Hamilcar belonged to the highest Carthaginian aristocracy and built his ancestry to Elissa, the legendary founder of Carthage. Nothing is known about his parents; there is only an assumption that Hamilcar, the eldest of his sons, named Hannibal in honor of his father. Hamilcar is first mentioned in sources under 247 B.C. as a very young man.
Participation in the First Punic War
Hamilcar was appointed commander of the Carthaginian fleet in 247 B.C. At this point, the conflict with Rome, which had lasted for 17 years, reached an impasse: Carthage was defeated on land and lost almost all of its possessions in Sicily, but the Romans were forced to abandon naval war due to a series of catastrophes associated with storms, and therefore could not take Lilibey and Drepan and deliver a decisive blow to the enemy.
Immediately after his appointment, Hamilcar made a foray into Italy, devastating the coast of Locrid and Bruttius. Probably his goal was to demonstrate to Rome the power of the Carthaginian fleet, divert some of the enemy forces from Sicily and capture the prisoners for exchange; the exchange really took place in the same year. Then Hamilcar focused all his efforts on the Sicilian theater of operations. He entrenched himself in the camp at Mount Ayrkte at Panormus; hence he continued to raid Roman territory, and when the Roman army camped in front of Panormus, Hamilcar began a positional war that lasted for three years. Polybius mentions “land-based battles are frequent and diverse,” referring to the impossibility of their detailed description.
The only significant event of these years was the capture of the Carthaginians of Eriks, after which they were able to besiege the Roman camp on the top of the mountain of the same name. But this siege was unsuccessful. On the whole, Hamilcar failed to deliver a decisive blow to the Roman army, effectively waging a war of attrition; however, there is an opinion that Hamilcar was linked by its Sicilian base and gradually lost the initiative.
In 241 B.C. when the Romans once again launched a large military flotilla, the Carthaginian squadron moved to Eriks. It was supposed to unload supplies here, take on board the most combat-ready units led by Hamilcar and give the Romans a battle at sea. But the enemy blocked this squadron from the Aegates Islands. In the ensuing battle, the Carthaginians were utterly defeated, so that the Sicilian army was cut off from their homeland. Hamilcar received emergency powers and in this situation was forced to begin peace negotiations. He proved himself to be a capable diplomat, forcing the Romans to abandon the difficult and humiliating conditions of his surrender by the army of all weapons and the passage of soldiers under the yoke. The peace treaty provided for the departure of the Carthaginians from Sicily, the release of all prisoners without redemption and the payment of indemnity; its conditions seemed so mild to the Roman People’s Assembly that it refused to ratify the treaty and sent a special commission to Sicily to investigate, but it only made minor changes. After the ratification of the world, Hamilcar took the troops to Lilibey and withdrew the title of commander-in-chief. He accepted the need to surrender to the enemy because of others’ defeats “with indignation and sorrow”.
Rise of mercenaries
Immediately after the war with Rome, the most acute internal crisis in Carthage history, known as the Great Mercenary Uprising, began. His culprit was largely the main political opponent of Hamilcar – Gannon. The soldiers of the Sicilian army who were demanding their salaries rejected Hamilcar as an intermediary, believing that he had betrayed their interests, giving up command and then revolted, supported by many cities in Libya.
When Gannon, who led the government army, showed his incompetence, and the rebels were able to cut off Carthage from the mainland, Hamilcar received command over another newly formed army, including 10 thousand soldiers and 70 elephants. With these forces, he attacked the mercenaries at the Bagrad River and defeated them, successfully applying a false retreat. Six thousand rebels died in battle, two thousand were captured; many cities that supported the uprising, either surrendered, or were taken by storm.
Soon Hamilcar was surrounded by three armies of the rebels, but came out of a difficult situation, concluding an alliance with the Numidians who supported the mercenaries. The commander of the last Naravas received from Hamilcar the promise of the hand of his daughter and brought two thousand cavalrymen to the Carthaginian camp. Thanks to this, the Carthaginians won a new victory; their opponent lost this time ten thousand people killed and four thousand prisoners.
After this defeat, the rebels began to wage war with extremely cruel methods, deciding to betray all the Carthaginians in their hands a painful execution. Hamilcar, who had previously softly treated the prisoners, also turned to reprisals: all captured mercenaries were thrown to the wild beasts. In the face of the war of annihilation, he united his forces with the army of Gannon, but relations between the two commanders did not improve, so the authorities suggested that the army should choose one of two commanders. Hamilcar was chosen.
