Sea and Land Voyages and Routes
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Sea and Land Voyages and Routes
Himilco, Necho and others
power of Carthage flourished, Hanno sailed round from Cádiz to
the extremity of Arabia, and published a memoir of his voyage of his
voyage, as did Himilco when he was dispatched
at the same date to explore the outer coasts of Europe.
the Elder, Natural history
Reproduced by kind courtesy of Jona Lendering
© Jona Lendering for Livius.Org
Read about the modern circumnavigation of Africa 2600 years after the Phoenicians and Preparations in Lebanon
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In the first half of the sixth century B.C., the Carthaginian admiral Hanno
made a long voyage along the African west coast. His logbook contains a description
of a fully active volcano and the first known report about gorillas.
The eighteen lines of Hanno's artless account of his journey along the west
coast of Africa are a unique document. It is the only known first-hand report
on these regions before those of the Portuguese, which were written
two thousand years later. Besides, Hanno has a fascinating story to tell:
we visit a mysterious island, have to fight hostile natives, survive an erupting
volcano and encounter gorillas.
Probably, Hanno made his voyage on the outer sea in the first half of the
sixth century B.C.. He had orders to found several colonies on the Moroccan
coast; after this, he established a trading post on a small island off the
Mauritanian coast. Having completed this mission, he ventured further south,
making a reconnaissance expedition along the African coast until he reached
modern Gabon, where he was forced to return because he was running out of
supplies. There is some reason to doubt the truth of the latter statement,
because the Roman encyclopedist Pliny the Elder says that Hanno circumnavigated
Africa and reached the borders of Arabia.
On his return, Hanno dedicated an inscription to one of the Carthaginian
gods, in which he told what he had done. In the fifth century, someone translated
this text into a rather mediocre Greek. It was not a complete rendering; several
abridgments were made. The abridged translation was copied several times by
Greek and Byzantine clerks. At the moment, there are only two copies, dating
back to the ninth and the fourteenth centuries. The first of these manuscripts
is known as the Palatinus Graecus 398 and can be studied in the University
Library of Heidelberg. The other text is the so-called Vatopedinus 655; parts
of it are in the British Museum in London and in the Bibliothèque Nationale
Many scholars have tried to identify the places Hanno mentions. Nowadays,
most puzzles such as the question of the volcano called 'Chariot of
the Gods' seem to be solved. In the commentary
below, many toponyms are discussed. All places under discussion can be
found in the 1998 edition of the Times Atlas of the world. Other texts related
to Hanno's voyage are to be found below.
of Hanno: Account of King Hanno of Carthage's
Sea Voyage Along the African Atlantic Coast
"Record of the voyage of King Hanno of Carthage round the lands of Libya
which lie beyond the Pillars of Hercules. It has been engraved on tablets
hung up in the Temple of Chronos.
"The Carthaginians decided that Hanno should go past the Pillars and
found Carthaginian cities. He set sail with sixty pentekontas carrying thirty
thousand men and women with provisions and other necessities. After passing
the Pillars of Hercules and sailing for two days beyond them we founded the
first city, which was named Thymiaterion. Around it was a large plain. Next
we went on in a westerly direction and arrived at the Libyan promontory of
Soloeis, which is covered with trees; having set up a shrine to Poseidon,
we set sail again towards the rising sun for half a day, after which we arrived
at a lagoon close to the sea covered with many tall reeds. Elephants and large
numbers of other animals were feeding on them. Leaving this lagoon and sailing
for another day, we founded the coastal cities named Carian Wall, Gytte, Acra,
Melitta and Arambys.
