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The voyage of Hanno

The Phoenicians were known as the greatest navigators on the Antiquity and the first to have sailed over all seas of the ancient world. Those of them established in the cities of the eastern Mediterranean: Ugarit, Arwad, Byblos, Tyre, Sidon ... as their descendants settled in various trading posts and all known territories of the time, especially the Carthaginians, marked history with their journeys and their exploits.

Ancient texts have kept some of these narratives, several engraved inscriptions have brought forward for us the names of some vessels owners or shipmasters, during this event, this discovery journey or that war. We mention some of those exploits: the voyage of King Hiram of Tyre and Solomon to the country of Ophir (tenth century BC), the expedition funded by the Pharaoh Necho II (late seventh century), exploratory trips of the Carthaginians Hanno and Himilcon , to Africa and to North Europe (the British Isles and Ireland, 450 BC). All these voyages were intended to find gold and riches as well as indispensable raw materials for the handicraft development and trade. This did not prevent them, to combine business with pleasure and seek, in the same time, new routes as well as strategic locations for the establishments of the new trade counters in order to facilitate their progression on the road for discovering new lands.

History has retained summarily these trips. The only one which has reached us is that of the Carthaginian Hanno. This famous exploit would have happened in the first quarter of the fifth century (425 BC), it was named in the annals of maritime exploration as the Periplus of Hanno. The narration of the journey was engraved on the walls of Melqart temple at Carthage, which was destroyed by the Romans as well as the entire city. This story has been reported through the transcriptions carried out on site by visitors and Greek historians. Utopia or reality? Full text or altered? True text or enigmatic? We can just say that this maritime expedition was considered like a state affair.

The translation of the Greek text recounts the following:

"This is the story of the long voyage of Hanno king of the Carhaginians into Libyan lands beyond the Pillars of Heracles, which he dedicated on a tablet in the temple of Kronos (the Carhaginian Melqart):

  1. The Carthaginians decided that Hanno should sail beyond the Pillars of Heracles and found cities of Liby-phoenicians(1). He set sail with sixty penteconters and about thirty thousand men and women, and provisions and other necessaries.
  2. After sailing beyond the Pillars of Heracles for two days, we founded the first city which we called Thymiaterion. Below it was a large plain.
  3. Sailing thence westward we came to Soloeis, a Libyan promontory covered with trees. There we founded a temple to Poseidon (The Carthaginian Baal Shaphon)
  4. Journeying eastward for half a day we reached a lake not far from the sea, covered with a great growth of tall reeds, where elephants and many other wild animals fed.
  5. A day’s sea journey beyond this lake we founded five new cities on the coast called Karikon-Teichos, Bytte, Akra, Melitta and Arambys.
  6. Passing on from there we came to the large river Lixos, flowing from Libya, beside which nomads called Lixitae(2) pastured their flocks. We stayed some time with them and became friends.
  7. Inland from there dwelt inhospitable Ethiopians(3) in a land ridden with wild beasts and hemmed in by great mountains. They say that the Lixos flows down from there and that amongst these mountains Troglodytes(4) of strange appearance dwell, who according to the Lixitae can run more swiftly than horses.
  8. Taking interpreters from the Lixitae we sailed south along the desert shore for two days and then for one day eastward and found a small island 5 stades in circumference at the further end of a gulf. We made a settlement there and called it Cerne(5). We judged from our journey that it was directly opposite Carthage, for the voyage from Carthage to the Pillars of Heracles and from there to Cerne seemed alike.
  9. From here sailing up a big river called Chretes we reached a lake, in which were three islands bigger than Cerne. Completing a day’s sail from here we came to the end of the lake, overhung by some very high mountains crowded with savages clad in skins of wild beasts, who stoned us and beat us off and prevented us from disembarking(6).
  10. Sailing from there we came to another big wide river, teeming with crocodiles and hippopotamuses. We turned again from there and came back to Cerne.
  11. We sailed south for twelve days from there, clinging to the coast, which was all along occupied by Ethiopians who did not stay their ground, but fled from us. Their speech was unintelligible, even to our Lixitae.
  12. On the last day we came to anchor by some high mountains clad with trees whose wood was sweet smelling and mottled.
  13. Sailing round these for two days we reached an immense gulf, on either shore of which was a plain where by night we saw big and little fires flaming up at intervals everywhere.
  14. Taking on water here, we sailed on for five days along the coast until we came to a great bay which our interpreters called the "Horn of the West"(7). In it was a large island and in the island a salt-water lake, within which was another island where we disembarked. By day we could see nothing but a forest, but by night we saw many fires burning and we heard the sound of flutes and of beating of cymbals and drums and a great din of voices. Fear came upon us and the soothsayers bade us leave the island.
  15. We sailed thence in haste and skirted a fiery coast replete with burning incense. Great streams of fire and lava poured down into the sea and the land was unapproachable because of the heat.
  16. We left there hurriedly in fear and sailing for four days we saw the land by night full of flames. In the middle was a high flame taller than the rest, reaching, as it seemed, the stars. By day it was seen to be a very high mountain called the "Chariot of the Gods"(8).
  17. Thence sailing for three days past fiery lava flows we reached a gulf called the "Horn of the South".
  18. At the farther end of this bay was an island, like the first, with a lake, within which was another island full of savages. By far the greater number were women with shaggy bodies, whom our interpreters called Gorillas. Chasing them we were unable to catch any of the men, all of whom, being used to climbing precipices, got away, defending themselves by throwing stones. But we caught three women, who bit and mangled those who carried them off, being unwilling to follow them. We killed them, however, and flayed them and brought their skins back to Carthage. For we did not sail further as our supplies gave out."

Historians are divided about this narrative. The most skeptical consider that Hannon could not exceed the Moroccan Atlantic coast (Thymiatherion could match the current Kenitra dominates the Gharb plain and that the Soloeis cape represents the present-day Cape Blanco also known as the 'Ras Nouadhibou'). The most enthusiastic are convinced that Hanno has reached the shores of Cameroon (the Chariot of the gods would correspond to the Mount Cameroon volcano). Most exegetes claim that anyway he has reached the Senegal River.

(1) Les Libyo-Phéniciens sont issus d'une race métisse, mélange d'Africains et d'Orientaux Retour texte
(2) Les Lixites sont les nomades du Sahara Occidental, ils étaient les intermédiaires entre l'Afrique blanche et l'Afrique noire Retour texte
(3) Il s'agissait probablement des habitants de la Guinée Retour texte
(4) Nous supposons que les troglodytes sont les ancêtres des Berbères qui refusaient toute domination étrangère et tenaient à leur indépendance Retour texte
(5) Il y a trois suppositions concernant cette île: Tydra au sud de la baie du Lévrier, l'île de Saint Louis à l'embouchure du fleuve Sénégal ou plus au sud Gorée à quelques encablures du Dakar. Une autre hypothèse précise que l'île est située dans la baie di Rio de Oro et que les anciennes cartes marines désignaient sous le nom d'île d'Hern Retour texte
(6) Certains historiens parlent de ce pays montagneux qui pourrait correspondre au pays de Bambouk, fabuleux pays des mines d'or. Quand Hannon parle de l'accueil hostile et agressif qui lui a été réservé, nous pensons que ce discours est volontaire et susceptible de dégoûter tous ceux qui seraient tentés d'aller sur ses traces à la recherche de l'or Retour texte
(7) Le cap des Palmes en Côte-d'Ivoire Retour texte
(8) le volcan du mont Cameroun Retour texte

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