time, Carthage aggressively pushed for the construction of new spiritual centers and temples all throughout the Sardinian colonies. An excellent example of this is the temple at Antas, dedicated to both Melqart and Melqart’s “son” Sid. Sid was a Sardinian deity, probably Nuragic in origin, while Melqart represented the overarching Tyrian colonial project. The symbolism could not be more overt. Melqart was a father; Sid was his son. They were unequal. Sid was subordinate to Melqart. Therefore, the Sardinians were subject to the “Tyrian Colonial Project” of which Carthage was now the leader.

Despite conflicts, trade with the locals likely continued over the course of the fifth century. But by its end, trading with them declined sharply, and by the beginning of the next century, Nuragic goods no longer appear in the archeological record. Of course, the people just didn’t disappear. What happened, most likely, was what happened to the Libyans surrounding Carthage. They settled in the colonies and assimilated themselves with the settlers.

Thus far we’ve only considered the Punic imperial activity that relates to Carthage’s control of the metals trade of the Western Mediterranean. What we haven’t considered up until this point are Punic holdings other than the ones directly connected to this trade. While there are several such places, we shall only concern ourselves with the most crucial one of them, i.e., Sicily.

Despite the blow at Himera and the subsequent focus on the metals trade as opposed to the Tyrrhenian trading circuit, Sicily was still crucial. For one thing, it was part of the Tyrrhenian trading circuit. Carthage herself wasn’t importing any Etruscan goods, but that didn’t mean Sicily wasn’t. That also didn’t imply that Carthage couldn’t profit off of this trade. The Tyrrhenian circuit was still a cash cow and worth enough for Carthage to keep a foothold in Sicily. Sicily was also vital because it was the one crucial link between Carthage and Sardinia. If Carthage lost her place on Sicily, she would be cut off from her food supplies on Sardinia. Having one foot in Sicily’s door was, for Carthage, still a matter of life and death.

The French historian Serge Lancel also points out that any party on Sicily would, eventually, want to hold the entire island. There are several reasons for this. First: The whole island was fertile. Being in control of all this land meant having a considerable edge over the other players in the Mediterranean. Sicily’s fertility is also why Rome wanted to dominate her a few centuries later. Second: Sicily had too many players: The Sicani, the Sicels, the Elymi, the Doric Greeks, the Ionian Greeks, the Phoenicians. All had competing interests, which meant that the inhabitants of the island would always face the threat of war. For any one group to hold the entire island implied the end of this risk for them. Third: By bringing all of Sicily under one’s control, one could more tightly control the north Mediterranean sea. For Carthage, this meant more effective containment of the Phocaean threat. Though they had been dealt a hard blow, back in the 530s, they still maintained control of the Southern coast of Gaul and, as we’ve seen in our discussion on Iberia, were a general menace to the Carthaginians. All of these reasons explain why Carthage was so obsessed with Sicily and why she decided to intervene in Sicilian affairs so many times throughout her existence.

Picard suggests that before 550 BC all the Phoenician colonies had come under the Punic yoke, except Motya. As I’ve mentioned earlier, by that time the inhabitants of Motya had built extensive fortifications around the city. These fortifications included walls, towers, and other defense works. After 550, however, Carthage undertook significant endeavors at Motya. They built the causeway that connected Motya to the Sicilian mainland. They also enlarged the local temple. They also constructed two industrial zones for the manufacture of pottery, the famous purple dye and leather goods. It was also from Motya that the Carthaginians launched their campaign against Dorieus. The army that destroyed Heraclea Minoa also marched from Motya. According to some historians, in 509 BC, Carthage directed the Motyans to expand and reorganize their tophet. Lancel points out, however, that the stele discovered at this tophet from this period are purely Motyan and have no Punic influence. Whether or not this last point is valid, all other Punic endeavors at Motya indicate that Motya had come under the Punic yoke, probably, well before the close of the sixth century BC.

Carthage allowed her Sicilian dependencies to govern themselves. We don’t know if they paid any tribute, but we do know that the Carthaginians wanted them to supply troops whenever they decided to intervene in Sicilian affairs. At the very least, they were expected not to ally themselves with the enemies of Carthage.

After 509 BC, till the time the Romans took it over, Sicily was always in a stalemate. The Western edge remained under Punic control, while the Doric Greeks kept the South Eastern region under their hegemony.

The picture that emerges by considering the literature in light of the archaeology is not of a state militarily expanding her domains. It is a state trying to protect her commercial interests in various locations against perceived encroachments from local populations. Carthage took military action partly to protect her interests in the Tyrrhenian trade, partly to control the metals trade and partly to protect food supplies from Sardinia. And as the take-over of Gades indicates, even though they may have been independent at one point, the colonies willingly put themselves under Punic overlordship. They did so because they knew that if they were to survive, there ought to be someone to protect their trade. And while putting themselves under Punic protection meant some loss of control, they still managed their internal affairs. The long and short of it is that Carthage displayed no signs of a conventional empire.

But it’s necessary to ask the question: Why Carthage? All Phoenician colonies felt threatened by encroaching locals. Any of them could have taken on the role of protector. But it was only Carthage that took decisive military action. Indeed, it was just her that the others called upon for help. Why?

Though this theory is entirely speculative, some historians suggest that Carthage was meant for Phoenician leadership right from the get-go. Her name, after all, was “New City.” The Tyrians may have gauged very early on, that being in Asia was a severe health hazard. Empire upon empire threw its weight around, making demands upon Tyre; demands that, at a certain point, may become too much for Tyre to bear.

In the beginning, Carthage may have just been a Tyrian halfway house, with silver coming in from Gades being stored here until ships from Tyre picked it up and left manufactured goods in exchange. But by Malchus’ time she had become politically independent of Tyre. We know this because if Carthage were still subservient to Tyre, Tyre would have intervened when Malchus laid his siege upon Carthage.

It was also a little after Malchus’ time that Carthage became economically independent. In 560 BC, Tyre signed a treaty with Nebuchadnezzar ending a thirteen-year-long siege. After this point, all of Tyre’s colonies show signs of economic decline in the archeology. All, except those on the North-South Etruscan-Punic route, indicating that these settlements, of which Carthage was one, no longer relied on Tyre for their survival.

Not only did Carthage become politically and economically independent, she also became the cultural hegemon. Before 560 BC, Tyre’s African, Spanish and Sicilian colonies do not indicate any direct Carthaginian influence. Beginning in 560, however, the archeological record at these settlements betrays a newer Punic culture, as opposed to the older Tyrian one.

Nebuchadnezzar’s siege triggered the launch of Carthage as the new hegemon of the colonies. With Tyre in decline, the Tyrians in the colonies knew who to turn to for help.

When we connect the two periods, the century before the Battle of Himera and the seventy-year interregnum after, the following story becomes apparent:

With Nebuchadnezzar’s siege, Carthage becomes independent. With her independence, she begins to throw her weight around the Mediterranean under Malchus and the early Magonids. At this point, her primary concern is protecting the route to Etruria. She is still also mildly interested in the metals trade, which is why she intervenes in Spain. Dorieus’ expulsion from Africa shows that Carthage is also concerned about the North African coast and the trading in Tripolitania. Dorieus’ defeat in Sicily shows Carthage’s concern for Sicily. Carthage also shows her interest in Sicily by intervening in Greek affairs at Himera. Her defeat here exposes to her the threat of the Doric Greeks to her Tyrrhenian trading. She then decides to bring the Western Mediterranean metals trade under her control as a countermeasure, which is why she sends Himilco and Hanno on their voyages into the Atlantic. The consolidation of this trade and other trading interests also cause her to embark on the conquest of Africa.

One final point before we close this episode. Talking about Empire binds us to discussions about the subjects of that empire. Generally, Carthage left her political dependents free to arrange their internal affairs as they sought fit. She only imposed on them in as far as it was necessary to maintain her dominance over them and for the exaction of tribute. Dependents were of different categories, however, and the way Carthage treated one set of her subjects depended upon their type.

The older Phoenician and the newer Punic colonies got better treatment than Carthage’s other subjects. While the exact arrangements are not known, some historians think that the treatment of these Libyphoenicians was determined via treaties. From the literature, we see that Carthage’s Phoenician dependents outside Africa were governed by local officials and presided over institutions similar to those at Carthage. Polybius, writing centuries later, mentions that the Libyphoenicians had the same laws as the Carthaginians, perhaps implying that both parties were subject to the same rules and had equal rights.

However, there were some differences. Carthage levied import and export duties on some Libyphoenician cities, and some even paid direct taxes. Libyphoenicians were also called upon to provide troops for Punic campaigns whereas the citizens of Carthage were mostly exempt from military duty. Though no source mentions this, it’s hard to imagine that Carthage’s fleets weren’t manned by them either. Warmington also surmises that even their foreign relations and economic policies were subject to Carthage’s whim. The treaties with Rome indicate this. The 509 BC treaty allowed the Romans to trade only in Sardinia and Africa and that, too, just in the presence of an official. By 348 BC, however, the city of Carthage alone was open to them.

While the Phoenicians could be fanatically patriotic at times, they were less animated by the kind of individualistic nationalism that became a hallmark of the Greeks. In general, achieving full freedom from an overlord was not worth the risk. Perhaps, this was a consequence of the realism ingrained into them by centuries of trading. Therefore, just as their ancestors in the Phoenician homeland acquiesced to the rule of others, the Libyphoenicians in Africa submitted to the state of Carthage. Doing so must have been a little more manageable since the Carthaginians were their blood brethren.

Carthage dealt with communities in Sicily, whether Phoenician or otherwise, with an even freer hand. All towns ran their affairs according to their own laws. Segesta, an Elymian city, was merely an ally, at least until the 5th century. Every colony minted their own coins, a privilege that Carthage didn’t afford its African dependents. Carthage granted her Sicilian dependents a freer hand, probably because Sicily was a more complicated place than Africa. As I’ve pointed out before, Sicily was home to many ethnicities. Relations between them were quite complicated. Many cities had trading relations with others. Some were political allies. Some were at war with each other.

And, as discussed before all cultures bled into each other to produce a uniquely Sicilian culture. It appears from the literature that the Elymians adopted many elements of Greek culture, despite being Punic allies. On the flip side, they took the Phoenician title “suffet” which they used to refer to their political leaders. The bleeding of the cultures was also apparent in the coins. Elymian coins were, for all intents and purposes, Greek coins, that sported Greek legends, and motifs. Coinage from the Phoenician colonies also employed Greeks motifs. However, it is recognizable as Phoenician because it also incorporates Phoenician mythology, in addition to using the Phoenician script on it.

That, in a nutshell, was the discussion on the empire that Carthage built.

Beginning with the next episode, we will take a break from the narrative and dedicate a few episodes to looking at the Carthaginians themselves. We will examine the city of Carthage herself and indulge in discussions on her society, politics, religion, and trade. And we’ll pepper these discussions with healthy doses of archaeology.

If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please email me at ahsan.irfan@historytellerpodcast.com. You can visit the Historyteller blog at historytellerpodcast.com and can listen to the podcast on iTunes and Google Play. You can also find me on the usual social media site. I am on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linked In and Google Plus. You can find these links on the right-hand side of the historytellerpodcast.com website. If you liked this episode, please leave me a five-star review on iTunes. If you loved it, please help spread the word about it on your social media.

Thank you so much for listening!


  1. Warmington, B. H. Carthage. London: Roberta Hale & Company, 1969 (Buy from Amazon, also here & here)
  2. Lancel, Serge. Carthage: A History. Translated by Antonia Nevill. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Limited, 1995 (Buy from Amazon)
  3. Hoyos, Dexter. The Carthaginians. Oxford: Routledge, 2010 (Buy from Amazon)

Episode 1.9 – Atlantic Adventures

A Depiction of Hanno the Navigator

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In the last episode, we had looked a crucial battle in the history of Carthage, that of Himera. We examined the long chain of causes that lead to the conflict and studied its aftermath. Towards the end of the episode, I had pointed out that the effect of the Battle of Himera was such that it prevented Carthage from intervening in Sicilian affairs for a good seventy years. That didn’t mean that Carthage wasn’t active anymore. As we’ll see in today’s episode, there was plenty for the Carthaginians to do. Particularly, we’ll examine Carthage’s consolidation of the metals trade and her venturing into the Atlantic for that very reason.

Ready? Let’s go.

For a good chunk of this time, she also cut herself off economically from the rest of the world. Beginning in about 450 BC, the archeology of the city shows a general decline in the material life of the city, particularly in the form of an absence of luxury grave goods. Goods from Greece, Etruria, and Egypt, that were apparent in the archaeological record before this time, no longer appear.

Earlier, at least, it was thought that Carthage’s economic decline was the result of the battle itself. Subsequent archeology, however, brought to light the flourishing post-Himeran Athenian-Punic trade that I alluded to in the last episode. The archeology from the early to mid-fifth century indicates that importation of Greek goods increased. In fact, 20% of the pottery found at Carthage from this period was from Ionia, while only 4% was from the Levant.

However, the resulting economic prosperity lasted only for about a generation. The economic decline becomes apparent in the archeology at about the middle of the century. The question is: Why? Was it self-imposed or were the causes external?