"Leaving this place we arrived at the great river Lixos which comes
from Libya. On the banks nomads, the Lixites, were feeding their flocks. We
stayed for some time with these people and made friends with them. Upstream
from them lived the unfriendly Ethiopians whose land is full of wild beasts
and broken up by high mountains where they say the Lixos rises. They also
say that about these mountains dwell the strange-looking Troglodytes. The
Lixites claim that they can run faster than horses. Taking Lixite interpreters
with us we sailed alongside the desert in a southerly direction for two days,
then towards the rising sun for one more day. We then found at the far end
of an inlet a little island five stades in circumference. We named it Cerne
and left settlers there. judging by our journey we reckoned that it must be
opposite Carthage, since we had to sail the same distance from Carthage to
the Pillars of Hercules as from the Pillars of Hercules to Cerne. From there,
sailing up a big river named the Chretes, we arrived at a lake in which there
were three islands, all larger than Cerne. Leaving these islands, we sailed
for one day and came to the end of the lake, which was overshadowed by high
mountains full of savages dressed in animal skins that threw stones at us
and thus prevented us from landing. From there we entered another river, which
was big and wide, full of crocodiles and hippopotamuses. Then we retraced
our journey back to Cerne.
"From there we sailed south along a coast entirely inhabited by Ethiopians,
who fled at our approach. Their language was incomprehensible even to the
Lixites, whom we had with us. On the last day we disembarked by some high
mountains covered with trees with sweet-smelling multicoloured wood. We sailed
round these mountains for two days and arrived in a huge bay on the other
side of which was a plain; there we saw fires breaking out at intervals on
all sides at night, both great and small. Having renewed our water supplies,
we continued our voyage along the coast for five days, after which we arrived
at a huge inlet, which the interpreters called the Horn of the West. There
was a big island in this gulf and in the island was a lagoon with another
island. Having disembarked there, we could see nothing but forest by day ;
but at night many fires were seen and we heard the sound of flutes and the
beating of drums and tambourines, which made a great noise. We were struck
with terror and our soothsayers bade us leave the island.
"We left in haste and sailed along by a burning land full of perfumes.
Streams of fire rose from it and plunged into the sea. The land was unapproachable
because of the heat. Terror-stricken, we hastened away. During four days'
sailing we saw at night that the land was covered with fire. In the middle
was a high flame, higher than the others, which seemed to reach the stars.
By day we realised that it was a very high mountain, named the Chariot of
the Gods. Leaving this place, we sailed along the burning coast for three
days and came to the gulf named the Horn of the South. At the end of it was
an island like the first one, with a lake in which was another island full
of savages. The greater parts of these were women. They had hairy bodies and
the interpreters called them Gorillas. We pursued some of the males but we
could not catch a single one because they were good climbers and they defended
themselves fiercely. However, we managed to take three women. They bit and
scratched their captors, whom they did not want to follow. We killed them
and removed the skins to take back to Carthage. We sailed no further, being
short of supplies."
Hanno's report was an inscription in a Carthaginian temple; what we
have been discussing up till now was a Greek adaptation of this text. There
are some ancient texts that help us reconstruct the original. The oldest of
these is written by the Greek historian Herodotus who states that:
The Carthaginians tell us that they trade with a race of men
who live in a part of Libya beyond the Pillars of Herakles. On reaching this
country, they unload their goods, arrange them tidily along the beach, and
then, returning to their boats, raise a smoke. Seeing the smoke, the natives
come down to the beach, place on the ground a certain quantity of gold in
exchange for the goods, and go off again to a distance. The Carthaginians
then come ashore and take a look at the gold; and if they think it presents
a fair price for their wares, they collect it and go away; if, on the other
hand, it seems too little, they go back aboard and wait, and the natives come
and add to the gold until they are satisfied. There is perfect honesty on
both sides; the Carthaginians never touch the gold until it equals in value
what they have offered for sale, and the natives never touch the goods until
the gold has been taken away. (Herodotus, The Histories 4.196;
translation Aubrey de Selincourt)
It is very likely that this story is based upon Hanno's original report. Two
Arab authors, the Moroccan Abû Abdallâh Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Idrisi
(1100-1166) and the Syrian Ibn Abdallâh ar-Rûmî al-Hamawi
Yâcût (1179-1229), independently state that this method of bartering
was still practiced in their own days by gold producers from the Bambouk region.
