We are at war with Carthage again, you say? I am old, so the war does not concern me, except that I hope it will remain distant and food will be on our tables. You tell me soon you will set sail to Tartessos to burn it. Your leaving does concern me. I hope you will return, alive and sound of limb. Your father was my friend and I see much of your father in you.
Burn Tartessos, you said? Tartessos, not Carthage? I admit I do not comprehend this strategy of our great council and judges. Yes, the Carthaginians trade with Tartessos. The destruction of Tartessos would be a great blow to the Carthaginians. But it would also mean we strike ourselves, as we too obtain the silver from the Tartessians in trade, and the tin that our smiths need to make bronze with heat and spells — the bronze of your sword, my young warrior friend. Where will our swords come from? What next will our council think of? Strike against the Etruscans too, or against the cities of Hellas, or great Egypt, or against Tyre itself? Don’t frown, I am just wondering who we are a war with.
I shall tell you something; I shall tell you only in private so do not pass on that I said it, as I would be considered unpatriotic. But I shall tell you this: they have spirit, those Carthaginians. This is nothing that should shame us: they are a brother people; our city and theirs founded by the same ancestors. We speak the same language. We are all Phoenicians.
Why should we fight? Whether we win this war or not, does it matter? I can read on your face that you think differently, and you are right. These are just the ramblings of an old man. May our fair city be victorious. After all, to destroy Tartessos may not be a bad thing, if the alternative is the destruction of Carthage in this war. No, I am jesting, forgive me my jests, young warrior.
But I know the Carthaginians. I know, as I once traveled with them on their ships. Traveled far… They say the Tartessians get their tin from islands in the far north, in the waters beyond the great rock Calpe. With Tartessos gone, the Cartheginians will find the way to the Tin Islands themselves, I tell you. It’s useless. Perhaps already they have found the route. I wouldn’t be surprised.
You shake your head. But they have spirit! They will set sail onto the great waters into the north, and brave the great cold and monsters, and the savage inhabitants there, and find the source of the tin. They will do it, if you burn Tartessos. I have been beyond the rock myself, son of my friend, with the Carthaginians, though we sailed south, not north.
It was thirty years ago. I was young then. You can scarcely believe it now, can you, my young friend, that I was young once? Older than you are now I judge, yes, when I sailed with the Carthaginians, but young. It feels young to me now.
Hanno was our commander and judge of our destiny. I remember the day we set out from Carthage; dozens of ships left the harbor, and on board thousands. Many stood on the shores and waved at us with long cloths light, dark, red, many colors, the colour of our sails, to wish us well on our journey. May they wish you well this way when you set sail for Tartessos soon.
After days near familiar shores, we sailed past the great rock Calpe onto the great sea. That sea has no end in the west, they say, though I do not know whether this is possible, as where would the sun set? But one has a different feeling on this outer sea… Different, unknown gods rule those waters. I saw some of their works…
You have traveled on the sea yourself before, even though you are so young. You have sailed on the waters to the south of our city, plied the waves between Tartessos and Tyre. You have been in the open waters where you could see no land. You always knew there was land just beyond the horizon, and knew what peoples live there. It was not so on that great sea beyond the rock; we know of no land out west, just water, and the land to the east, the shores of Libya, was unknown and unexplored.
After a few days sail southwards from Calpe we arrived at a shore with a great plain. There Hanno decided to found the city of Dumathiria, and many of our colonists left our ships. I know you have heard of it; through it passes much trade in gold these days.
Half a day’s journey beyond that we reached a cape. We went on land to found a shrine to Melqarth, Lord of the Sea. I remember Hanno dressed in flowing robes together with the priests while we consecrated the shrine. He was a grand man, a brave man. I prayed to Melqarth for a safe journey, on that bright day on that strange shore between the trees.