One theory posited is as follows: Athens arose as a significant naval power in the aftermath of the Persian defeat. It formed a confederation of allied coastal city-states and islands all over the Aegean. The purpose of this league was to exclude the Persians from the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. In 468 BC, the Phoenicians suffered a naval defeat at her hands. In 459 BC, Athens raided Phoenicia herself. For a while, even Cyprus came under Athenian control. For Carthage, this resulted in the loss of her Phoenician markets, which, the theory posits, meant that Carthage’s economy declined.

This theory, however, only accounts for the period before the economic austerity becomes apparent in the archaeological record. It does not account for Carthage’s economic decline after this time. Carthage’s loss of her Phoenician markets before her economic downturn began, coincides perfectly not only with the fall in Levantine imports, as would be expected, but also with the rise of Athenian imports. As I mentioned just a few minutes ago, 20% of all pottery at Carthage from this period comes from Athens, while only 4% comes from Phoenicia. These numbers mean that Carthage merely replaced her lost Phoenician markets, with new ones in Greece. What we don’t know, however, is why even the Athenian imports declined post 450 BC.

Another possible reason, according to Warmington, is the fact that Carthage didn’t begin minting coins until after 400 BC. The Greeks first began striking coins in 500 BC, while Motya & Panormus started creating coins by 450 BC. As a side note, this latter fact shows the degree to which Motya and Panormus were independent of Carthage even this late in Carthage’s evolution from a simple trading post into a colonial power. The rise of coinage and the subsequent decline of barter meant that Carthage, who had no coins, could no longer trade, except with those who were still willing to barter. This explanation, though plausible, is a bit odd. Would Carthage accept material austerity merely because they didn’t want to trade in coins? All they had to do was start minting, which they eventually did, anyway. Perhaps they began creating coins after 400 BC precisely because they felt the pinch in the generations before. Who knows?

There is, however, another explanation. Carthage’s supposed economic decline during the years 450 BC through to 410 BC correlate directly with actions that Carthage was taking elsewhere in the Mediterranean. On the surface, due to lack of details in the literature, her efforts seem to be a hodgepodge of unrelated actions. There is, however, a thread that connects them all. And I will try my best to present this thread in this episode.

The key to understanding Carthage’s activities from 450 to 410 is as follows: The defeat at Himera brought to light the uncomfortable fact that Carthage was no match for the Doric military engine. As such, the Tyrrhenian trading circuit was under threat. In fact, during this period, Carthage imported virtually no goods from Etruria. The economic counterbalance to this danger was a newfound focus on the metals trade in the Western Mediterranean. Recall that the value of silver had declined by the middle of the sixth century BC, such that the Tyrrhenian trading circuit had become Carthage’s principal source of wealth. With this trade now under attack, however, Carthage needed another source of revenue. It was the perfect reason to swing back to silver. Silver was low value, but Carthage could change that if she monopolized its trade. Also, Carthage could supplement silver with other metals, like tin, copper & gold.

So how did Carthage go about doing this?

Let’s begin the story in Iberia, the source of Tyre’s silver. Sometime before the Battle of Himera, the Gadians found themselves under attack from the neighboring Tartessians. They solicited the help of their brethren at Carthage. The literature records that not only did Carthage help the Gadians defend their city, Carthage used this as an excuse to wipe the entire Tartessian civilization out. And, as if to put a cherry atop the icing on the cake, once they finished the Tartessians, they turned on Gades herself, laying siege to her until the Gadians surrendered.

Archeologically, we have no way of knowing if the Carthaginians did turn on Gades since she now lies under the modern city of Cadiz. However, we can rebut the claim that Carthage destroyed Tartessos with certainty. While the archeology does show that the Tartessian culture was declining at this time, evidence for Phoenician or Carthaginian involvement is absent. In fact, the only proof of military encounters within the Tartessian Kingdom is that of a civil war. The only Punic evidence on Iberia is from brand new coastal settlements in what is today Portugal and from old Phoenician colonies that were expanded and renewed by the Carthaginians. Gades and Tyre’s other Iberian colonies may have become Carthaginian dependencies, but claims of a full-scale military invasion are not valid. This invalidity is also borne out by the fact that the 509 treaty with Rome, does not list Iberia as a protected territory.

If Carthage didn’t destroy the local civilization, then what did they do with them, if anything? For one thing, Carthage was able to acquire mercenaries from Iberia to help with their military campaigns. Time and time again we see the famous Iberian warriors popping up in Carthaginian history. Some treaties with the locals also allowed the Carthaginians to exploit the silver mines.

As far as the Phoenicians in Iberia were concerned, we know from the historical record that almost all of Tyre’s colonies on the eastern coast of the peninsula signed treaties with Carthage, which, though limited their sovereignty, also granted the right of self-government to them, much like that on Sicily. However, one finds very little Punic influence in the archeology, which implies that Carthage didn’t send many settlers here.

The Western coast of Iberia, however, is a different matter altogether. Here, we see the bona fide Carthaginian religious emblem, the ‘Sign of Tanit,’ everywhere. What’s surprising is that this sign is rarely found anywhere else on the Peninsula, indicating the strength of Punic colonization in Portugal. From here, Punic influence spread into Africa, particularly, the Oran region & Morocco.

Presence in Iberia also meant that the Carthaginians would meet the Phocaeans of Massalia again since they were using Southern Gaul as a base to expand into Spain. As a result, the literature makes some vague references to a struggle between the Carthaginians and the Phocaeans. First, Carthage destroyed a Greek colony close to the Phoenician settlement of Malacca. Then, both sides went to war for the control of the North Eastern Spanish coast. The conflict ended with the Battle of Artemisium, which Carthage won, blocking Greek entry into Spain for a long time.

Even though the 509 treaty with Rome does not list Iberia as a protected territory, a 348 BC treaty does. Why did this change? I speculate that by this time, in fact, well before it, Carthage had Iberia’s silver mines under her control. In Carthage’s mind, granting Rome trading access to this region meant that she would become covetous of the silver here, and would, thus, take actions to acquire it for herself. This Carthage did not want.

With Iberia under her belt, Carthage was also anxious to have a hand in the European tin trade. In antiquity, tin came from a mysterious place known as the Cassiterides Islands, variously identified as the Scilly Islands off of Cornwall, Cornwall herself and the British Isles in general. Often these were identified with another mysterious land called the Oestrymnides, home of the Oestrymnians. Legend had it that the Oestrymnians had escaped their homeland somewhere on the Western coast of the Iberian peninsula because of an invasion of ‘serpent folk.’ Subsequently, they made the region we know today as Brittany their new home. The literature records them as being either those who mined the tin and supplied Europe with it or those who acquired it from the mysterious Cassiterides and selling it to the Gauls, who passed it on to the Massalian Greeks. In the interregnum post-Himera, Carthage wanted to consolidate her hold on this trade. To that end, her government decided to send Himilco, a son of the defeated general Hamilcar, brother of the supposedly exiled Gisco, on a voyage up the coast of Iberia.

It’s a short account since not many details survive, and those that do are fragmentary or paraphrases. Our primary source for Himilco’s voyage is a Latin poet from the fourth century AD, Avienus. The only other reference that directly mentions Himilco’s voyage is Pliny the Elder, who wrote about it in his Natural History. From these accounts, we know that Himilco explored the coasts of Spain, Portugal, France, and even, England and Ireland. He came across shallow, calm seas. But his progress was hindered by some seaweed and “huge marine monsters.” He encountered the Oestrymnians who came out in their boats to greet him and his crew. After about four months, having just explored the coast of the British Isles, Himilco turned back and went home. If this account is accurate, then Himilco was the first ever known explorer to sail from the Mediterranean Sea and reach the northwestern shores of Europe.

Unfortunately, there is no way for us to verify this account. As I just mentioned a few minutes ago, there’s plenty of archaeological evidence for Punic presence in Portugal. But on its own, that doesn’t prove that this voyage happened. Also, there are no Phoenician or Punic remains in France, before the Hannibalic era, and none whatsoever in the British Isles. The reality of this voyage may forever remain a mystery.

From Spain, West Africa was a mere hop away. In antiquity, the West African coast had always been immensely attractive to many a civilization. First came the Phoenicians. Then, the Carthaginians. Then, the Numidians. Then, the Romans. And finally, the Arabs. West Africa was a commercially valuable region. It was a significant source of fish, which was pickled, salted or fermented. A pasty form of fermented fish, known as garum, was a favorite condiment all throughout the Mediterranean for more than a millennium. The region was also a source of the murex, which was used to produce the famous purple dye. Most pertinent to our purposes, West Africa, was also a source of precious metals. From Mauritania came copper and from Nigeria, tin.

But the commodity from the region that everyone coveted was gold. Herodotus describes a curious scene illustrating how the Phoenicians acquired this gold from the natives of the area. When they made landfall, they laid their goods on the shore and then returned to their ships. There they generated a smoke signal that alerted the locals, who then came out to inspect the goods. After examining the wares, they laid down as much gold as they thought they were worth. After this, the Phoenicians returned ashore. If they thought the cash enough, they took it and left. If not, they returned to their ships and waited. The locals then added to the gold already there, repeating the process until the Phoenicians were satisfied that the gold was enough. Herodotus mentions at the end of this account that neither party was dealt with unfairly and that neither side touched the other’s property until both were satisfied.

The island of Mogador, modern Essaouira, off of the coast of Morocco, was home to settlers from Gades. When the Gadians found themselves under attack from the neighboring Tartessians, sometime before the Battle of Himera, the settlers on Mogador abandoned the island en masse and returned to Gades to help their brethren out. After Gades came under Carthaginian control, Mogador stayed empty. Save a minor presence just beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, the entire coast of West Africa was now devoid of any Phoenician presence. After the Battle of Himera, however, this region became an object of Carthage’s desire. The crises at Gades had created a vacuum in West Africa, and Carthage was more than eager to fill it. To that end, Carthage outfitted an expedition under Himilco’s brother, Hanno, at around the same time as Himilco’s voyage, to sail down the Atlantic coast of Africa. His government entrusted him with several objectives; he was to plant colonies, acquire new markets for their manufactures, and most importantly, acquire the most coveted West African gold.

As it so happens, the account of this voyage comes to us from a standalone manuscript, is longer and is far more interesting. I will read you an English translation of the Greek account, and as I go along, I will provide some commentary to explain the text.

Did Hanno discover gorillas or orangutans?

Here goes:

A report of the voyage of Hanno, king of the Carthaginians, to the parts of Africa beyond the Pillars of Hercules, which he dedicated in the temple of Baal; the following is the text:

1) The Carthaginians decreed that Hanno should sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules and found colonies of Libyphoenicians. He set sail with sixty-five oared ships, men and women to the number of 30,000, and food and other essentials.

Comment: At least one of these numbers is wrong. If 30,000 people occupy 65 ships, that’s about 460 people per ship. That’s too many bodies for a quinquereme, even if you account for the hundred or so oarsmen.

2) After passing the Pillars and sailing on for two days, we founded the first colony which we called Thymiaterion, near which is a large plain.

Comment: After passing the Straits of Gibraltar, the Pillars of Hercules in this text, modern Tangiers would be anybody’s first stop. The archaeology here suggests that Tangiers was a Phoenician colony. If this was indeed the first stop on Hanno’s voyage, then it’s not impossible that modern Tangiers is Carthaginian Thymiaterion.

3) Then sailing westwards, we arrived at the place called Soloeis, a cape covered with trees.

Comment: Cape Soloeis is the modern Ras Nouadhibou in Mauritania.

4) After we had dedicated a sanctuary there to Poseidon, we turned and sailed east for half a day, after which we arrived at a lagoon not far from the sea, covered with thick, high reeds. Elephants and many other animals were there feeding.

5) We skirted this lagoon for a day, and then left colonists at Carian Fort, Gutta, Acra, Melitta, and Arambys.

Comment: While scholars have suggested numerous locations for these five colonies, Tangiers, Lixus and Mogador are the only sites West of the Straits that display any sign of Phoenician settlement. If the number of colonies planted is right, then the number of people accompanying Hanno on this voyage is suspect. 30,000 people distributed over six colonies (the five just mentioned plus Thymiaterion) is 5,000 people per colony. This figure is ten times the maximum number of people a small trading station could accommodate, according to the literature. Five thousand colonists, among whom were women, too, means that the settlements would have to be substantial. But there is no archaeological evidence. If the planting of these colonies is a fact and there is no archaeological evidence for it, then the number of colonists traveling with Hanno is almost certainly wrong. A settlement of 5,000 people should leave behind traces of stone structures. The fact that they didn’t, implies that these weren’t colonies. Instead, they were small trading stations, just like the ones we spoke about in Episode 1.2.

6) From here we sailed to the Lixus, a great river which flows out of Libya. On its banks, the Lixites, who are nomads, pasture their flocks. We remained for some time with these people, with whom we became friends.

Comment: This bit is interesting. To understand what’s going on here, we need a short geography lesson. If you are going West, immediately after passing the Straits of Gibraltar, you are going to find Tangiers. The river Lixus and the colony of Lixus are also nearby. After sailing a few hundred miles along the coast of Morocco, you will arrive at Mogador. You won’t get to Cape Soloeis until a few hundred miles later. The bit I just read to you, however, seems to claim that the river Lixus is, in fact, south of Cape Soloeis, hundreds of miles away from its real location. It may merely be a mistake. Or, it may be something a little more than that, as we’ll discuss shortly.

