Sunday, 5 February 2012

Hannibal's Father: Hamilcar Barca (~ 290 to winter 229/228 BC)

Hamilcar was the father of Hannibal and probably a member of the Carthaginian high aristocracy. The name might also be spelled Barcas or Barak, meaning 'lightning' - a reference to fast movements as a military commander.

Hamilcar assumed command of the Carthaginian forces in Sicily during the last years of the First Punic War with Rome (264-241). By 247 - when Hamilcar was assigned the command - Carthage had lost to Rome all its Sicilian possessions except Lilybaeum (now Marsala) and Drepanum (now Trapani).

While harassing Roman troops with guerrilla tactics in western Sicily, Hamilcar staged a landing on the north coast, capturing Mount Ercte (probably Pellegrino near Palermo), which he held in the face of determined Roman attempts to dislodge him (247-244). From this area he mounted naval expeditions against the shores of Sicily and southern Italy. Suddenly he left Ercte for Mount Eryx (modern Erice near Trapani), which he held until 241. He made repeated raids on the Romans and relieved the Punic garrison in Lilybaeum.

After the defeat of the Carthaginian fleet in that year by Gaius Lutatius Catulus, Hamilcar negotiated the terms of the peace that led to Carthage’s withdrawal from Sicily.

He then returned to Africa and - he probably expected - to anonymity.

However, when the unpaid mercenary troops revolted (in what is called the 'Truceless War') he is called by the popular classes to return. Until 238 Hamilcar was engaged in recapturing his northern African provinces from the rebels. He succeed finally in surprising the rebels near to Utica after a forced march along a river bed and annihilated them in the 'Saw' pass.

His success resulted in a growth in his strength as leader of Carthage's popular party. The reason for his next move may have been political manoeuvring (to get him out of the way) but was also part of Carthage's expansion of its interests in Spain - which was rich in gold and silver - as a compensation for the loss (to Rome) of Sicily and Sardinia.

He set out with his family and relatives in 237 and founded the city of Akra-Leuka (Castrum-Album or Castrum Altum), that some identify as Montalbán and others as Peñíscola) and made extensive conquests. He developed the Spanish territory effectively as a new base against Rome.

He died in 229/228 in battle in the flood waters of the Jucar. Hamilcar was probably the ablest general and statesman that Carthage had before his son Hannibal.

Hamilcar's burial place?

Hamilcar died in the land of the Edetani, crossing a river while trying to escape from a Celtiberian army. This took place while Hamilcar was besieging a place called Helice or Belice, the ancient Bellia, identified as Belchite.

The Carthaginian soldiers found refuge at Akra-Leuka and elected Hasdrubal (son-in-law of Hamilcar) as leader.

Some have identified Castrum-Altum as Castelserás, on the río Guadalope. This theory is based on work by Dr. Mateo Ainsa referring to Zapater who recorded that in 1610, in the farm of Juan Benedí, the building “Agua Amarga” suffered an earthquake that led to the discovery of part of a building of 8-10 yards square, composed of worked stone with mouldings and inscriptions that could well have been the tomb of Hamilcar Barca.

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