Home » Horizons » Classical texts » Hanno and Himilco: Carthaginian explorers in classical sources


This page features translations of classical works ascribed to or describing the voyages of Carthaginian explorers such as Hanno, Himilco and Magus.


2.68While the power of Carthage was at its height, Hanno published an account of a voyage which he made from Gades to the extremity of Arabia; Himilco was also sent, about the same time, to explore the remote parts of Europe.


The voyage of Hanno, king of the Carthaginians to the Libyan regions of the earth beyond the Pillars of Hercules, which he dedicated also in the Temple of Baal, affixing this

1It pleased the Carthaginians that Hanno should voyage outside the Pillars of Hercules, and found cities of the Libyphœnicians. And 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.

2After passing through the Pillars we went on and sailed for two days' journey beyond, where we founded the first city, which we called Thymiaterium; it lay in the midst of a great plain.

3Sailing thence toward the west we came to Solois, a promontory of Libya, bristling with trees.

4Having set up an altar here to Neptune, we proceeded again, going toward the east for half the day, until we reached a marsh lying no great way from the sea, thickly grown with tall reeds. Here also were elephants and other wild beasts feeding, in great numbers.

5Going beyond the marsh a day's journey, we settled cities by the sea, which we called Caricus Murus, Gytta, Acra, Melitta and Arambys.

6Sailing thence we came to the Lixus, a great river flowing from Libya. By it a wandering people, the Lixitas, were pasturing their flocks; with whom we remained some time, becoming friends.

7Above these folk lived unfriendly Æthiopians, dwelling in a land full of wild beasts, and shut off by great mountains, from which they say the Lixus flows, and on the mountains live men of various shapes, cave-dwellers, who, so the Lixitæ say, are fleeter of foot than horses.

8Taking interpreters from them, we sailed twelve days toward the south along a desert, turning thence 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 it Cerne. From our journey we judged it to be situated opposite Carthage ; for the voyage from Carthage to the Pillars and thence to Cerne was the same.

9Thence, sailing by a great river whose name was Chretes, we came to a lake, which had three islands, larger than Cerne. Running a day's sail beyond these, we came to the end of the lake, above which rose great mountains, peopled by savage men wearing skins of wild beasts, who threw stones at us and prevented us from landing from our ships.

10Sailing thence, we came to another river, very great and broad, which was full of crocodiles and hippopotami. And then we turned about and went back to Cerne.

11Thence we sailed toward the south twelve days, following the shore, which was peopled by Æthiopians who fled from us and would not wait. And their speech the Lixitæ who were with us could not understand.

12But on the last day we came to great wooded mountains. The wood of the trees was fragrant, and of various kinds.

13Sailing around these mountains for two days, we came to an immense opening of the sea, from either side of which there was level ground inland; from which at night we saw fire leaping up on every side at intervals, now greater, now less.

14Having 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 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, and we heard the sound of pipes and cymbals, and the noise of drums and a great uproar. Then fear possessed us, and the soothsayers commanded us to leave the island.

15And then quickly sailing forth, we passed by a burning country full of fragrance, from which great torrents of fire flowed down to the sea. But the land could not be come at for the heat.

16And we sailed along with all speed, being stricken by fear. After a journey of four days, we saw the land at night covered with flames. And in the midst there was one lofty fire, greater than the rest, which seemed to touch the stars. By day this was seen to be a very high mountain, called Chariot of the Gods.

17Thence, sailing along by the fiery torrents for three days, we came to a bay, called Horn of the South.

18In the recess of this bay there was an island, like the former one, having a lake, in which there was another island, full of savage men. There were women, too, in even greater number. They had hairy bodies, and the interpreters called them Gorillæ. When we pursued them we were unable to take any of the men; for they all escaped, by climbing the steep places and defending themselves with stones; but we took three of the women, who bit and scratched their leaders, and would not follow us. So we killed them and flayed them, and brought their skins to Carthage. For we did not voyage further, provisions failing us.