We sailed on. We passed marshland and lake country, and great herds of elephants were there on the shore and many other beasts. I remember the dark bulk of those magnificent elephants silhouetted against the rising sun. Beyond, more settlers left us to found new cities: first Hanno founded the Castle of the Sun, and then Geth, and Akra on the rock, and Melitta, and Har Anbin, the mountain of grapes. At Har Abin most of our settlers had left us, though not all. Many ships had left our fleet as well to stay at these places, and start the trade routes.
Our journey had not ended yet, however. You see, my friend, what I mean with the spirit of the Carthaginians? Has the council of our city sent out such expeditions to found settlements on those distant shores? You disagree perhaps that this was a great and profitable feat? No matter, I shall tell you where we went next. We went much farther.
We sailed onwards until we reached a great river. The Lixites live there by the great river Lig, tending their flocks. They were a
friendly people. While we were among the Lixites I met Kone, with her dark long hair flowing down her back and her long limbs. She was beautiful. She told me stories of the strange peoples living beyond in a land of wild beasts and great mountains: dark men in caves, men that could outpace horses. We had to leave too soon, but I shall remember Kone of the Lixites if no one else does. When we returned to those shores so much later her tribe had moved on and I did not see her.
Some of the men of the Lixites came with us as they spoke the strange tongues of peoples in those lands that we could not comprehend. They were of great use trading at first, though they were not that much use to us in the end, I think. I sometimes thought they were as much in the dark about who lived on those shores so far the south as we were ourselves.
We sailed south for more days, I forget how many. Perhaps I was too busy pining for Kone then! On an island in a bay there the last of our settlers left us to found a new city. Since it was the last that we founded we called it Chernah, which means last place.
From that last place, we now truly set out into the unknown. No one quite knew what was further south, but still we went. Do you not think that was brave and exemplifies spirit, my young friend?
We passed by a river and afterwards reached a great bay with some islands. After a day’s more sailing we had crossed the bay. Some very great rocks overhung the water there. We tried to go on land; I was in the ship that was to make the first landing.
Do you see this old scar on my forehead, my friend? It is a memory of those times, that shore. Strange men that wore animal skins were on those rocks and yelled at us. Hanno thought to try trading with them, but they threw stones at us when our ship came near, and one hit me on the head, here. Hanno then decided to leave this land and its unfriendly people alone.
We sailed on and came by another river, a very great one, full of crocodiles and great grey river horses. There, by that great river mouth, we had more luck trading. You’ve only been to civilized ports, haven’t you, young fellow? It goes very differently at that far coast. We still haggle, yes, but not like with the traders in the harbour or those conmen in our corner stalls.
We landed on this beach. Hanno had us unload some pots of honey I recall, and some clay pots. We also included the ebony statuette of a horse and finally a roll of linen. He then told us to gather bit of wood, some of which he had us make wet with sea water, and we made a very smokey fire nearby. Then we returned to the ships. I wasn’t sure what the point was yet, then. Maybe some sacrifice to the gods of this shore? But Hanno knew what he was doing. Perhaps our Lixite guides had
told him what to do.
We waited for some time on board of our ships, a small distance from the shore. We had sun shades on the decks, but I remember it was hot even with them. It took so long, and the tide was coming in, so I was afraid the water would spoil our goods there on the beach.
But then, quite suddenly, some four or five dark-skinned people came out from between the trees further out. These fellows walked up to our trade goods on the beach, looked at them for a bit, touching this and that. After a while one of them ran off. The others waited and it took quite a while, then the one who had run off came back again. He had something with him then, which he dropped onto the beach. Then they all calmly walked a distance away, near the edge of the trees, and just stood, waiting.
So then Hanno had us use our oars and we went on the shore again. Those dark fellows kept standing there at a little distance as
we approached, though they certainly looked nervous, ready to run away. We looked at what the one man had dropped, and it was gold, gold ingots. It was quite a quantity too, much, much more than what those goods we put on the shore would’ve gotten us anywhere else I’ve been.
Then Hanno did the strangest thing. He had us all go back into the ship again, and he left the gold just lying on the beach! We thought he was nuts! It was obviously offered in exchange for our goods. But as I told you, Hanno knew what he was doing.