What’s also interesting is that, though the account mentions the Lixites, it does not mention the colony of Lixus itself. The literary record claims that the Phoenician colony of Lixus was founded even before Gades, at the end of the twelfth century BC. Archaeologically, however, we know that Lixus didn’t exist until after the Phoenicians first abandoned Mogador, around 500 BC. Because this journey took place sometime after 480 BC, it is safe to assume that, if the Lixus mentioned in the text is the same as the real Lixus, there was already a Punic or Phoenician colony here at the time of this voyage. That there was a colony here is also shown by the fact that the text will mention in the subsequent lines that the Carthaginians took ‘interpreters’ with them for the rest of the voyage. Where would they get interpreters in such a short time, if there wasn’t already a colony here? Why the account doesn’t talk about the colony is anybody’s guess.

7) Beyond them lived barbarous Ethiopians in a country full of savage beasts, crossed by mountain ranges, in which they say the Lixus rises. Around these mountains live a people of a peculiar aspect, the Troglodytes; the Lixites claim they can run faster than horses.

8) Taking interpreters from the Lixites, we sailed south along a desert coast for two days and then east for one day. There we found in a gulf a small island with a circumference of 5 stadia (three-quarters of a mile); we called it Cerne and left colonists on it. From the distance that we had sailed, we calculated that it was situated opposite to Carthage, for the sailing time from Carthage to the Pillars of Hercules was the same as that from the Straits to Cerne.

Comment: There have been many candidates for Cerne island, but Picard suggests that Cerne Island is modern day Hern Island in the Gulf of Rio de Oro. One reason is the similarity of the name. Another is that it is as far from the Straits as Carthage is in the other direction, according to the criteria mentioned in the text. This region was famous throughout the Middle Ages as a source of gold. If the Carthaginians were looking for gold, Hern Island is the most likely candidate.

There are no Punic archeological remains on Hern, but independent corroboration of the visitation of Cerne Island comes from a work titled the ‘Periplus of Pseudo-Scylax.’ The author of the work mentions that in his time, that is around 338 BC, Cerne Island was still a center of Phoenician trade. He describes the Phoenicians as pitching tents whenever they arrived on the island, which makes the existence of Hanno’s colonists here doubtful.

9) From there, passing a large river, the Chretes, we came to a lagoon containing three islands larger than that of Cerne. Leaving them, we sailed for a day and reached the head of the lagoon which was dominated by very high mountains, inhabited by savages, who wore the skins of wild beasts and prevented us from landing by throwing stones at us.

Comment: The river Chretes is, probably, the river Senegal.

10) From there we entered another deep, wide river, full of hippopotami and crocodiles; we then returned to Cerne.

11) Later we again sailed south from Cerne for twelve days along the coast, all of which was inhabited by Ethiopians, who ran away from us. Even the Lixites with us could not understand their language.

12) On the twelfth day, we anchored under a high wooded mountain range, the trees on which were fragrant and of many different kinds.

Comment: This region probably corresponds to the coast of modern-day Guinea-Bissau.

13) We passed this mountain range in two days’ sail and arrived at an immense bay on either side of which was low-lying land. From here we saw at night fires flaring up on all sides at irregular intervals.

14) Taking on water, we sailed along the coast for five days until we reached a great gulf, which the interpreters said was called West Horn. In it was a large island and in this island a marine lake itself containing an island. Landing on it we saw nothing but forest and at night many fires being kindled; we heard the noise of pipes, cymbals, and drums, and the shouts of a great crowd. We were seized with fear, and the interpreters advised us to leave the island.

15) We sailed away quickly and coasted along a region with a fragrant smell of burning timber, from which streams of fire plunged into the sea. We could not approach the land because of the heat.

16) We, therefore, sailed quickly on in some fear, and in four days’ time we saw the land ablaze at night; in the middle of this area one fire towered above the others and appeared to touch the stars; this was the highest mountain which we saw and was called the Chariot of the Gods.

Comment: Some authors have identified the streams of fire as lava and the mountain known as the ‘Chariot of the Gods’ as the volcano, Mount Cameroon. Others have differed and said that the streams of fire were probably grass fires, and the Chariot of the Gods is Mount Kaulima.

17) Following rivers of fire for three days we came to a gulf called the Southern Horn. In this gulf was an island like the one last mentioned, with a lake in which was another island. This was full of savages; by far the greater number were women with hairy bodies, called by our interpreters ‘gorillas.’ We gave chase to the men but could not catch any for they climbed up steep rocks and pelted us with stones. However, we captured three women who bit and scratched their captors. We killed and flayed them and brought their skins back to Carthage. This was as far as we could sail owing to lack of provisions.

Comment: This region probably corresponds to modern-day Gabon. It is tempting to put two and two together and think that these hairy savages were modern orangutan or gorillas. In fact, the manuscript of this account does use the term “gorilla” for these creatures. Thomas Savage, the nineteenth-century scientist, who first documented actual gorillas, was aware of the text of Periplus of Hanno. It was he who used the term “gorillas” mentioned in the text to refer to these animals. However, things aren’t clear-cut. Pliny, in reference to this event, refers to the tribe of these savages, as the Gorgades. As it so happens, the Greek spelling of “Gorgades” is very similar to  the Greek spelling of “Gorilla.” So, our name for these hairy apes may, in fact, be a copyist’s error.

At this point, the account ends.

Both men wrote accounts of their voyages, both of which the classical literature referred to as the “Periplus.” After they returned from their trips both their accounts were placed in the temple of Baal Hammon at Carthage. This temple is, presumably, where the Carthaginians kept the annals of their city. Someone, whose identity is unknown, then copied the texts and translated them into Greek. The originals were, presumably, lost when the Romans destroyed the city. The Greek translation of the “Periplus of Himilco” now exists only as excerpts in other works. Only the Greek translation of the “Periplus of Hanno” remains fully intact, which we just read.

The historicity of either account is impossible to verify. But since both reports come to us from the Greeks and the Romans, who didn’t appropriate the accounts for themselves, it’s not unreasonable to assume that they possess an element or two of truth.

Some historians, however, claim that the whole idea of Carthaginians venturing into the Atlantic is bunk. They do so on the following grounds: (1) Many geographic details in these accounts are lacking and are often wrong. (2) There is no archeological evidence of these voyages and their corresponding trading or colonization activities. (3) Both stories have a “fantastical adventure” feel to them. (4) In reference to Hanno’s voyage, though the winds on the way to Cameroon may have been favorable, the winds on the way back can hardly have been.

I, however, find these grounds unconvincing. Though I can’t grant full credence to the written accounts, there are no grounds to reject them either. The four points just presented can easily be rebutted as follows:

(1) The missing or incorrect geographical details could be a smokescreen. The Phoenicians were, after all, extremely secretive about their trading routes. Warmington notes that the portion of Hanno’s story that talks about the Moroccan coast is less accurate than the part that speaks of the regions further south. He suggests that since it was possible for the Greeks to venture beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, the Carthaginians wanted to hide the details of the region immediately beyond them. However, they deemed it unlikely that the Greeks would venture too far south. That is why they were less careful with the particulars of the second part of the story than the details of the first.

Missing or incorrect details could also, however, be the result of corruption as the accounts were handed down the centuries. However, just because the reports became corrupted doesn’t mean that they are entirely wrong.

(2) Lack of archaeological evidence doesn’t necessarily mean that voyages didn’t happen. As we have already seen with Phoenician colonization, if the Carthaginians only established trading stations, the only remains left behind would have been organic and thus amenable to decay. Again, in reference to Hanno’s voyage, Punic influence in the archaeology is visible at Lixus and Mogador. Between them is a distance of 375 miles. It’s hard to imagine the Carthaginians establishing their presence at these two colonies and nowhere in between. So when Hanno’s account claims that they established six colonies beyond Lixus, we must accept it at face value, since there is nothing to contradict it, and the little evidence that is available, supports it.

(3) Fantastical elements in the series could either be part of the later corruption of the accounts or were part of the same smoke-screening efforts mentioned earlier. As Warmington again suggests, descriptions of savages, sounds of drums in the night and rivers of fire were stylistic motifs employed to scare the Greeks away from ever attempting such a voyage themselves. Indeed, many a philologist has shown the similarities between the story of Hanno’s travel and the story of Perseus and the Gorgon. That, however, doesn’t necessarily discount the authenticity of the journey itself.

(4) Though the winds back may have been unfavorable, these boats were oared and rowing back, though difficult was not impossible.

I will also add the following point: The most significant thing going for Hanno’s account is the remarkable correspondence of the various stops with the actual geography of the coast of Africa. Despite whatever other arguments may be brought forth against Hanno’s account, this highly accurate correspondence will still need an explanation. So, all in all, though the reliability of the voyages may be in doubt, they are indeed plausible and certainly have more going for them than not.

I will end today’s discussion at this point. The topic is long and fascinating, and I could have continued. But, then, I would have run out of material for the next episode, and that would have been bad. In the next episode, we will continue to explore how Carthage brought the metal trade under her control, and we’ll see how her hunger for these metals eventually ended up doing the same for all of North Africa. We’ll use the conquest of North Africa as a Segway into a discussion of the Carthaginian Empire as a whole.

If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please email me at ahsan.irfan@historytellerpodcast.com. You can visit the Historyteller blog at historytellerpodcast.com and can listen to the podcast on iTunes and Google Play. You can also find me on the usual social media site. I am on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linked In and Google Plus. You can find these links on the right-hand side of the historytellerpodcast.com website. If you liked this episode, please leave me a five-star review on iTunes. If you loved it, please help spread the word about it on your social media.

Alright, folks, that’s it for now!


  1. Warmington, B. H. Carthage. London: Roberta Hale & Company, 1969 (Buy from Amazon, also here & here)
  2. Miles, Richard. Carthage Must Be Destroyed. London: Penguin Books, 2010 (Buy from Amazon, Buy audiobook from Audible)
  3. Picard, Gilbert-Charles and Collette Picard. The Life and Death of Carthage. Translated by Dominique Collon. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1968 (Buy from Amazon, also here)

Episode 1.8 – The Battle of Himera

A Depiction of the Battle of Himera

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In the last episode, we began looking at Carthage’s interactions with other civilizations active in the Mediterranean during the sixth century BC. We looked at her interactions with the Greeks, the Etruscans and the, as of yet nascent, Romans. The last episode was a patchwork of different events that took us from the 540s BC to the end of the sixth century.

I also commented in the last episode about the patchiness of the history of Carthage from about 580 BC until 410 BC. To add to this patchiness, even when the Greeks fight the Carthaginians virtually no details remain. We saw that last time in the case of the Battle of Alalia and the war against Dorieus and his colonists. No details are given for either battle. We are to content ourselves with their result. In today’s episode, however, we will discuss one event that does not fit this pattern. We will be examining the first battle in Punic history that the Greeks recorded in considerable detail.

So, without further ado, let’s join the party.

Before we get to today’s main event, we need to begin our discussion with a little digression into late sixth-century Sicilian politics, to set the context.

As Hellas (which is the Greek name for, well, Greece) transitioned from her Archaic age to the classical era, her cities saw themselves change from oligarchies to dictatorships to democracies. According to B. H. Warmington, a British classicist, these changes were the result of the Greeks’ interaction with other cultures, particularly, Egypt and Persia. These changes were also relatively peaceful. As Aristotle points out, the Greek cities did not suffer much violence because their political dissidents left the mother cities and found greener pastures elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Thus, this migration out of Mother Hellas released some of the political pressure and diffused it abroad.

Sicily, however, was still quite a backwater, at the end of the 6th century. Her inhabitants did not interact with cultures outside the ones found in Sicily and had no desire to leave the island to colonize places outside her, either. They did form colonies, but not beyond the shores of Sicily herself. For these reasons, at least according to Warmington, the Siceliot colonies remained oligarchic. However, this also meant that if any revolutions were to happen here, Sicily would become a political pressure cooker. Without an extensive colonial culture, the Siceliots didn’t have the mechanisms that allowed them to relieve any internal political pressures. In other words, despite the semblance of stability, Sicily was a ticking time bomb.

When Xerxes rumbled into Anatolia, Greek refugees came pouring into Sicily, bringing with them ideas that they had acquired from other civilizations. With new ideas came political trouble. One thing led to another and Sicily became a hotbed of revolution, with one faction vying for power over another. The resulting political instability brought opportunities for men who sought absolute power. The Greeks called them tyrants. These were men who came to power through violent or unconstitutional means, as opposed to the dictators on mainland Greece, who acquired authority through political or legal maneuvering. As a result of the rise of these tyrants, the beginning of the fifth century BC saw Sicily divided into three separate power blocs.

In 498, a man named Hippocrates became Gela’s first tyrant, and another man named Gelon served under him, helping him conquer many of Sicily’s Greek colonies. In 491 BC, Gelon himself became tyrant of Gela. Gelon was one of the officers that fought on behalf of Dorieus when the Carthaginians intervened in the conflict between Selinus and Segesta, a fact that I alluded to at the very end of the last episode.

