Punic Wars > Barcid Empire

Barcid Empire

Punic Wars - Punic Wars Decoration


The 'Barcid Empire' consisted of the Punic territories in Iberia. According to the historian Pedro Barceló, it can be described as a private military-economic hegemony backed by the two independent powers, Carthage and Gades (modern Cadiz). These shared the profits of the silver mines in southern Iberia with the Barcas family and closely followed Hellenistic diplomatic customs. Gades played a supporting role in this field, but Hannibal visited the local temple to conduct ceremonies before launching his campaign against Rome. The Barcid Empire was strongly influenced by the Hellenistic kingdoms of the time and for example, contrary to Carthage, it minted silver coins in its short time of existence.


Hamilcar’s army either crossed the Straits of Gibraltar into Iberia from West Africa or, having returned to Carthage after the African activities, sailed along the African coast to Gades. Hasdrubal the Fair and Hannibal, then a child of nine, accompanied Hamilcar; it is not known who led Hamilcar’s supporters in Carthage in the absence of Hamilcar and Hasdrubal. Prior to his departure from Carthage, Hamilcar made sacrifices to obtain favorable omens and Hannibal swore never to be a “Friend of Rome” or “Never to show goodwill to the Romans. Several modern historians has interpreted this as Hannibal swearing to be a lifelong enemy of Rome bent on revenge while others hold that this interpretation is a distortion.

Hamilcar probably landed at Gades in the summer of 237 BC. Whatever direct territorial control Carthage had had in the past in Iberia, this had been lost by this time as Hamilcar was "re-establishing Carthaginian authority in Iberia". Phoenician colonies were strung along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts of southwestern Spain and exercised some degree of control over their immediate areas, but only had trading contacts, not direct control, over the tribes of Iberia at that time. Iberian and Celtiberian tribes were not under any unified leadership at this time and were warlike, although some had absorbed varying degrees of Greek and Punic cultural influence.

Carthage's failure to prevent the establishment of Massalia by Phocaean Greeks in 600 BC had created a rival that eventually came to dominate trade in Gaul and to plant colonies in Catalonia, at Mainke near Málaga, three colonies near the mouth of Sucro, and at Alalia in Corsica. Greek piracy had forced Carthage to team up with the Etruscans to drive the Greeks from Corsica, and destroy the colony at Mainke in Iberia. By 490 BC, Massalia had managed to defeat Carthage twice, and a boundary along Cape Nao in Iberia was agreed upon, while Carthage had closed the Straits of Gibraltar to foreign shipping. Massalia had become friendly with Rome over the years, if not an outright ally by 237 BC, and this connection would become a significant factor in the power politics of the region.

Acquiring Silver

Hamilcar's immediate objective was to secure access to the gold and silver mines of Sierra Morena, either by direct and indirect control. Negotiations with the "Tartessian" tribes were successfully concluded, but Hamilcar faced hostility from the Turdetani or Turduli tribe, near the foothills of modern Seville and Cordoba. The Iberians had support from Celtiberian tribes and were under the command of two chieftains, Istolatios and his brother. Hamilcar defeated the confederates, killed the leaders and several of their soldiers, while he released a number of prisoners and incorporated 3,000 of the enemy into his army. The Turdetani surrendered. Hamilcar then fought a 50,000 strong army under a chieftain named Indortes. The Iberian army fled before the battle was joined. Hamilcar besieged Indortes, tortured and crucified him after his surrender but allowed 10,000 of the captured enemy soldiers to go home.

Having secured control over the mines, and the river routes of Guadalquiver and Guadalete giving access to the mining area, Gades began to mint silver coins from 237 BC. Carthaginians may have taken control of the mining operations and introduced new technologies to increase production. Hamilcar now had the means to pay for his mercenary army and also to ship silver ore to Carthage to help pay off the war indemnity. Hamilcar was in a secure enough position in Iberia to send Hasdrubal the Fair with an army to Africa to quell a Numidian rebellion in 236 BC. Hasdrubal defeated the rebels, killing 8,000 and taking 2,000 prisoners before returning to Iberia.

Eastward Expansion (235-231 BC)

Hamilcar, after subduing Turdetania next moved east from Gades towards Cape Nao. He met fierce resistance from the Iberia tribes, even the friendly Bastetani offered battle. Four years of constant campaigns, details of which are not known, saw Hamilcar subdue the area between Gades and Cape Nao. In the process, Hamilcar created a professional army of Iberians, Africans, Numidians and other mercenaries that Hasdrubal the Fair would inherit and Hannibal would later lead across the Alps to immortality. By 231 BC, Hamilcar Barca had consolidated his Iberian territorial gains and established the city of Akra Leuke, probably in 235 BC, to guard Punic holdings, and possibly took over the area of Massalian colonies near the mouth of Sucro River. Massalia, probably alarmed by the Carthaginian advance towards their area of influence, mentioned this expansion to the Romans, who decided to investigate the matter.

While Hamilcar campaigned in Iberia, Rome was entangled in Sardinia, Corsica and Liguria, where the natives had put up stiff resistance against Roman occupation - campaigns had been fought in these areas between 236 – 231 BC to retain and expand Roman dominion. Rome suspected Carthage of aiding the natives, and had sent embassies to Carthage in 236, 235, 233 and 230 BC to accuse and threaten the Punic state. Nothing had come of these supposed episodes and some scholars doubt their authenticity. In 231 BC, a Roman embassy visited Hamilcar in Spain to inquire about his activities. Hamilcar simply replied that he was fighting to gather enough booty to pay off the war indemnity. The Romans withdrew and did not bother the Carthaginians in Spain until 226 BC.

Final Campaigns (231– 228 BC)

After the establishment of Akra Leuke, Hamilcar began to move northwest; alas, no records of his campaigns exist. Hamilcar had split his forces in the winter of 228 BC, Hasdrubal the Fair was sent on a separate campaign, while Hamilcar besieged an Iberian town, then sent the bulk of his troops to winter quarters at Akra Leuke. Hamilcar’s sons, Hannibal and Hasdrubal, had accompanied him. The town, called Helike, is commonly identified with Elche, but given that it is situated close to Hamilcar’s base at Akra Leuke from which he could readily draw reinforcement, it cannot be the place where the following events unfolded. It is possible that Hamilcar died battling the Vettoni, who lived across the Tagus west of Toledo and to the north of Turduli and northwest of Oretani territory.


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