The Periplus of Hanno/Chapter 6

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By R. BOSWORTH SMITH, M. A. London, 1877

Chapter I. Extracts

"The land-locked sea, the eastern extremity of which washes the shores of Phœnicia proper, connecting as it does three continents, and abounding in deep gulfs, in fine harbors, and in fertile islands, seems to have been intended by nature for the early development of commerce and colonization. By robbing the ocean of half its mystery and more than half its terrors, it allured the timid mariner, even as the eagle does her young, from headland on to headland, or from islet to islet, till it became the highway of the nations of the ancient world; and the products of each of the countries whose shores it laves became the common property of all. At a very early period the Etruscans, for instance, that mysterious people who then occupied with their settlements Campania and Cisalpine Gaul, as well as that extensive intermediate region to which they afterwards gave their name, swept all the Italian seas with their galleys, half piratical, and half commercial. The Greeks, somewhat later, founded (B. C. 631) Cyrene and (B. C. 560) Barca in Africa, (B. C. 564) Alalia in Corsica, and (B. C. 600) Massilia in Gaul, and lined the southern shores of Italy and the western shores of Asia Minor with that fringe of colonies which were so soon to eclipse in prosperity and power their parent cities. Even Egypt, with her immemorial antiquity and her exclusive civilization, deigned to open (B. C. 550) an emporium at Naucratis for the ships and commerce of the Greeks, creatures of yesterday as they must have seemed in comparison with her.

"But in this general race of enterprise and commerce among the nations which bordered on the Mediterranean, it is to the Phœnicians that unquestionably belongs the foremost place. In the dimmest dawn of history, many centuries before the Greeks had set foot in Asia Minor or in Italy, before even they had settled down in secure possession of their own territories, we hear of Phœnician settlements in Asia Minor and in Greece itself, in Africa, in Macedon, and in Spain. There is hardly an island in the Mediterranean which has not preserved some traces of these early visitors; Cyprus, Rhodes and Crete in the Levant; Malta, Sicily, and the Balearic Isles in the middle passage; Sardinia, Corsica, and Elba in the Tyrrhenian Sea; the Cyclades, as Thucydides tells us, in the mid-Ægean; and even Samothrace and Thasos at its northern extremity, where Herodotus, to use his own forcible expression, himself saw a whole mountain 'turned upside down' by their mining energy; all have either yielded Phœnician coins and inscriptions, have retained Phœnician proper names and legends, or possess mines, long, perhaps, disused, but which were worked as none but Phœnicians ever worked them. And among the Phœnician factories which dotted the whole southern shore of the Mediterranean, from the east end of the Greater Syrtis even to the Pillars of Hercules, there was one which, from a concurrence of circumstances, was destined rapidly to outstrip all the others, to make herself their acknowledged head, to become the Queen of the Mediterranean, and, in some sense, of the Ocean beyond, and for a space of over a hundred years, to maintain a deadly and not an unequal contest with the future mistress of the world.

"The rising African factory was known to its inhabitants by the name of Kirjath-Hadeschath, or New Town, to distinguish it from the much older settlement of Utica, of which it may have been, to some extent, an offshoot. The Greeks, when they came to know of its existence, called it Karchedon, and the Romans Carthago. The date of its foundation is uncertain; but the current tradition refers it to a period about a hundred years before the founding of Rome.

"In her origin, at least, Carthage seems to have been, like other Phœnician settlements, a mere commercial factory. Her inhabitants cultivated friendly relations with the natives, looked upon themselves as tenants at will rather than owners of the soil, and, as such, cheerfully paid a rent to the African Berbers for the ground covered by their dwellings. Thus much, if thus much only, of truth is contained in the legend of Dido, which, adorned as it has been by the genius of Virgil, and resting in part on early local traditions, must always remain indissolubly bound up with the name of Carthage.

"It was the instinct of self-preservation alone which, in the course of the sixth century, dictated a change of policy at Carthage, and transformed her peace-loving mercantile community into the war-like and conquering state, of which the whole of the western Mediterranean was so soon to feel the power. A people far less keensighted than the Phœnicians must have discerned that it was their very existence which was at stake; at all events, unless they were willing to be dislodged from Africa, and Sicily, and Spain, as they had already been dislodged from Italy and Greece and the islands of the Levant, by the flood of Hellenic colonization, they must alter their policy. Accordingly they joined hands (in B. C. 537) with their inveterate enemies, the Etruscans, to prevent a threatened settlement of some exiled Phocæans on the important island of Corsica. In Africa they took up arms to make the inhabitants of Cyrene feel that it was towards Egypt or the interior, not towards Carthage, that they must look for an extension of their boundaries; and in Sicily, by withdrawing half voluntarily from the eastern side of the island in which the Greeks had settled, they tightened their grip upon the western portion which, as being nearer to Carthage, was more important to them, and where the original Phœnician settlements of Panormus, Motye, and Soloeis had been planted.