5.1There formerly existed some Commentaries written by Hanno, a Carthaginian general, who was commanded, in the most flourishing times of the Punic state, to explore the sea-coast of Africa. The greater part of the Greek and Roman writers have followed him, and have related, among other fabulous stories, that many cities there were founded by him, of which no remembrance, nor yet the slightest vestige, now exists.

While Scipio Æmilianus held the command in Sicily, Polybius the historian received a fleet from him for the purpose of proceeding on a voyage of discovery in this part of the world. He relates, that beyond Mount Atlas, proceeding in a westerly direction, there are forests filled with wild beasts, peculiar to the soil of Africa, as far as the river Anatis, a distance of 485 miles, Lixos being distant from it 205 miles. Agrippa says, that Lixos is distant from the Straits of Gades 112 miles. After it we come to a gulf which is called the Gulf of Saguti, a town situate on the Promontory of Mulelacha, the rivers Subur and Salat, and the port of Rutubis, distant from Lixos 213 miles We then come to the Promontory of the Sun, the port of Risardir, the Gætulian Autololes, the river Cosenus, the nations of the Selatiti and the Masati, the river Masathat, and the river Darat, in which crocodiles are found. After this we come to a large gulf, 616 miles in extent, which is enclosed by a promontory of Mount Barce, which runs out in a westerly direction, and is called Surrentium. Next comes the river Salsus, beyond which lie the Æthiopian Perorsi, at the back of whom are the Pharusii, who are bordered upon by the Gætulian Daræ, lying in the interior. Upon the coast again, we find the Æthiopian Daratitæ, and the river Bambotus, teeming with crocodiles and hippopotami. From this river there is a continuous range of mountains till we come to the one which is known by the name of Theon Ochema, from which to the Hesperian Promontory is a voyage of ten days and nights; and in the middle of this space he has placed Mount Atlas, which by all other writers has been stated to be in the extreme parts of Mauritania.

6.36Cerne is the name of an island situate opposite to Æthiopia, the size of which has not been ascertained, nor yet its distance from the main land: it is said that its inhabitants are exclusively Æthiopians. Ephorus states that those who sail from the Red Sea into the Æthiopian Ocean cannot get beyond the Columnæ there, some little islands so called. Polybius says that Cerne is situate at the extremity of Mauritania, over against Mount Atlas, and at a distance of eight stadia from the land; while Cornelius Nepos states that it lies very nearly in the same meridian as Carthage, at a distance from the mainland of ten miles, and that it is not more than two miles in circumference. It is said also that there is another island situate over against Mount Atlas, being itself known by the name of Atlantis. Five days' sail beyond it there are deserts, as far as the Æthiopian Hesperiæ and the promontory, which we have mentioned as being called Hesperu Ceras, a point at which the face of the land first takes a turn towards the west and the Atlantic Sea. Facing this promontory are also said to be the islands called the Gorgades, the former abodes of the Gorgons, two days' sail from the mainland, according to Xenophon of Lampsacus. Hanno, a general of the Carthaginians, penetrated as far as these regions, and brought back an account that the bodies of the women were covered with hair, but that the men, through their swiftness of foot, made their escape; in proof of which singularity in their skin, and as evidence of a fact so miraculous, he placed the skins of two of these females in the temple of Juno, which were to be seen there until the capture of Carthage. Beyond these even, are said to be the two islands of the Hesperides; but so uncertain are all the accounts relative to this subject, that Statius Sebosus says that it is forty days' sail, past the coast of the Atlas range, from the islands of the Gorgons to those of the Hesperides, and one day's sail from these to the Hesperu Ceras. Nor have we any more certain information relative to the islands of Mauritania. We only know, as a fact well-ascertained, that some few were discovered by Juba over against the country of the Autololes, upon which he established a manufactory of Gætulian purple.

