By Mike Markowitz for CoinWeek …..
BORN IN 247 BCE at Carthage (near modern Tunis in North Africa), Hannibal Barca is remembered as one of the greatest military commanders of ancient history. His father, Hamilcar Barca (lived 275-228 BCE), led Carthaginian forces in Sicily during the 23 year-long First Punic War, defeating a revolt by mutinous mercenaries in the aftermath of that disastrous conflict. Beginning in 237 BCE, he built a new Carthaginian empire; numismatists call it the “Barcids in Spain”. Spain, with rich mines of precious metal and a warlike Celtiberian population, provided a base for renewed war against Rome – a war known to us as the Second Punic War (218-202 BCE). Romans called it the “Hannibalic War”. According to legend, Hamilcar made his nine-year-old son Hannibal swear a solemn oath of eternal enmity toward Rome.
The coinage of Carthage during Hannibal’s life was based on the Phoenician shekel weight standard of 7.2 grams (or 7.5 grams for gold). Coins in circulation included the 3/8 shekel (about 2.8 grams) in electrum, an alloy of about 50% gold (12 kt or less) and silver. Like many Carthaginian coins, it bore the image of the goddess Tanit on the obverse, and a standing horse on the reverse. Greeks and Romans identified Tanit with the goddess Persephone, or Kore.
The standard silver coinage was heavily debased with copper and lead (a “tridrachm” of about 9.4 grams being the largest denomination). There was an abundant bronze coinage with the familiar Tanit-and-horse design (adding a palm tree behind the horse).
The Face of Hannibal?
What did Hannibal look like?
The widely published image is a Roman marble bust, found at Capua and now in the Quirinal Palace museum in Rome. The portrait is bearded, though we know that Hannibal admired the clean-shaven Alexander the Great, who ordered his troops to shave so that enemies could not grab them by the beard in hand-to-hand combat. The most common male portrait on Carthaginian coinage is the god Melqart, the patron deity of Tyre, which was the mother city of Carthage. Melqart is sometimes depicted on coins as a beardless youth. Greeks and Romans identified Melqart as the demigod Herakles (or Hercules). Some numismatists and art historians argue that certain coins issued in Spain depict Melqart with “the features of Hannibal,” or his father Hamilcar, or his brother Hasdrubal.
A cataloguer writes:
All varieties of Barcid silver depicting the bust of Heracles with a club over his shoulder – bearded or clean-shaven –are of historical interest, even if we are left to speculate as to the intentions of the engravers. Were these portraits meant to represent Barcid commanders, or were they just differing visions of Melkart-Heracles? Considering the extraordinary events of the era and the headstrong personalities of the Barcid commanders, many believe it was the intention of artists to portray their commanders in the guise of Melkart-Heracles. Robinson suggested that the clean-shaven portraits depict Hannibal and that the bearded head may have been Hannibal’s effort to portray his deceased father, Hamilcar Barca.
Readers who know nothing else about Hannibal will recall that he crossed the Alps into Italy with war elephants. These were North African forest elephants (Loxodonta africana pharaohensis), a relatively small species hunted to extinction in antiquity. Elephants appear on a number of Carthaginian coins, giving us a clear picture of how they looked. The reverse of a rare dishekel, dated c. 221-206, shows a walking elephant with a cloaked rider, indicating the relative size of the animal.
A very rare small silver diobol from Capua is one of the few ancient coins that shows an African elephant carrying a tower with warriors on its back. One of the most enigmatic elephants on an ancient coin is seen on the reverse of a small bronze attributed to the Etruscan city of Arretium (modern Arezzo in Tuscany). The obverse bears the head of a Black African while a clearly Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) – distinguished by its small ear and humped back – is on the reverse. Some sources date this coin to c. 208-207 BCE when Hannibal was in Italy, while others place it earlier, possibly referring to the Indian elephants brought to Italy by Pyrrhus.
Hannibal set out from Spain with 37 elephants. Many perished during the Alpine crossing, or in the marshes of northern Italy. A single survivor named Surus (“The Syrian”) served as Hannibal’s personal mount. Unlike the others, Surus may have been an Indian elephant, a diplomatic gift from the Ptolemies of Egypt, captured from the Seleucids at the Battle of Raphia (June 22, 217 BCE).
A gifted diplomat as well as a brilliant tactician, Hannibal’s strategy depended on breaking up Rome’s network of alliances with the Greek-speaking cities and rural Italic tribes of Italy. One powerful group was the Brettii, inhabiting the region of Calabria (the “toe” of the Italian “boot”). Hannibal issued coins to pay his troops in this region – including an electrum 3/8 shekel, that closely copied a contemporary Roman silver coin, and a silver quarter-shekel with the usual Carthaginian design of Tanit and a standing horse.
There is an extensive coinage of the Brettii in alliance with Hannibal, bearing inscriptions in Greek. A handsome bronze double-didrachm (15.65 grams) from this period bears the helmeted head of Ares, the war god.
“Occupation by Carthage”
The Greek cites of Sicily and southern Italy had a centuries-long tradition of high-quality silver coinage. Patient work by generations of numismatists has reconstructed the chronology of these issues, based partly on style, weight, the names of magistrates, and auxiliary symbols–all of which makes it possible to attribute some of these coins to the period of occupation by Hannibal. For example the popular silver “dolphin rider” of Tarentum was issued on a reduced weight standard corresponding to the Punic half-shekel (3.7 grams) around 212-209 BCE when Hannibal used the city as winter quarters. Metapontum, which celebrated on its coins the rich crop of barley from its fertile fields, issued coins to the same half-shekel standard c. 215-207 BCE. The great city of Akragas (today Agrigento, Sicily) was occupied by Hannibal c. 213-210 BCE and issued silver drachms bearing the head of Zeus, with his companion eagle on the reverse.