"The result of this change of policy was that the western half of the Mediterranean became, with one exception, what the whole of it had once bidden fair to be—a Phœnician lake, in which no foreign merchantmen dared to show themselves. It was a vast preserve, to be caught trespassing upon which, so Strabo tells us, on the authority of Eratosthenes, ensured the punishment of instant death by drowning. No promontory was so barren, no islet so insignificant, as to escape the jealous and ever watchful eye of the Carthaginians. In Corsica, if they could not get any firm or extensive foothold themselves, they at least prevented any other state from doing the like. Into their hands fell, in spite of the ambitious dreams of Persian kings and the aspirations of patriot Greeks, that 'greatest of all islands,' the island of Sardinia; theirs were the Ægatian and the Liparæan, the Balearic and the Pityusian Isles; theirs the tiny Elba, with its inexhaustible supply of metals; theirs, too, Malta still remained, an outpost pushed far into the domain of other advancing enemies, a memorial of what once had been, and, perhaps, to the sanguine Carthaginian temperament, an earnest of what might be again hereafter. Above all the Phœnician settlements in Spain, at the innermost corner of the great preserve, with the adjacent silver mines which gave to these settlements their peculiar value, were now trebly safe from all intruders.

"Elated, as it would seem, by their naval successes, which were hardly of their own seeking, the Carthaginians thought that they might now at least become the owners of the small strip of African territory which they had hitherto seemed to occupy on sufferance only, and they refused the ground-rent which, up till now, they had paid to the adjoining tribes. Step by step they enlarged their territories at the expense of the natives, till the whole of the rich territory watered by the Bagradas became theirs. The Nomadic tribes were beaten back beyond the river Triton into the country named, from the roving habits of its inhabitants, Numidia, or into the desert of Tripolis, and were henceforward kept in check by the primitive defence of a line of ditch and rampart, just as, in earlier times, the rich plains of Babylonia had been protected by the 'wall of Semiramis' from the incursions of the less civilized Medes. The agricultural tribes were forced to pay tribute to the conquerors for the right of cultivating their own soil or to shed their blood on the field of battle in the prosecution of further conquests from the tribes beyond.

"Nor did the kindred Phœnician settlements in the adjoining parts of Africa escape unscathed. Utica alone, owing probably to her antiquity and to the semi-parental relation in which she stood to Carthage, was allowed to retain her walls and full equality of rights with the rising power; but Hippo Zarytus, and Adrumetum, the greater and the lesser Leptis, were compelled to pull down their walls and acknowledge the supremacy of the Carthaginian city. All along the northern coast of Africa the original Phœnician settlers, and, probably, to some extent, the Carthaginians themselves, had intermarried with the natives. The product of these marriages was that numerous class of Libyphœnicians which proved to be so important in the history of the Carthaginian colonization and conquest; a class which, equidistant from the Berbers on the one hand, and from the Carthaginians proper on the other, and composed of those who were neither wholly citizens nor yet wholly aliens, experienced the lot of most half castes, and were alternately trusted and feared, pampered and oppressed, loved and hated, by the ruling state.

"The original monarchical constitution—doubtless inherited from Tyre—was represented (practically in Aristotle's time, and theoretically to the latest period) by two supreme magistrates called by the Romans Suffetes. Their name is the same as the Hebrew Shofetim, mistranslated in our Bible, Judges. The Hamilcars and Hannos of Carthage were, like their prototypes, the Gideons and the Samsons of the Book of Judges, and not so much the judges, as the protectors of their respective states. They are compared by Greek writers to the two kings of Sparta, and by the Romans to their own consuls. That they were in the earliest times appointed for life, and not, as is commonly supposed, elected annually, is clear from a variety of indications; and, like the 'king of the sacrifices' at Rome, and the 'king archon' at Athens, they seem, when the kingly office itself was abolished, to have retained those priestly functions which, according to ancient conceptions, were indissolubly united with royalty.

"Carthage was, beyond doubt, the richest city of antiquity. Her ships were to be found on all known seas, and there was probably no important product, animal, vegetable, or mineral, of the ancient world, which did not find its way into her harbours and pass through the hands of her citizens. But her commercial policy was not more far-sighted or more liberal than has been that of other commercial states, even till very modern times. Free trade was unknown to her; it would have seemed indeed like a contradiction in terms. If she admitted foreign merchantmen by treaty to her own harbour, she took care by the same document jealously to exclude them from the more important harbours of her dependencies. She allowed her colonies to trade only so far as suited her own immediate interests, and the precautions she took made it impossible for any one of them ever to become a great center of commerce, still less to dream of taking her place.

