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Hanno African Voyage

Hanno African Voyage

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A documentary based on the journal of the 5th century BCE Carthaginian explorer Hanno.

Necho II

Necho II [1] (sometimes Nekau, [2] Neku, [3] Nechoh, [4] or Nikuu [5] Greek: Νεκώς Β' [6] [7] [8] Hebrew: נְכוֹ ‎ , Modern: Nəkō, Tiberian: Nekō) of Egypt was a king of the 26th Dynasty (610–595 BC), which ruled out of Saite. [9] Necho undertook a number of construction projects across his kingdom. [10] In his reign, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, Necho II sent out an expedition of Phoenicians, which in three years sailed from the Red Sea around Africa to the Strait of Gibraltar and back to Egypt. [11] His son, Psammetichus II, upon succession may have removed Necho's name from monuments. [12]

Necho played a significant role in the histories of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Neo-Babylonian Empire and the Kingdom of Judah. Necho II is most likely the pharaoh mentioned in several books of the Bible. [13] [14] [15] The aim of the second of Necho's campaigns was Asiatic conquest, [16] [17] to contain the westward advance of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and cut off its trade route across the Euphrates. However, the Egyptians were defeated by the unexpected attack of the Babylonians and were eventually expelled from Syria.

The egyptologist Donald B. Redford observed that although Necho II was "a man of action from the start, and endowed with an imagination perhaps beyond that of his contemporaries, [who] had the misfortune to foster the impression of being a failure." [18]

Hanno and the African Voyage

About the Scenario
Sometime in the 6th century BCE, a Carthaginian crew passed through the Pillars of Herakles and down the West African coast. Led by a man named Hanno, the expedition would travel further than any Carthaginians had gone before. Their feat would not be matched until the Portuguese explorers some two millennia later. As Hanno, take charge of this voyage, fight savage tribes, and return to Carthage laden with the riches of Africa!

About the Author
The author is a campaign designer on the Forgotten Empires team, where he made official campaigns for both Age of Empires: Definitive Edition and Age of Empires II: HD Edition. He is also a prolific custom campaign designer with over a dozen releases totaling over 146,000 unique downloads. Hanno and the African Voyage is his first released custom campaign for Age of Empires/Rise of Rome since 1999.

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It may not show in their mapmaking, but the ancient Greeks had heard tales of the wonders and novelties of an Africa that lay far beyond Egypt and Nubia thanks to the travelogues of Hanno of Carthage. Hanno of Carthage (c. 5th century B.C.) left a bronze plaque in a temple to Baal as testimony to his voyage down the west coast of Africa to the land of the gorilla people.

The Periplus of Hanno the Navigator

The periplus (literally "a sailing-around") of Hanno the Navigator, a Carthaginian colonist and explorer circa 500 BCE, which recounts his exploration of the West coast of Africa, is one of the earliest surviving manuscript documents listing in order the ports and coastal landmarks, with approximate distances between, that the captain of a vessel could expect to find along a shore.

In his periplus Hanno states that he brought new colonists to four Carthaginian settlements established where the chain of the Atlas Mountains reaches the Atlantic and then, having founded a new colony at the Tropic, proceeded from there to explore the coast of Africa as far as the Equator. It also contains a description of an active volcano and the first known report about gorillas.

Hanno's periplus survives in a single Byzantine manuscript, which also contains various other texts, and dates from the 9th or 10th century&mdashCodex Heidelbergensis 398. A digital facsimile of the manuscript is available from the Universitätsbibliothek, Heidelberg at this link. Hanno's text was first edited for publication in print by Sigismund Gelenius, and issued from Basel in 1533. It was translated into English by Wilfred Schott and published as The Periplus of Hanno. A Voyage of Discovery Down the West African Coast by a Carthaginian Admiral of the Fifth Century B.C. (1912).

"The primary source for the account of Hanno's expedition is a Greek translation, titled Periplus, of a tablet Hanno is reported to have hung up on his return to Carthage in the temple of Ba'al Hammon whom Greek writers identified with Kronos. The full title translated from Greek is The Voyage of Hanno, commander of the Carthaginians, round the parts of Libya beyond the Pillars of Heracles, which he deposited in the Temple of Kronos. This was known to Pliny the Elder and Arrian, who mentions it at the end of his Anabasis of Alexander VIII (Indica):

" 'Moreover, Hanno the Libyan started out from Carthage and passed the Pillars of Heracles and sailed into the outer Ocean, with Libya on his port side, and he sailed on towards the east, five-and-thirty days all told. But when at last he turned southward, he fell in with every sort of difficulty, want of water, blazing heat, and fiery streams running into the sea" (Wikipedia article on Hanno the Navigator, accessed 05-30-2009).

