Hannibal Barca Coin minted during Hannibal's reign as Carthaginian Military General. Carbon dating has linked these coins to the year Hannibal defeated the Roman army while he was in Italy dated circa third century BC, London British Museum, Department of Coins and Medals, S.N.G. II(Lloyd) as stated in "Before Color Prejudice" by Frank Snowden Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The-Hannibal-Barca-Coin-750x750.jpg
I will either find a way, or make one.
Hannibal Barca was an African general who crossed the Italian Alps with his army of upwards of 90,000 men, approximately, 12,000 horses, and 40 elephants to battle the Romans in early 217 B.C.E. His goal was to:
Hannibal was from Carthage which was an area located in what is now Tunisia on the continent of Africa. During his charge, Sicily, Corsica and Sardinia (islands in the Mediterranean Sea) and part of Spain were considered “provinces” of Africa. To determine the ethnic identity of Hannibal may seem a forgone conclusion because he was an African, but unfortunately, it has become a subject of great contention. Some scholars seem determined not to attribute his military genius to his African ancestry. This post will examine some of the reasons behind the controversy and suggest books and art to study for more information.
I am thankful to pursue this effort equipped with 27 years as a bookseller with access to an extensive collection of titles on and off the internet, warrior scholar-customers who are expert collectors on the topic and, google-enriched search analysis making this a delightful research excursion.
In this post, I will present some great references for further study and base support for my reasoning on four sources:
Books On Hannibal that address Hannibal's ethnicity or detail his battles with Rome - African American authors are denoted by an asterisk ' * '
Watch this video to get a feel of the terrain that Hannibal faced when crossing the Alps with elephants to attack the Romans. Altitude, snow and a rough terrain were a most formidable challenge.
It should go without saying that since Hannibal and his father's family lived in Africa, that there's a huge probability that he had the appearance of a full-blooded African. After all, he lived prior to the Roman conquest, and fought many battles on behalf of his people for over 10 years. Is it that hard to imagine that a man who was born in Africa, and became "the world's greatest military strategist" could phenotypically reflect the community that birthed him? Let's examine his home base of Carthage. Carthage was located on the Northern tip of Africa in what is now known as Tunisia. It was close to the equator and within the Sahara Desert region which received a maximum dose of the sun’s rays. Just as true history found the tombs of the ancient Egyptians to contain ethnically African-looking people as their inhabitants, I will venture to lean toward the same of Carthage, Hannibal’s home.
In the author of this post's opinion, it is a bold and prolonged attempt at cultural appropriation, also known as white washing that makes Hannibal’s identity so controversial. He is a man of accomplishment and intellect. He is a man of strategic planning and bravery whose brilliance has been praised for centuries. Hmmph, his strategy was even adopted by the Romans to help them win the final battle against him after at least 10 years of combat. Who wouldn’t want to claim these qualities for their own. Outright theft of identity however, is criminal, and that is what I argue has happened over time. Hannibal is a bright star whose light Africans can rightfully lay claim to.
In the opening of the book, “Hannibal, The African Warrior” the author Jacob Abbott compares the Carthaginians with the Romans. In that comparison, he describes two distinct races. He says, “They spoke a different language; they had a different origin; and they lived on opposite sides of the same sea.” This suggests that Hannibal, “a Carthaginian general” was definitely not of Roman heritage or would have been considered a foreigner to that region.
Later in the text, Abbott says the Romans are
“a race – a sort of variety of the human species – possessed of a very refined and superior organization, which, in its development, gave rise to a character of firmness, energy, and force, both of body and mind, which has justly excited the admiration of mankind. The Carthaginians had sagacity – the Romans called it cunning- and activity, enterprise and wealth. Their rivals, on the other hand, were characterized by genius, courage, and strength, giving rise to a certain calm and indomitable resolution and energy, which has since, in every age, been strongly associated, in the minds of men, with the very word Roman.”
It is a bit later in the text, where Abbott’s racist perspective comes out in full view. In this next excerpt he is describing what Hannibal’s father Hamilcar is doing to prepare for his expedition to Spain.