This suggests that Hanno's trip to the Senegal was a trade mission.
The Greek author Arrian (second century A.D.) writes:
Hanno left Carthage and sailed beyond the Pillars of Herakles
on the Atlantic Ocean, keeping Libya (Africa) on his
left hand. He sailed eastwards for thirty five days. But when he turned to
the south, he encountered many problems: lack of water, burning heat and rivers
of fire flowing into the sea. (Indike 43.11-12)
This brief statement does not seem very spectacular, but it is in fact a very
remarkable. The ancient map makers saw Africa as a trapezium or a triangle with
the Mediterranean coast as its longest side. Arrian's statement that Hanno sailed
to the east and then southwards, can therefore not have been invented and must
go back to Hanno's report. (Besides, this proves that the Chariot of
the Gods cannot be Mount Kakulima.)
The third text is the Natural History by the Roman encyclopedist Pliny
the Elder (first century A.D.). He is not a credulous writer: he dismisses several
stories which grew up around Hanno's journey as fabrications (Natural History
5.8). This forces us to take the following statement very serious:
When the power of Carthage flourished, Hanno sailed round
from Cádiz to the extremity of Arabia, and published a memoir of his
voyage of his voyage, as did Himilco when he
was despatched at the same date to explore the outer coasts of Europe.
(Pliny the Elder, Natural history 2.169a)
(In 5.8, Pliny adds that Hanno was under orders to circumnavigate Africa, something
that is also mentioned by an author named Pomponius Mela, De choriographia
We know of an earlier circumnavigation of Africa by Phoenicians in the last
years of the seventh century B.C. (Herodotus, Histories 4.42). There
are indications that the Himyarites knew the gold mines of Zimbabwe
(as well as studies that indicate Phoenician
gold mining presence in Zimbabwe) and jealously guarded the trade route
along the African east coast. We may speculate that Hanno did not break off
his expedition at Corisco Bay, but rounded the Cape of Good Hope and reached
Zimbabwe and the Arabian Peninsula.
This is speculation, but there is one point in Hanno's story where he may
betray himself. It is the use of the word 'gorilla', which renders the kiKongo
words ngò dìida ('powerful animal that beats itself violently'):
a nice description of the gorilla's characteristic drumming on the chest.
In Hanno's days, the speakers of this language probably lived quite close
to the lower Zaïre (W.F.G. Lacroix, Africa in Antiquity, 1998
Saarbrücken, pages 48-56, 380 and 384); using one of their words, Hanno
admits that he has travelled below the Equator.
This short text has provoked a remarkable interest among scholars.
Its text was first published by Karl Müller (Geographi Graeci Minores,
volume I; 1855 Paris; reprint 1965 Hildesheim). A second text edition was edited
by Jerker Blomqvist, The date and origin of the Greek version of Hanno's
Periplus, 1979 Lund). The topography of Hanno's journey has recently been
discussed by W.F.G. Lacroix in the fourth appendix of his Africa in Antiquity.
A linguistic and toponymic analysis of Ptolemy's map of Africa (1998 Saarbrücken).
This appendix has been used very intensively in this article.
Account with Commentary
|This is the account of Hanno, king of Carthage, about his voyage
to the Libyan lands beyond the Pillars of Herakles, which he also set
up in the shrine of Kronos.
||Libya is the Greek name for Africa. The Pillars of Herakles
refer to the Straits of Gibraltar. Kronos is a Greek god, who may be identified
with the god Baal Hammon. Hanno's title 'king' (Greek: basileus)
is the usual rendering of the name of a high Carthaginian magistrate,
the sufete, but in this case, it may be a special magistrate.
|1. The Carthaginians ordered Hanno to sail out of the Pillars of
Herakles and found a number of Libyphoenician cities. He set sail with
sixty fifty-oared ships, about thirty thousand men and women, food and
||The number of thirty thousand is suspect: the ships would
be very crowded. J.G. Demerliac & J. Meirat, Hannon et l' Empire
Punique (1983 Paris, pp.64-67) suggest five thousand. Libyphoenicians
are the Phoenicians colonies in Africa such as Carthage, Laptis Magna...etc.
