I decided to write about something non technical for a change!

Hanno (sometimes referred to as Hannon) was a Carthaginian explorer from the 5th century BCE and he’s famous for his naval exploration of the west coast of Africa. He is one of a relatively small number of Carthaginians who’s exploits have managed to live on in history after the Romans famously levelled Carthage. Only 18 lines of text remain from the original account which was reportedly carved on a Carthaginian temple wall, this is the only know first hand account of those regions prior to the Portuguese explorers that came nearly 2000 years later.

While only 18 lines of text remain it’s fair to say that in modern English these “lines” are better described as paragraphs which means we do have a reasonable amount of detail regarding the voyage, including the names of several cities that Hanno founded.

The voyage began as Hanno and his fleet set sail from Gades, passing from the Mediterranean sea, through the Pillars of Heracles, into the North Atlantic and down the west coast of Africa. They founded a number of cities before encountering and befriending the Lixites, some of who joined them on their voyage as translators. Next they passed land that was occupied by hostile “Ethiopians” or “people with burnt faces”, they encounters “savages clad in animals’ skins” that threw stones to drive them away, saw rivers teeming with crocodiles and hippopotamuses, and were chased off by tribes hidden in the jungle beating drums and shouting loudly.

The text then gives a vivid account of an active volcano that they refer to as the “Chariot of the Gods” which was spewing lava into the sea and throwing out flames that, at night, seemed to reach into the stars. Finally the text ends with the Carthaginians encountering Gorillas, seemly for the first time, and identifying them as a hairy savage people, who refused to follow the Carthaginians back to their boats, instead biting and clawing at them… at which point the Carthaginians seem to have lost patience, killing the Gorillas, flaying them, and bringing their skins back to Carthage, where Pliny the Elder later tells us they were displayed in the temple of the goddess Tanit until Carthage was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BCE.

You can find the full English text and some short explanatory notes for each line on the Livius.org website.


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