In the 5th century BC, Carthage decided to embark on great explorations. At least two expeditions will strongly mark Punic history. The first, the best known, will be that of an admiral called Hannon who will explore the west coast of Africa. The second, that of a man named Himilcon, who will go to the British Isles.


The earliest reference to Himilcon’s voyage is a brief mention in Pliny the Elder’s “Natural History”. It is believed that this journey took place around 450 BC. approximately. The Carthaginian captain and his crew, leaving Cadiz, would have arrived in the country known as the Oestrymnides, whose islands are “rich in tin and lead”. From the anecdotes of Avienus concerning the voyage, it seems that the ships of the expedition were totally unsuitable for this journey. Indeed, the frail skiffs on which had embarked Himilcon and his crew were devoid of keels, summarily rigged and incapable of sailing at night. After a trip strewn with pitfalls, Himilcon had to face banks of seaweed, thick fogs, shoals and shallows, and as many sea monsters personifying his difficulties of navigation, Himilcon succeeded in reaching the British Isles. Its journey is believed to have taken up a route previously used by sailors from Tartessos, heading north up the coast of the Iberian Peninsula to make way for the Cassiterid Islands, also known as the “Tin Islands”. It is probably right to see in the result of the Periplus of Himilcon, the advantage of freeing Carthage of access to the “Tin Route”, thus creating a commercial link to Gadès for the trade in lead and lead. ‘tin.

 

HANNON’S JOURNEY

Hannon, known as “the navigator”, is an explorer known mainly for his naval exploration of the west coast of Africa. The only source of his journey is a Greek journey. However, a doubt remains as to its destination. According to some historians it would have been as far south as Gabon, while for others it would have been no further than the south of present-day Morocco. Around 500 BC. J.-C., Hanno is charged by Carthage to cross the “Pillars of Hercules” with a fleet of sixty ships of fifty rowers each and thirty thousand people on board. He must disembark at each stage to found colonies there or populate already existing counters and, once reached the last counter, continue on his way for an exploration expedition. His journey was transcribed on a stele deposited in the temple of Ba’al-Hammon in Carthage. The Punic original has not been found, but there is a Greek version called Narrative of the Carthaginian King Hanno’s Journey Around the Lands Beyond the Pillars of Hercules. It is engraved on plaques suspended in the temple of Kronos. According to this account, Hanno’s journey took place in five distinct stages. The first, from Cadiz to Thymatérion at the mouth of the Oued Sebou, near Kenitra. The second, from Thymaterion to Lixus. Then, from Lixus to the island of Cerné. Then from Cerné to the Senegal River delta, with a return to Cerné. The last stage took place from Cerné to the bottom of the Gulf of Guinea, on the shores of present-day Cameroon. During the various stages, Hanno founded counters and colonies on behalf of Carthage.

 

THE WRITINGS RESULTING FROM THE JOURNEYS OF HANNON AND HIMILCON

There are very few works found referring to the journey of Himilcon. The earliest is a brief mention in the Natural History of Pliny the Elder, a Roman writer. The other source, concerning Himilcon is the testimony of Avienus, a Latin poet, who wrote an account on geography in the 4th century entitled Ora maritima. The Periplus of Hanno, on the other hand, is presented in the form of a short Greek text, supposed to be the translation of an inscription in Phoenician in the temple of Baal in Carthage. There are also references to Hanno’s journey in the Palatinus græcus, a Byzantine manuscript dated to the last quarter of the 9th century. The 14th century Vatopedinus in the British Library also contains the text. There is also a French translation which is given in a volume entitled Historiale description de l’Afrique, tiers partie du monde…, which was published in Lyons in 1556 by the printer Jean Temporal. Finally, a Latin translation can be found in an edition of De totius Africæ descriptione by Leo the African published in Zurich in 1559…