|2. After sailing beyond the Pillars for two days, we founded our
first city, called Thymiaterion. Below it was a large plain.
||Thymiaterion means 'Altar of Incense'. It is to be identified
with the Moroccan harbor of Mehidya, 40 kilometers north of Rabat.
|3. Sailing westward from there, we arrived at Soloeis, a Libyan promontory,
covered with trees.
||Most scholars place Cape Soloeis at Cape Cantin (also
known as Cape Beddouza). However, it is impossible to travel eastwards
from here, as is indicated in line 4. A plausible alternative is Cape
Mazagan (the hills opposite Azemmour), from where it is possible to start
a reconnaissance expedition up the river Oum er Rbia.
|4. Here we dedicated a temple to Poseidon. Sailing to the east for
half a day, we reached a lake. It was not far from the sea, and was covered
with many long reeds, from which elephants and other wild animals were
||The Greek name Poseidon is a translation of the name of
an unknown Phoenician 'lord of the sea'. Several lakes can be found along
the Oum er Rbia; in fact, it may be called Morocco's 'Lake District'.
|5. After our visit to the lake, we sailed on for one day. By the
sea, we founded cities, called Karikon Teichos, Gytte, Akra, Melitta and
It is unclear in what direction Hanno traveled after
leaving the lake. Did he move upstream along the Oum er Rbia? Did he
sail along the coast? It is hard to give an answer, but perhaps the
first alternative is the more plausible; maybe the Carthaginian leader
decided to pay a visit to a local chief, asking permission to settle
his people on the coast. This chief may have lived in what is now Im'fout
a day and a half's journey upstream , a town that still
contains the ancient name of the Oum er Rbia: Phout.
The colonies may be identified with:
- Azzemour: Karikon Teichos. The real name of this
colony may have been Kir Chares, 'Castle of the Sun'. An alternative
theory is that Teichos is the Greek rendering of the Phoenician
word for 'sand bank'. Several Carthaginian tombs have been found at
Azzemour. (The name Azzemour means 'olive branche' in the Berber language,
indicating what Hanno was looking for.)
- El-Jadida: Gytte. A Carthaginian necropolis has been
excavated. The name may be derived from Geth, 'cattle'.
- Cape Beddouza, if the Greek word Akra renders
the Phoenician Rash, 'promontory'. The Greek word may also
be read as Hakra (the Greek alphabet did not have a character
to express the H), the Phoenician word for 'castle'.
- Oualiddia: the almost unchanged name of Melitta.
The lagoon makes an excellent harbor. Melitta is mentioned by the
Greek scholar Hecataeus of Milete, who lived c.500 B.C.; this proves
that Hanno lived in the sixth century B.C..
- The islet of Mogador opposite Essaouira: Arambys.
Its Phoenician name must have been Har Anbin, meaning 'mountain
of grapes'. Again, archaeological discoveries indicate Carthaginian
presence. According to the excavator, A. Jodin, the site was occupied
in the first half of the sixth century. Some inhabitants made a living
by extracting purple dye from shellfish.
|6. Continuing our voyage from there, we reached the Lixos, a large
river flowing from Libya. The Lixites, a nomadic tribe, were pasturing
their cattle beside it. We remained with them for some time and became
||The Lixos (Phoenician: Ligs) is often identified
with the river Drâa, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean opposite
the Canary Islands. However, there are alternatives. J. Carcopino (Le
Maroc Antique, 1943 Paris) thinks that Hanno returned to the north,
where a large Phoenician city known to the Greeks as Lixos
has been excavated in the neighborhood of modern El Araïche, seventy
kilometers south of Tanger. Its coins bear the Phoenician legends MQM
SHMSH (Moqm Shemesh, 'Abode of the Sun') and LKSH (Lixos); a river in
the neighborhood is called Lekkous. Plausible though this identification
may seem, it is a bit odd that Hanno sailed back and forth. The third
candidate is the river Massa or Ghâs, which empties into the Ocean
fifty kilometers south of Agadir. Its upper reaches belong to the most
fertile in the whole of Morocco; here we find Ilegh, the capital of the
old Berber kingdom Tazzarult, which used to control the caravans to Sudan.