As a result of that war, Gelon hated the Carthaginians. As soon as he enthroned himself at Gela, the sources tell us, he initiated a war to avenge the death of Dorieus. No details are given. Presumably, Gelon attacked the Punic cities on Sicily and the Carthaginians retaliated. The only thing the sources mention is that the Carthaginians destroyed the city of Heraclea Minoa. Gelon also made plans to “liberate the Gulf of Gabes,” which is the gulf just south of the Cap Bon peninsula on the coast of North Africa. What this liberation meant, the sources do not tell us. To help him in this war, Gelon sent embassies to various Greek cities but was spurned by all of them. His plan to “liberates the Gulf of Gabes,” thus, came to nothing. As much as he hated the Carthaginians, the denial of his requests for help did not endear him to the mainland Greeks either.


Gelon Entering Syracuse Triumphantly


Gelon had already inherited a sizable chunk of Sicily from Hippocrates. After the war with Carthage, Gelon expanded his territories to include much of Southern and Eastern Sicily. His eyes were set, however, on Syracuse. Syracuse was under the thumb of landed aristocrats, referred to in the sources as the Gamoroi. Curiously, they were also allied to Carthage. But the Gamoroi aristocracy was overthrown in a popular revolt, and Syracusans chose democracy in its place. As a result, in 485 BC, the Gamoroi invited Gelon to intervene. He was happy to oblige. However, instead of relieving the city and leaving her for the Syracusans to squabble over, Gelon took her for himself. Seeing that Syracuse could be his leading city, with her magnificent harbor and easy access to the mainland, he made Syracuse his capital. He also attacked Camarina, Sicilian Euboea, and Sicilian Megara successfully, and forced their populations to relocate to Syracuse. In 483 BC, perhaps, as a preventative measure, Gelon sought and acquired the alliance of Theron, the tyrant of the southern Sicilian city of Acragas, which he would need if he wanted the Carthaginians out of Sicily. Thus, by 483 BC, almost the entire south and east of Sicily was under the collective thumbs of Gelon and Theron and thus formed the first Sicilian power bloc.

In the northeastern corner of Sicily, was the city of Zancle. Across the straits, right on the tip of the toe of Italy was Rhegium. A man named Anaxilas became tyrant of Rhegium in 493.  Since then, he also had his eyes on Zancle. If Zancle was in his hands, he could control the straits, and, hence, any movements through it. When the Zanclians found themselves in a spot of trouble with the locals, Anaxilas saw his opportunity and seized the city. He then expelled her inhabitants and populated it with Messinians escaping Spartan oppression on mainland Greece. Being inhabited by Messinians now, Anaxilas creatively renamed Zancle to Messina. Sicilian Messina, thus, became a launching pad for Anaxilas’ take over of some of Sicily’s northern colonies.

Anaxilas watched with alarm as the Doric allies, Gelon and Theron, brought South Eastern Sicily under their control. To provide a counterweight to their alliance, he sought the alliance of Terrilos, the tyrant of the city of Himera. To seal the deal, Terrilos gave his daughter in marriage to Anaxilas. Thus, the northern coast of Sicily came under Terrilos’ and Anaxilas’ collective control, thus forming the second power bloc on Sicily.

For a variety of different reasons, the aristocracy at Himera did not like Terrilos. They invited Theron to depose him, which he did. But just like all political opportunists, instead of handing her over to Himera’s aristocrats, he took Himera for himself. Terrilos escaped to Rhegium, where he sought the aid of his son-in-law, Anaxilas.

Anaxilas, for his part, saw it fit to request the help of the third power bloc, that of Carthage. By now, the Phoenician colonies of Motya, Panormus & Solus were under Punic control. Collectively, the Greek sources refer to this set of settlements as the Epikrateia. In the summer of 483 BC, he sent a delegation to Carthage, requesting military aid to help him reinstate Terrilos as the despot at Himera in exchange for loyalty and overlordship. As a guarantee of his good behavior, he also sent his two sons, as guest-hostages, to seal the deal.

The basileus of Carthage at this time was Hamilcar, brother of the celebrated Hasdrubal, son of Mago. The embassy from Anaxilas must have been a welcome opportunity because he had more than one reason to fight on his behalf. Hamilcar was probably watching events unfold on Sicily very keenly. His earlier face-off with Gelon, in 491, gave him more than enough reason to keep his eyes there. He understood that with Gelon’s expansion of his borders, the inclusion of Syracuse into his empire and his alliance with Theron, the balance of power was rapidly shifting.  Hamilcar knew that he had to bring the old balance of power back. With Himera now in the hands of Gelon’s chief ally, an attack on the Epikrateia was more than just a possibility, since Himera was the closest Greek city to the Punic Epikrateia. If an attack would come, it would most likely come from Himera. The Epikrateia was a crucial stop on the way to Sardinia, Carthage’s breadbasket. It was also a significant trading station for goods coming in from the Etruscans, as we’ve discussed before. Losing the Epikrateia would be disastrous for Carthage. All he needed was a reason to intervene. With Anaxilas’ embassy in the summer of 483 BC, he got just that.

Anaxilas’ embassy also added a moral dimension to the geopolitical justifications for intervening on behalf of Anaxilas. Hamilcar was Terrilos’ “xenia.” The word “xenia” can loosely be translated as “guest-friend.” A “xenia” is not just a political ally. A political alliance is purely the result of a cost-benefit analysis, but a “xenia,” on the other hand, is a friend. To aid a “xenia” is a matter of honour. Not only was an intervention now necessary to protect Punic holdings in Sicily, but it was also Hamilcar’s moral obligation.

The sources do not tell us why, but Hamilcar took three years to come to Terrilos’ aid. There are a few theories that explain this gap, none of which are mutually exclusive. One argument is that he may have been constructing his fleet of 200 warships. Another theory is that he might have sent out intelligence-gathering missions and waited for them to return to Carthage before taking any action. I suspect that Hamilcar spent those three years assembling the mercenaries that were going to fight in the coming war. He had to send embassies all over the Mediterranean and receive their responses, which takes time.

Regardless, when the mercenaries were ready, the fun began. The sources tell us that Hamilcar gathered an enormous army: Two hundred warships, three thousand transports, three hundred thousand infantrymen raised from Africa, Spain, Sardinia, Corsica and Gaul and a five-thousand strong cavalry from Numidia. The two hundred warships are probably realistic. A five-thousand strong cavalry isn’t out of the realm of possibility either. However, the three thousand transport ships and the three hundred thousand infantrymen are most certainly an exaggeration. In my estimation, these numbers were cooked up later, as part of the propaganda that victors disperse after any war. Three hundred transports and thirty thousand men seem to be more reasonable numbers, given what happens during the battle.

On the way to Sicily, a storm caught Hamilcar’s fleet because of which he lost a few of his transports. As luck would have it, those carriers carried his cavalry, and their loss would have disastrous consequences. The fleet made landfall at Panormus where he commanded his men to repair his fleet and prepare for the march to Himera. After three days, they marched, with the fleet accompanying them along the coast.

Himera lay on the northern shores of Sicily, on the banks of the river Himera, after which her founders had named her. However, she wasn’t right on the coast. There was a gap of a mile or so between the coast and the city. The city was on the western side of the river, and a wall protected her north and west. Hamilcar beached his fleet at the mouth of the river, in the north, while his land army set up camp in the west. Between the two encampments, Hamilcar set up siege works, facing the wall of the city.

Theron, and his men had already stationed themselves inside. The sources do not mention why, but Hamilcar thought it prudent to take a small number of men and attack the unwalled south side of the city. Here, he met Theron and his men, whom he readily defeated. Cowed into temporary submission, Theron’s men returned to the safety of the city and watched as the Carthaginians ravaged the outskirts of Himera. Theron desperately sent a messenger to Syracuse requesting Gelon’s assistance. Gelon promptly arrived with somewhere between thirty and fifty thousand infantrymen and about two thousand horse. Upon arriving, he found unprotected Carthaginian foragers, whom he swiftly killed or enslaved.

The attack on the foragers made Hamilcar feel the loss of his cavalry. Had his cavalry been there, the foragers could have continued foraging unmolested. To restore the deficit in his ranks, he dispatched a messenger to his allies, the Selinuntines, requesting a supply of cavalry to join the war effort. However, Gelon’s men intercepted this messenger. Knowing what was in the note, Gelon had a contingent of his cavalrymen disguise themselves as Selinuntines, and sent them over to Hamilcar’s camp. Not suspecting a thing, Hamilcar let these men join him.

Then the fighting began in earnest. Right from the get-go, the battle was a disaster for the Carthaginians. They were slaughtered mercilessly by Gelon’s men, over the course of the day. At a certain point during the battle, however, Carthage’s Iberian contingents began to push back. For a little while, it looked as though the tide may be turning. But disaster still lurked. Theron had not yet joined the battle, but when he saw the Iberians putting up a fierce fight, he and his men entered the fighting and pushed them back. At this point, the imposter Selinuntine cavalry joined them, too. This combined push all but finished the job. Not only was the army defeated, but at some point during the battle, the imposter Selinuntines had even set fire to the Punic fleet. By the day’s end, the entire Punic army was either dead or enslaved, while only a small number of the Punic fleet remained. Gelon and Theron’s men supposedly collected an enormous amount of booty that the Carthaginians left behind.


Remains of Soldiers from Himera (courtesy of Archaeology.org)


The Carthaginians that survived boarded the few remaining ships and left. However, as if to put a cherry atop the icing on the cake, they were hit by another storm. One ship and a handful of men returned to Carthage to convey the bad news.

What happened to Hamilcar? Well, three accounts inform us of his fate, one from Polyanus, another from Diodorus and the last one from Herodotus.

Polyanus relates that, during the battle, Gelon and his priests, stepped out of their encampment. Some cattle accompanied them, ready to be given up to the gods as offerings. Seeing that Gelon was about to please his gods, Hamilcar, too, stepped out of his encampment to do the same. His priests lit up a fire, ready to receive its human sacrificial victims.  All of a sudden, Gelon and his priests took off their ceremonial garbs. Out came their bows and within moments, Hamilcar and his entourage were mowed down by a volley of arrows.

Diodorus relates, however, that it was the imposter Selinuntines, whom Hamilcar had retained as his bodyguards, that did him in. When he was getting ready to perform his sacrifices, they just pushed him into the fire, where he burned to death.

Lastly, Herodotus relates that Hamilcar was dismayed by the way the battle was going. So, to procure the gods’ favour, he jumped into the fire, offering himself as the sacrifice.

Not unreasonably, the Carthaginians thought that Gelon might try to press his advantage and attack Carthage directly. They prepared themselves by manning their walls. They also sent ambassadors to Syracuse. Curiously, they sought the intercession of Gelon’s wife, to whom they gifted a crown made of gold when Gelon agreed to negotiate.

Gelon gave the Carthaginians extremely light terms: Carthage was to pay a two-thousand-talents-of-silver war indemnity to Gelon, and they were to construct two shrines at the site of the battle that would house this treaty. Some sources even mention another curious condition, that Carthage was to cease the practice of human sacrifice. Though, I highly doubt that the Carthaginians stuck to their word on this.

Curiously enough, Gelon did not punish Selinus for allying with Carthage. Nor did Gelon make another attempt at pushing the Carthaginians out of Sicily, despite his hostility to them. Anaxilas made his peace with Gelon and Theron. Terrilos, however, was the ultimate loser and spent the rest of his days at Anaxilas’ court.

Quite curiously, in complete contrast to the way the Carthaginians usually dealt with their defeated generals, Hamilcar was celebrated as a hero. The Carthaginians built monuments to him throughout the Punic colonies and made annual sacrifices to his spirit. Perhaps his reputation had been spared because of Gelon’s light terms. Or maybe the idea of a selfless sacrifice on behalf of a friend appealed to the Carthaginians.

Some sources claim that as a result of Hamilcar’s defeat, the Carthaginians exiled his son, Gisco, to Selinus. To me, this does not make any sense. Why was Gisco banished and his father celebrated, when both of them had been present at the battle? Hamilcar had left three sons, the other two being Hanno & Himilco, both of whom were given naval commands a few years after Himera. Why was Gisco exiled, while his brothers were, not only not banished, but given these responsibilities? There are a few theories that try to explain this little problem. One argument is that Gisco might have attempted a coup and failed. He wasn’t put to death, as would typically be the case, because of his family’s influence, and was exiled to Selinus instead. Another theory is that Carthage exiled all three brothers. Himilco and Hanno were banished to the sea, while Carthage exiled Gisco to Selinus. A final opinion is that Gisco may have been exiled because he was present at the battle, while his brothers were not exiled because they were not present at the battle.

One problem with all of these theories is that Gisco’s son, Hannibal, not to be confused with the famous general of the Second Punic War, not only returned to Carthage but, became a basileus. How can Gisco’s son become a basileus when Gisco himself had been exiled? As for the theory that the Carthaginian Senate exiled Himilco and Hanno to the sea, the nature of their sea voyages reveals that their journeys were anything but exile. As we will discuss in the next episode, their adventures were the result of explicit commands by the Senate to explore and colonize new lands. To me, that doesn’t sound like exile. As for the theory that Gisco’s expulsion was on account of his presence at the battle, while his brothers were spared because they weren’t there, this is possible. But, then why celebrate and revere their father? What had Gisco done, that earned him exile, that Hamilcar hadn’t done, that spared his reputation?

