Duane W. Roller
The Voyage of Hanno, the Carthaginian navigator, was undertaken around 500 BC. The general consensus is that his journey took him through the Strait of Gibraltar and along part of the west coast of Africa. A record, or periplus, of the voyage was inscribed on tablets and displayed in the Temple of Baal at Carthage. Richard Hennig speculated that the contents of the periplus were copied by the Greek historian, Polybius, after the Romans captured Carthage. It did not surface again until the 10th century when a copy, in Greek, was discovered (Codex Heildelbergensis 398) and was not widely published until the 16th century.
The 1797 English translation of the periplus by Thomas Falconer along with the original Greek text can be downloaded or read online(h).
Edmund Marsden Goldsmid (1849-?) published a translation of A Treatise On Foreign Languages and Unknown Islands by Peter Albinus. In footnotes on page 39 he describes Hanno’s periplus as ‘apocryphal’. A number of other commentators(c)(d) have also cast doubts on the authenticity of the Hanno text.
Three years after Ignatius Donnelly published Atlantis, Lord Arundell of Wardour published The Secret of Plato’s Atlantis intended as a rebuttal of Donnelly’s groundbreaking book. The ‘secret’ referred to in the title is that Plato’s Atlantis story is based on the account we have of the Voyage of Hanno.
Nicolai Zhirov speculated that Hanno may have witnessed ‘the destruction of the southern remnants of Atlantis’, based on some of his descriptions.
Rhys Carpenter commented that ”The modern literature about his (Hanno’s) voyage is unexpectedly large. But it is so filled with disagreement that to summarize it with any thoroughness would be to annul its effectiveness, as the variant opinions would cancel each other out”[221.86].
Further discussion of the text and topography encountered by Hanno can be read in a paper by Duane W. Roller.
What I find interesting is that so much attention was given to Hanno’s voyage as if it was unique and not what you would expect if Atlantic travel was as commonplace at that time, as many ‘alternative’ history writers claim.
However, even more questionable is the description of Hanno sailing off “with a fleet of sixty fifty-oared ships, and a large number of men and women to the number of thirty thousand, and with wheat and other provisions.” The problem with this is that the 50-oared ships would have been penteconters, which had limited room for much more than the oarsmen. If we include the crew, an additional 450 persons per ship would have been impossible, in fact it, is unlikely that even the provisions for 500 hundred people could have been accommodated!
Lionel Casson, the author of The Ancient Mariners commented that “if the whole expedition had been put aboard sixty penteconters, the ships would have quietly settled on the harbour bottom instead of leaving Carthage: a penteconter barely had room to carry a few days’ provisions for its crew, to say nothing of a load of passengers with all the equipment they needed to start a life in a colony.“
The American writer, William H. Russeth, commented(f) on the various interpretations of Hanno’s route, noting that “It is hard for modern scholars to figure out exactly where Hanno traveled, because descriptions changed with each version of the original document and place names change as different cultures exert their influence over the various regions. Even Pliny the Elder, the famous Roman Historian, complained of writers committing errors and adding their own descriptions concerning Hanno’s journey, a bit ironic considering that Romans levelled the temple of Ba’al losing the famous plaque forever.”
George Sarantitis has a more radical interpretation of Hanno’s journey, proposing
(e) that instead of taking a route along the North African coast and then out into the Atlantic, he proposes that Hanno travelled inland along waterways that no longer exist. He insists that the location of the Pillars of Heracles, as referred to in the narrative, matches the Gulf of Gabes.
The most recent commentary on Hanno’s voyage is on offer from Antonio Usai in his 2014 The Pillars of Hercules in Aristotle’s Ecumene. He also has a controversial view of Hanno’s account, claiming that in the “second part, Hanno makes up everything because he does not want to continue that voyage.” (p.24) However, the main objective of Usai’s essays is to demonstrate that the Pillars of Hercules were originally situated in the Central Mediterranean between eastern Tunisia and its Kerkennah Islands.
A 1912 English translation of the text can be read online(a).
Another Carthaginian voyager, Himilco, is also thought to have travelled northward in the Atlantic and possibly reached Ireland, referred to as ‘isola sacra’. Unfortunately, his account is no longer available(g).
The livius.org website offers three articles(i) on the text, history and credibility of the surviving periplus together with a commentary.
Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c. 276–c. 194 BC) was a Greek geographer, astronomer and mathematician. Around 240 BC he was appointed librarian at the Great Library at Alexandria. He is sometimes credited with coining the term ‘geography’ to describe the study of the earth. He was somewhat unkindly nicknamed ‘Beta’ as he was considered to be second best in many subjects. Strabo (Bk II Chap 4.4) was quite critical of Eratosthenes. Nevertheless, Eratosthenes is the first person known to have calculated the Earth’s circumference and measured the tilt of the Earth’s axis and his work led to the most accurate maps and globes for a thousand years.
Dhani Irwanto noted that “Eratosthenes was also the first geographer to incorporate parallels and meridians within his cartographic depictions, attesting to his understanding of the spherical nature of the earth.”(a)
Eratosthenes unwittingly entered the Atlantis debate around 250 BC, when, apparently, he was the first to place the Pillars of Heracles at the Strait of Gibraltar, while many contend that prior to that the ‘Pillars’ were located at the Strait of Sicily or was, according to Servius, a term applied simultaneously to more than one location, indicating the limit of general maritime knowledge at any given period or as I am inclined to believe, the term had over time become just a metaphor, rather than a reference to a specific location! I consider it highly relevant that no writer prior to Eratosthenes had referred to the Pillars of Heracles being located at Gibraltar. It is not unreasonable to conclude that this silence reflects the lack of knowledge possessed by the ancient Greeks regarding the western Mediterranean, which only improved gradually, as their colonising and trading expanded westward.
2010 saw the publication of the first English translation of Eratosthenes’ Geographika by Duane W. Roller.