Hanno the Navigator (of Liberia?)


By Dag Walker


Hanno the Navigator. (Greek: Ἄννων, Hannōn,)  was a Carthaginian explorer of the sixth or fifth century BC. best known for his naval exploration of the western coast of Africa. The only source of his voyage is a Greek periplus.1.

In other words, a man from what is now Tunisia in North Africa, who lived around 2,500-2,600 years ago, went by ship perhaps as far as what is now known as Liberia. He kept a ship’s log, a periplus, of his account. Hanno’s account is a short document that lists places he passed on his voyage. It was the work of a professional geographer, and it was meant as a guide to those who followed, a map, in a sense, for sailors.

“The full title translated from Greek is The Voyage of Hanno, commander of the Carthaginians, round the parts of Libya beyond the Pillars of Heracles, which he deposited in the Temple of Kronos. The form of the periplus is at least as old as the earliest Greek historian, the Ionian Hecataeus of Miletus. The works of Herodotus and Thucydides contain passages that appear to have been based on others.”1.

Hanno is said to have departed for parts unknown with a fleet of sixty ships, crews and passengers to colonise or repopulate settlements in Morocco. He continued on, perhaps as far as what is now Liberia, as one might assume from his account, though this is disputed by scholars who argue he went only as far as Senegal or the Gambia.

When Hanno’s contingent was forced to return north they had met savage hairy people, so they thought, and, because the men were too violent to control or capture, they settled for three women, almost equally violent. Unable to subdue them, the three females were killed and skinned, then save and returned to Carthage. “Interpreters traveling with Hanno called the people Gorillai (in the Greek text Γόριλλαι)1. The skins remained as momentos at the  Ba’al Hammon, (known to the Greeks as the Temple of Chronos) until Roman forces burnt the city during the Punic War in 146 B.C., according to the Roman writer Pliny the Elder.  Hanno’s account of the voyage, however, survived the destruction of Carthage, being the first known written description of south-western Africa’s coast.

“The Greek historian Herodotus (c. 480 – 425 BC) gives a story based probably upon Hanno’s original report.”1.

“The Carthaginians tell us that they trade with a race of men who live in a part of Libya beyond the Pillars of Herakles. On reaching this country, they unload their goods, arrange them tidily along the beach, and then, returning to their boats, raise a smoke. Seeing the smoke, the natives come down to the beach, place on the ground a certain quantity of gold in exchange for the goods, and go off again to a distance. The Carthaginians then come ashore and take a look at the gold; and if they think it presents a fair price for their wares, they collect it and go away; if, on the other hand, it seems too little, they go back aboard and wait, and the natives come and add to the gold until they are satisfied. There is perfect honesty on both sides; the Carthaginians never touch the gold until it equals in value what they have offered for sale, and the natives never touch the goods until the gold has been taken away.

Herodotus of Halicarnassus.

According to Pliny the Elder, Hanno started his journey at the same time that Himilco started to explore the European Atlantic coast. Pliny reports that Hanno actually managed to circumnavigate the African continent, from Gades to Arabia.]

Arrian mentions Hanno’s voyage at the end of his Anabasis of Alexander VIII (Indica): Moreover, Hanno the Libyan started out from Carthage and passed the Pillars of Heracles and sailed into the outer Ocean, with Libya on his port side, and he sailed on towards the east, five-and-thirty days all told. But when at last he turned southward, he fell in with every sort of difficulty, want of water, blazing heat, and fiery streams running into the sea.”2.

Arrian of Nicomedia.

“A number of modern scholars have commented upon Hanno’s voyage. In many cases, the analysis has been to refine information and interpretation of the original account. William Smith points out that the complement of personnel totaled 30,000, and that the core mission included the intent to found Carthaginian (or in the older parlance ‘Libyophoenician’) towns. [17] Some scholars have questioned whether this many people accompanied Hanno on his expedition, and suggest 5,000 is a more accurate number. Some agree he could have reached the Gambia. However, Harden mentions disagreement as to the farthest limit of Hanno’s explorations: Sierra Leone, Cameroon, or Gabon.

“It is probable that what we have before us is a report deliberately edited so that the places could not be identified by the competitors of Carthage. From everything we know about the Carthaginian practice, the resolute determination to keep all knowledge of and access to the western markets from the Greeks, it is incredible that they would have allowed the publication of an accurate description of the voyage for all to read. What we have is an official version of the real report made by Hanno which conceals or falsifies vital information while at the same time gratifying the pride of the Carthaginians in their achievements. The very purpose of the voyage, the consolidation of the route to the gold market, is not even mentioned.2.”



