|Term||17 years; 247 - 228 BC|
|Successor||Hasdrubal the Fair|
Hamilcar Barca or Barcas (ca. 275 BC – 228 BC) was a Carthaginian general and statesman, leader of the Barcid family, and father of Hannibal, Hasdrubal and Mago. He was also father-in-law to Hasdrubal the Fair. The name Hamilcar (Punic-Phoenician ḥmlqrt, "brother of Melqart") was a common name for Carthaginian men. The name Brq (or Baraq) means "thunderbolt" in the Punic language and is thus equivalent to the epithet or cognomen Keraunos, common among many contemporary Greek commanders. The word remains in Lebanese, Arabic and Hebrew with the same meaning.
Hamilcar commanded the Carthaginian land forces in Sicily during 247–241 BC during the later stages of the First Punic War. He kept his army intact and led a successful guerrilla war against the Romans in Sicily. After the defeat of Carthage in 241 BC Hamilcar retired to Africa after the peace treaty. When the Mercenary War burst out in 239 BC, Hamilcar was recalled to command and was instrumental in concluding that conflict successfully. Hamilcar commanded the Carthaginian expedition to Spain in 237 BC, and for 8 years expanded the territory of Carthage in Spain before dying in battle in 228 BC.
Little is known about the Barcid family prior to Hamilcar Barca. The names of Hamilcar's parents are unknown, and it is hypothesized that the family may have come from Cyrene and was part of the landed aristocracy of Carthage. He was relatively young (33 years old) when he received the Sicilian command. By this time he had sired 3 daughters, and his son Hannibal was born in 247 BC.
The Carthaginians had gained command of the sea after their victory in the Battle of Drepanum in 249 BC, but they only held two cities in Sicily: Lilybaeum and Drepanum by the time Hamilcar took up command in Sicily. Carthage at this time was feeling the strain of the prolonged conflict (In addition to maintaining a fleet and soldiers in Sicily they were also fighting the Libyans and Numidians in North Africa), and as a result Hamilcar was given a fairly small army and the Carthaginian fleet was gradually withdrawn so that by 244 BC Carthage had no ships to speak of in Sicily. Hamilcar was in command of a mercenary army composed of multiple nationalities and his ability to successfully lead this force demonstrates his talent as field commander. He employed combined arms tactics, like Alexander or Pyhrrus, and his strategy was similar to the ones employed by Quintus Fabius Maximus in the Second Punic War, ironically against the eldest son of Hamilcar. The difference is that Fabius commanded a numerically superior army than his opponent and had no supply problems, and had room to maneuver, while Hamilcar was static and had a far smaller army than his opponent.
Hamilcar, upon taking command, punished the rebellious mercenaries (unruly because of overdue payment) by murdering some of them at night and drowning the rest at sea, and dismissing many to Africa. With a reduced army and fleet, Hamilcar commenced his operations. Hamilcar raided Locri and Brindisi in 247 BC, and upon his return he seized a strong position on Mount Ercte (Monte Pellegrino, near Palermo, or Mt. Castellacio, 7 miles NW of Palermo), and not only maintained himself against all attacks, but carried on with his raids from Catana in Sicily to far as Cumae in central Italy. He also set about improving the spirit of the army, and succeeded in creating a highly disciplined, versatile force. While Hamilcar won no large scale battle or recaptured cities lost to the Romans, his Carthaginians waged a relentless campaign against the Roman land forces, and their efforts were a constant and heavy drain on Roman resources.
In 244 BC he transferred his army at night by sea to a similar position on the slopes of Mt. Eryx (Monte San Giuliano), from which he was able to lend support to the besieged garrison in the neighboring town of Drepanum (Trapani). Hamilcar had seized a position between Roman forces stationed in the summit and their camp at the base, but continued his activities unhindered. He managed to foil a plan by his Celtic mercenaries to betray his position to the Romans. During one of the raids, when troops under a subordinate commander named “Boaster” engaged in plunder against the orders of Hamilcar and suffered severe casualties when the Romans caught them, Hamilcar requested a truce to bury his dead. The Roman consul arrogantly replied that Hamilcar should request a truce to save his living and denied the request. Hamilcar managed to inflict severe casualties on the Romans soon after, and when the Roman consul requested a truce to bury his dead, Hamilcar replied that his quarrel was with the living only and the dead had already settled their dues, and granted the truce.
The actions of Hamilcar, and his immunity to defeat, plus the stalemate at the siege of Lilybaeum, may have caused the Romans to start building a fleet in 243 BC. The Roman Republic was broke and nearly exhausted and had to borrow money from wealthy citizens to fund the construction. In 242 BC, this fleet blockaded the Carthaginian positions and defeated a hastily raised, undermanned Carthaginian fleet off Aegates islands in 241 BC. Hamilcar was authorized by Carthage to negotiate for peace, but the actual parley was conducted by Gisco, the Carthaginian commander of Lilybaeum. By a provision of the peace of 241 BC Hamilcar's unbeaten force was allowed to depart from Sicily without any token of submission — a rare gesture granted by the Romans to a defeated enemy.
Upon returning to Carthage, his troops, which had been kept together only by his personal authority and by the promise of good pay, broke out into open mutiny when their rewards were withheld by Hamilcar's opponents among the governing aristocracy, starting the conflict later named the Mercenary War. The serious danger into which Carthage was brought by the failure of the aristocratic generals was averted by Hamilcar, whom the government in this crisis could not help but reinstate. By the power of his personal influence among the mercenaries and the surrounding African peoples, and by superior strategy, he speedily crushed the revolt (237 BC). Rome, which had dealt with Carthage with all due honor and courtesy during the crisis, going as far as to release all Punic prisoners without ransom and refuse to accept the offer from Utica and Sardinia to incorporate these territories into the Roman domain, seized Sardinia and Corsica and forced Carthage to pay 1200 talents for her initial refusal to renounce her claim over the islands. This is one of the causes of the Second Punic War and held as the motivation of the subsequent activities of Hamilcar.
After this success Hamilcar enjoyed such influence among the popular and patriotic party that his opponents could not prevent him being raised to a virtual dictatorship. Hamilcar allied with Hasdrubal the Fair, his future son in law, to restrict the power of the aristocracy led by Hanno the Great. Hamilcar obtained permission from the Carthaginian Senate for recruiting and training a new army, with the immediate goal of securing the African domain of Carthage. Training for the army was obtained in some Numidian forays, then Hamilcar marched the army West to the straits of Gibraltar. Hasdrubal the Fair commanded the fleet carrying supplies and elephants along the coast, keeping pace with the army. Hamilcar on his own responsibility ferried the army across to Gades to start an expedition into Hispania (236 BC), where he hoped to gain a new empire to compensate Carthage for the loss of Sicily and Sardinia, and to serve as a base for any future conflicts against the Romans.
In eight years by force of arms and diplomacy Hamilcar secured an extensive territory in Hispania, but his premature death in battle (228 BC) denied Carthage a complete conquest. He founded the port of Barcino (deriving its name from the Barca family), which was later adopted and used by the Roman Empire and is, today, the city of Barcelona. Hamilcar stood out far above the Carthaginians of his age in military and diplomatic skill and in strength of patriotism; in these qualities he was surpassed only by his son Hannibal, whom he had imbued with his own deep suspicion of Rome and trained to be his successor in the conflict.
Hamilcar had at least three daughters and at least three sons.
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