A Greek writer may easily have corrupted Ilegh to and/or confused with
the northern town Lixos. (In fact, Pliny the Elder did confuse northern
Lixos with the Berber kingdom: 5.1.2-4.) The latter identification has
the advantage of suiting the identifications of the five colonies.
|7. Beyond them, hostile Ethiopians occupied a land full of wild animals.
It was surrounded by the great mountains from which the Lixos flows down.
According to the Lixites, strange people dwell among these mountains:
cavemen who run faster than horses.
||'Ethiopians' means 'people with burnt faces'; it is the
usual word for the native African population. Depending on the identification
of the Lixos, we may identify their mountainous country with the mountains
Guir, Taïssa and Rich; with the western foothills of the Rif Mountains;
and with the Anti-Atlas.
|8. When we had got interpreters from the Lixites, we sailed along
the desert shore for two days to the south. After sailing eastward for
one day, we found in the recess of a bay a small island which had a circumference
of five stades. We left settlers there and called it Kerne. We calculated
from the journey that this island lay opposite Carthage, for the time
sailing from Carthage to the Pillars and from there to Kerne was the same.
'Kerne' renders Phoenician Chernah, which means
'last habitation'. It is tempting to locate it at an islet called Herne
in the Rio de Oro bay, close to Ad Dakhla. Unfortunately, Herne has
a circumference of twenty kilometers, whereas Hanno's five stades are
only nine hundred meters. A very plausible alternative, preferred by
J. Ramin ('Ultima Cerne' in R. Chevalier [ed.], Littérature
Gréco-Romaine et Géographie historique. Mélanges
offerts à Robert Dion, 1974 Paris), is to identify it with
one of the islands in the Bay of Arguin at the Mauretanian coast. If
this is correct, the name Chernah lives on in the name of the desert
region, which is called Ganar.
Both identifications, however, suffer from the same drawback:
the distance between the river Lixos -whatever its precise location-
and Kerne is more than a three days' sea journey, even when we take
into account that Hanno made use of the Canarian current and the north-eastern
trade winds. Therefore, the first editor of Hanno's narrative, Karl
Müller, proposed to read 'twelve' instead of 'two' for the
voyage along the desert coast, postulating a common scribal error (B'
instead of IB').
|9. Sailing from there, we crossed a river called Chretes, and reached
a bay, which contained three islands, bigger than Kerne. After a day's
sail from here, we arrived at the end of the bay, which was overhung by
some very great mountains, crowded with savages clad in animals' skins.
By throwing stones, they prevented us from disembarking and drove us away.
|The three islands probably belong to the Tidra archipelago
off the Mauretanian coast. The river Chretes poses new problems. In the
manuscript, it is written without an accent, indicating that the scribe
considered the word corrupt. Müller suggests that it can be identified
with the river Chremetes, which is known from Aristotle (Meteorology
350b12) and may be a rendering of Phoenician Cheremat, 'wine river'.
Another problem is its identification, because there is no big river in
this part of the coast. The first river one crosses after leaving Kerne
in the Bay of Arguin is the Tenbrourt, a very small stream. Next comes
the Tijirit, which has a large estuary and seems to have a fitting name.
However, Hanno writes that he had already passed the river when he entered
the bay with the three islands; the Tijirit is south of the Tidra archipelago.