My own two cent solution to this problem is this: Gisco was present at Himera. After the defeat, he assumed that there would be a backlash against him at Carthage. Not wanting to face any repercussions for the failure, he didn’t bother returning. Instead, he escaped to Selinus. With his brothers departing on their naval expeditions, Gisco may not have felt safe in returning even after the dust had settled. Thus, he stayed there and didn’t return until, in his mind, it was safe to do so. Once his brothers were back, though, their nephew, Hannibal, deemed it safe to return.

In the short-term, the most severe effect of the battle of Himera was Carthage’s loss of her fleet. Or at least, it could have been. The Punic Empire, which we’ll begin discussing in the next episode, was held together by this navy. No navy, no empire. Recall, however, that though the Carthaginians prepared to defend Carthage from a possible attack by Gelon, Gelon didn’t press his advantage, even though he could have. The most likely reason is that Gelon knew, or at least, he thought, that either Carthage was in possession of more ships, or could acquire a fleet within a short amount of time. If Carthage had lost all of her vessels, then to reproduce a new fleet would take at least two years. How was it, then, that Carthage could rapidly acquire a fleet? I suspect one of two things: Either Carthage’s allies would come to her aid. Or Carthage’s allies stored Carthage’s navy in their ports. In any case, Carthage could call upon these at a moment’s notice.

In the long run, too, Gelon didn’t attempt expelling the Carthaginians from Sicily, though he certainly had plenty of reasons to do so. There are no recorded battles between the Greeks and the Carthaginians between 480 and 410. If there were any conflicts, they probably amounted to nothing more than a few frontier skirmishes. Part of this may be because Gelon’s allies might not have had the confidence to pursue an anti-Punic policy. Thus far, Carthage, and the Phoenicians before them had won every conflict. The defeat at Himera, though monumental, was the only feather in the Greek cap. The string of earlier Punic victories, combined with the perception that Carthage could give the Greeks a run for their money at sea, meant that there was no appetite among the Greeks for another engagement, no matter how badly Gelon wanted it.

Despite Carthage’s naval wherewithal, one of the most prescient effects of the Battle of Himera was Carthage’s complete indifference to Sicilian affairs for the next three generations. In the 460s and 450s, Ducetius the Sicel was able to unite the indigenous tribes and gave the Greek cities of Acragas and Syracuse a run for their money. Eventually, though, he was brought down by their combined effort. Carthage could have intervened on Ducetius’ side, but she didn’t. A little while after that, Syracuse and Acragas themselves began to quarrel. Still, the Carthaginians did nothing to exploit this rift between the two former allies. Syracuse’s attacks against Etruria and Corsica also failed to awaken the Carthaginians. In the 430s, various Greek and Sicel cities wanted to overthrow Syracuse’s hegemony, to which end they sought Carthaginian aid. But still, Carthage did not budge.

There were military reasons for this isolation. Carthage may have been the queen of the sea. But the defeat at Himera demonstrated that Carthage’s mercenaries were no match for Greece’s heavily armed cavalry and their formidable infantry, the hoplites. Out of all the Greeks, it was the Spartans, i.e., the Greeks of Doric stock, the same as that of the Syracusans, that shone the most brightly. The Battle of Platea that the Greeks fought against the Persians, without which the ever-celebrated Battle of Salamis would have been in vain, had demonstrated this Doric strength. None of this would have been lost on the Carthaginians.

The most interesting effect of the war, however, was the development of the trope of the “Punic Menace.”

In 481 BC, Xerxes prepared to invade Greece. To stop Xerxes, the Greeks on the mainland needed to pool all their resources together. In the same year, they sent embassies all over the Mediterranean to seek allies. When they came to Gelon, he made no secret of his contempt for them. He spurned them just like they had done ten years earlier when he had sought their aid. He made them an offer he knew they would refuse. His message was that if they wanted his help, then they ought make him the supreme commander of the combined Greek forces. Needless to say, the mainlanders couldn’t stomach this.

His contempt for his mainland kin is also apparent from what he did during the Battle of Salamis. During the Battle, Gelon tasked one of his officers to load a boat with gold and take it to Salamis, where he was to witness the battle. If Xerxes won, then he was to offer the cash to him as a tribute. If Xerxes lost, he was to return to Syracuse.

The Greek encounters with the Persians at Salamis and Plataea ensconced in the Hellenistic psyche, perhaps for the first time, a sense of, well, Hellenism. The idea that the Greeks were a distinct nation, defined by their language, began to gain currency. Gelon missed out on this nation-defining moment by not participating in the war with the Persians. If he wanted himself to be taken seriously by the rest of Hellas, he was going to have to explain his absence at Salamis and Plataea. Thus, he began the “Punic Menace” propaganda.

He had monuments constructed at Delphi, the place where all Greeks went to seek premonition of how their wars were going to end, and at Olympia, the famous mountain that was the home of the Greek gods, to celebrate the victory at Himera. He commissioned poets to sing in his and Theron’s names. His family, the Deinomenid clan, continued this campaign even after his death. In all these efforts, Carthage is a monster; a barbarian city hell-bent on destroying Greece. Instead of now being a traitor to the cause, Gelon was hailed as a hero for protecting Western Hellas from Carthage, while the rest of Greece protected Eastern Hellas, which was under fire from the Achaemenid Persians. The result of all this was the recasting of these two civilizations as monsters in the Hellenistic imagination.

These efforts gave rise to the myth persistent in the sources that Carthage had allied herself with Persia. They were in league with each other for the sole purpose of destroying Greece. Since the Carthaginians were Phoenicians and the Phoenicians provided Xerxes with his navy, in the propagandists’ minds, the Carthaginians were officially in league with the Persians. This perception also gave rise to the myth that the Battle of Himera occurred on the same day as, in one account, the Battle of Thermopylae, where Leonidas fell, and in another account, the Battle of Salamis. Herodotus and Aristotle, sensing that this was a nasty, stinky pile of dung, claim that while the coincidence of the battles is true, this coincidence is exactly that: a coincidence. However, while there is no evidence for an official alliance between Persia and Carthage, it is possible that the Tyrian sailors involved in the war may have leaked Persian intelligence on to Carthage. The Tyrians, knowing that there would be naval battles, wanted to make sure that Greek naval defenses be divided. Alternatively, as alluded to earlier, Hamilcar’s three-year wait before he sent his forces to Himera could have been due to an intelligence-gathering mission. Perhaps he was trying to align his attack with the Persian one. Who knows? Maybe Hamilcar did send an embassy to Persia.

In the long run, however, the propaganda was a dismal failure. For a time, the image of Carthage as a city of barbarians was held up in Greek literature, and the myth of the Persian-Punic alliance became quite pervasive. However, as I just mentioned, Herodotus and Aristotle gave no credence to that myth. Aristotle, in fact, actually had much good to say about Carthage, praising them for their political stability. Plato, too, found Carthage to be quite appealing, praising them for their various laws controlling alcohol consumption and inebriated behavior. On Sicily, also, there was little change. Religious activity continued undisrupted. Politically, Greek and local cities still sought political alliances with Carthage against other cities. For about a generation, trade between Athens & Carthage was ample, too. Most significantly, the Athenians, at one point, even sought Carthaginian assistance against Syracuse.

That this was propaganda is evident from another angle, too. We know that, in general, early Carthaginian history is quite spotty and remains so until about 410 BC. We also know that the Greeks and Carthaginians had engaged in several battles before the Battle of Himera, but details are lacking for all of these engagements. How is it, then, that we have quite a detailed account of this one battle? Not only that, we have, not one, but three different reports of Hamilcar’s death, while the ends of other Carthaginian leaders are hardly ever mentioned. I think that the details of this battle, no matter how unreliable, would have been lost had it not been for Gelon’s propaganda.

And so I’ll end with an inescapable corollary of that thought: How much of this set of accounts actually true?

Carthage locked herself out of Sicily for the next seventy years. What she did during this interregnum will be the subject of the upcoming two episodes. We will examine Carthage’s consolidation of the Western Mediterranean metals trade. We will also take a look at the empire that Carthage had begun building way back in the sixth century, and how that dovetailed with her control of the metals trade in the fifth.

If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please email me at ahsan.irfan@historytellerpodcast.com. You can visit the Historyteller blog at historytellerpodcast.com and can listen to the podcast on iTunes and Google Play. You can also find me on the usual social media site. I am on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linked In and Google Plus. You can find these links on the right-hand side of the historytellerpodcast.com website. If you liked this episode, please leave me a five-star review on iTunes. If you loved it, please help spread the word about it on your social media.

Alright, folks, that’s it for now!


  1. Warmington, B. H. Carthage. London: Roberta Hale & Company, 1969 (Buy from Amazon, also here & here)
  2. Miles, Richard. Carthage Must Be Destroyed. London: Penguin Books, 2010 (Buy from Amazon, Buy audiobook from Audible)
  3. Picard, Gilbert-Charles and Collette Picard. The Life and Death of Carthage. Translated by Dominique Collon. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1968 (Buy from Amazon, also here)
  4. Lancel, Serge. Carthage: A History. Translated by Antonia Nevill. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Limited, 1995 (Buy from Amazon)
  5. Hoyos, Dexter. The Carthaginians. Oxford: Routledge, 2010 (Buy from Amazon)

Episode 1.7 – Carthage & the Mediterranean

The Battle of Alalia
A Depiction of the Battle of Alalia

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In the last episode, we took a look at Carthage’s early kings. We examined the stories of the first four kings of the city. We used the four kings as anchors with which to ground our discussion on Carthage’s early politics.

Apart from the politics, the one other thing that we observe during this time is the fact that the Carthaginians were out and about, trying to conquer the world around them. They tried subduing Africa, controlling Sicily and taking over Sardinia. These attempts at conquest take us from 580 BC down to about the 540s & 530s BC.

In today’s episode, while we won’t hear about any conquests, we will take an in-depth look at some of Carthage’s other interactions, as they unfolded from the 540s BC onwards. We will begin our story today, in the Northern Mediterranean Sea, then hop on over to Italy, return to Africa, and finally, end our discussion in Sicily.

But before we embark, I’d like to apologize if today’s episode sounds like it’s all over the place. One of the biggest problems with early Carthaginian history is that it has too many holes. There is literally zero information on Carthage from her founding till about 580 BC. From 580 BC onwards till 410 BC, the narrative history is so severely punctuated that developing a coherent narrative is extremely. In this episode, I’ve tried to take the discussion from the 540s onwards, till about 508 BC. Multiple events take place during this time, but since they all seem disconnected from each other, they may seem all over the place. They are, however, connected, in the sense that all of them are Carthaginian interactions with the wider Mediterranean world. And that is why all of these events merited being discussed in the same episode. So, if the episode feels a little contrived, I seek your forgiveness in advance. The lack information during this period also means that this episode will be shorter than usual. And for that, too, I seek your forgiveness. This is the best arrangement that I could think of.

With that little apology out of the way, let’s begin.

Sometime in the decade between 540 and 530 BC, a combined Etruscan-Punic fleet of one hundred and twenty warships faced off against a Greek fleet of only sixty ships from the Greco-Corsican colony of Alalia. The battle, called the Battle of Alalia, was fought just off of the North Eastern coast of Corsica. Despite the numerical advantage, the Etruscan-Punic fleet lost the battle, losing half their fleet. However, as Herodotus puts it, the Greek victory was a Cadmean victory. What that implies is that, in winning the fight, the Greeks lost the very thing they were trying to protect: their ships. The Etruscan-Punic fleet lost sixty of their boats, while the Greeks suffered the loss of a full forty. If another battle were to happen, we know who would win.

Consequently, the Greeks abandoned Alalia and the Etruscans took Corsica for themselves. The Northern Mediterranean pinch point was clear, with the only significant Greek settlement in this region being Massalia, on the southern coast of France. For several decades after the Battle of Alalia, all the Massalians could do was extend their trading activities along this coast. They weakened considerably, such that no Greek could pass through onto Tartessos. The Carthaginians now permanently blocked that path. As I mentioned back in Episode 1.2, Tartessian silver was Tyre’s mainstay, and with the Assyrian hegemony making demands upon her, she could not let others in on the secret.

Let’s take a step back to take a more in-depth look at this event. The political climate in Anatolia in the late seventh and early sixth centuries caused the Greeks here to migrate to other lands. Pentathlos’s settlement of Sicily is but one example of this. The Phocaean settlement of Massalia is another, as I mentioned back in Episode 1.4. Recall that in 600 BC, due to some political threat Greeks from the Anatolian city of Phocaea migrated and settled at Massalia. In 560 BC, the Phocaeans migrated from Anatolia again, settling, this time, opposite Massalia on the island of Corsica at a colony they called Alalia. Sometime later, Cyrus’ invasion of Anatolia drove the rest of the Phocaeans out, who moved en masse to join their brethren at Alalia. Together, Greeks from the colonies of Massalia and Alalia and Pentathlos’s remnant crew from the Lipari Islands formed a nexus of piracy that preyed on Punic and Etruscan shipping.