Again we waited on our ships. The men on the shore came back and talked for a while, then they dropped some more gold onto the beach! Then, off they walked, and went to stand at little distance again.
We came back then and looked at the gold. It must’ve been a third as much that was added! We took the gold and went off onto our ships. Then those strange men came back and took the trade goods.
What a system, young friend! Try that with the Greeks! We could’ve done nothing if they had had run off with the trade goods right away. And we could’ve gone off with the gold and the trade goods together for that matter. They pay so well you don’t feel you have to, though. Too bad that place is so far away, or I would be rich! Haha. Though I have nothing to complain about, except this damn war. Burning Tartessos, what are they thinking?
After that, we sailed back to Chernah, the last place we had founded.
You are grinning… You are not impressed. You think, oh, a rock on the head, some profit, and back home they went. We did not.
We set out again from Chernah. Hanno, judge of our destiny, had us, in just four ships, sail southward, much further, for many days past a barren, rocky coast, for ten or twelve days, I think. On these shores we saw dark skinned men but most fled as soon as they saw us. Some stood at the shore and yelled at us at first, then ran, but not even the Lixites could tell us what they were saying. I can imagine why they ran; to them we were men from another world that before perhaps they did not even know existed.
We did not know about this strange world as well, but at least we were in unknown lands deliberately, and could thus prepare for the shock of strange encounters. But it still takes spirit to go there, and it was the Carthaginians that sent this expedition, not the people in our city.
The colors seemed brighter than the ones we have here, my young friend, or perhaps that is only my memory playing tricks on me. I remember so vividly the deep blue sea, the yellow beaches and the green mountains that rose up from us now on those distant shores at the end of our many days of travel. The green struck me after so many days of barren coast.
We went on shore and walked up distance into those green hills, gazing up at the mountains. The air smelled sweet between those trees. Whether people lived there I do not know, but perhaps they were shy too, and ran from the sound of our loud voices echoing, so we never saw them.
We sailed past these forested mountains for two days and then came upon a great bay or mouth of a river, with plains on both sides. We spent the night in that place, and in the distance on these shores we saw the light of many fires.
During the day we went onto the land there as we needed to take on fresh water. Insects stung us, and we moved carefully as we did not know whether the ones who made the fires at night would be friendly to us or not. We did not encounter anyone, so perhaps these distant fires were not made by people but some species of demon active in the night. We were lucky to find fresh water nearby so returned to the ships quickly.
We sailed further near the land for five days. Then we came by a rock projecting into the sea by another great bay. Our Lixite guides said it was called the Horn of the West. We saw an island in this bay which enclosed a lagoon. We sailed into it and found another island there.
We landed on this island and again we saw no one there during the day, just the forest. The night was different… That night we saw the lights of many campfires again. After a while the sound of drums started in the distance. Then we heard some more, much closer by. We then also heard shouting, or perhaps that was the song of demons, and the sounds of pipes. I cannot describe how ominous these sound were to us that were coming from the dark forests. During the day we had seen nothing, and now this!
Hanno then said he wanted to take a party of men and approach the source of the nearest sounds, thinking to meet the those that made them. But Mahar the priest then told us to leave this island as the sounds were bad omens. I think Hanno was secretly glad he counciled thus, as I think I saw fear in his face even for his brave resolve, and certainly saw fear in the face of the others. I was very scared myself, my young friend! But before you think little of the spirit of the Carthaginians, consider how you would have felt under the same circumstances.
After sailing away from that strange and dark place, we came by an even more fearful one. We had only had a first taste of fire, and the fires we saw after this could truly had not have been made by mortal men. Consider that we sailed further still even then… Hanno ordered us onwards, and our four ships sailed on, alone in those distant seas.
A few days further, we we saw many fires in the night again, and one fire was larger and the rest and high up the sky itself, among the stars. I felt awed. What strange god had lifted up that fire there and hung it among the stars? Many of my comrades cried out and wished to turn the ships away, and travel home.
