Libyans: Hanno the Carthaginian (fourth century BCE or earlier)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Libyans: Hanno the Carthaginian (fourth century BCE or earlier),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified May 12, 2024,

Ancient author: Hanno the Carthaginian, Circumnavigation / Periplous / Periplus (link to Greek text with translation; link to full public domain work used here).

Comments: This short document (which likely dates to 300 BCE or earlier) presents itself as a dedicated inscription (in a temple) that briefly recounts the migration journeys of Hanno and other Carthaginians, that is, Phoenicians previously settled in Libya. Like other periplus documents (sea-voyage or circumnavigation writings) the focus is on describing the move from one site to another. Also like other documents of this type, one should expect very little, if any, reliable historical information (beside, perhaps, the fact that some of the mentioned sites were known as Carthaginian / Phoenician settlements).

What such writings do supply is access to the perspectives of the author(s), which is what interests us most in studying ethnic relations anyways. In the process of outlining the migration journey in Hanno’s case, peoples inhabiting those areas are sometimes mentioned or charaterized. Virtually all peoples are either “friendly,” on the one hand, or (far more often) “wild” and “savage,” on the other. There is little room for nuance in the author’s perspective on peoples generally, perhaps with the aim of creating excitement for the reader. Among ethnic groups we encounter in other writings, the Ethiopians seem to take the hit the hardest in this case.


The sea-voyage (periplous) of Hanno, king of the Carthaginians around the Libyan regions of the earth beyond the Pillars of Herakles which he dedicated in the sanctuary of Kronos [likely a Ba’al], displaying it here: (1) The Carthaginians resolved that Hanno should voyage outside the Pillars of Herakles and establish cities of the Libyan Phoenicians. He set forth with sixty ships of fifty oars, and a multitude of men and women, to the number of thirty thousand, and with wheat and other provisions.

(2) After passing through the Pillars we went on and sailed for two days’ journey beyond, where we established the first city, which we called Thymiaterion. It lay in the midst of a great plain. (3) Sailing from there toward the west, we came to Soloeis, a promontory of Libya with many trees. (4) After setting up an altar here to Poseidon, we proceeded again, going toward the east for half the day, until we reached a marsh lying not far from the sea, with thickly grown tall reeds. There were also elephants and other wild beasts feeding here in great numbers. (5) Going beyond the marsh a day’s journey, we settled cities by the sea, which we called Karikon Teichos (literally Carian Wall), Gytte, Akra (Promontory), Melitta and Arambys. (6) Sailing from there we came to the Lixos, a great river flowing from Libya. By it a nomadic people, the Lixitians, were pasturing their flocks. We remained with them some time and became their friends. (7) Beyond these people lived unfriendly Ethiopians, living in a savage (thēriodēs) land and closed off by large mountains, from which, they say, the Lixos flows. On these mountains live strangely shaped people, Troglodytes (Cave-dwellers) who, so the Lixitians say, run faster than horses.

(8) After bringing interpreters with us from the Lixitians, we sailed twelve days toward the south along a desert, turning from there toward the east one day’s sail. There, within the recess of a bay we found a small island, having a circuit of fifteen stadia, which we settled and called Kerne. From our journey we considered it to be situated opposite Carthage, because the voyage from Carthage to the Pillars and from there to Kerne was the same.

(9) Leaving there and sailing by a great river whose name was Chretes, we came to a lake which had three islands, larger than Kerne. After a day’s sail beyond these, we came to the end of the lake. Above this rose great mountains, inhabited by wild (agrioi) people wearing animal skins. They threw stones at us and prevented us from landing from our ships. (10) Sailing from there, we came to another river which was very large and wide and full of crocodiles and hippopotamuses. Then we turned around and went back to Kerne. (11) From there we sailed toward the south twelve days, following the shore, which was settled by Ethiopians who fled from us and would not wait. Our Lixitian interpreters could not understand their speech. (12) But on the last day we came to great wooded mountains. The wood of the trees was fragrant, and of various kinds. (13) Sailing around these mountains for two days, we came to an immense opening of the sea, on either side of which there was level ground inland. At night we saw fire leaping up on every side at intervals, now greater, now less.

(14) Having taken in water there, we sailed along the shore for five days, until we came to a great bay, which our interpreters said was called Hesperou Keras (Horn of the West). In it there was a large island and within the island a lake of the sea, in which there was another island. Landing there during the day, we saw nothing but forests, but by night many burning fires. We heard the sound of pipes and cymbals, and the noise of drums and loud shouting. Then fear overcame us and the diviners (manteis) commanded us to leave the island. (15) Then quickly sailing forth, we passed by a fiery land full of incense, from which great torrents of fire flowed down to the sea. But the land could not be come at for the heat.

(16) We sailed along quickly, being stricken by fear. After a journey of four days, we saw the land at night covered with flames. In the middle there was one gigantic fire, greater than the rest, which seemed to touch the stars. By day this was seen to be a very high mountain, called Theon Ochema (Chariot of the Gods). (17) Sailing from there along by the fiery torrents for three days, we came to a bay, called Notu Keras (Horn of the South). (18) In the recess of this bay there was an island, like the former one, having a lake, in which there was another island, full of wild men. There were women, too, in even greater number. They had hairy bodies, and the interpreters called them “gorillas.” When we chased them, we were unable to capture any of the men because they all escaped by climbing the steep places and defending themselves with stones. But we captured three of the women, who bit and scratched their captors and would not follow us. So we killed them and flayed them, and brought their skins to Carthage. For we did not voyage further because our provisions ran out.


Source of the translation: Wilfred H. Schoff, The Periplus of Hanno: A Voyage of Discovery Down the West African Coast (Philadelphia, PA: Commercial Museum, 1913)., public domain, adapted by Harland with reference to the Greek and consultation of Jerker Blomqvist, The Date and Origin of the Greek Version of Hanno’s Periplus (Lund: Gleerup, 1979).

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