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Hamilcar Barca

Hamilcar Barca, or Barcas (Heb. barak "lightning"), Carthaginian general and statesman, father of Hannibal, was born soon after 270 BC.

He distinguished himself during the First Punic War in 247, when he took over the chief command in Sicily, which at this time was almost entirely in the hands of the Romans. Landing suddenly on the north-west of the island with a small mercenary force he seized a strong position on Mt. Erote (Monte Pellegrino, near Palermo), and not only maintained himself against all attacks, but carried his raids as far as the coast of south Italy.

In 244 he transferred his army 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 neighbouring town of Drepanum (Trapani). By a provision of the peace of 241 Hamilcar's unbeaten force was allowed to depart from Sicily without any token of submission.

On returning to Africa 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. 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 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).

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. After recruiting and training a new army in some Numidian forays he led on his own responsibility an expedition into Spain (236), where he hoped to gain a new empire to compensate Carthage for the loss of Sicily and Sardinia, and to serve as a basis for a campaign of vengeance against the Romans.

In eight years by force of arms and diplomacy he secured an extensive territory in Spain, but his premature death in battle (228) prevented him from completing the conquest. 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 hatred of Rome and trained to be his successor in the conflict.

This Hamilcar has been confused with another general who succeeded to the command of the Carthaginians in the First Punic War, and after successes at Therma[?] and Drepanum[?] was defeated at Ecnomus[?] (256 BC). Subsequently, apart from unskillful operations against Regulus, nothing is certainly known of him. So far as the name itself is concerned, Milcar is perhaps the same as Mel karth, the Tyrian god.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

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