Phoenician Sea and Land Voyages and Routes
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Phoenician Sea and Land Voyages and Routes

Hanno, Himilco, Necho and others

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 dispatched at the same date to explore the outer coasts of Europe.

Pliny 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 in Paris.

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.

The "Periplus" 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."

Other testimonies

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 3.93.)

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.

Hanno's 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 other equipment. 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 eating. 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 Arambys.


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 friends. 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 trade object.
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 Guinea.
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 (for more information about Phoenician trade and warships click this link)

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.

Circumnavigate Africa

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 Livius.Org


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