The position of the government army deteriorated due to the transition to the side of the mercenaries of the cities of Utica and Hippacritus, whose inhabitants threw five hundred Carthaginian soldiers from their walls. The rebels approached Carthage again, but Hamilcar, Naravas, and a certain Hannibal, who had broken through from the city, acted in the rear; besides, Syracuse and Rome began to support their recent enemy. Barca, acting on the communications of mercenaries, forced them to retreat from Carthage. Hamilcar surrounded one of the rebel armies in the Prion area and made them starve; then, under the pretext of negotiations, he captured all the commanders, and destroyed the rest (up to forty thousand people) in battle. After the subordination of most of Libya, he, along with Hannibal, laid siege to the mercenaries in Tunet and, in full view of the besieged, crucified the army commander in Prion Pendium. But the rebels were able to crush the army of Hannibal, so Hamilcar had to leave the Tunet. Then the Carthaginian Senate made Hamilcar reconcile with Gannon. The latter, commanding together, won a decisive victory over the rebels. The capitulation of Hippacritus and Utica in 238 B.C. put an end to the war.
Political struggle in Carthage
After the uprising was suppressed, Hamilcar’s enemies brought him to court: according to some information, he promised great gifts to his soldiers during the First Punic War, becoming such an unwitting culprit in their insurrection, according to others – his command in Sicily was considered unsatisfactory. But Hamilcar earned his victories over mercenaries popularity among broad layers of citizens and was able to conclude an alliance with a number of high-ranking officials, among whom sources call Hasdrubal, “the most able to seek the disposition of the people”.
Thanks to the help of his friends, led by Hasdrubal, Hamilcar was able to avoid the trial and lead (again with Gannon) the suppression of the uprising of African nomads. Success in this war allowed him to conquer the army’s rich booty and move it to new conquests. Popularity among the people and the military made Hamilcar virtually the most powerful man in the republic and gave him the opportunity to single-handedly direct foreign policy.
Wars in Spain
Stabilizing the situation in the African possessions of Carthage, Hamilcar around 237 B.C. landed in Hades and began the conquest of Spain. As reasons for this, ancient historians cite Barca’s desire to leave his homeland and find the means to expand the number of his supporters in Carthage, and first of all his desire to start a new war with Rome, using Spain as a convenient springboard. “It was clear that he had conceived a war much more significant than the one he was leading”. But there is a possibility that Carthage needed to restore its position in Spain, lost in previous years, prevent the increasing involvement of Rome in the affairs of this region and create a new basis for its empire to replace Sicily. In addition, the seizure and exploitation of overseas possessions was in the interests of ordinary citizens who supported Hamilcar, since African possessions were in the hands of the aristocracy. According to some data, Hamilcar was sent to Spain by the Government of Carthage; according to others, he acted on his own initiative.
The first enemies of Hamilcar on the Iberian Peninsula were the tribes of bastoons and turdetans. All their army was slain in battle; Hamilcar spared only three thousand prisoners, whom he included in his army. Then the Iberian leader Indort gathered 50 thousand warriors, but they fled before the battle. Most of them were destroyed by the Carthaginians, Indort was captured, blinded and crucified, but the rest of the prisoners (about 10 thousand people) were released.
The Carthaginians controlled the silver and gold mines of the Sierra Morena, thanks to which Hamilcar was able to start minting the coins necessary to pay the contribution to Rome. Subsequently, it occupied vast territories; “He took many cities by conviction, many by force of arms”. Concerned about this, the Greek colonies turned to Rome, and in 231 he sent an embassy to Hamilcar, demanding an explanation. Barca replied that he had begun conquests, only to pay the Romans. Probably at the same time there was a distinction between the spheres of influence of Rome and Carthage in this region: the border passed along the Iber River.
To consolidate the Carthaginian domination over the country about 230 B.C. Hamilcar founded a city that Greek sources call Akra Leuke ( White Fortress or White Hill). Hamilcar, captured during the wars, spent on distribution to his soldiers and sent to Carthage to buy the favor of the people and part of the aristocracy and make the idea of conquering Spain more popular. According to Cornelius Nepot, “he provided the whole of Africa with horses, weapons, and money”.
In 228 B.C. Hamilcar laid siege to the city of Helika. The siege was so successful that most of the Carthaginian army, together with the elephants, was sent to the winter apartments in Akra Leuke, but after that the leader of the Orissa tribe, formerly allied to Carthage, attacked the remaining army and defeated it. During the flight, there was a danger for the young Barcas – Hannibal and Hasdrubal – and Hamilcar, rescuing his sons, took the brunt of it. He drowned in a river, dumped by his horse.
Hamilcar’s successor to the command in Spain was his son-in-law Hasdrubal, who was at the time a hierarch.
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