Hanno the Great in the First Punic War
The State of Sicily
In 248 BCE Rome began her recovery of the disastrous events of the prior year. A disastrous naval defeat at the Battle of Drepana, another destructive storm, and political chaos back home in Rome had placed the Republic in its nadir in its course of the First Punic War. Fortunately for Rome, Carthage, while conducting some operations, did not seize the opportunity and take real initiative in the war.
The Romans had relinquished the seas to Carthage and did not order the construction of another fleet. The three storms together had destroyed far more ships than Carthage was ever going to and they had been the chief cause of depleting Roman manpower and treasure. Still, even though the sea was abandoned, Rome was still in control of most of Sicily. Only the far western sectors of the island remained in Carthaginian hands. Also, of the two major Carthaginian strongholds left, Rome was still managing to continue the Siege of Lilybaeum. Even though the logistics forced supplies and food for the besieging army to be transported overland, it was getting done. Aside from Lilybaeum, the fortifications of Drepana were not as secure as they once were with the Roman capture of Mt. Eryx commanding the high ground next to the city.
Hanno the Great
With this in mind, it does seem strange that Carthage did not use the Romans’ general disarray after 249 BCE to try and counter-attack many of the positions in Sicily from these western bases, much like they had done in previous wars. It can be argued that they were simply war-weary, but they had been able to build another fleet and and reinforce the island of Sicily multiple times since repulsing the Roman African invasion about six years before. What really may have caused Carthage’s lackluster attempt to turn things around may have been internal political disagreements. This political divide that was starting to form was likely spearheaded by a Carthaginian that has come down to us Hanno the Great.
This Hanno the Great (there was an earlier one about a century before this one) is probably best known for letting Hannibal fend for himself while he was in Italy by not trying his best to reinforce Hannibal in the Second Punic War. It is presumably in our current war that he earned his nickname “the Great,” though it wasn’t for fighting the Romans. What seems to have been happening as the First Punic War progressed is that a faction developed in Carthage that was willing to come to terms with the Roman Republic. Instead of fighting over Sicily, this anti-Roman faction (probably with Hanno the Great as a central figure similar to how he led an anti-war faction in the Second Punic War) believed Carthage should instead be something akin to “pro-African.” What this would mean for Carthage was essentially focusing on consolidating and conquering more of northern Africa and use this as a source of manpower and wealth.
Warring in Africa
For Hanno and certainly many of the other wealthy aristocratic merchants, the naval aspect of the First Punic War was affecting the regional trade networks and economy substantially. This likely had a major effect on their bottom lines giving them a reason to push for some negotiated peace with Rome. On the other hand, land wars against the North African tribes would have much lower risks of impacting their businesses in major ways. This pro-African faction would also have had a good pretext for these campaigns as well. When Regulus invaded Africa, many of the tribes bordering Carthaginian territory either revolted or started raiding across the border. Even though these revolts were likely put down by now, Carthage would already have had an African army mobilized with experience under its belt that could be used in further reprisals.
Hanno the Great and the anti-Roman faction seem to have won out over their rivals. While they may not have completely controlled all affairs, since Hamilcar Barca did go to Sicily and no peace was negotiated (not that Rome would have offered peace anyways), there is evidence that the bulk of Carthaginian resources went into these African campaigns than in fighting Rome. After the First Punic War was over, Hanno the Great was regarded as the “commander-in-chief in Africa” when the Carthaginians began to confront hostile mercenaries. (Polybius 1.67)1 He had apparently been in this position, or at least another top level commanding position for some time based on Polybius’ later statements about this Hanno. In regards to fighting some of mercenaries besieging Utica he states, “Hanno had been accustomed to fight with Numidians and Libyans, who once they give way continue their flight for two or three days…” (1.74)2 (Though these mercenaries resisted quite well to his dismay.) Carthaginian control over the neighboring tribes and over the Libyans seems to have strengthened as well. This included doubling the taxation imposed in parts of these territories. It would seem hard to be able to do all of this without some campaigning and major showings of force to back up this control.
Carthaginian Campaigns Against Rome
With more of the war effort beginning to be devoted to Africa than Sicily, Carthage was unable to capitalize on the advantages she had gained over Rome in 249 BCE. Interestingly the victor at the Battle of Drepana, Adherbal, is not mentioned again in the narrative of the First Punic War. This is strange because Carthaginian generals could maintain long tenures in that position if they were successful. Seeing as he was the first to one to beat a Roman fleet it is odd that he doesn’t hold command anymore, unless perhaps he died of some other cause. Even if he didn’t and simply retired from the generalship command in Sicily was transferred to Carthalo, the admiral who preyed upon the Roman relief expedition. Though no details are given, Carthalo “undertook many different kinds of enterprises against them [the Roman consuls of 248 BCE].” (Zonaras 8.16)3 Apparently unable to make anything happen he actually tried to conduct some raids against Italy proper and divert some Roman forces in Sicily back to Italy. These, too, failed when a Roman army under the command of a praetor was able to ward him off.
This is the extent of Carthaginian effort in and around Sicily until Hamilcar Barca replaced Carthalo as commander in Sicily later that year. There may also be another reason we haven’t touched upon as to why Carthalo was unable to get much accomplished with his army. It appears that the mercenaries under his command were getting restless from lack of payment and had to be constantly dealt with. Once they started rebelling and openly revolting, Carthalo used a very interesting method of dealing with them. “He put a large number ashore on desert islands and left them there.” (Zonaras 8.16)4 He was able to temporarily deal with these mercenaries, but the problem would persist until Hamilcar dealt with them later.
With that, much of 248 BCE came to pass in the First Punic War. Probably the most important thing to take away here is that Carthage was quite politically divided. Hanno the Great was likely becoming the head of anti-war (or at least anti-Roman war) faction in Carthage that was gaining the upper hand in political affairs. This stands in stark contrast to the Roman side of things when in Rome after hearing of the losses of 249, “[The Romans] would not give up; nay they even slew a man who uttered a word in the senate about reconciliation with the Carthaginians.” (Zonaras 8.15)5 While this might be an overly exaggerated description of political situation in Rome (this quote comes in when Calatinus become dictator in Zonaras’ account), it definitely seems from all the sources that any sort of negotiations or peace dealings with Carthage was not an option on the table to even consider.
Next time, we will look at what Rome tried to do in order to rebound from the horrible year of 249.
- Polybius. The Histories. Translated by W. R. Paton. 1922.
- Cassius Dio and Zonaras. Roman History. Translated by Earnest Cary. 1914.