Hanno African Voyage - History

Phoenician Sea and Land Voyages and Routes

Hanno, Himilco, Necho and others

When the power of Carthage flourished, Hanno sailed round from Cádiz to the extremity of Arabia, and published a memoir of his voyage of his voyage, as did Himilco when he was dispatched at the same date to explore the outer coasts of Europe.

Pliny the Elder, Natural history

Reproduced by kind courtesy of Jona Lendering
© Jona Lendering for Livius.Org

In the first half of the sixth century B.C., 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.


The eighteen lines of Hanno's artless account of his journey along the west coast of Africa are a unique document. It is the only known first-hand report on these regions before those of the Portuguese, which were written two thousand years later. Besides, Hanno has a fascinating story to tell: we visit a mysterious island, have to fight hostile natives, survive an erupting volcano and encounter gorillas.

Probably, Hanno made his voyage on the outer sea in the first half of the sixth century B.C.. He had orders to found several colonies on the Moroccan coast after this, he established a trading post on a small island off the Mauritanian coast. Having completed this mission, he ventured further south, making a reconnaissance expedition along the African coast until he reached modern Gabon, where he was forced to return because he was running out of supplies. There is some reason to doubt the truth of the latter statement, because the Roman encyclopedist Pliny the Elder says that Hanno circumnavigated Africa and reached the borders of Arabia.

On his return, Hanno dedicated an inscription to one of the Carthaginian gods, in which he told what he had done. In the fifth century, someone translated this text into a rather mediocre Greek. It was not a complete rendering several abridgments were made. The abridged translation was copied several times by Greek and Byzantine clerks. At the moment, there are only two copies, dating back to the ninth and the fourteenth centuries. The first of these manuscripts is known as the Palatinus Graecus 398 and can be studied in the University Library of Heidelberg. The other text is the so-called Vatopedinus 655 parts of it are in the British Museum in London and in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.

Many scholars have tried to identify the places Hanno mentions. Nowadays, most puzzles — such as the question of the volcano called 'Chariot of the Gods' —seem to be solved. In the commentary below, many toponyms are discussed. All places under discussion can be found in the 1998 edition of the Times Atlas of the world. Other texts related to Hanno's voyage are to be found below.

The "Periplus" of Hanno: Account of King Hanno of Carthage's Sea Voyage Along the African Atlantic Coast

"Record of the voyage of King Hanno of Carthage round the lands of Libya which lie beyond the Pillars of Hercules. It has been engraved on tablets hung up in the Temple of Chronos.

"The Carthaginians decided that Hanno should go past the Pillars and found Carthaginian cities. He set sail with sixty pentekontas carrying thirty thousand men and women with provisions and other necessities. After passing the Pillars of Hercules and sailing for two days beyond them we founded the first city, which was named Thymiaterion. Around it was a large plain. Next we went on in a westerly direction and arrived at the Libyan promontory of Soloeis, which is covered with trees having set up a shrine to Poseidon, we set sail again towards the rising sun for half a day, after which we arrived at a lagoon close to the sea covered with many tall reeds. Elephants and large numbers of other animals were feeding on them. Leaving this lagoon and sailing for another day, we founded the coastal cities named Carian Wall, Gytte, Acra, Melitta and Arambys.

"Leaving this place we arrived at the great river Lixos which comes from Libya. On the banks nomads, the Lixites, were feeding their flocks. We stayed for some time with these people and made friends with them. Upstream from them lived the unfriendly Ethiopians whose land is full of wild beasts and broken up by high mountains where they say the Lixos rises. They also say that about these mountains dwell the strange-looking Troglodytes. The Lixites claim that they can run faster than horses. Taking Lixite interpreters with us we sailed alongside the desert in a southerly direction for two days, then towards the rising sun for one more day. We then found at the far end of an inlet a little island five stades in circumference. We named it Cerne and left settlers there. judging by our journey we reckoned that it must be opposite Carthage, since we had to sail the same distance from Carthage to the Pillars of Hercules as from the Pillars of Hercules to Cerne. From there, sailing up a big river named the Chretes, we arrived at a lake in which there were three islands, all larger than Cerne. Leaving these islands, we sailed for one day and came to the end of the lake, which was overshadowed by high mountains full of savages dressed in animal skins that threw stones at us and thus prevented us from landing. From there we entered another river, which was big and wide, full of crocodiles and hippopotamuses. Then we retraced our journey back to Cerne.

