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Did Hannibal of Carthage Exist?

January 12th, 2011 by Matt

HannibalHistorian James Hannam has written an entertaining article called “Satirising the Christ Myth.” The piece uses similar methods employed by those seeking to make the case for the claim that Jesus never existed to show that Hannibal of Carthage did not exist either. It is written in Hannam’s classicly witty yet accurate style;

Did Hannibal Really Exist?

To ask whether or not the great Carthaginian general Hannibal ever actually existed might seem rather pointless. It might be an exercise for a student learning about the nature of historical evidence, but not something any serious scholar would waste time on. But maybe we should not be too hasty in acquiescing with the opinion of establishment historians (in other words, there’s a plot by academics stifling debate).

In fact, although there is plenty of writing about Hannibal, none of it is contemporary and there is no archaeological evidence for him at all (not surprising given the Romans razed the city from whence he came). Furthermore he is not mentioned in any Carthaginian sources, which is incredible, given he was supposed to be their greatest leader (there are no Carthaginian sources as the Romans burnt their city down)! We find when we actually try to pin him down he tends to recede further into the mists of time. His exploits, such as leading elephants over the Alps, are clearly legendary (the skeptic pretends to be incredulous but seems happy to buy his own amazing theory) and it is not hard to find a motive for the creation of this colorful character by Roman writers (as long we can invent a motive for fabrication we can assume that fabrication exists).

Rome and Carthage were great trading rivals in the Western Mediterranean and it did not take them long to come to blows. Rome signed a peace treaty but, under the leadership of the elder Cato, desperately wanted to rid itself permanently of the competition (this is actually true and so helps to conceal the moment when we slip into fantasy). The Romans needed an excuse and the idea they developed was brilliant. Like many ancient civilizations, the Romans rewrote history as it suited them to exhibit their own prowess (a useful and exaggerated generalization). Consequently we should not be surprised to find that they invented a great enemy from Carthage to demonstrate the threat still existed and justify a further war to wipe them out.

The author of the fiction was Cato himself (we need someone to point the finger at; note also how there is no distinction made between the background material above and theorizing here), as Cato wrote the earliest Roman History (true as well, as it happens). But it was intended simply as a justification for a further war with Carthage. It contained the details of Hannibal’s alleged campaigns against the Romans, including his victories on Italian soil (Cato’s history has conveniently not survived so we can speculate freely about what it contained). Cato brilliantly combined the truth with his own anti-Carthaginian propaganda with the intention of goading Rome into another wholly unjustified war with the old enemy (give the fabricator lots of credit for his invention). Once the war was over and Carthage was razed to the ground, the Romans were able to ensure that only their version of history survived (this is important as it enables all other sources to be declared forgeries).

Therefore the myth of the great Carthaginian war leader became an accepted fact. Later Roman historians like the notoriously unreliable Livy (we have to denigrate counter sources) simply assumed Cato’s fabrications were true (because the ancients were stupid and simply could not do any research themselves).


The earlier parts set out in “The Christ Myth won’t die are also worth reading.

Guest Post: James Hannam on Dan Brown’s History of Science
The “Dark Ages” and Other Propaganda
More on the “Dark Ages” and Other Propaganda

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11 responses so far ↓

  • I guess the question everyone really wants answered now is whether “Ken” exists. No proof has been offered yet except long and strange rants on Christian fundamentalist blogs by someone or something calling themselves ‘Ken.’

  • I mostly lurk but more than once I have wondered if Ken is really a parody.

  • Perhaps it’s just me but I find the questions of whether Jesus of Nazareth walked on water, spontaneously generated matter, rose from the dead, etc. to be far more interesting than just whether a person existed by that name. If people rely on the Bible as a historical record to justify their beliefs in the miracles attributed to Jesus, how do they distinguish between the miracles in the Bible that did and did not occur? If all the miracles in the Bible occurred as described, why are there no miracles today? Just imagine one levitating saint on CNN. Do Christians ever even bother to ponder these questions?

  • Did Hannibal of Carthage Exist?…

    Did Hannibal of Carthage Exist? I thought I knew; now I’m not so sure…….

  • Mythicism, Creationism, Certainty and Innkeepers around the Blogosphere…

    Matt Flannagan links to a series of posts on mythicism at James Hannam’s blog Quodlibet. The articles themselves appeared on Patheos….

  • TAM, you make as little sense as always.

    If a miracle is attested in the Bible, I’m willing to accept it happened.

    If a miracle is attested outside the Bible, if you can show a similar level of testimonial support, then I’m willing to accept it happened. Yes, even if it’s from a non-Christian source.

    Do miracles not happen today? Perhaps you should go, investigate every professed miracle and show it did not happen. Otherwise you’re merely begging the question.

    As an aside. The history recorded in the Bible covers at least 2000 years, and possibly more. When you divide the number of miracles recorded therein by the number of years it covers you’ll realise that even the Bible doesn’t regard miracles as regular occurrences. I suppose that’s why they’re called “miracles” and not “everyday incidents.”

  • “Do miracles not happen today? Perhaps you should go, investigate every professed miracle and show it did not happen. Otherwise you’re merely begging the question.”

    Ha ha ha. Yes TAM until you have investigated, personally, every bizarre claim made you have no way of claiming that these sort of things do not happen. Have you investigated every instance of Yogic Flying? Well have you!??? NO? Then it is “merely beggint the question” to make the claim that people do not fly.

    Have yo uinvestigated every UFO abduction case? NO? Then it is begging the question to claim this sort of thing does not happen.

    By the way I created my breakfast out of nothing this morning… now I hope you won’t beg the question and claim I did not not do this before you come investigate my claim…

  • OK.. maybe Jason was taking the piss himself and I missed his subtle parody?

  • I think Queensland needs some miracles right now. Walking on water would be a good one.

  • There were plenty of contemporary accounts of Hannibal written from his side, but sadly, most are gone and are only recorded by historians writing the history of Rome – Sosylus was a Greek historian who’s seven books on Hannibal’s campaign were used by Polybius himself to write his histories. Sadly, all we have left of his work is a naval battle fought in 217 which resulted in a Carthaginian defeat and subsequent Roman control of the Spanish waters.

    Polybius may not have been contemporary with events, but his work is close to the period, where he actually spoke to people who had fought with Hannibal or against him, or had simply been alive during the war.

  • Hi Flannagans

    I hope this email finds you well.

    I cam across your website when I was googling for James Hannam’s article.
    I was most amazed to find out that there are no contemporary references or accounts or coins or inscriptions of Hannibal of Carthage.

    Recently I’ve been doing some research, and came across a reference to what might be an inscription of Hannibal.
    Robert L O’Connell mentions that an inscription with the name Hannibal exists that might commemorate Fabius Maximus’s capture of Tarentum. This comes from O’Connell’s book Ghost’s of Cannae, page 5. He cites this reference:

    4. The inscription first cited in F. Ribbezo, Il Carroctodel Sud, S. ii, vol. 4.2, February 1951.

    This didn’t come up in the comments.

    Hang, this post was from 2011 so I don’t even know if my comment will be seen, but if there’s any interest, I don’t know if there’s any way to corroborate it?

    I have google searched the reference and only find it directs back to O’Connel’s book. I have been to 3 libraries here in South Africa while researching Genghis Khan, and they could only give me a pictorial history of the World Conqueror, and a travelogue retracing his steps; I doubt I will find any info about F. Ribbezo in any of the public libraries down here.

    If this does pique your interest, and if you have the time, I do hope you can get back to me, but I totally understand busy-ness and life in general.



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