There is no suitable candidate for the 'very great mountains' at the southern
end of a bay, where Hanno must have left behind a savage and appalling
image of white men.
|10. Leaving from there, we arrived at another large, broad river
teeming with crocodiles and hippopotamuses. Returning from there, we went
back to Kerne.
|The broad river must be the Senegal. Upstream is the gold
bearing region of Bambouk, and there is a clue that Hanno obtained this
precious metal at the delta of this river. (Its name comes from Sanu-Kholé,
'river of gold'.) His Berber interpreters must have been useful helpers.
Hanno's return to Kerne may mean that he brought his purchases to safety
before he started his reconnaissance voyage to the unknown south. This
interpretation of Hanno's trip is admittedly speculative, but it is not
unreasonable to suppose that the Carthaginians did not permit the Greek
translator of Hanno's inscription to reveal their trade secrets.
|11. From there we we sailed to the south for twelve days. We remained
close to the coast, which was entirely inhabited by Ethiopians, who fled
from us when we approached. Even to our Lixites, their language was unintelligible.
||When we accept a humble hundred kilometers as a days'
journey, the twelve days' voyage must have taken Hanno to Guinea. There
are two (not conclusive) indications that he progressed further. (a) Hanno's
remark that his translators were unable to speak with the native population
suggests that they had entered the regions where Kru languages were spoken,
in modern Sierra Leone. (b) Section 13 strongly suggests that the twelve
days' journey brought Hanno to a point two sailing days before Cape Palmas.
If this is true, Hanno reached Monrovia in Liberia. He will have sailed
some hundred thirty kilometers each day, which is certainly possible.
|12. On the last day, we anchored by some big mountains. They were
covered with trees whose wood was aromatic and colorful.
||A possible location for Hanno's harbor is Cape Mesurado,
close to Monrovia. Note his attention for what must have seemed a fine
|13. Sailing around the mountains for two days, we came to an immense
expanse of sea beyond which, on the landward side, was a plain. During
the night we observed big and small fires everywhere flaming up at intervals.
||Two days of sailing brought the Carthaginian sailor past
the rain forest to the river Douobé, close to Cape Palmes, at the
border of Liberia and Ivory Coast. In front of him, he saw the Golf of
|14. Taking on water there, we continued for five days along the coast,
until we reached a great bay which according to our translators was the
Horn of the West. There was a large island in it, and in it a lagoon [which
was salt] like the sea, and on it another island. Here we disembarked.
In daytime, we could see nothing but the forest, but during the night,
we noticed many fires alight and heard the sound of flutes, the beating
of cymbals and tom-toms, and the shouts of a multitude. We grew afraid
and our diviners advised us to leave this island.
||The Horn of the West is mentioned in several geographical
texts from Antiquity, but always as a promontory, never as a bay. Probably,
we should translate 'we reached a great bay which ... was the bay
of the Horn of the West'. The most likely identification is Cape Three
Points in modern Ghana. After sailing along the Ivory Coast, Hanno has
reached the peninsula that gives access to the Bight of Benin. The mysterious
island where the Carthaginian sailors survived their nightly adventure,
can be anywhere in the western delta of the Niger.
|15. Quickly, we sailed away, passing along a fiery coast full of
incense. Large torrents of fire emptied into the sea, and the land was
inaccessible because of the heat.
||This story is repeated in the next line. This odd duplication
cannot be explained, but we may consider the possibility of a mistake
by the Greek translator. A better theory is that the scribe who composed
the text at the stele in the shrine of Kronos interviewed two sailors.
|16. Quickly and in fear, we sailed away from that place. Sailing
on for four days, we saw the coast by night full of flames. In the middle
was a big flame, taller than the others and apparently rising to the stars.
By day, this turned out to be a very high mountain, which was called Chariot
of the Gods.
||There has been some discussion about the site of the Chariot
of the Gods (Greek: Theôn ochèma). Some have identified
it with Kakulima in Guinea, which would considerably shorten Hanno's voyage.
(In this reasoning, the Horn of the West is situated in the Bijagos archipelago.)