"From there we sailed south along a coast entirely inhabited by Ethiopians, who fled at our approach. Their language was incomprehensible even to the Lixites, whom we had with us. On the last day we disembarked by some high mountains covered with trees with sweet-smelling multicoloured wood. We sailed round these mountains for two days and arrived in a huge bay on the other side of which was a plain there we saw fires breaking out at intervals on all sides at night, both great and small. Having renewed our water supplies, we continued our voyage along the coast for five days, after which we arrived at a huge inlet, which the interpreters called the Horn of the West. There was a big island in this gulf and in the island was a lagoon with another island. Having disembarked there, we could see nothing but forest by day but at night many fires were seen and we heard the sound of flutes and the beating of drums and tambourines, which made a great noise. We were struck with terror and our soothsayers bade us leave the island.

"We left in haste and sailed along by a burning land full of perfumes. Streams of fire rose from it and plunged into the sea. The land was unapproachable because of the heat. Terror-stricken, we hastened away. During four days' sailing we saw at night that the land was covered with fire. In the middle was a high flame, higher than the others, which seemed to reach the stars. By day we realised that it was a very high mountain, named the Chariot of the Gods. Leaving this place, we sailed along the burning coast for three days and came to the gulf named the Horn of the South. At the end of it was an island like the first one, with a lake in which was another island full of savages. The greater parts of these were women. They had hairy bodies and the interpreters called them Gorillas. We pursued some of the males but we could not catch a single one because they were good climbers and they defended themselves fiercely. However, we managed to take three women. They bit and scratched their captors, whom they did not want to follow. We killed them and removed the skins to take back to Carthage. We sailed no further, being short of supplies."

Other testimonies

The Greek author Arrian (second century A.D.) writes:

The third text is the Natural History by the Roman encyclopedist Pliny the Elder (first century A.D.). He is not a credulous writer: he dismisses several stories which grew up around Hanno's journey as fabrications (Natural History 5.8). This forces us to take the following statement very serious:

We know of an earlier circumnavigation of Africa by Phoenicians in the last years of the seventh century B.C. (Herodotus, Histories 4.42). There are indications that the Himyarites knew the gold mines of Zimbabwe (as well as studies that indicate Phoenician gold mining presence in Zimbabwe) and jealously guarded the trade route along the African east coast. We may speculate that Hanno did not break off his expedition at Corisco Bay, but rounded the Cape of Good Hope and reached Zimbabwe and the Arabian Peninsula.

This is speculation, but there is one point in Hanno's story where he may betray himself. It is the use of the word 'gorilla', which renders the kiKongo words ngò dìida ('powerful animal that beats itself violently'): a nice description of the gorilla's characteristic drumming on the chest. In Hanno's days, the speakers of this language probably lived quite close to the lower Zaïre (W.F.G. Lacroix, Africa in Antiquity, 1998 Saarbrücken, pages 48-56, 380 and 384) using one of their words, Hanno admits that he has travelled below the Equator.


Hanno's Account with Commentary



  • 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 branche' 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 Hecataeus of Milete, who lived c.500 B.C. this proves that Hanno lived in the sixth century B.C..
  • 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.

On close examination, a map of the Mediterranean shows that there are few stretches of sea which must be navigated without coastal reference points. In fact, since commercial crafts were able to sail at a speed of around two to three knots, they could cover more than 50 nautical miles a day and therefore, apart from some exceptionally wide crossings, they would always come within sight of the coasts. The longest voyages without coastal reference points were across the Channel of Sardinia, and the Balearic Sea, from the African Coast to the Balearic Islands, or from these islands to the Western coast of Sardinia. All other usual Phoenician routes were along the coasts, as must also have been the case for the great crossing from East to West and vice-versa. As far as the maximum speed is concerned, among the crossing for which we have reliable information, Polybius recounts (I, 46-47) that the captain of a Carthaginian warship, a certain Hannibal known as the "Rhodian", managed to complete the crossing from Carthage to Lylibaeum, present-day Marsala, in 24 hours. He therefore covered a distance of around 125 nautical miles at an average of more than five knots an hour.

Trade ships (for more information about Phoenician trade and warships click this link)

Trade ships sailed almost axclusively between the months of March and October, that is in favourable weather conditions. Special ceremonies, whose aim was to auspicate maritime traffic, heralded their departure. In the Mediterranean, the absence of steady winds -- such as the Trades -- created considerable problems for long voyages, given the particular kind of sails in use: the fact that winds were variable often caused ships to be held up for days at a time. At the same time however, trade could take place in all directions, irrespective of seasonal factors, and was not compelled to follow longer and often time-wasting alternative routes.


Warships, on the other hand, sailed all year round, carrying out the necessary tasks of patrolling the coasts and policing against piracy, and of course taking appropriate military action in the case of war. Conditioned as they were by the weather, such operations were often fatal in outcome. During the first war between Carthage and Rome, for instance, Carthaginian losses caused by storms and consequent shipwrecks amounted to 700 vessels - including warships and commercial crafts employed as troops and supply transporters - whereas casualties in the Roman navy were as a many as thousand.

