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8. Surnamed BARCA, an epithet supposed to be related to the Hebrew Barak, and to signify "lightning." (Gesenius, Ling. Phoenic. Monum. p. 403.) It was merely a personal appellation, and is not to be regarded as a family name, though from the great distinction that he obtained, we often find the name of Barcine applied either to his family or his party in the state. (Niebuhr, Lect. on Rom. Hist. vol. i. p. 134, not.) We know nothing of him previous to his appointment to the command of the Carthaginian forces in Sicily, in the eighteenth year of the first Punic War, B. C. 247. He was at this time quite a young man (ad modum adolescentulus, Corn. Nep. Hamilc. 1), but had already given proofs of his abilities in war, which led to his being named as the successor of Carthalo. His first operations fully justified the choice, and were characterised by the same energy and daring as distinguished the whole of his subsequent career. At the time that he arrived in Sicily the Romans were masters of the whole island, with the exception of the two fortresses of Drepanum and Lilybaeum, both of which were blockaded by them on the land side, and the Carthaginians had for some time past contented themselves with defending these two strongholds, and keeping open their communication with them by sea. But Hamilcar, after ravaging with his fleet the shores of Bruttium, suddenly landed on the north coast of Sicily, and established himself with his whole army on a mountain named Herctè (now called Monte Pellegrino). in the midst of the enemy's country, and in the immediate neighbourhood of Panormus, one of their most important cities. Here he succeeded in maintaining his ground, to the astonishment alike of friends and foes, for nearly three years. The natural strength of the position defied all the efforts of the enemy, and a small, but safe and convenient, harbour at the foot of the mountain enabled him not only to secure his own communications by sea, but to send out squadrons which plundered the coasts of Sicily and Italy even as far north as Cumae. By land, meanwhile, he was engaged in a succession of almost continual combats with the Romans, which did not, indeed, lead to any decisive result, but served him as the means of training up a body of infantry which should be a match for that of Rome, while he so completely paralysed the whole power of the enemy as to prevent their making any vigorous attempts against either Drepanum or Lilybaeum. So important did it appear to the Romans to expel him from his mountain fastness, that they are said to have at one time assembled a force of 40,000 men at the foot of the rock of Herctè. (Diod. Exc. Hoesch. xxiii. p. 506.) Yet Hamilcar still held out; and when, at length, he relinquished his position, it was only to occupy one still more extraordinary and still more galling to the enemy. In 244 he abruptly quitted Herctè, and, landing suddenly at the foot of Mount Eryx, seized on the town of that name, the inhabitants of which he removed to Drepanum, and converted it into a fortified camp for his army. The Romans still held the fort on the summit of the mountain, while one of their armies lay in a strongly intrenched camp at the foot of it. Yet in this still more confined arena did Hamilcar again defy all their exertions for two years more; during which period he had not only to contend against, the efforts of his enemies, but the disaffection and fickleness of the mercenary troops under his command, especially the Gauls. In order to retain them in obedience, he was obliged to make then large promises, the difficulty of fulfilling which was said to have been afterwards one of the main causes of the dreadful war in Africa. (Plb. 1.66, 2.7; Appian, App. Hisp. 4.) But while he thus continued to maintain his ground in spite of all obstacles, the Romans, despairing of effecting any thing against him by land, determined to make one great effort to recover the supremacy by sea. A powerful fleet was sent out under Lutatius Catulus, and the total defeat of the Carthaginian admiral Hanno off the Aegates, in B. C. 241, decided the fate of the war. [HANNO, No. 11; CATULUS.] The Carthaginian government now referred it to Hamilcar to determine the question of war or peace; and seeing no longer any hopes of ultimate success, he reluctantly consented to the treaty, by which it was agreed that the Carthaginians should evacuate Sicily. Lutatius had at first insisted that the troops on Mount Eryx should lay down their arms; but this was peremptorily refused by Hamilcar, and the Roman consul was forced to, abandon the demand. Hamilcar descended with his army to Lilybaeum, where he immediately resigned the command, leaving it to Gisco to conduct the troops to Africa. (Poiyb. 1.56-62, 66; Diod. Exc. xxiv.; Zonar. 8.16, 17; Corn. Nep. Hamile. 1.)