”At one time, when Hannibal was about nine years of age, Hamilcar was preparing to set off on an expedition into Spain, and as was usual in those days, he was celebrating the occasion with games, and spectacles, and various religious ceremonies. It has been the custom in all ages of the world, when nations go to war with each other, for each side to take measures for propitiating the favor of Heaven. Christian nations at the present day do it by prayers offered in each country for the success of their own arms. Heathen nations do it by sacrifices, libations, and offerings. Hamilcar had made arrangements for such sacrifices, and the priests were offering them in the presence of the whole assembled army.”
This excerpt points out exactly what the great scholar Dr. Chancellor Williams describes in his seminal work, “The Destruction of Black Civilization,” namely that Abbott's description is an example of racist views providing the very evidence to prove the point that Hannibal is a Black African.
The term “heathen” is usually reserved for non-white people and in this case definitely African-Carthaginian practices misunderstood by outsiders. During the end of the colonial-era timeframe that Abbott lived, these terms were used commonly. Though it is uncomfortable to use this terminology to prove a point, in the absence of any photographs or illustrations created during the period the battles were fought in, it represents a clear demarcation between the Roman customs from Carthaginian ones. Also, to be most clear, he refers to the Romans as a particular “race possessed with superior organization…” indeed more racist rubbish, but there it is.
In the two images housed in the British Museum, both were produced long after Hannibal lived. They do not look like a "different race" from the Romans. They phenotypically look Roman. How then could John Abbott's statements also be true?
There are other images (chronologically newer) of Hannibal more widely circulated online that have since been debunked as discussed in detail in this scolarly article called, "Barbarians Rising Critique and the Lost Representation of Ancient North African General Hannibal" I won't include them in this article and encourage you to read for yourself.
At this point, though the comments of Abbott present some evidence of the ethnicity of Hannibal, it is important to note that his comments do not pre-date the production date of the images referenced above from the British Museum. Abbott lived 1803-1879, and the British Museum image by Charles Turner was produced in 1802, before Abbott was born. So, let's look at another source of writing slightly after the Abbott account. I know that older would be better, but this is an interesting source that offers a unique perspective. Keep in mind that NO ONE was on the ground reporting when Hannibal was battling his rival. In fact, the two writers who lived in closest chronological time to Hannibal are Polybius, author of "The Histories," and, Livy, author of "The War with Hannibal," do not mention the skin color of Hannibal. They go into great detail about the battles, however.
The second resource I'd like to share is a book called, "The Young Carthaginian" by G. A. Henty. Please take note that while the cover of the book has a Roman-looking Hannibal, the content paints a very different picture when you decode his narrative.
Let me explain.
Henty lived from 1832-1902 which was split between the official enslavement period in the US and after. He was known for writing historical fiction and as a war correspondent. While he appears to share some of the same racist attitudes as Abbott, I want to offer a different take.
Some of the facts he presents are off, a little. Yes, it's supposed to be historical fiction, but most of the names are the same, and so are the battles. They are off to the point that indicates to me that he COULD be attempting to 'hide' the true physical attributes of Hannibal in a fictional character he created named Malchus. And by the way, Malchus means a short sword that RESEMBLES a two edged long sword. I think that Henty is attempting to use the fictional character Malchus to hide or RESEMBLE the ethnic identity of Hannibal.
For example. Hannibal Barca is the son of Hamilcar Barca. Hannibal Barca has a brother named Hasdrubel (also spelled Hastrubel ). In the fictional version (see Table 1) Malchus is the son of Hamilcar Barca. Malchus' cousin is Hannibal Barca. How interesting that Henty has substituted Hannibal's lineage as the son of Hamilcar with Malchus. I think the closeness in position to Hannibal is intentionally done to get our attention. Also, Henty uses the words, "dark skinned" twice in his whole book. One is when describing the Numidians, and the other is to describe Malchus. While Henty stops short of describing the exact skin tone of Hannibal, he does describe him as such:
His head was bare. His hair, of a golden brown, was worn long, and encircled by a golden band. His nose was long and straight, forming, with the forehead, a perfect profile. The expression of the mouth was kind but firm. His beard was short. The whole contour of the face was noble in the extreme. - The Young Carthaginian," G. A. Henty
If we stopped here and accepted that Hannibal was described accurately, we would be left with an ethnically Roman-leaning image in our minds. However, if we continue to analyze each reference to skin tone, additional insights are revealed.