This piracy threatened the North-South trading route, which was Carthage’s mainstay. Her very existence depended upon it. The same was true for the Etruscans, as well. The constant threat of this piracy catalyzed an alliance between the Carthaginians and the Etruscans. The Battle of Alalia was the result of their joint effort.

Though the Greeks won the battle, they lost more than half their fleet. The Greeks fought the Carthaginians and Etruscans to protect their “right” (in air quotes) to prey on their shipping. Since now they lost more than half their fleet, this victory gave the Greeks nothing but the loss of this piracy.

The battle also sent a strong message to the Liparian pirates who operated along the coast of Italy. They were irrelevant by now anyway because by this time the Etruscans had cut a deal with the central Italian Greek colony of Sybaris, who now became responsible for getting goods up to Campania without the Etruscans having to ship their wares up the Italian coast themselves.

The Etruscans turned out to be Carthage’s doorway to Rome. But before we get to that, let’s take a small diversion to discuss who the Etruscans were. The Greeks and the Romans believed that the Etruscans were emigres from Anatolia. During the Greek Archaic age, they developed city-states in the same manner as the Phoenicians and the Greeks. They interacted with both cultures, both negatively, as the Battle of Alalia demonstrates, and positively, mostly through trade. The Etruscans were addicted to all things Greek. They imported Greek artifacts and even had Greek artisans relocate to their cities. And as the agreement with Sybaris shows, they were open to mutually beneficial commercial exchanges. Most of the Etruscan city-states were inland, with only a few cities on the coasts, which meant that their prowess on the sea was far inferior to that of the Phoenicians and the Greeks. It was only on account of Greek piracy that they were forced to ally themselves militarily with Carthage and provide warships for the effort.

Carthage’s road to Rome began with the Battle of Alalia. After the battle, the Etruscans grew a bit bolder. They thought that they could expel all the Greeks from the area North of the Straits of Messina. To do that, however, they first needed to subjugate the Greek colonies in the Campania region of Italy. In 524 BC, an Etruscan army attacked the Greek colony of Cumae but was defeated. This defeat weakened Etruscan hold on their Southern provinces. Before this time, the nascent city of Rome was under Etruscan control. The weakening of Etruria, however, allowed the Romans to overthrow their Etruscan overlords. The historical record places this Roman revolution either in 509 or 508 BC. Though the Etruscans would reconquer Rome, they were eventually kicked out for good in 504 BC, with Cumaean help.

The weakening of the Etruscans and the rising power of Rome were the two catalysts that made Carthage shift their calculus in Rome’s favour. The Carthaginians were merchants. They were ready to do business with anyone who would grant them access to their markets. When Rome became independent for the first time in 509 or 508 BC, Carthage lost no time putting in place a treaty with her. For their part, the Romans realized that an agreement with a superpower like Carthage would open up multiple doors for them.

The terms agreed to were as follows: (1) Romans or their allies were not to sail beyond the Fair Promontory, which most historians identify as the Cap Bon peninsula. (2) If they were brought there due to bad weather, they were to depart within five days and were only allowed to acquire repair materials for their damaged ships. (3) In Libya and Sardinia, they were to conduct no sale except in the presence of a Punic magistrate. (4) The Romans were to be treated like all the rest if they came to Sicily. (5) The Carthaginians were not to harm any of Rome’s Latin subjects. (6) In Latium, even if a city was not subject to Rome, the Carthaginians couldn’t conquer it, and if they did, it was to be handed over to Rome. (7) The Carthaginians were to build no fort anywhere in Latium. (8) If they entered Latium in arms, they were not to stay beyond the night.

This treaty is an indication that the Etruscan-Punic alliance, assuming that it was a long-term one, had weakened by this point. There were several other indicators of this. The Etruscans fought the 524 BC Battle of Cumae without any Punic help. They also conducted their attacks on the Lipari Islands in the 5th century alone. No Etruscan is present at any of Carthage’s battles either. Finally, in the archaeological record, by the year 500 BC, there is a sudden drop in the number of Etruscan imports at Carthage. You could attribute the weakness of this alliance to Carthaginian realpolitik. Carthaginians abandoning their allies isn’t anomalous. But, to be fair, with Rome’s rise, even the Etruscan city-state of Caere decided to throw in their lot with independent Rome. Some scholars also suggest that since there is considerable confusion over when the Roman revolution took place, this treaty could potentially be just another treaty in Carthage’s Etruscan portfolio.  That is, if in 509 or 508 Rome was actually under Etruscan control, then this is just another example of an Etruscan-Punic alliance.

Whatever the facts regarding Carthage’s alliance with Rome, the King of Caere did seek an agreement with the Carthaginians, or at the very least, with the Phoenicians. In 1964, in the Italian city of Pyrgi, while excavating Caere, an ancient harbour town, the Italian Etruscologist, Pallotino discovered three folded leaves of gold in an alleyway between two temples. The context in which he found them he dated to 500 BC. One of the sheets was in the Phoenician language, while the other two were in Etruscan. Though the writing on the Phoenician tablet wasn’t an exact translation of the inscriptions on the Etruscan ones, it was a good paraphrase. They were in the name of Thefarie Veliunas, the king of Caere, who was dedicating a shrine to the Phoenician goddess Astarte. For the Etruscans, this was their goddess Uni. For the later Romans, this was the goddess, Juno.

Even though this inscription was just dedicating a temple to Astarte, the fact that Thefarie Veliunas chose to do it in both Phoenician and Etruscan, and the possibility that Caere was also home to a Phoenician colony, gives this dedication far more significance than the words seem to convey. Whether this “alliance” (in air quotes) was with the Phoenicians in general or with the Carthaginians, in particular, is an open question. I am inclined to think that it was with the Carthaginians. As we will explore in future episodes, by 500 BC, Carthage was master of all the Phoenician colonies in the Mediterranean. To ally with the Phoenicians at this point in history, meant allying with the Carthaginians. But we may never know for sure. Whether this was meant to be a lasting alliance or whether it was meant to be a one-time thing can’t be identified either. What we do know, however, is that there were significant links between Etruria and Carthage, since evidence of Phoenician presence at Pyrgi is ample, while evidence of Etruscan goods at Carthage and other Phoenician colonies is also quite significant, at least before 500 BC. In fact, just north of Pyrgi was another settlement that the Romans later referred to as Punicum. Was this a reference back to older times when the Phoenicians had made Italy their home?

Since archaeologists date the Pyrgi tablets to the early fifth century, it is possible that Caere was concerned about the weakening of her ties with Carthage. It is likely that this “weakening of ties” prompted Thefarie to dedicate a shrine to Astarte, hoping to curry Carthage’s favour once more. To what end, we can only guess.

It was in Italy that the Greek Heracles and the Phoenician Melqart became the Latin Hercules. This hero-god that bound the Phoenicians and the Greeks in a symbiotic relationship, also linked them with, first, the Etruscans, then the Romans.

The legend that the literature conveys to us is that after crossing the Alps into Italy, Hercules made his way down to the river Tiber. Here he pitched camp at a settlement called Pallanthium. At the dawn of the classical age, Pallanthium would become Rome. But at the moment, in the period when myths were a reality, Pallanthium was just a backwater village in central Italy. A local ogre named Cacus stole Hercules’ cattle. To hide their tracks, he dragged them by their tails. He hid them in his cave, just outside the village. When Hercules awoke and found a part of his cattle missing, he searched in vain. He only found them when he heard his missing cattle bellow while passing by Cacus’ cave. Upon discovery, Hercules beat Cacus to death and retrieved his cattle. He then ritually purified himself in the Tiber, erected an altar to Zeus and sacrificed a calf to him in thanks. When the locals found out that Hercules had killed Cacus, they rejoiced, since Cacus had been terrorizing the settlement for years before Hercules arrived. The joint kings of Pallanthium, Evander, and Faunus invited Hercules to dine with them. Upon conversing with him and hearing his story, Evander realized that this man, Hercules, had been prophesied to come to Pallanthium and deliver them from Cacus. So, as a votive offering to Hercules himself, Evander erected an altar to him and sacrificed a calf upon it. Thus, Hercules, in addition to being a Greek and a Phoenician hero-god, became part of the Etruscan pantheon, too. After that, Hercules the god decreed that Pallanthium must now sacrifice a calf upon the altar every year according to Greek rites. For that purpose, he chose two distinguished Pallanthium families, the Potitii and the Pinarii, to whom he taught the rituals. At least this is how Dionysius of Halicarnassus connects Rome with Hercules.

In an earlier version of the story, the hero was a local shepherd of Greek origin named Recaranus. Cacus was not an ogre, but one of Evander’s slaves, who also happened to be a divine seer. Cacus used to steal cattle, but Recaranus unmasked him. In an even earlier version of the story, there is no hero. Evander, the king of Pallanthium, himself exposes Cacus as the cattle thief. The variations in the tellings of this legend suggest the influence of foreign cultures. The base legend was that of Evander unmasking Cacus, indicating that the source of the myth may be Etruscan. The next tale introduced the Greek figure Recaranus, suggesting a Greek influence. Dionysius’ telling, however, adds the cult of Heracles. The question is, was the cult of Melqart also involved?

The altar to Hercules at Pallanthium became the Ara Maxima, or “the great altar,” located in what later became known as the Forum Boarium, ancient Rome’s cattle market. Central Italy is home to many such temples situated in many famous places and on many vital trading routes. We can find these temples throughout ancient Etruscan territories, as well as a bit further south where the original Latin areas lay. The alleged arrival of Hercules and his alleged insistence upon the performance of Greek sacrificial rites explicitly suggests a robust Hellenistic influence, first, upon the Etruscans, and then, upon the Latins. The carriers of this influence were Greek merchants. The temple at the Forum Boarium, dated to the sixth century, itself also seems to confirm this view. The life-sized statue of Hercules here is in the archaic Greek style, and the temple is also home to some archaic Greek pottery.

The historian Richard Miles, however, has an alternative view. He claims that this statue of Hercules, despite its apparent Greek style, also exhibits certain stylistic similarities to the statuettes of Melqart found on the Cypriot Phoenician colony of Kition. Then, there are the religious parallels between the cult of Hercules at Rome and the worship of Melqart at Gades and other cities, for example, the banning of flies and dogs from the temple, the exclusion of women from its celebrations and the choice of the autumn equinox as the time for these holidays. There is also the question of “sacred” prostitution, symbolizing the union of Melqart with Astarte, which was a common source of income for Phoenician temples. At Pyrgi, Astarte was the principal goddess, and Miles suggests that some portions of the Pyrgi temple were reserved for this “sacred” prostitution. Can this somehow be linked to another shrine in the Forum Boarium, the one dedicated to the famous Roman prostitute, Acca Laurentia? The parallels between Phoenician and Roman religions are indeed substantial. Somehow, Phoenician influence found its way to Pallanthium. It is not hard to imagine Phoenician culture jumping from the Phoenician colonies on Italy on to the Etruscans, with the Etruscans, then, passing it along to the Romans.

The syncretism between Heracles and Melqart wasn’t just limited to Sicily and Italy. It also found a home in Africa. Heracles had wrestled and defeated the giant Antaeus on her shores. This part of the Heraclean myth possibly became the basis of two Greek settlements here, the first of which, Cyrene, we’ve already discussed briefly back in Episode 1.4.

Being close to Carthage, a conflict between her and Cyrene was all but inevitable. But the two sides managed to prevent it, nonetheless. The literature records that, to avert border disputes, the Carthaginians and the Cyrenaens decided that two men from each side would start running from their respective cities. The point where they would find each other would be declared their shared border. However, when the runners met, a dispute arose among them. The Cyreneans claimed that the Carthaginians had cheated since they had covered more distance than the Cyreneans. But the Carthaginians stood their ground. In return for demarcating the border at this spot, the Cyreneans demanded that the Carthaginian runners be buried alive at this place. To this, the Carthaginian runners agreed. Thus, the two Punic runners were buried alive at that spot. Carthage erected two altars in their memory, which also became a marker of the border between Carthage and Cyrene. Since the Carthaginian runners were brothers from a family named Philae, the spot became known as the Arae Philaenorum, which is Latin for “the Altars of the Philae.”

The myth of Antaeus was probably the basis of another attempt at settling Africa. A few years before Carthage signed the 509 treaty with Rome, an alleged son of Heracles, the instigator of this new settlement, was trying to make his mark.

The Spartan King Anaxandrias II was childless. The Ephors, the Spartan equivalent of Rome’s senators, tried to convince him to divorce his wife and marry someone else. This Anaxandrias refused to do. So the Ephors decided that they’d allow Anaxandrias to take a second wife. This Anaxandrias did. His second wife gave birth to a boy they named Cleomenes. Shortly after the birth of Cleomenes, however, his first wife also gave birth to a boy, whom they called Dorieus. Soon after that, his first wife gave birth to another boy, the famous Leonidas, the King of Sparta during the Persian invasion, the one who valiantly fell at Thermopylae, in 480 BC. Having three sons meant that they would hotly contest Anaxandrias’ succession.