In 207 BCE, Hannibal’s brother, leading an army to reinforce him, was defeated and killed at the Battle of the Metaurus River in northern Italy. When the Romans invaded North Africa, Hannibal abandoned his campaign in Italy and returned to organize the defense of Carthage in 203. The Roman commander Scipio Africanus won a decisive victory over Hannibal at Zama in 202, ending the Second Punic War. Elected as chief magistrate (suffete) of Carthage, Hannibal helped to negotiate peace, and re-organize the state, gaining many political enemies by fighting corruption.
Exiled from Carthage in 195, he fled to the court of the Seleucid king Antiochus III (“the Great”), serving as a military advisor. Pursued by Roman agents, he found refuge with King Prusias I of Bithynia (a small kingdom in the northwest corner of Anatolia). When his castle was surrounded by Roman troops, Hannibal took poison to avoid capture. Ancient sources disagree on the precise date: sometime between 183 and 181 BCE, when Hannibal would have been 64 to 66 years old.
In the classification of ancient coins, based on historic geographic regions, the North African and Spanish coinage of Carthage is listed under “Zeugitania” — a province that corresponds to the northern part of Tunisia. But the coinage of Greek cities in Italy and Sicily under Carthaginian occupation will appear with listings for those cities, usually at the very beginning of an auction catalog.
North African bronze and debased silver coins of Carthage from the time of Hannibal are relatively affordable, and a few usually appear in major numismatic auctions. The gold or electrum coins are scarce and increasingly pricey. The large silver coins of the Barcids in Spain are quite rare and in high demand from collectors.
The standard reference in Italian is “CNP” – Corpus Nummorum Punicorum (Viola, 2010). Goldsworthy (2000) is a reliable introduction to the history. Goldsworthy served as a consultant for a dramatic 2006 BBC TV biography of Hannibal that was unusually accurate for television.
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 The Punic language had only a few male personal names, so there were many Hannibals, Hasdrubals, and Hannos — an endless source of confusion for ancient historians and modern readers.
 CNG Triton XX, January 10, 2017, Lot 83. Realized $2,500 USD (estimate $2,000).
 Roma Auction XX, October 29, 2020, Lot 45. Realized £1,200 (about $1,549 USD; estimate £1,000).
 Leu Web Auction 19, February 26, 2022, Lot 117. Realized CHF 650 (about $700 USD; estimate CHF 50).
 Bertolami Auction 87, December 14, 2020, Lot 60. Realized £4,400 (about $5,865 USD; estimate £1,500).
 Roma Numismatics, Auction XII, September 29, 2016, Lot 6. Realized £16,000 (about $20,771 USD; estimate £20,000).
 NAC Auction 124, June 23, 2021, Lot 1. Realized CHF 44,000 (about $47,800 USD; estimate CHF 20,000).
 NAC Auction 84, May 20, 2015, Lot 535. Realized CHF 11,000 (about $11,722 USD; estimate CHF 10,000).
 NAC Auction 84, May 20, 2015, Lot 535. Realized CHF 11,000 (about $11,722 USD; estimate CHF 10,000).
 New York Sale XVII, January 9, 2006, Lot 1. Realized $6,000 USD (estimate $300).
 CNG Triton V, January 15, 2002, Lot 2. Realized $1,600 USD (estimate $750).
 CNG Triton XXV, January 11, 2022, Lot 48. Realized $11,000 USD (estimate $5,000).
 CNG E-auction 503, November 3, 2021, Lot 49. Realized $1,400 USD (estimate $500).
 CNG E-auction 393, March 15 2017, Lot 4. Realized $425 USD (estimate $500).
 Roma Numismatics Auction 4, September 30, 2012, Lot 39. Realized £5,500 (about $8,882 USD; estimate £3,000).
 Roma Numismatics Auction XIX, March 26, 2020, Lot 210. Realized £1,600 (about $1,942 USD; estimate £1,000).
 Freeman and Sear, Manhattan Sale III, January 3, 2012, Lot 56. Realized $800 USD (estimate $500).
 The title role was played by Alexander Siddig, familiar to Trekkies as Dr. Bashir (one half of “Garashir”) from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Charles, Michael B. and Peter Rhodan. “Magister elephantorvm: A reappraisal of Hannibal’s use of elephants”, The Classical World 100. (2007)
Charles, Michael B. “African forest elephants and turrets in the ancient world”, Phoenix 62. (2008)
Goldsworthy, Adrian. The Punic Wars. London (2000)
Lamb, Harold. Hannibal. New York (1958)
Livy. The War With Hannibal (Aubrey de Selincourt, transl.). London (1965)
Prevas, John. Hannibal’s Oath. New York (2017)
Robinson, E.S.G. “Carthaginian and other South Italian coinages of the Second Punic War”, Numismatic Chronicle. (1964)
Scullard, H.H. The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World. Ithaca, NY (1974)
Sear David. Greek Coins and Their Values, Volume 2: Asia and Africa. London (1979)
Viola, Mauro. Corpus Nummorum Punicorum. Rome (2010)
Visoná, Paolo. “Tradition and innovation in Carthaginian coinage during the Second Punic War”, Schweizerische Numismatische Rundschau 88. (2009)
Warmington, B.H. Carthage. Harmondsworth, UK (1960)
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Mike Markowitz is a member of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington. He has been a serious collector of ancient coins since 1993. He is a wargame designer, historian, and defense analyst. He has degrees in History from the University of Rochester, New York and Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine. Born in New York City, he lives in Fairfax, Virginia.
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