Hamilcar I of Carthage

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Hamilcar I
King of Carthage
Reign 510 BCE to 480 BCE
Predecessor Hasdrubal I of Carthage
Successor Hanno II of Carthage
Dynasty Magonids

Hamilcar I of Carthage was a Magonid king of Carthage, in present day Tunisia, from 510 to 480 BCE.


Treaty with Rome[edit]

Carthage had concluded treaties with several powers, but the ones with Rome is the most famous. In 509 BC, a treaty was signed between Carthage and Rome indicating a division of influence and commercial activities. This is the first known source indicating that Carthage had gained control over Sicily and Sardinia, as well as Emporia and the area south of Cape Bon in Africa. Carthage may have signed the treaty with Rome, then an insignificant backwater, because Romans had treaties with the Phocaeans and Cumae, who were aiding the Roman struggle against the Etruscans at that time. Carthage had similar treaties with Etruscan, Punic and Greek cities in Sicily.

By the end of the 6th Century BC, Carthage had conquered most of the old Phoenician colonies e.g. Hadrumetum, Utica and Kerkouane, subjugated some of the Libyan tribes, and had taken control of parts of the North African coast from modern Morocco to the borders of Cyrenaica. It was also fighting wars in defense of Punic colonies and commerce, however, only the details of her struggle against the Greeks have survived - which often makes Carthage seem "obsessed with Sicily".

First Sicilian War[edit]

The island of Sicily, lying at Carthage's doorstep, became the arena on which this conflict played out. From their earliest days, both the Greeks and Phoenicians had been attracted to the large island, establishing a large number of colonies and trading posts along its coasts. Small battles had been fought between these settlements for centuries. Carthage had to contest with at least three Greek incursions, in 580 BC, in 510 BC and a war in which the city of Heraclea was destroyed. Gelo had fought in the last war and had secured terms for the Greeks.

The Punic domain in Sicily by 500 BC contained the cities of Motya, Panormus and Soluntum. By 490 BC, Carthage had concluded treaties with the Greek cities of Selinus, Himera, and Zankle in Sicily. Gelo, the tyrant of Greek Syracuse, backed in part by support from other Greek city-states, was attempting to unite the island under his rule since 485 BC. When Theron of Akragas, father in law of Gelo, deposed the tyrant of Himera in 483 BC, Carthage decided to intervene at the instigation of the tyrant of Rhegion, who was the father-in-law of the deposed tyrant of Himera.

Hamilcar prepared the largest Punic overseas expedition to date and after three years of preparations, sailed for Sicily. This enterprise coincided with the expedition of Xerxes against mainland Greece in 480 BC, prompting speculations about a possible alliance between Carthage and Persia against the Greeks, although no documented proof of this exists. The Punic fleet was battered by storms en route, and the Punic army was destroyed and Hamilcar killed in the Battle of Himera by the combined armies of Himera, Akragas and Syracuse under Gelo. Carthage made peace with the Greeks and paid a large indemnity of 2000 silver talents, but lost no territory in Sicily.

Weakening of kings[edit]

This defeat had far reaching consequences, both political and economic, for Carthage. Politically, the old government of entrenched nobility was ousted, replaced by the Carthaginian Republic. The “King” was still elected, but their power began to erode, with the senate and the "Tribunal of 104" gaining dominance in political matters, and the position of "Suffet" becoming more influential. Economically, sea-borne trade with the Middle East was cut off by the mainland Greeks[1] and Magna Graecia boycotted Carthaginian traders. This led to the development of trade with the West and of caravan-borne trade with the East. Gisco, son of Hamilcar was exiled, and Carthage for the next 70 years made no recorded forays against the Greeks nor aided either the Elymians/Sicels or the Etruscans, then locked in struggle against the Greeks, or sent any aid to the Greek enemies of Syracuse, then the leading Greek city in Sicily. Based on this abstinence from Greek affairs, it is commented that Carthage was crippled after the defeat of Himera.[2]


  1. ^ Thucidides, VI, p34
  2. ^ Baker, G.P, Hannibal, p 16-18, ISBN 0-8154-1005-0