When the day came we saw that the sky fire was on an enormous mountain that jutted up into the sky. Gods must make their home there. Still Hanno pressed us onwards and we obeyed.
We saw great plumes of smoke rise from the shore, and the air smelt foul and strange. Shortly thereafter we saw streams of fire fall into the sea. A terrible heat emanated from the land, so we could not approach. Our priests did not have to council us to sail away from it quickly, then. We saw rivers of fire, I tell you!
For three days we continued past rivers of flame, until we crossed into another gulf, called Horn of the South by our guides. Whether our Lixite guides knew it was called such or invented that name for it then, I do not know. We sailed into this bay and found many islands. We landed on one and Hanno gathered a party to explore it. I was among the ones chosen.
With trepidation I can tell you we stepped between the dense vegetation that grew on this island so far away from anything we
knew. We heard birdsong and other sounds we could not identify around us. It was very warm and humid. Then a face stared at me from between the plants that I will not forget! Whether it was the face of a man or a demon I do not know; it was certainly unlike any that of any man I had seen before or since, though his eyes seemed very much like that of yours or mine. This being gazed at me intently, a bit like Germel the fruit seller does, the one on the street corner I mean, when I dawdle over his fruits to see whether any one looks appealing enough to eat.
I saw him for just a brief moment, though long enough to leave me this eternal memory, and then he turned to run. He had a dark, hairy back as like that of an animal. My comrades saw him then too, as the bushes made a rushing sound with him going, but they only caught a glimpse while I had stared into his face. He was short, like a child, though seemed full-grown. Much later I heard a traveling priest tell a tale he said was from Egypt, about small men that were spirits of the woods. Perhaps the ones we saw on that island were those spirits.
We went back to the ships and discussed what had happened for a while. We then set out again. For a long time we did not find them, but then we walked into a grove surrounded by tall rocks. A whole group of them was there, some smaller and some larger, bent over like old men. Like me, now.
They ran off quickly and climbed into the rocks and trees and pelted stones and branches at us. I have no scar to show of that, but several others did gain them then. We chased them, didn’t catch any of the men, but three of the women had gone into one tree that we could bend and hack down, and thereby catch them. At least our guides said they were women, and they did have teats, though they weren’t any women I would bed!
We were running out of supplies them, so we had to turn back. Hanno wanted to take them to Carthage with us, so we could display these strange people from this far away country. What was it that our Lixite guides called this people? The Goril, I think, though I do not know whether the Lixites really knew.
We tried to get the captured women to go with us onto our ships, but they would not come, and bit us and scratched us, and shrieked, though they did not speak. Then we did something that I am not sure we should have done, though it was clear we could not bring them aboard our ships like this. We hit them and yelled at them to be quiet. It was very heated, as they scratched us and bit off the finger of one of my shipmates, who later died of it. We must have hit them too much or perhaps they died of fright, as they were very quiet after a while, upon which we discovered they were dead.
Hanno ordered us to flay the dead bodies, and we took the skins with us where we could not bring those strange people. We had to show something about where we had been, if not live inhabitants, and we had to turn back. We knew it would be a long and hard journey back. And still these hairy skins can be seen in the temple of Tanit in Carthage.
I can see you do not believe me. The rantings of an old man you think, tall tales. But it happened.
Just go. Go to Tartessos and burn it down. May the great Astarte be with you, and may you be led to victory against those
Cities are born and die, must like people, just like me. I saw the birth of a few cities myself, there on that far away coast. Our city
may die yet, in this war or another, perhaps pass away from memory.
Even Carthage may one day die, killed by another people, though not us, not now, not when their spirit burns so bright. We will not win this war, no matter what happens to Tartessos. Still, the temple of Baal Ammon in Carthage which has this story inscribed on its wall may yet collapse one day. Then others will remember the tale of our journey.
One day men will hear this tale and believe it, unlike you, and sail to those shores themselves and see the sights we saw. If many are like you that will take a while. Disbelieve me if you like, young man, but I was there, and it will be remembered when you are dust. Now walk away and sail to Tartessos.