He himself returned to Carthage, filled with implacable animosity against Rome, and broolding over plans for future vengeance under more favourable circumstances. (Plb. 3.9 ) But all such projects were for a time suspended by a danger nearer home. The great revolt of the mercenary troops, headed by Spendius and Matho, which broke out immediately after their return from Sicily, and in which they were quickly joined by almost all the native Africans, brought Carthage in a moment to the brink of ruin. Hamilcar was not at first employed against the insurgents; whether this arose from the predominance of the adverse party, or that he was looked upon as in some measure the author of the evils that had given rise to the insurrection, from the promises he had been compelled to make to the mercenaries under his command, and which there were now no means of fulfilling, we know not; but the incapacity of Hanno, who first took the field against the rebels, soon became so apparent. that all parties concurred in the appointment of Hamilcar to succeed him. He found affairs in a state apparently almost hopeless: Carthage itself was not actually besieged, but all the passes which secured its communications with the interior were in the hands of the insurgents, who were also masters of all the open country, and were actively engaged in besieging Utica and Hippo, the only towns that still remained faithful to the Carthaginians. The forces placed at the disposal of Hamilcar amounted to only 10,000 men and 70 elephants; but with thes he quickly changed the face of affairs, forced the passage of the river Bagradas, defeated the enemy with great slaughter, and re-opened the communications with the interior. He now traversed the open country unopposed, and reduced many towns again to the subjection of Carthage. On one occasion, indeed, lie seems to have been surprised and involved in a situation of much difficulty, but was saved by the opportune accession of Naravas, a Numidian chief, with whose assistance he totally defeated the rebels under Spendius and Autaritus. Many captives having fallen into his hands on this occasion, Hamilcar treated them with the utmost lenity, receiving into his army all that were willing to enlist, and dismissing the rest in safety to their homes, on condition of their not bearing arms against him again. But this clemency was so far from producing the desired effect, that it led Spendius and Matho, the leaders of the insurgents, from apprehension of the influence it might exercise upon their followers, to the most barbarous measures, and they put to death Gisco and all their other prisoners, in order, by this means, to put an end to all hopes of recnciliation or pardon. This atrocity drove Hamilcar to measures of retaliation, and he henceforth put to death, without mercy, all the prisoners that fell into his hands. (Plb. 1.75-81; Diod. Exc. Vales. 25.2.) The advantages hitherto gained by Barca were now almost counterbalanced by the defection of Utica and Hippo; and Hanno having been (for what reason we know not) associated with him in the command, the dissensions which broke out between the two generals effectually prevented their co-operating to any successful resullt. These disputes were at length terminated by the Carthaginian government leaving it to the army to decide which of the two generals should resign, and which should retain his command. The soldiers chose Hamilcar, who accordingly remained at his post, and Hannibal succeeded Hanno as his colleague. Matho and Spendius, the leaders of the insurgents, had taken advantage of the dissensions among their adversaries, and after many successes had even ventured to lay siege to Carthage itself; but Hamilcar, by laying waste the country behind them, and intercepting their supplies, reduced them to such distress, that they were compelled to raise the siege. Spendius now took the field against Hamilcar; but though his forces were greatly superior, he was no match for his adversary in generalship; and the latter succeeded in shutting him up, with his whole army, in a position from which there was no escape. Hence, after suffering the utmost extremities of hunger, Spendius himself, together with nine others of the leaders of the rebels, repaired to the camp of Hamilcar to sue for mercy. That general agreed to allow the army to depart in safety, but without arms or baggage, and retaining to himself the power of selecting for punishment ten of the ringleaders. These terms being agreed to, he immediately seized on Spendius and his companions as the ten whom he selected: the rebel army, deeming themselves betrayed, rushed to arms; but Hamilcar surrounded them with his elephants and troops, and put them all to the sword, to the number, it is said, of 40,000 men. (Plb. 1.82-85.) But even this fearful massacre was far from putting an end to the war: a large force still remained under the command of Matho, with which he held the important town of Tunis. Here Hamilcar and Hannibal proceeded to besiege him with their combined forces; but Matho took advantage of the negligence of the latter, to surprise his camp, cut to pieces great part of his army, aud take Hannibal himself prisoner. This disaster compelled Hamilcar to raise the siege of Tunis, and fall back to the river Bagradas. The Carthaginian senate, in great alarm, now exerted themselves to bring about a reconciliation between Hamilcar and Hanno; and this being at length effected, the two generals again took the field in concert. They soon succeeded in bringing matters to the decision of a general battle, in which the rebels were completely defeated, and Matho himself taken prisoner; after which almost all the revolted towns submitted to the Carthaginians. Utica and Hippo alone held out for a time, but they were soon reduced. the one by Hamilcar and the other by Hanno; and this sanguinary war at length brought to a successful close (B. C. 238), after it had lasted three years and four months. (Plb. 1.86-88; comp. Diod. Exc. Hoeschel. 25.1; and for the chronology see Clinton, F. H. vol. iii. n. 238.)