And that was indeed the case. Though Cleomenes was the successor, according to Spartan law, Dorieus wanted the top job for himself. Some accounts mention that Cleomenes was not mentally suitable for the job. I speculate that these reports were the result of Dorieus’ propaganda against Cleomenes. Regardless, in whatever manner Dorieus tried to acquire the kingship for himself, he was unsuccessful. The literature does not describe how, but it reports that after Anaxandrias’ death, Cleomenes became the King of Sparta. Wanting to heal his wounded pride, Dorieus requested the Ephors to grant him some colonists so that he could found a settlement of his own and make his mark on his terms. The Ephors acquiesced to his request. The Spartans had a law that forbade their citizenry from ever leaving Sparta. The only exceptions to this rule were going to war or leaving to conduct diplomacy. If someone wanted an exception for any other reason, he had to apply to the Ephors. The fact that the Ephors exempted Dorieus means that they thought it best to let the upstart leave and cause no further trouble. Therefore, in 514 BC, Dorieus, along with a band of men, sailed to the coast of modern-day Libya and with some support from Cyrene founded a settlement in the valley of the river Cinyps.

This colony was right in Carthage’s backyard. In fact, it was on bona fide Carthaginian territory, since it was towards the west of the Arae Philaenorum.

Before making any moves, however, the Carthaginians waited for an opportune moment. The settlers at Cinyps couldn’t contain themselves and picked fights with the local tribes, who just happened to be subjects or allies of Carthage. Thus, when the tribes sought Carthage’s help against them, Carthage didn’t hesitate to act. After three years, the Carthaginians kicked Dorieus and his colonists out of Africa.

When he returned to Sparta, he met a man who claimed that he had received an oracle stating that Dorieus should now try to colonize Sicily. Dorieus, being the son of a King of Sparta, was thus a descendant of Heracles. Heracles, the oracle claimed, had been in Sicily, and had left his descendants a piece of land there. This claim, as you may recall, was in accordance with the story of Heracles’ errant bull, and his subsequent defeat of Eryx, from Episode 1.4.

Herodotus records two different versions of what happened to Dorieus after this. The first is that while on his way to Sicily, he was killed in an attempt to intervene between two Greek colonies in Italy. After that, his men went to Sicily and founded the city of Heraclea, near the Elymian town of Eryx. The second is that he accompanied his men to Sicily, and founded Heraclea with them.

Richard Miles suggests that the Greek story of Eryx vs. Heracles may have been a Greek adaptation of a Phoenician myth, now lost. He bases his theory on the fact that the Elymians were the first ones to use the hill of Eryx as a religious centre. Subsequently, the Phoenicians acquired it, who used the site as a temple to Astarte and Melqart. So, the story of Eryx’s defeat by Hercules may have been the adaptation of a Phoenician myth that the Phoenicians must have used to explain how they acquired the hill from the Elymians. Thus, when Dorieus and his party arrived at Eryx, they might have tried to “reclaim” (in air quotes) Eryx as a Greek possession based on local myths about Melqart.

Be that as it may, he was too close to the Punic side of Sicily for comfort. Carthage, as always, looked for an opportunity before jumping the gun. Greeks from the city of Gela had a long-standing land dispute with the citizens of Eryx. When both next went to war, Dorieus and the Heracleans decided to give their Doric brethren a hand. The Carthaginians saw their chance and intervened, too. In the battle between the Carthaginians and the Heracleans that followed, Dorieus and his top brass were killed, while the rest either left Sicily or decided to settle at Gela. That was in 509 BC, around the same time as the when the treaty between Rome and Carthage was concluded.

With this last incident, we can now close out our narrative discussion of the 6th century. We will return to the 6th century a little while from now when we discuss Carthage’s empire.

In the next episode, we will enter the 5th century with a bang. One of the officers from Gela who fought in Dorieus’ army, would rise to power. With Gela under his command, he would seek to control all of Sicily. And that would pit him against the Carthaginians. In the next episode, we will examine one of the most detailed descriptions of any Carthaginian battle from this period, the political circumstances that caused the conflict and its ramifications upon Carthage. Join me next time as I delve into what become known in antiquity as “The Battle of Himera.”

If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please email me at ahsan.irfan@historytellerpodcast.com. You can visit the Historyteller blog at historytellerpodcast.com and can listen to the podcast on iTunes and Google Play. You can also find me on the usual social media websites. I am on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linked In and Google Plus. You can find these links on the right-hand side of the historytellerpodcast.com website. If you liked this episode, please leave me a five-star review on iTunes. If you loved it, please help spread the word about it on your social media.

Thank you so much for listening.


  1. Warmington, B. H. Carthage. London: Roberta Hale & Company, 1969 (Buy from Amazon, also here & here)
  2. Picard, Gilbert-Charles and Collette Picard. The Life and Death of Carthage. Translated by Dominique Collon. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1968 (Buy from Amazon, also here)
  3. Lancel, Serge. Carthage: A History. Translated by Antonia Nevill. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Limited, 1995 (Buy from Amazon)

Episode 1.6 – The Early Kings


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In the last episode, we examined the three Carthaginian founding myths that the Greco-Roman literature describes. We looked at the legend of Elissa and examined her misfortunes and contrivances in detail. We saw how she escaped the clutches of her brother and, after a short stay in Cyprus, landed at Utica and founded the city of Carthage nearby. She extracted more land from Hiarbas than she bargained for, and on this land, she established her town. Hiarbas threatened war until she married him, and her advisors deceitfully coaxed her into accepting. In the end, though, she committed suicide, to escape her fate.

In this tale, we already see the remnants of a political system. Elissa is the Queen of Carthage. But though she is Queen, it is apparent that her advisors have some say, too. Also, Elissa’s self-sacrifice indicates that she may have held some sort of a priestly role. In today’s episode, we will elaborate further on this theme. Specifically, we will examine this topic by looking at the lives of four early kings of Carthage: Malchus, Mago, Hasdrubal, and Hamilcar. Typically, when you read about a king or an emperor, you are treated to pages upon pages of his exploits, and his justice and his courage and what have you. The problem with Carthaginian history, though, is that there is such little information, that a full discussion on the lives of any of these guys is going to be damn near impossible. So, in this episode, I will take a look at the few scattered references to these early kings of Carthage. I will dissect their stories and analyze each element as thoroughly as I can to provide as complete a look as possible on them. In the end, we’ll tie the stories of these kings together to develop as full a picture as possible of the early Carthaginian political system.

Ready to get dirty? So am I.

Let’s begin with the story of Malchus. Malchus is the first Carthaginian monarch that the literature mentions after Elissa. Just like in the last episode, I will first relate to you his complete story, and then we’ll delve into its analysis.

Sometime in the early sixth century, Malchus “achieved great exploits in Africa.” After his African adventures, he made war in Sicily, “subduing all of it.” With success in Sicily, he then arrived in Sardinia. Here, Malchus ran out of luck, and he lost the war against the Nuragic people. Learning of his defeat in Sardinia, the Carthaginian government tried Malchus in absentia and sentenced him to exile on the island. After receiving word that his Senate didn’t want him to return to Carthage, Malchus did what any general angry at his people would do. He sent a messenger back to Carthage who conveyed the message that if Malchus weren’t officially pardoned, he would return and lay siege to the city. After the Carthaginians obstinately refused, he did precisely that.

At the end of the Sicilian expedition, the Carthaginians had sent a tenth of their booty back to Tyre, as a votive offering to Melqart at his temple. A priest named Carthalon headed the convoy that carried the goods to Tyre. Carthalon was on his way back to Carthage when Malchus had laid siege to the city. Carthalon also happened to be Malchus’ son. So when Carthalon reached Carthage’s walls, he found his father in less than dignified circumstances. Malchus implored his son to stay with him and join the siege. Carthalon replied, however, that at the moment he was acting as the city’s priest. He said that he would go back to Carthage, discharge his priestly duties and would then return as a son to his father.

But something must have happened while he was in the city because when he came back, he still wore his purple priestly robes. Not only that, he was accompanied by the full pomp and ceremony that was owed to the member of the clergy. In other words, Carthalon didn’t return as his father’s son. Malchus was quite indignant at his son’s behavior, so he did what any father would do to punish his disobedient child. He nailed him to a cross in full priestly regalia and raised it for the Carthaginians to behold from behind the city’s walls. Fun. Malchus and his men then stormed Carthage and took it. After the battle, he assembled the leading men of the town and explained his actions to them. He pardoned everyone except the nobles who he deemed to be the most vociferous in their hostility towards him. A short while later, however, they reconvened their assembly to try him again. This time they condemned him to death.

Let’s go back and analyze each element of the story step by step.

Malchus achieved “great exploits” in Africa. What these “great exploits” were, the literature does not tell us. From other accounts, we know that Carthage was paying “rent” to the natives for the use of their land. Some historians suggest that Malchus’ “great exploits” is a reference to a successful attempt to evade this tribute. Carthage may have opted to stop paying the tribute. In response, the natives might have sought to force the Carthaginians to pay by waging war upon them. Malchus was then called in to fight them and defeating them was his great exploit. The Carthaginians weren’t entirely successful in evading the tribute, though.  Something must have happened after Malchus’ success because the literature mentions that the rent wasn’t completely thrown off until about the year 480 BC. We will get to this in a future episode.

Then Malchus “subdued all of Sicily.” Again, the literature is scant on details. Previously, I’ve mentioned that there is no archaeological evidence that the Phoenicians had taken over Sicily at any point. The primary evidence for Phoenician settlement on Sicily is in the West of the island. There is some evidence of direct contact with the Greeks in the East, but that, by no means implies that the entire island came under Carthaginian control.

If historians date the events associated with Malchus correctly (that is, to somewhere in the vicinity of 580 BC), then it’s possible that it was Malchus that fought Pentathlos upon his intervention in the war between Selinus and Segesta, an event I mentioned back in episode 1.3. Was Malchus involved in that conflict? It’s possible. As I said then, Carthage was afraid that losing Motya and Panormus, cities under her care, would amount to losing the profits from her trade with the Etruscans. Add to that the fact that after this war, Selinus patched up their differences with Segesta, and allied themselves with Carthage. It’s not hard to imagine Selinus patching up her differences with Segesta after Pentathlos’ defeat. But did her alliance with Carthage also materialize because of that? Also, archaeologically, we know that sometime before 575 BC, the Phoenicians built a strong defensive wall around Motya. They also added a causeway to connect Motya to mainland Sicily, most likely for the movement of troops. The four facts, the timing of Malchus’ Sicilian expedition, the strong reasons for Carthaginian intervention, Selinus’ alliance with Carthage and the militarization of Motya, make a solid, though speculative, case that it was Malchus who intervened against Pentathlos. But, as I had mentioned back in Episode 1.3, even with such strong indications, the possibility of Carthaginian intervention against Pentathlos is, at best, speculative.

After Sicily, Malchus lost a war in Sardinia. There is archaeological evidence for this. Remains of the Phoenician fort at Monte Sirai show that she sustained some damage at around this time. But the setback was temporary. This fort shows further signs of having being repaired and strengthened. And, as we’ll see a little later in this episode, the Carthaginians will eventually be victorious in subduing Sardinia.

After his defeat in Sardinia, the Carthaginian Senate exiled him. This exile does not make sense. If Malchus was successful in subduing two of his enemies, and failed with one, in what world is that cause for trial and conviction? On what charge? As the story of Carthage proceeds, we’ll see more of this. Every time Carthage lost a war, the Carthaginian government took harsh punitive measures against their losing generals. One may think that the chroniclers are just making this up. But this “trope” has been reported in so many different chronicles and at so many different times, that there may be some truth to it.

Malchus’ resentment at having been exiled is understandable. So is his desire to be pardoned and so is the siege. Carthalon’s actions, however, are a little difficult to explain. Some historians believe that the Carthaginian government had convinced him to act as their ambassador, hoping that, as a son, Carthalon would be able to persuade Malchus to lay down his arms. But if it was just a matter of laying down his arms, then all the Carthaginians needed to do was to pardon him and the siege would end. I further speculate that not only did they want Malchus to lay down his arms, but they also wanted him dead. Carthalon would convince him to lay down his arms and enter the city. Malchus would then be arrested and executed.

When Carthalon returned, he was probably unaware of his father’s anger. Because of this lack of awareness, he made the mistake of not joining his father in the siege. Further, he became an ambassador for the very council that condemned his father to exile. When Malchus crucified Carthalon, he did so with Carthalon’s priestly garb still on him and in full view of the city. He was sending the message that he didn’t care about filial ties or religion. He only wanted to be pardoned.

If this account is accurate, then it gives us a glimpse into the inner workings of the early Carthaginian government. The fact of Malchus’ trial in absentia points to the possibility that he was an “appointed king.” He had been appointed to fight in Africa by a council. His success there enabled him to acquire the generalship for Sicily and Sardinia. His son, being a priest of the cult of Melqart, represented the consolidation of power over Carthage into the hands of Malchus’ family. At least, this is how his enemies on the council perceived it. As a consequence, they were on the lookout for a chance to oust Malchus from power. His defeat in Sardinia gave them just that. Had Carthalon been at Carthage at the time, he might have been able to prevent this. But he was not. He had left Tyre to accompany the tribute, and his absence allowed his father’s enemies to act. They tried him in absentia and sentenced him to exile. So Malchus’ laid his siege.

