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Iarbas, or Hiarbas, was a Roman mythological character, who has appeared in works by various authors including Ovid and Virgil. The character is possibly based on a historical king of Numidia.

Role in Classical Mythology[edit]

In Roman mythology, Iarbas or Hiarbas was the son of Jupiter Hammon (Hammon was a North African god associated by the Romans with Jupiter, and known for his oracle) and a Garamantian nymph.[1] He became the king of Getulia. According to Virgil's Aeneid, he fell in love with the Carthaginian queen Dido, who rejected his advances in favour of Aeneas.[2]

Variations of the story were referred to by Ovid. In Ovid's Heroides, Dido describes Iarbas as one of her suitors, to whom Aeneas would be handing her over as a captive if he should leave her.[3] In Ovid's Fasti, Iarbas and the Numidians invade Dido's land after her suicide, resulting in his capturing her palace.[4]

Macrobius, and Pompeius Trogus also tell versions of the myth; in Justin's epitome of Pompeius he is king of the Maxitani.

Appearances in Later Literature[edit]

Iarbas is briefly referenced in Dante's Purgatorio as owning part of the land south of Italy.[5]

Iarbas is also a character in Christopher Marlowe's play Dido, Queen of Carthage.

Historical Background[edit]

There was also a historical king of Numidia called Hiarbas who reigned from 84-82 BC. He was captured in battle by Pompey the Great.[6] As all sources of the myth are from after this event, it is possible that the mythological Iarbas got his name from the historical figure.


  1. ^ Virgil Aeneid 4.198.
  2. ^ Virgil Aeneid 4.213-4.
  3. ^ Ovid Heroides 7.125.
  4. ^ Ovid Fasti 3.551-4.
  5. ^ Dante Purgatorio 31.72.
  6. ^ Plutarch Life of Pompey 12.3.