In the annals of great explorers, there is one name that is often overlooked – that of the Carthanginian Periplus of Hanno – later known to the Greeks as Hanno the Navigator . Neither a Greek nor a Roman, but a free man of Carthage and perhaps one of the great unheralded navigators the world has ever known.
While the exact dates of his explorations are not certain, historians agree that they took place sometime around the year 500 B.C.E. It was around this time that Hanno left the city of Carthage – for those wondering, Carthage was located approximately where Tunis, Tunisia now sits.
Hanno left Carthage with a fleet of sixty rowing ships for the purpose of colonizing the unknown territories of Northern and Western Africa. With him were an ungodly number of people which counted in somewhere around 30,000!!!! Hanno’s job was to take all of these people and get them set up in colonies in the great unknown areas.
Passing through the Pillars of Hercules (between modern day Gibraltar and Tangiers, Morocco) the fleet set out into the Atlantic Ocean and turned south.
They founded a city called Thumiaterion at approximately modern day Safi, Morocco. From there, having left a number of settlers, he continued Southward to the isle of Cerne – a place much disputed and lost to history but given the voyage of Hanno, probably either Tenerife and the Canary Islands or less likely, Cape Verde. Even more fanciful is the idea that Hanno reached Atlantis…but who knows?
From Cerne, Hanno sailed back to the mainland and found a large river. Judging by the descriptions of the animals and landscape, we can assume that he was in modern day Senegal or perhaps The Gambia. He encountered not only elephants, reed filled lakes, crocodiles, and hippopotomai, but also hostile natives that drove he and his settlers back to Cerne.
From Cerne, again, Hanno went further south to find a land that was wonderful by day but lit by fires at night. He rounded the cape of Hespera Keras and encountered a people steeped in mysticism and music. His own mystics (an essential party to any Carthaginian voyage advised leaving quickly) and so they went south again. This time they reached modern day Guinnea-Bissau and the Isle of Orango upon which they mistook gorillas for a race of hairy men.
In its inmost recess was an island similar to that formerly described , which contains in like manner a lake with another island, inhabited by a rude description of people. The females were much more numerous than the males, and had rough skins: our interpreters called them Gorillae. We pursued but could take none of the males; they all escaped to the top of precipices, which they mounted with ease, and threw down stones; we took three of the females, but they made such violent struggles, biting and tearing their captors, that we killed them, and stripped off the skins, which we carried to Carthage: being out of provisions we could go no further.
This is as far as Hanno reached before returning to Carthage with Atlas lions and stories of wonder. He left seven colonies behind (all in modern day Morocco) and presumably returned with much lighter ships. It is no wonder that Hanno became king of the Carthaginians. History knows him as Hanno II of Carthage.
The voyage of Hanno is much in dispute, in order to come to a greater understanding of it, I’ve referred to many books and online sources, none of which were more helpful than this article which details the fact, the fiction, and the speculation. http://phoenicia.org/phoewestafrica.html
I too, am guilty of some speculation but in reading the accounts of Hanno the Navigator, the above description of his voyage feels the most right to me. One thing that can’t be argued is that the voyage of Hanno was one of the great epic voyages of all time.
Can Hanno the Navigator even be classified as a vagabond? To my mind, the answer is yes – in that a vagabond is anyone who sets out on a voyage of discovery where the unknown is the biggest thing that is known. But, like everything with Hanno – all is in dispute. We don’t even have an idea what he looked like.
This is an excerpt from my book “Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost is the Point” . It’s available as an ebook for kindle or ebook readers. Over the next several months we will be exploring some of these amazing vagabond characters from the past (and present).