Some historians consider the story of Malchus to be a myth. There are several reasons for this. Let’s examine each in turn. As we go along, I will also provide counter-points, because I do not think that this story is a myth.

The first is the context in which Justin, the summarizer of the historian Pompeius Trogus, relates this story, which is that of child sacrifice. The argument is that if Justin mentions Malchus’ story as part of his discussion on child sacrifice, then he must be sourcing a text on Carthaginian funerary practices. Since funerary texts can only talk about myths, Malchus’ story in Justin is a myth. One doesn’t need to be a logician to see the flaws in this argument. Just because the story may come from a “book of the dead” doesn’t mean that it is merely a myth. And just because the context is child sacrifice doesn’t imply he’s quoting a book on funerary practices. Also, Carthaginian child sacrifice included pyres and burning, not crosses and crucifixion. The Elissa story has more right to be an explanatory myth than this tale.

The second reason that some scholars consider Malchus’s story to be a myth is that it is reminiscent of the age-old conflict between secular power and religious authority. That is to say, between the palace and the temple. This schism is something that I’ve touched upon briefly in Episode 1.2, in the context of Hiram’s religious reforms at Tyre. These scholars see the conflict between Malchus and his son as a symbol representing this conflict. What they don’t mention, though, is why the chroniclers chose to represent the relationship between palace and temple through the motif of a father and his disobedient son. A priest discharging his religious duties before showing deference to royalty is not historically anomalous. And neither is a king killing his son.

The third reason that some scholars consider Malchus’s story to be a myth is that they understand Malchus’ name as being derived from the Semitic root, M-L-K. M-L-K has a variety of different meanings in Semitic languages, one of which is “king.” The reasoning is that if this guy’s name in the story is “king” then he must be an archetype of some sort that represents Carthaginian kingship in general, and therefore, not real. This line of reasoning, however, is based on a faulty premise. And that assumption is that his name is Malchus. In none of the extant manuscripts that relate this story is this guy’s name “Malchus.” He is variously referred to as Mazeus, Maceus or Maleus. In the 17th century, an editor of these texts, Vossius, thought that all three of these names were bastardized forms of the Semitic root, M-L-K. So, Vossius Latinized this Semitic root and renamed him to Malchus. Needless to say, since the actual name of this king isn’t Malchus, the theory that he is an archetype that represents Carthaginian kingship falls flat on its face. Though Malchus’ tale may be unreliable, it is not a myth. It is definitely a historical tale.

The Carthaginian Territories

After Malchus’ death, a man named Mago took over the reins of leadership at Carthage. Justin relates that Mago reformed the Carthaginian army, and he also mentions that Mago “extended the Carthaginian domains.” And that’s all there is to know about Mago. At least, that’s all that Justin says anyway. But this small snippet does raise some interesting questions to ponder over. So let’s ponder over them now.

First, how did Mago come to power? Though the literature does not tell us, it is unlikely that he did so through a military coup. Malchus had just been executed for laying siege to Carthage and storming her. With these events having just passed, it is inconceivable that Mago would dare to acquire power in the same manner that got Malchus executed. So, he is likely to have acquired power through legal means. In other words, he somehow got the Carthaginian council to elect him.

Second, was Mago a Malchus supporter, or was he one of his enemies? It is possible that Mago belonged to the opposing camp. After all, would the Carthaginian council allow a Malchus supporter to take power after just having him executed? But in that case, why didn’t Malchus have Mago killed when he seized control of Carthage? The answer is that he may not have earned Malchus’ ire. Remember that Malchus’ only had the most vocal of his opponents executed. He forgave everyone else. Alternatively, Mago may have been entirely neutral, and it was his neutrality that lent him enough credibility with both camps to be able to take the reins himself.

Third, what are these military reforms that Mago instituted? Some historians suspect that this means that he introduced the use of mercenaries. On the surface, this makes some sense. Carthage didn’t have enough people to provide for a citizen levy. Who would man the workshops while the citizenry was away fighting? The empire abroad, which we will get to in future episodes, had to be defended, though, making the use of mercenaries necessary. But, if they didn’t use mercenaries before this, then Malchus fought his wars with a citizen army. If that’s the case, then where were these citizens when the council tried Malchus for the second time? Why didn’t they rally to his support? The fact that none of the soldiers rallied to Malchus’s support indicates that his army was a mercenary one, which was paid and disbanded after the success of his coup. So, whatever Mago did, he didn’t introduce the use of mercenaries.

Other historians suggest that while Carthage used mercenaries before this, Mago made use of them exclusively. In other words, he permanently disbanded any existent citizen regiments. At least one scholar has also suggested that Mago’s key reform was to bring the conduct of the armies and generals under tighter civilian control. Malchus’ successful coup certainly gave Mago reason to do this. What form this stricter control might have taken is anybody’s guess.

And finally, what does Justin mean when he says that Mago “extended the Carthaginian domains.” Again, he gives us no details. Did that mean a further expansion in Africa? Did that mean campaigns on any of the Mediterranean islands? Did that mean Spain? Without any reference to Mago, other sources like to point out that in addition to Africa, Sicily and Sardinia, the Carthaginians had also brought Spain and the kingdom of Tartessos under their control. Perhaps this is what Justin meant? We cannot be sure.

After Mago died, his son Hasdrubal came to power. Hasdrubal and his brother, Hamilcar, fought, unsuccessfully, in Libya to “shake off the tribute owed to the Libyans.” They, then, went to Sardinia. Here, Hasdrubal died of wounds he sustained in battle. His mantle passed on to Hamilcar, who successfully concluded the war. As before, let’s analyze each element of this story.

Hasdrubal and Hamilcar first fought in Africa. If Malchus had been successful previously, then the native Libyans had reimposed their tribute by the time Hasdrubal assumed the reigns of power. Consequently, the first order of business for Hasdrubal was to get rid of its yoke again. This time, however, the Carthaginians were unsuccessful.

Then, the brothers made it to Sardinia. Though Hasdrubal died trying, the brothers succeeded in their endeavors here. Their success does not mean that they subdued the whole island. Neither the Phoenicians nor the Carthaginians made it beyond the coasts. Most of the native Nuraghes escaped to the more mountainous interior of the island, where the Carthaginians couldn’t reach them.

After Hasdrubal’s death, Hamilcar was in charge. There is some confusion in the sources about who Hamilcar is. Justin claims that Hamilcar was Mago’s son. Herodotus, however, insists that Hamilcar was the son of someone named Hanno, while at the same time seems to know nothing of Mago or Hasdrubal. The historian Gilbert-Charles Picard surmises that Hanno may have been Hasdrubal’s brother and the chroniclers got Hanno and Hamilcar mixed up. Dexter Hoyos, however, suggests that Herodotus just made an error. Regardless, we cannot know for sure.

With the consolidation of power into the hands of Mago’s descendants, the Magnoid Dynasty had officially begun. There is a consensus among historians that from this period, in the middle of the 6th century, right down to the beginning of the 4th, the descendants of Mago held the reins of the Carthaginian government. And I think that this is as good a point as any, to begin a discussion on Carthaginian kingship and Carthage’s early politics.

To do so, let’s go back to Tyre for a minute. Kings ruled Tyre. And an advisory council, comprising of the patriarchs of leading merchant families in the city, supported the kings. Despite the existence of an advisory committee, ultimate authority resided with the king. By the time we get to Carthage, however, the situation has changed significantly. During Elissa’s reign, her council seems to have some sway over the queen. But by Malchus’s day, the council seems to have held ultimate authority. This power was considerable enough that the council could try a general in absentia and sentence him to exile. At some point between Hiram and Malchus, somehow, this advisory council went from merely providing advice, to sentencing a general to exile and death. That’s quite an upward shift in power.

What was Malchus’, Mago’s, Hasdrubal’s or Hamilcar’s actual role? Were they elected kings? Or were they merely elected generals? Justin refers to Malchus as a dux, Mago as an Imperator and Hasdrubal as a dictator. Herodotus calls Hamilcar as a basileus. Herodotus curiously adds that Hamilcar became a basileus “by virtue of his valor.” Diodorus claims that the Magonid kings became kings “by virtue of the laws,” implying that there was some legal procedure that allowed someone to climb to the top. Hasdrubal was said to have been elected to the dictatorship eleven times, again implying a legal procedure but also implying that the position, regardless of its constitution, was temporary. The use of the term “Imperator” which, if taken in its full Roman context, implies the same thing.

To summarize: At this early stage in Carthaginian history, the center of Carthaginian politics was the council. This council possessed extensive powers. The executive authority, the king, the Imperator, the dux, the diktator, the basileus; the Senate elected him for a short period, and his primary concern was the field of battle.

In this context, then, what does it mean for Mago and his descendants to have consolidated their hold on Carthaginian politics? A curious statement from Justin claims that Mago’s sons and their sons “together ran the affairs of Carthage.” This sentence seems to indicate that the Magonids were in complete control of the government, despite the division of authority between the legislative body and the executive. How was this possible? We know that there was no shortage of actual descendants. Mago had his sons, who in turn had their sons, who in turn had theirs. These are the direct descendants who acquired the top job. There may have been other relatives, relatives of their wives, husbands of their daughters and their kin and, off course, general supporters of their faction. The kings may have shared power among all these elements by parceling out generalships, judgeships, priesthoods, and other principal offices. They did this for decades upon decades while being able to placate the other factions. And this full hold on power allowed them to influence the legal procedures that allowed them to acquire the top job.

Some historians have suggested that the reason the Carthaginians chose their kings from the Magnoid family was that they perceived them to be possessors of supernatural qualities. There is some evidence to suggest that this may be the case. There are many battles in subsequent Carthaginian history in which the kings, instead of directing their troops, are seen to be leading ritual sacrifices to curry favor with the gods. Some even ritually sacrificed themselves. Even Elissa seems to serve this role when performing her sacrificial self-immolation. These incidents indicate a religious/priestly role for the kings. On its own, however, this doesn’t prove that the Magonid family itself was considered sacred. The rituals performed on the battlefield could have been part of the role itself as opposed to any indication of a supposed supernatural status of the family. Also, if this family was meant to be the go-to family from which to elect Carthage’s kings, then Malchus ought to have been from this family. The literature does not even hint at a filial relationship between Malchus and Mago. Moreover, if Malchus and Mago were relatives, would Mago have been elected as king so soon after Malchus’ execution? I highly doubt it.

One final question: During the Punic wars, the record for which is far less muddy than it is for this period, ultimate authority at Carthage lay in the hands of two men, referred to as the suffets. This role is similar to that of the Roman consuls. The question is: Were the kings of 6th and 5th century Carthage the same as the suffets of the later 3rd and 2nd centuries?

Though the answer to this question is by no means settled, I’m inclined to think that they are not the same. Though, we’ll delve into this issue in detail later, here’s my preliminary answer as to why the roles are not the same.

(1) The early kings were primarily military leaders established in authority via a legal procedure. The suffets, on the other hand, were mostly civilian leaders, also invested with power via legal process, but had no sway in the field of battle whatsoever.

(2) In the fourth century, there was a significant revolution in Carthaginian politics which brought about some noticeable changes. We’ll discuss this revolution in detail when we get to it. The only thing I can say at the moment, however, is that it does not seem appropriate to me to back-project post-revolutionary Carthaginian politics on to her pre-revolutionary days, just so that we can fill the gaps.

(3) The kings always appear one at a time, while the suffets are always two.

Malchus and the early Magonids were war leaders. Collectively, over a period of about sixty-six years, that is, between 580 and 514 BC, they fought wars in Africa, Sicily, and Sardinia. It is here that we see the beginning of a Carthaginian Empire. It won’t be long, however, before they feel the first big shock to their existence. Before we get there, though, we still need to see how Carthage interacted with the wider Mediterranean world.

In the next episode, in much the same way as we did for the Phoenicians, we will examine Carthage’s relationship with other folks around the Mediterranean. In particular, we will take a look at Carthage’s dealings with the Etruscan world and how that opened the door for her dealings with the city of Rome. We’ll also examine one curious episode in which an upstart from Sparta decides to take on the Carthaginians.

If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please email me at ahsan.irfan@historytellerpodcast.com. You can visit the Historyteller blog at historytellerpodcast.com and can listen to the podcast on iTunes and Google Play. You can also find me on the usual social media site. I am on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linked In and Google Plus. You can find these links on the right-hand side of the historytellerpodcast.com website. If you liked this episode, please leave me a five-star review on iTunes. If you loved it, please help spread the word about it on your social media.

Alright, folks, that’s it for now!


  1. Warmington, B. H. Carthage. London: Roberta Hale & Company, 1969 (Buy from Amazon, also here & here)
  2. Picard, Gilbert-Charles and Collette Picard. The Life and Death of Carthage. Translated by Dominique Collon. New York: Taplinger Publishing Company, 1968 (Buy from Amazon, also here)
  3. Lancel, Serge. Carthage: A History. Translated by Antonia Nevill. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Limited, 1995 (Buy from Amazon)
  4. Hoyos, Dexter. The Carthaginians. Oxford: Routledge, 2010 (Buy from Amazon)