However, this volcano has not been active since a very long time before
Hanno. This leaves us with Mount Cameroun (picture), which happens to
be a perfect alternative. The native name happens to be Monga-ma Loba,
'Seat of the Gods'. If we were to translate his into Greek, it would become
Theôn oikèma. The scribal error can be made very easily.
In 1922, the lava of Mount Cameroun poured into the sea.
|17. Sailing thence along the torrents of fire, we arrived after three
days at a bay called Horn of the South.
||The Horn of the South must again be a promontory, maybe
the peninsula on which Gabon's capital Libreville is situated. An alternative
is Cape San Juan: less prominent, but the first one the Carthaginians
encountered. In both cases, the bay appears to be Corisco bay.
|18. In this gulf was an island, resembling the first, with a lagoon,
within which was another island, full of savages. Most of them were women
with hairy bodies, whom our interpreters called 'gorillas'. Although we
chased them, we could not catch any males: they all escaped, being good
climbers who defended themselves with stones. However, we caught three
women, who refused to follow those who carried them off, biting and clawing
them. So we killed and flayed them and brought their skins back to Carthage.
For we did not sail any further, because our provisions were running short.
The encounter with the gorillas can not have taken place
on Corisco island or any island, since gorillas do not swim. (They are
not known for throwing stones and living in groups either, but the identification
with this species of anthropoids seems certain.) It must have taken
place on the African mainland, and the most possible site is the northwestern
point of the Libreville peninsula. The sufete's return must have been
very difficult, having to beat against the north-eastern trade wind
and the Canary current.
The Roman author Pliny the Elder knows that the gorilla
furs were exhibited in the temple of the goddess Tanit until Carthage
was destroyed by the Romans (Natural History 6.200).
On close examination, a map of the Mediterranean shows that there are few
stretches of sea which must be navigated without coastal reference points.
In fact, since commercial crafts were able to sail at a speed of around two
to three knots, they could cover more than 50 nautical miles a day and therefore,
apart from some exceptionally wide crossings, they would always come within
sight of the coasts. The longest voyages without coastal reference points
were across the Channel of Sardinia, and the Balearic Sea, from the African
Coast to the Balearic Islands, or from these islands to the Western coast
of Sardinia. All other usual Phoenician routes were along the coasts, as must
also have been the case for the great crossing from East to West and vice-versa.
As far as the maximum speed is concerned, among the crossing for which we
have reliable information, Polybius recounts (I, 46-47) that the captain of
a Carthaginian warship, a certain Hannibal known as the "Rhodian", managed to complete the crossing from Carthage to Lylibaeum, present-day
Marsala, in 24 hours. He therefore covered a distance of around 125 nautical
miles at an average of more than five knots an hour.
Trade ships sailed almost axclusively between the months of March and October,
that is in favourable weather conditions. Special ceremonies, whose aim was
to auspicate maritime traffic, heralded their departure. In the Mediterranean,
the absence of steady winds -- such as the Trades -- created considerable
problems for long voyages, given the particular kind of sails in use: the
fact that winds were variable often caused ships to be held up for days at
a time. At the same time however, trade could take place in all directions,
irrespective of seasonal factors, and was not compelled to follow longer and
often time-wasting alternative routes.
Warships, on the other hand, sailed all year round, carrying out the necessary
tasks of patrolling the coasts and policing against piracy, and of course
taking appropriate military action in the case of war. Conditioned as they
were by the weather, such operations were often fatal in outcome. During the
first war between Carthage and Rome, for instance, Carthaginian losses caused
by storms and consequent shipwrecks amounted to 700 vessels - including warships
and commercial crafts employed as troops and supply transporters - whereas
casualties in the Roman navy were as a many as thousand.
Voyages of discovery for trading purposes by the Phoenicians and Carthaginians
in search of precious metals or new, more profitable markets were widely reported
in contemporary sources. One of the most memorable was described by Herodotus.
Thus towards the end of the 7th century B.C., the Phoenicians were instructed
by Pharaoh Necho to circumnavigate the African continent from East to West
on a voyage lasting three years.
© Jona Lendering for
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