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Plan of Harbors at Carthage—after Bosworth Smith

"But the most important factor in the history of a people—especially if it be a Semitic people—is its religion. The religion of the Carthaginians was what their race, their language, and their history would lead us to expect. It was, with slight modification, the religion of the Canaanites, the religion, that is, which, in spite of the purer Monotheism of the Hebrews and the higher teaching of their prophets, so long exercised a fatal fascination over the great bulk of the Hebrew race. The Phœnician religion has been defined to be 'a deification of the powers of Nature, which naturally developed into an adoration of the objects in which those powers seemed most active.' Of this adoration the Sun and Moon were the primary objects. The Sun can either create or destroy, he can give life or take it away. The Moon is his consort; she can neither create nor destroy, but she can receive and develop, and, as the queen of night, she presides alike over its stillness and its orgies. Each of these ruling deities, Baal-Moloch or the Sun-god, and the horned Astarte or the crescent Moon worshipped at Carthage, it would seem, under the name of Tanith, would thus have an ennobling as well as a degrading, a more cheerful as well as a more gloomy aspect. unfortunately, it was the gloomy and debasing side of their worship which tended to predominate alike in Phœnicia proper and in the greatest of the Phœnician colonies.

"But there was one of these inferior gods who stood in such a peculiar relation to Carthage, and whose worship seems to have been so much more genial and so much more spiritual than the rest, that we are fain to dwell upon it as a foil to what has preceded. This god was Melcarth, that is Melech-Kirjath, or the king of the city; he is called by the Greeks 'the Phœnician Hercules,' and his name itself has passed, with a slight alteration, into Greek mythology as Melicertes. The city of which he was pre-eminently the god was Tyre. There he had a magnificent temple, which was visited for antiquarian purposes by Herodotus. ... At Carthage Melcarth had not even a temple. The whole city was his temple, and he refused to be localized in any particular part of it. He received, there is reason to believe, no sacrifices of blood; and it was his comparatively pure and spiritual worship which, as we see repeatedly in Carthaginian history, formed a chief link in the chain that bound the parent to the various daughter-cities scattered over the coasts and islands of the Mediterranean.

"The Carthaginian proper names which have come down to us form one among many proofs of the depth of their religious feelings, for they are all, or nearly all, compounded with the name of one or other of their chief gods. Hamilcar is he whom Melcarth protects; Hasdrubal is he whose help is in Baal; Hannibal, the Hanniel of the Bible, the grace of Baal; and so on with Bomilcar, Himilco, Ethbaal, Maherbal, Adherbal, and Mastanabal.

"But if the life of the great capitalists of Carthage was as brilliant as we have described it, how did it fare with the poorer citizens, with those whom we call the masses, till we sometimes forget that they are made up of individual units? If we know little of the rich, how much less do we know of the poor of Carthage and her dependencies? The city population, with the exception—a large exception doubtless—of those engaged in commerce, well contented, as it would seem, like the Romans under the Empire, if nothing deprived them of their bread and their amusement, went on eating and marrying and multiplying until their numbers became excessive, and then they were shipped off by the prudence of their rulers to found colonies in other parts of Africa or in Spain. Their natural leaders, or, as probably more often happened, the bankrupt members of the aristocracy, would take the command of the colony, and obtain free leave, in return for their services, to enrich themselves by the plunder of the adjoining tribes.

"To so vast an extent did Carthage carry out the modern principle of relieving herself of a superfluous population and at the same time of extending her empire, by colonization, that, on one occasion, the admiral Hanno, whose 'Periplus' still remains, was dispatched with sixty ships of war of fifty oars each, and with a total of not less than thirty thousand half-caste emigrants on board, for the purpose of founding colonies on the shores of the ocean beyond the Pillars of Hercules.

"But the document recording this voyage is of an interest so unique, being the one relic of Carthaginian literature which has come down to us entire, that we must dwell for a moment on its contents. It was posted up by the admiral himself, as a thank-offering, in the temple of Baal, on his return from his adventurous voyage, the first attempt, made by the Phœnicians to reach the equator from the north-west of Africa. It is preserved to us in a Greek translation only, the work probably of some inquisitive Greek traveller, some nameless Herodotus who went wandering over the world like his matchless fellow-countryman, his note-book always in his hand, and always jotting down everything that was of interest to himself, or might be of importance to posterity.