  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanno_the_Navigator
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Periplus

It has become an annoying conceit in the past few years for minor academics to mention in their texts Hanno and his Periplex, no real explanation of Hanno or his work involved, seemingly meant only to signal to other academics that they know of and have read this obscure work. The text is interesting generally, and especially so to travelers and probably to Liberians who care to know of the first written account of the general area of what has become in later times as the nation of Liberia. It is no great feat to read this text, it being only 890 words long, a few pages. Thus, the complete text, translated into English, is included below.




To the Libyan regions of the earth beyond the Pillars of Hercules,

which he dedicated also in the Temple of Baal, affixing this:

  1. It pleased the Carthaginians that Hanno should voy-

age outside the Pillars of Hercules, and found cities of the

Libyphoenicians. And he set forth with sixty ships of fifty

oars, and a multitude of men and women, to the number of

thirty thousand, and with wheat and other provisions.


  1. After passing through the Pillars we went on and

sailed for two days’ journey beyond, where we founded the

first city, which we called Thymiaterium; it lay in the midst

of a great plain.


  1. Sailing thence toward the west we came to Solois, a

promontory of Libya, bristling with trees.


  1. Having set up an altar here to Neptune, we proceeded

again, going toward the east for half the day, until we reached

a marsh lying no great way from the sea, thickly grown with

tall reeds. Here also were elephants and other wild beasts

feeding, in great numbers.


  1. Going beyond the marsh a day’s journey, we settled

cities by the sea, which we called Caricus Murus, Gytta, Acra,

Melitta and Arambys.


  1. Sailing thence we came to the Lixus, a great river

flowing from Libya. By it a wandering people, the Lixitas,

were pasturing their flocks; with whom we remained some

time, becoming friends.


  1. Above these folk lived unfriendly ^iithiopians, dwelling

in a land full of wild beasts, and shut off by great mountains,

from which they say the Lixus flows, and on the mountains

live men of various shapes, cave-dwellers, who, so the Lixitae

say, are fleeter of foot than horses.


  1. Taking interpreters from them, we sailed twelve

days toward the south along a desert, turning thence toward

the east one day’s sail. There, within the recess of a bay we

found a small island, having a circuit of fifteen stadia; which

we settled, and called it Cerne. From our journey we judged

it to be situated opposite Carthage ; for the voyage from Car-

thage to the Pillars and thence to Cerne was the same.


  1. Thence, sailing by a great river whose name was

Chretes, we came to a lake, which had three islands, larger

than Cerne. Running a day’s sail beyond these, we came to

the end of the lake, above which rose great mountains, peo-

pled by savage men wearing skins of wild beasts, who threw

stones at us and prevented us from landing from our ships.


  1. Sailing thence, we came to another river, very great

and broad, which was full of crocodiles and hippopotami.

And then we turned about and went back to Cerne.


  1. Thence we sailed toward the south twelve days, fol-

lowing the shore, which was peopled by ^Ethiopians who fled

from us and would not wait. And their speech the Lixitae

who were with us could not understand.


  1. But on the last day we came to great wooded mountains.

The wood of the trees was fragrant, and of various kinds.


  1. Sailing around these mountains for two days, we came

to an immense opening of the sea, from either side of which

there was level ground inland ; from which at night we saw

fire leaping up on every side at intervals, now greater, now less.


  1. Having taken in water there, we sailed along the

shore for five days, until we came to a great bay, which our

interpreters said was called Horn of the West. In it there

was a large island, and within the island a lake of the sea, in

which there was another island. Landing there during the

day, we saw nothing but forests, but by night many burning

fires, and we heard the sound of pipes and cymbals, and the

noise of drums and a great uproar. Then fear possessed us,

and the soothsayers commanded us to leave the island.


  1. And then quickly sailing forth, we passed by a burn-

ing country full of fragrance, from which great torrents of fire

flowed down to the sea. But the land could not become at

for the heat.


  1. And we sailed along with all speed, being stricken by

fear. After a journey of four days, we saw the land at night

covered with flames. And in the midst there was one lofty

fire, greater than the rest, which seemed to touch the stars.

By day this was seen to be a very high mountain, called

Chariot of the Gods.

In 500 BC, Hanno the Navigator found an island populated with hairy savage  rock throwing people. Any chance that these were archaic human tribes  instead of Gorillas? | by Francis Korkor | Medium


  1. Thence, sailing along by the fiery torrents for three

days, we came to a bay, called Horn of the South.


  1. In the recess of this bay there was an island, like the

former one, having a lake, in which there was another island,

full of savage men. There were women, too, in even greater

number. They had hairy bodies, and the interpreters called

them Gorill<£. When we pursued them we were unable to

take any of the men; for they all escaped, by climbing the

steep places and defending themselves with stones; but we

took three of the women, who bit and scratched their leaders,

and would not follow us. So we killed them and flayed them,

and brought their skins to Carthage. For we did not voyage

further, provisions failing us.




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