The Voyage of Hanno
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The Voyage of Hanno

The earliest direct record of exploration of the western coast of Africa is this account by Hanno the Carthaginian, probably written around 425 BC.

This is the story of the long vorage of Hanno king of the Carhaginians into Libyan (African) lands beyond the Pillars of Heracles (Straits of Gibraltar), which he dedicated on a tablet in the temple of Kronos:

I. The Carthaginians decided that Hanno should sail beyond the Pillars of Heracles and found cities of Libyphoenicians. He set sail with 60 penteconters and about 30,000 men and women, and provisions and other necessaries.

II.After sailing beyond the Pillars for two days we founded the first city which we called Thymiaterion. Below it was a large plain.

III. Sailing thence westward we came to Soloeis, a Libyan promontory covered with trees. There we founded a temple to Poseidon.

IV. Journeying eastward for half a day we reached a lake not far from the sea, covered with a great growth of tall reeds, where elephants and many other wild animals fed.

V. A day's sea journey beyond this lake we founded cities on the coast called Karikon Teichos, Bytte, Akra, Melitta and Arambys.

VI. Passing on from there we came to the large river Lixos, flowing from Libya, beside which nomads called Lixitae pastured their flocks. We stayed some time with them and became friends.

VII. Inland from there dwelt inhospitable Ethiopians in a land ridden with wild beasts and hemmed in by great mountains. They say that the Lixos flows down from there and that amongst these mountains Troglodytes of strange appearance dwell, who according to the Lixitae can run more swiftly than horses.

VIII. Taking interpreters from the Lixitae we sailed south along the desert shore for two days and then for one day eastward and found a small island 5 stades (about 1 km) in circumference at the further end of a gulf. We made a settlement there and called it Cerne. We judged from our journey that it was directly opposite Carthage, for the voyage from Carthage to the Pillars and from there to Cerne seemed alike.

IX. From here sailing up a big river called Chretes we reached a lake, in which were three islands bigger than Cerne. Completing a day's sail from here we came to the end of the lake, overhung by some very high mountains crowded with savages clad in skins of wild beasts, who stoned us and beat us off and prevented us from disembarking.

X.Sailing from there we came to another big wide river, teeming with crocodiles and hippopotamuses. We turned again from there and came back to Cerne.

XI. We sailed south for twelve days from there, clinging to the coast, which was all along occupied by Ethiopians who did not stay their ground, but fled from us. Their speech was unintelligible, even to our Lixitae.

XII. On the last day we came to anchor by some high mountains clad with trees whose wood was sweet smelling and mottled.

XIII. Sailing round these for two days we reached an immense gulf, on either shore of which was a plain where by night we saw big and little fires flaming up at intervals everywhere.

XIV. Taking on water here, we sailed on for five days along the coast until we came to a great bay which our interpreters called the Horn of the West. In it was a large island and in the island a salt-water lake, within which was another island where we disembarked. By day we could see nothing but a forest, but by night we saw many fires burning and we heard the sound of flutes and of beating of cymbals and drums and a great din of voices. Fear came upon us and the soothsayers bade us leave the island.

XV. We sailed thence in haset and skirted a fiery coast replete with burning incense. Great streams of fire and lava poured down into the sea and the land was unapproachable because of the heat.

XVI. We left there hurriedly in fear and sailing for four days we saw the land by night full of flames. In the middle was a high flame taller than the rest, reaching, as it seemed, the stars. By day it was seen to be a very high mountain called the Chariot of the Gods.

XVII. Thence sailing for three days past fiery lava flows we reached a gulf called the Horn of the South.

XVIII. At the farther end of this bay was an island, like the first, with a lake, within which was another island full of savages. By far the greater number were women with shaggy bodies, whom our interpreters called Gorillas. Chasing them we were unable to catch any of the men, all of whom, being used to climbing precipices, got away, defending themselves by throwing stones. But we caught three women, who bit and mangled those who carried them off, being unwilling to follow them. We killed them, however, and flayed them and brought their skins back to Carthage. For we did not sail further as our supplies gave out.'

From 'The Phoenicians' by Donald Harden, published in 1962 by Thames and Hudson.

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Last modified: 13 December 2010