There is much obscurity with regard to the conduct of Hamilcar after the termination of the war of the mercenaries. Polybius states simply (2.1) that the Carthaginians immediately afterwards sent him with an army into Spain. Diodorus and Appian, on the contrary, represent him as engaging in intrigues with the popular party at Carthage against the aristocracy; and the latter author asserts that it was in order to escape a prosecution brought against him by the adverse party for his conduct in Sicily, that he sought and obtained employment in a war against the Numidians, in which Hanno was associated with him as his colleague; and on the latter being recalled to Carthage, Hamilcar crossed over into Spain. Both Appian and Zonaras expressly assert that he took this important step without any authority from the government at home, trusting to the popular influence at Carthage to ratify his measures subsequently; and it is said that he secured this confirmation not only by his brilliant successes, and by the influence of his son-in-law Hasdrubal, one of the chief leaders of the democratic party at Carthage, but by employing the treasures which he obtained in Spain in purchasing adherents at home. (Appian, App. Hisp. 4, 5, Annib. 2; Zonar. 8.17; Diod. Exc. Vales. xxv.) Whatever weight we may attach to these statements (which are probably derived from Fabius), it is certain that Hamilcar was supported by the popular or democratic party at Carthage, in opposition to the old aristocracy, of whom Hanno was the chief leader: and it was in order to strengthen this interest that he allied himself with Hasdrubal, who, both by his wealth and popular manners, had acquired a powerful body of adherents in the state. It seems probable also that we are to attribute to Hamilcar alone the project to which he henceforth devoted himself with so much energy, and which was so ably followed up after his death by Hasdrubal and Hannibal,--that of forming in Spain a new empire, which should not only be a source of strength and wealth to Carthage, and compensate for the loss of Sicily and Sardinia, but should be the point from whence he might at a subsequent period renew hostilities against Rome. (Plb. 3.9, 10.) His enmity to that state, and his long-cherished resentment for the loss of Sicily, had been aggravated by the flagrant injustice with which the Romans had taken advantage of the weakness of Carthage after the African war, to force from her the cession of Sardinia, one of her most valued possessions; and the intensity of this feeling may be inferred from the well-known story of his causing his son Hannibal, when a child of nine years old, to swear at the altar eternal hostility to Rome. (Plb. 3.11.) But his views were long-sighted, and he regarded the subjugation of Spain as a necessary preliminary to that contest for life or death, to which he looked forward as his ultimate end. The Carthaginians, whether or not they sanctioned his plans in the beginning, did not attempt to interfere with them afterwards, and left him the uncontrolled direction of affairs in Spain from his first arrival there till his death, a period of nearly nine years. But of all that he accomplished during this long interval we know, unfortunately, almost nothing. Previous to this time the Carthaginians do not appear to have had any dominion in the interior of Spain, though Gades and other Phoenician colonies gave them in some measure the command of the southern coasts; but Hamilcar carried his arms into the heart of the country, and while lie reduced some cities and tribes by force of arms. gained over others by negotiation, and availed himself of their services as allies or as mercenaries. The vast wealth he is said to have acquired by his victories was probably derived not only from the plunder and contributions of the vanquished nations, but from the rich silver mines in part of the country which he subdued. We are told also that he founded a great city, which he destined to be the capital of the Carthaginian empire in Spain, at a place called the White Promontory (Ἄκρα Λευκή), but this was probably superseded by New Carthage, and its situation is now unknown. The progress which the arms of Hamilcar had made in the peninsula may be in some measure estimated by the circumstance that the fatal battle in which he perished is stated to have been fought against the Vettones, a people who dwelt between the Tagus and the Guadiana. (Corn. Nep. Hamilc. 4; Strab. iii. p.139.) According to Livy (24.41), it occurred near a place called Castrum Album, but the exact site is unknown. The circumstances of his defeat and death are very differently told by Diodorus and by Appian. The account of the latter author is confirmed by Zonaras; but all writers agree that he displayed the utmost personal bravery in the fatal conflict, and that his death was not unworthy of his life. It took place in 229 B. C., about ten years before his son Hannibal was able to commence the realisation of the great designs in the midst of which he was thus himself cut off. (Plb. 2.1; Diod. Exc. Hoeschiel. 25.2; Zonar. 8.19; Corn. Nep. Hamilc. 4; Liv. 21.1, 2; Oros. iv, 13.)

We know very little concerning the private character of Hamilcar: an anecdote of him preserved by Diodorus (Exc. Val. 24.2, 3) represents in a favourable light his liberality and even generosity of spirit; and we have seen that he at first displayed much leniency towards the insurgents in the African war, though the atrocities of his opponents afterwards led him to acts of frightful cruelty by way of retaliation. His political relations are so obscure that it is difficult to form a judgment concerning his conduct in this respect; but there certainly seems reason to suppose that, like many other great men, the consciousness of his own superiority rendered him impatient of control; and it is not improbable that he sought in Spain greater freedom of action and a more independent career than existing institutions allowed him at home. An odious imputation cast on his relations with Hasdrubal was probably no more than a calumny of the opposite faction. (Corn. Nep. Hamilc. 3; Liv. 21.2, 3.) Of the military genius of Hamilcar our imperfect knowledge of the details of his campaigns scarcely qualifies us to judge, but the concurrent testimony of antiquity places him in this respect almost on a par with his son Hannibal. He left three sons, Hannibal, Hasdrubal, and Mago, all of whom bore a distinguished part in the second Punic war.

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  • Cross-references from this page (18):
    • Appian, Wars in Spain, 1.5
    • Appian, Wars in Spain, 1.4
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.66
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.75
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.82
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.85
    • Polybius, Histories, 2.1
    • Polybius, Histories, 3.10
    • Polybius, Histories, 3.9
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.81
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.86
    • Polybius, Histories, 1.88
    • Polybius, Histories, 2.7
    • Polybius, Histories, 3.11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 24, 41
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 21, 1
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 21, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 21, 3
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