Please stay with me...
When discussing the most heavily armed of the Carthaginians, Henty says, "Very various is their nationality; fair skinned Greeks lie side by side with swarthy negroes from Nubia. Sardinia, the islands of the Aegean, Crete and Egypt, Libya and Phoenicia are all represented there."
Henty makes it plain that he sees color and separates the "fair skinned Greeks" from the "negroes." Here are some more examples that he "sees" color by assigning ethnic groups to match the labels the Romans placed on the people:
The "..Garamantes, wrapped in the long bernous which then as now was the garb of the children of the desert. Tall, swarthy figures these, lissome and agile, with every muscle standing out clear through the brown skin."
"Ethiopians from the distant Soudan, with their cloaks of lion skin, and the gaudy feathers fastened in a fillet round their heads. Their black faces were alive with merriment and wonder..."
You get the idea... so now, when he surprises us with swirling a derogatory term as "savage" when describing the Vacaei, it could easily take us aback. Here are those remarks from the fictional Malchus:
“What a savage looking race!” Malchus remarked to Trebon; “they look at us as if they would gladly spring on us, unarmed as they are, and tear us with their hands. They are well nigh as dark skinned as the Numidians.”
However, the two times Henty uses the term "dark skinned" is when describing the Numibians, and when describing Malchus himself!
They sat down in the shade of a clump of trees, and waited till the heat of the day was past; then they rose and walked on until, after darkness had fallen, they entered the town of Capua. They had no difficulty in discovering the palace where Hannibal was lodged. They were stopped at the entrance by the guards, who gave a cry of surprise and pleasure when Malchus revealed himself. At first they could hardly credit that, in the dark skinned peasant, their own commander stood before them, and as the news spread rapidly the officers of the corps ran down and saluted him with a joyous greeting. While this was going on Clotilde shrank back out of the crowd.
What I am suggesting is that we look closely at every reference to color in these works and see if it adds up. First I ask why would Henty create a fictitious character named Malchus to replace Hannibal? Well, if he wanted to reveal his true thoughts on the color of Hannibal but somehow felt it went against the accepted norm or if he was commissioned to write the works, he may find another way to reveal his true identity. What is gained by adding the character? He is free to give him all the qualities and more to the true Hannibal and relate to him as his blood cousin.
I do understand that this may be too remotely connected to the identity of Hannibal to be used as evidence for many. After all, Henty is writing historical fiction. His writing occurred after the Roman looking British Museum images displayed. However, perhaps it cracks open the doorway of possibility to other questions scholars may have wondered about in researching this complex topic. This could easily be a lifetime of work to complete. My small contribution will be to just raise curiosity and to dig deeper.
I will now conclude with the most formidable evidence in support of Hannibal being a Black African, with Hannibal coinage.
Hannibal Barca; The coin of Hannibal Barca are said to be carbon-dated to the time of Hannibal, 247 – 183 B.C., while later European-looking images of the Carthaginian general are reportedly dated a century or more after his death. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The-Hannibal-Barca-Coin-750x750.jpg
When you "follow the money," we get a strong clue about how Hannibal revered African people enough to mint a coin in our phenotypically African likeness along with the sole elephant that remained in his care after crossing the Alps. The images shown above were not only found online on wikipedia, but also cited by Frank Snowden in his book called, "Before Color Prejudice." Frank M. Snowden, Jr was a distinguished professor Emeritus at Howard University. I was delighted to find his reference to an image of the coin as The British Museum Department of Coins and Metals with provided by "Trustees of the British Museum." It is curious that when I searched the online British Museum Department of Coins and Medals, I was not able to find it. Nonetheless, Snowden states that some interpret the coinage "with Hannibal and the impression the general's mahmouts (elephant driver) made upon the population of Northern Italy."
In an online e-book I bought called, "What Colour was Hannibal" author Aylmer von Fleischer connects the coins with the period that Hannibal was in Italy battling the Romans.
