The Periplus of Hanno, King of the Carthaginians – by Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis

This book consists in a historical presentation of the brief Carthaginian text that has not been saved in its original, but in an Ancient Greek translation. Carthaginian explorations of the West coast of Africa before 2450 years….

The Periplus of Hanno, King of the Carthaginians, ed. Megalommatis, a Book Review.

By Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis

Published in Greek, in 1991 (STOHASTIS Publishing House, Athens – Greece), 112 p., the book consists in a historical presentation of the brief Carthaginian text that has not been saved in its original, but in an Ancient Greek translation. The text is very small, 656 words altogether, but the author made of it an entire book.

One should stress the point that with this text starts the History of Morocco and the Western Coast of Africa down to Sierra Leone, since up to that point arrived the maritime expedition of King Hanno. This historical reference to Western Africa is the oldest one in the World Literature. Through a thorough scholarly crosschecking, we are able to date King Hanno at the middle of the 5th century BCE. The author starts the book with a Preface about the ancient travelers and navigators; in that part he describes how people in the Antiquity perceived the World, the Earth and the eventuality of a faraway trip.

Nest is made available the Introduction, which focuses on the History of Carthage, on Hanno and his Periplus, and on the history of the Ancient Greek text, which has been originally published in the famous Geographi Graeci Minores volumes of Mueller (then with a Latin translation). The text and the Modern Greek translation can be found in the continuation, and they are accompanied by the Comments. At the end of the book, the author added a whole chapter of Historical Framework in an effort to show the background of the Phoenician and the Carthaginian expansions in the Mediterranean Sea and, more particularly, in North-Western Africa.

Another Historical Framework chapter comes then; it concerns the History of the area of North-Western Africa, Atlas or Maghreb, down to the Roman times. Maps, diagrams, as well as photographical documentation enrich this book, and offer the average reader a very vivid understanding of the Phoenician and the Carthaginian worlds.

Hanno, the King of Kart Hadasht, the New City as is the name of the city in Phoenician – Carthaginian, ordered a colonial expedition out of his interest to establish colonies in the African coast outside Hercules’ Pillars, i.e. today’s Gibraltar, and to explore the unknown coasts of West Africa. At the end of the expedition, when the Carthaginian marines of Hanno returned to Carthage, they dedicated to the main temple of the city an inscription narrating the details; this was later copied by an Ancient Greek translator and, thanks to him, it survived until now. The expedition marks the southernmost known point in West Africa during the Antiquity, which seems to be in the area of today’s Sierra Leone. Very interesting events have been narrated in this brief text, especially when the Carthaginian sailors brought aboard a female gorilla, or were panicked by a volcano eruption.

Exploration and colonization of the semi-desert coast of West African were important aspects of the Carthaginian expansion and imperialism. Like the famous Phoenician circumnavigation of Africa that was ordered by Pharaoh Nechao in the year 600 BCE (some 150 years before the expedition of Hanno), the Periplus of Hanno consists in some of the most important achievements in the History of explorations before Vasco da Gama.

By Prof. Dr. Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
Published: 8/7/2005

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