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Hanno the Great


The ports of Carthage, seen from the Byrsa. Photo Jan van Vliet.
The ports of Carthage
Hanno (second half third century): Carthaginian statesman and general.

Carthage is situated between the sea and the land, which means that there are two ways of expansion. There were aristocrats who had invested their money in agriculture and were looking for expansion in Africa, and there were merchants who made their money overseas. Hanno clearly belonged to the first camp, and when he rose to power, this policy seemed justified.

In 264, the First Punic War had broken out with Rome, which tried to conquer Sicily, had captured many cities, and had pushed the Carthaginians back to two cities in the far west, Drepana and Lilibaeum, modern Trapani and Marsala. However, the Carthaginians controlled the sea, and the war had come to a standstill. Few will have regretted this, because the war was expensive. There was support for a switch to the land-based expansion, and in 247, Hanno led an army to the city of Theveste, which he captured. Agricultural expansion was a necessary source of wealth for Carthage.

However, the people found a new hero, Hamilcar Barca, who continued the Sicilian war as a guerilla and had some success. His operations were a stimulus to the Romans to finish the war once and for all, and indeed: in 242, they prepared a new fleet, which decisively beat the last Carthaginian ships in March 241. When its luckless commander Hanno returned to Carthage, he was crucified, because Sicily and the possessions overseas were now lost.

After the peace treaty had been signed, the Carthaginian troops returned to their homeland. Many of them had not received their pay for months and revolted. They captured Tunis and the most important cities of Africa and laid siege to cities near Carthage, like Utica. The Carthaginian Senate sent out an army (late in 241), commanded by Hanno the Great, but he failed to raise the siege of Utica, and had to allow that Hamilcar Barca was appointed as second general. This experienced war leader had more success, but could not prevent the fall of Utica and the beginning of the siege of Carthage.

Yet, Hamilcar was made sole commander, but again, he did not obtain real successes: the siege of Carthage continued and he could not reconquer Tunis (239). In the winter, Hanno and Hamilcar decided to cooperate, and in the spring, they attacked the mercenaries, slowly pushing them to the south, to Leptis Minor. Here, the armies finally met in battle, and the rebels were defeated (238).

Carthage was not big enough for Hamilcar Barca and  Hanno the Great, but the city's fortunes were slowly restored, and there was money for pursuing two policies at once. The naval expansion was now abandoned for good, but expansion on the land was possible in two directions: in Africa (Hanno) and in Iberia (Hamilcar and his successor Hasdrubal the Fair). Historians ancient and modern have made much of the opposition between Hanno and Hamilcar, and it is true that Hanno was supported by the rich and Hamilcar by the democrats, but their policies were not mutually exclusive.

Yet, in 219-218, Hamilcar's son Hannibal Barca was provoking a renewal of the war with Rome. Hanno had never believed in expensive military adventures outside Africa, and argued against the Second Punic War, but the Barcids won the discussion and war broke out. Hannibal crossed the Ebro, the Pyrenees, the Rhône, and the Alps (text), and defeated the Romans on several occasions. After the the battle of Cannae in 216, victory seemed within reach, and Hanno again argued for peace.

However, the Carthaginians embarked upon more ambitious schemes, and this was a fatal error. Rome's system of alliances did not collapse and the city regained its power, conquered Iberia, isolated the army of Hannibal, defeated the reinforcements commanded by his brother Hasdrubal Barca, and finally, the Roman commander Publius Cornelius Scipio invaded Africa, where he and his Numidian ally Massinissa defeated the Carthaginian commander Hasdrubal  and his ally Syphax. Hannibal was recalled, and defeated at Zama (202). It was left to Hanno the Great to negotiate a peace treaty.

According to Appian of Alexandria, he was still alive in 193, when he argued for peace with the Romans, even if this meant losing territory to Massinissa.

© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2004
Revision: 16 March 2008
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