This is the new Livius website. We are currently converting the old website, but this will take some time yet. Please report any errors.

Hanno the Navigator (2)

In the first half of the sixth century BCE, 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.


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.

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.


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 Ba'al Hammon. Hanno's title 'king' (Greek: basileus) is the usual rendering of the name of a high Carthaginian magistrate, the suffete, but in this case, it  may be a special magistrate.

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 living in Africa.

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.
Sailing westward from there, we arrived at Soloeis, a Libyan promontory, covered with trees. Soloeis is a rendering of Phoenician Selaim, 'rocks'. Most scholars place them 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.
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.
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 branch' 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 Herodotus of Halicarnassus, who lived c.440 BCE.
  • 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.
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 35 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.
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: cave men 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.
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').
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 of Stagira (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.
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 (to be discussed below) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 
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 stela in the shrine of Kronos interviewed two sailors.
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 Cameroon, 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 Cameroon poured into the sea.
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.
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 suffete'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).