Let's step back a moment, though. What is the likelihood that you would find a coin with a Black man on it with an elephant minted by anyone other than a Black Man? I just can not even fathom a Roman/Greek person minting a coin of anyone other than one with a Roman likeness. This is the common sense part of analysis. Here we are in the 21st century. We have yet to see a Black person minted on a coin in the US in wide circulation. We've seen stamps, but no coins. I own a Marcus Garvey coin, but that was minted in Jamaica. Whoever mints coins is in charge, and in the seat of government. To place an African likeness on a coin HAD to be Hannibal especially since it was minted in the year he was in Italy battling the Romans. And, as J. A. Rogers said in "World's Great Men of Color, v. 1 "Hannibal was an African, why not a Negro?"
Why not? unless you are overly consumed with covering up the truth and whitewashing any remnants of Black excellence.
The remainder of this post is filled with additional gems to look into as books on Hannibal are plentiful. He left a mark that is still being analyzed to this day.
This article gives more detail about the Hannibal Barca coin and linking it to the period of time he was in Italy. The article is called, "General Hannibal Barca was a Black African"
"The Young Carthaginian" was written during the time that Hannibal lived and does describe the Carthaginian army upon defeat as,
The men were all Africans accustomed to desert fighting and trained in warfare in Spain. The Romans, good judges of physical strength, could not repress a murmur of admiration at the sight of these sinewy figures. Less heavy than themselves, there was about them a spring and an elasticity resembling that of the tiger. Long use had hardened their muscles until they stood up like cords through their tawny skin, most of them bore numerous scars of wounds received in battle, and the Romans, as they viewed them, acknowledged to themselves what formidable opponents these men would be.
Here are some interesting videos that offer additional insight to Hannibal and his travels:
Special thanks to Moshe Buie for sharing his rich archives with me (see "The Genius of an African General" by Linda Murphy and "Hannibal" by Charles Lilly. The article and inset are from his collection; one that can not be found on the internet.
Unfortunately, though I appreciate the excellent information shared in these article, they are no references listed except for the Roman scholars who they discount as being pro-Roman and therefore may not have described Hannibal accurately. The scholars listed are Cassius D io, Livy, Plutarch and Polybius. I have digitally searched the worlds of Livy, Plutarch and Polybius, as they had books on Hannibal and neither of them provide a physical description of Hannibal. They give great details about his battles, however.
Was Hannibal Black or Greek?
The picture below of "Peter, the Great" and his adopted "son" is offered in "World's Great Men of Color" vol. 1 as further evidence that the skin color of Hannibal was Black. Rogers asks why else would the founder of Russia name his Black son after a Black military general? His argument is not the strongest one, but when shown with the picture, gives pause to wonder and dig deeper. I invite you to delve further.
J. A. Rogers mentions in "Worlds Great Men of Color" v. 1 that the reason Peter the Great named his captured "son" Hannibal because the two were Black. The personality Hannibal sometimes referred to as "Gannibal" is shown kneeling. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Peter_the_Great,_Tsar_of_Russia.jpg, Production date: 1707 or 1720
The most extensive bibliography on the topic of Hannibal is linked below. It is curated by Professor Yozan Mozig, Professor Emeritus at the University of Nebraska, Kearney. There are over 70,000 titles. https://www.unk.edu/academics/psychology/_files/mosigy/HannibalResearchResources.pdf?fbclid=IwAR17cyBTOWElAgU-9oV9wemHkRRle-bDFisOrIVnvLaWXoo5ar-hF_ftxtY.
Polybius, The Histories, https://bit.ly/Polybius2E
 Video by Yozan Mozig https://youtu.be/_saeN8OifXA
 Hannibal - The African Warrior by Jacob Abbott
 Black Man of the Nile and His Family by Yosef ben-Jochannan
Also most references mentioned at the beginning of this blog post in the section, "Books on Hannibal that addresses his identity..."
As always, I thank you for reading this lengthy blog post. I also encourage you to DO YOUR OWN research. If I've piqued your curiosity, I've done my job. Please feel free to search our website Afriwarebooks.com for the titles mentioned in this article. If not found, email us at: email@example.com
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