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.
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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.
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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.
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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- Warmington, B. H. Carthage. London: Roberta Hale & Company, 1969 (Buy from Amazon, also here & here)
- Miles, Richard. Carthage Must Be Destroyed. London: Penguin Books, 2010 (Buy from Amazon, Buy audiobook from Audible)
- 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)