8.21It is said that Hanno, one of the most illustrious of the Carthaginians, was the first who ventured to touch the lion with the hand, and to exhibit it in a tame state. It was on this account that he was banished; for it was supposed, that a man so talented and so ingenious would have it in his power to persuade the people to anything, and it was looked upon as unsafe to trust the liberties of the country to one who had so eminently triumphed over even ferocity itself.


85Here is the city of Gadir, previously called Tartessus; here are the pillars of unyielding Hercules, Abila and Calpe. Calpe is on the left of the land I have spoken of; Abila is next to Africa. They make a harsh noise, and here rises the crest of the overshadowing ridge.

90A more ancient age called it Oestrymnis, and the lofty bulk of the rocky outcrops all turns towards the warm south wind.

But beneath the top of this peak, the Oestrymnian gulf gapes open for its inhabitants, in which the Oestrymnian islands spring up, lying over a wide area and rich in deposits of tin and lead. Great is the energy of the people here, proud their character, pragmatic their skill. All things are connected to affairs of business.

They cleave the tempestuous sea, and the current of the Ocean abounding in monsters, with woven boats.

100Indeed, these people do not know how to fashion keels with pine and maple. They do not, as is usual, shape their boats from fir, but, in a miraculous thing, they always fit out vessels from hides stitched together, and often travel through the immense sea in a skin.

Then from here it is two days' journey by boat to the Holy island - so the ancients called it. This island lies as an expanse of ground amid the waves, and the people of the Hierni cultivate it all over. The island of the Albiones also lies nearby.

110It was the habit of the Tartessians to do business among the furthest parts of the Oestrymnides.

The colonists from Carthage and the ordinary people, bearing on through the pillars of Hercules, used to come down to these seas, which Himilco of Carthage declared - as he reports he himself proved by sailing all the way - could scarcely be crossed in four months. This is so because no breezes drive the ship, 120and the sluggish water of the inert sea stands still. He adds this comment too: among the currents, there is a lot of seaweed, and often, in the manner of a bush, it checks a ship. He says that nonetheless here the surface of the sea does not extend to a great depth, and the seabed is scarcely covered with a little water. Here and there sea creatures meet, and sea monsters swim amid the slow ships sluggishly crawling along.

380Beyond, towards the area to the west, Himilco relates that from the Pillars there is a sea without end: the ocean lies open across a wide area, and the sea stretches out. No man has entered upon these seas; no man has ever set ships on that ocean, because the sea lacks winds that would drive the ship along, and no breeze from the sky favours a ship.

Then, because a mist clothes the air with a kind of cloak, fog always conceals the sea and lasts through the day, which is rather thick with clouds.

That is the Ocean, which roars far off around the vast earth. That is the great sea. This sea encircles the shores. 390This is the source of the water of the inner sea; this is the parent of our sea.

402An old habit once called the Arabian gulf the Ocean; and another custom so called the Atlantic sea. The Ocean's current extends encircling far and wide, and it is stretched out over a broad area along dispersed coasts.

For the most part, in fact, the sea is spread shallow, with the result that it scarcely covers the sands which lie beneath it. Moreover, thick seaweed rises above the gulf, and the swell here is checked by the marshy seabed. 410Abundant sea creatures swim amongst all the sea, and great terror, because of these creatures, abides in the deep.

Himilco the Carthaginian reported that he had once seen these creatures in the Ocean and proved their existence. These we have related to you, revealed a long time ago deep in the annals of the Carthaginians.


2.3.4In giving the names of those who are said to have circumnavigated Libya Poseidonius says that Herodotus believes that certain men commissioned by Neco accomplished the circumnavigation of Libya; and adds that Heracleides of Pontus in one of his Dialogues makes a certain Magus who had come to the court of Gelo assert that he had circumnavigated Libya.

5Now Poseidonius is a wonderful fellow in all this; for although he considers as unsupported by testimony the story of the voyage of the Magus, which Heracleides told, and of the voyage even of the emissaries of Neco, of which Herodotus gives an account, he puts down as real evidence this Bergaean story, though he either invented it himself or accepted it from others who were its inventors.

Sir Graham