Circumnavigate Africa

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The History of Exploration Podcast

In this episode, we explore the thrilling and terrifying journey of the Carthaginian explorer Hanno the Navigator south along the coast of West Africa, and examine the indirect way in which the details about his voyage have come down to us.

This map shows the likely route taken by Hanno as he sailed south towards Cameroon. Note the turn back that he tells us his fleet made after reaching the Senegal river. We can speculate that he might have been able to trade for gold with the tribes of Bambouk, and wanted to bring his valuable cargo to relative safety before venturing to explore further south.

This is the Palatinus Graecus 398, a 9th century Byzantine manuscript today located at the University of Heidelberg, in Germany, and is the oldest surviving account of Hanno’s journey that we have.

To get a picture of the historical distance involved between the Palatinus Graecus and Hanno’s voyage, try to imagine that some future civilization tried to reconstruct events surrounding the fall of Rome in the 5th century AD, and only had some 21st century texts to go from.

A number of modern scholars have commented upon Hanno’s voyage. In many cases the analysis has been to refine information and interpretation of the original account. William Smith points out that the complement of personnel totalled 30,000, and that the core mission included the intent to found Carthaginian (or in the older parlance Libyophoenician) towns. [6]

Harden states there is general consensus that the expedition reached at least as far as Senegal. [7] There seems some agreement that he could have reached Gambia. However, Harden mentions lack of agreement as to precisely where to locate the furthest limit of Hanno’s explorations: Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Gabon. He notes the description of Mount Cameroon, a 4,040-metre (13,250 ft) volcano, more closely matches Hanno’s description than Guinea’s 890-metre (2,920 ft) Mount Kakulima. Warmington prefers Mount Kakulima, considering Mount Cameroon too distant.

An Ambitious Plan

Almost nothing is known about the life of Bartolomeu de Novaes Dias before 1487, except that he was at the court of João II, or King John II of Portugal (1455-1495), and was a superintendent of the royal warehouses. He likely had much more sailing experience than his one recorded stint aboard the warship São Cristóvão. Dias was probably in his mid- to late-30s in 1486 when King João II appointed him to head an expedition in search of a sea route to India.

Did you know? According to Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c. 484-c. 425 B.C.), Egyptian pharaoh Necho II (d. 595 B.C.) sent Phoenician sailors out from the Arabian Gulf to sail around the African continent. Their journey took three years.

King João II was entranced by the legend of Prester John, a mysterious and probably apocryphal 12th-century leader of a nation of Christians somewhere in Africa whose kingdom included the Fountain of Youth. King João II sent out a pair of explorers, Afonso de Paiva (c. 1460-c. 1490) and Pêro da Covilhã (c. 1450-c. 1526), to search overland for the Christian kingdom in Ethiopia. King João II also wanted to find a way around the southernmost point of Africa’s coastline, so just a few months after dispatching the overland explorers, he sponsored Dias in an African expedition.

In August 1487, Dias’ trio of ships departed from the port of Lisbon, Portugal. Dias followed the route of 15th-century Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão (c. 1450-c. 1486), who had followed the coast of Africa as far as present-day Cape Cross, Namibia. Dias’ cargo included the standard “padrཞs,” the limestone markers used to stake Portuguese claims on the continent. Padrཞs were planted at the shoreline and served as guideposts to previous Portuguese explorations of the coast.

Dias’ expedition party included six Africans who had been brought to Portugal by earlier explorers. Dias dropped off the Africans at different ports along the coastline of Africa with supplies of gold and silver and messages of goodwill from the Portuguese to the indigenous people. The last two Africans were left at a place the Portuguese sailors called Angra do Salto, probably in modern Angola, and the expedition’s supply ship was left there under guard of nine men.

The Composition of The Slaves

Most slaves constituted women. Apart from performing agricultural functions, women could also carry out other economic functions, which include trading and cotton spinning. Women were also known to perform domestic chores such as cooking, cleaning, and washing clothes. Female slaves were taken by powerful men in the society as wives or concubines and were seen as symbols of wealth.

The main core functions of male slaves were to either cultivate land or herd animals. Slaves working for wealthy families, especially kings, were taught how to row ports, weave, construct houses and do metal work. New slaves were given jobs which required basic skills while experienced slaves were forced to do difficult and more dangerous works such as digging mines and quarries. At a time, some trusted males and few females were assigned a high-status job such as supervising their fellow slaves.

In some pre-colonial states in the west and central Africa, slaves served as soldiers and sometimes confidants of top officials. Since slaves had limited ambitions and were dependent on their masters, they were seen as the ideal person to be close to the leaders. In some states such as the West African Kingdom of Dahomey, female slaves served in the royal palace and formed the kingdom’s soldier elite.

Watch the video: Hanno African Voyage (May 2022).