Hamilcar (not Barca)

The first Carthaginian general that we will be looking at in detail will be Hamilcar. He should not be confused with Hamilcar Barca, a different general later in the war and also the father of the famous Hannibal. Unfortunately, the Carthaginian elite seemed to like using the same pool of names for all their children. Just in this war there will be a couple Hamilcars, some Hasdrubals, Hannos, and severals Hannibals among others. Anyways, as we found out, after Hanno’s defeat at Agrigentum, Hamilcar was sent to Sicily as his replacement.

Hamilcar’s first order of business seems to be to capitalize on Rome’s inherent deficiency of naval forces. Likely by using Sardinia as a base he sent some naval forces under Hannibal the son of Gisgo (the commander of the garrison forces at Agrigentum) to raid the western coastline of Italy. Only Zonaras includes these attacks, perhaps because he even admits that they didn’t amount to anything. (8.10)1 Even though Zonaras mistakes this Hamilcar for Hamilcar Barca, it does make sense that Carthage would begin to use its naval strength after losing some ground in Sicily.

In the meantime Hamilcar remained in Sicily. It is at this time that perhaps the Gallic mercenaries that were betrayed by Hanno may have actually been sent to their fate by Hamilcar, as Zonaras also records a very similar incident. In any event, Hamilcar was able to take control of the remainder of the forces in Sicily and was able to put together some successful land operations against the Romans.

Hamilcar’s Land Campaigns in Sicily

In western Sicily Hamilcar was quite successful, particularly around the region of Segesta, if it had actually defected to the Romans earlier in the war. This may be doubtful because, although it was not a coastal town, it was in northwestern Sicily and very close to major Carthaginian territory such as Lilybaeum. If it is true, the Roman force was only commanded by a military tribune at the time. The two consuls Gaius Duilius and Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio were both at sea during the campaigning season of 260. (Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio was supposed to be actively commanding the land forces, but we will look at both of these consuls in more detail later.) Hamilcar was able to handily defeat the tribune Gaius Caecilius, but was only able to temporarily secure the region. This was due to the fact that Duilius was able to return with reinforcements and with that Hamilcar was forced to with withdraw to the nearby base of Drepana and enhance the fortifications there. He also moved the population of Eryx into Drepana so that he could commandeer Mt. Eryx as another Carthaginian base.

Further east in Sicily Hamilcar was able to meet some success. During some sort of quarrel between the Romans and their allies, Hamilcar was able to assault them with his full force and cause, according to Polybius, 4,000 casualties. (1.24)2 In central Sicily it was likely Hamilcar’s presence that caused the Romans to end the siege of Mytistratus (or Mytistraton) after encircling it for seven months. After Mytistratus, around the center of the northern coastline, Hamilcar was able to win a victory over the Romans at Thermae. According to Diodorus Siculus, “having engaged them in battle, [Hamilcar] was victorious and slew six thousand men, very nearly the whole army.” (23.9)3 While these figures may be a little exaggerated, it clearly shows that Hamilcar was successfully countering the Roman advance from the previous years. Diodorus Siculus also mentions further actions at this time taken by both Carthage and Rome. The Carthaginians ceded the fort at Mazarin, but Hamilcar (we are told by “treachery”) was able to claim Enna and Camarina. The former was located in central Sicily and the latter on the southern coastline. Hamilcar was clearly operating on campaigns of maneuvering and was taking advantage of a likely superiority in numbers on the ground (as Rome may have been sending only one consular army into Sicily at this time while they were engaged in large naval affairs). Zonaras even claims that “[Hamilcar] captured several cities, too, some by force and some by betrayal; and if Gaius Florus [one of the consuls of 259], who was wintering there, had not restrained him, he would have subjugated the whole of Sicily.” (8.11)4

At this point in the war (the actions described take place from 261 to 259) Hamilcar was able to prevent the Romans from capitalizing on Agrigentum and taking care of Sicily despite some naval setbacks that occurred during the same period. Later on in the war Hamilcar would take part in the naval battle of Ecnomus and then be one of the generals to face Regulus in Africa as well as campaigning against dissenting factions in North Africa. However, it is the naval aspect of the war which we will now examine.

1. Cassius Dio and Zonaras. Roman History. Translated by Earnest Cary. 1914.
2. Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.
3. Diodorus Siculus. Library of History. Translated by Francis Walton. 1957.
4. Cassius Dio and Zonaras. Roman History. Translated by Earnest Cary. 1914.