"What was the general nature of the Carthaginian trade in the distant regions thrown open to them we happen to know from another ancient writer whose authority is beyond dispute. There was in Libya—so the Carthaginians told Herodotus—beyond the Pillars of Hercules, an inhabited region where they used to unload their cargoes, and leave them on the beach. After they had returned to their ships and kindled a fire there, the natives seeing the rising column of smoke, ventured down to the beach, and depositing by the merchandise what they considered to be its equivalent in gold, withdrew in their turn to their homes. Once more the Carthaginians disembarked, and if they were satisfied with the gold they found, they carried it off with them, and the dumb bargain was complete. If not, they returned a second time to their ships to give the natives the chance of offering more. The law of honor was strictly observed by both parties; for neither would the Carthaginians touch the gold till it amounted, in their opinion, to the full value of the merchandise; nor would the natives touch the merchandise till the Carthaginians had clinched the transaction by carrying off the gold.

"This strange story, long looked upon as fabulous, has, like many other strange stories in Herodotus, been proved by the concurrent testimony of modern travelers to be an accurate account of the dumb trade which still exists in many parts of Africa, and which traversing even the Great Desert, brings the Marroquin into close commercial relations with the Negro, and supplies the great Mohammedan kingdoms of the Soudan with the products of the Mediterranean. It proves also that the gold-fields of the Niger, so imperfectly known to us even now, were well known to the Carthaginians, and that the gold-dust with which the natives of Ashanti lately purchased the retreat of the European invader was the recognized medium of exchange in the days of the father of history.

"To defray the expenses of this vast system of exploration and colonization, as well as of their enormous armies, the most ruinous tribute was imposed and enacted with unsparing rigor from the subject native states, and no slight one either from the cognate Phœnician cities. The taxes paid by the natives sometimes amounted to a half of their whole produce, and among the Phœnician dependent cities themselves we know that the lesser Leptis alone paid into the Carthaginian treasury the sum of a talent daily. The tribute levied on the conquered Africans was paid in kind, as is the case with the rayahs of Turkey to the present day, and its apportionment and collection were doubtless liable to the same abuses and gave rise to the same enormities as those of which Europe has lately heard so much. Hence arose that universal disaffection, or rather that deadly hatred, on the part of her foreign subjects, and even of the Phœnician dependencies, towards Carthage on which every invader of Africa could safely count as his surest support. Hence the ease with which Agathocles, with his small army of fifteen thousand men, could overrun the open country, and the monotonous uniformity with which he entered, one after another, two hundred towns, which Carthaginian jealousy had deprived of their walls, hardly needing to strike a blow. Hence, too, the horrors of the revolt of the outraged Libyan mercenanaries, supported as it was by the free-will contributions of their golden ornaments by the Libyan women, who hated their oppressors as perhaps women only can, and which is known in history by the name of the 'War without Truce,' or the 'Inexpiable War.'

"It must, however, he borne in mind that the inherent differences of manners, language, and race between the natives of Africa and the Phœnician incomer were so great; the African was so unimpressible, and the Phœnician was so little disposed to understand, or to assimilate himself to his surroundings, that even if the Carthaginian government had been conducted with any equity, and the taxes levied with a moderation which we know was far from being the case, a gulf profound and impassable must probably have always separated the two peoples. This was the fundamental, the ineradicable weakness of the Carthaginian Empire, and in the long run outbalanced all the advantages obtained for her by her natives, her ports and her well-stocked treasury; by the energy and the valour of her citizens; and by the consummate genius of three, at least, of her generals. It is this, and this alone, which in some measure reconciles us to the melancholy, nay, the hateful termination of the struggle, on the history of which we are about to enter;

Men are we, and must grieve when e'en the name
Of that which once was great has passed away.

But if under the conditions of ancient society, and the savagery of the warfare which is tolerated, there was an unavoidable necessity for either Rome or Carthage to perish utterly, we must admit, in spite of the sympathy which the brilliancy of the Carthaginian civilization, the heroism of Hamilcar and Hannibal, and the tragic catastrophe itself call forth, that it was well for the human race that the blow fell on Carthage rather than on Rome. A universal Carthaginian empire could have done for the world, as far as we can see, nothing comparable to that which the Roman universal empire did for it. It would not have melted down national antipathies, it would not have given a common literature or language, it would not have prepared the way for a higher civilization and an infinitely purer religion. Still less would it have built up that majestic fabric of law which forms the basis of the legislation of all the states of Modern Europe and America."

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Harbors of Carthage as they appear to-day.—Photographed by Garrigues, Tunis.