What does a 2nd century B.C. Carthaginian general and a 13th century Spanish Muslim commander have in common? Separated by 1,500 years, there are more in common than would meet the eye.
Bogeymen and Monsters
In every culture, there are imaginary monsters or bogeymen that parents use to scare children. For example, in rural Egypt children are told not to play near water canals, otherwise El Nadaha (النداهة "The caller, The Siren") would lure them and drown them.
Although many of them are the stuff of legends, some of them have real historic roots.
Two examples from history, and their similarities are discussed below.
Hannibal Barca of Carthage
The Carthaginian general is Hannibal Barca (حني بعل برق meaning "Mercy of Baal Lightening"). Originally from Carthage (in modern day Tunisia), Hannibal expanded Carthage's mercantilic fortunes over to Iberia. Hannibal spoke Phoenecian, which is one of the Semitic languages. By expanding into Iberia, he came into direct conflict with Rome, which controlled the northern half of the penninsula.
To cut a long story short, Hannibal ended up starting the Second Punic War with Rome, crossing from Spain, through Gaul, across the Alps with an army that included elephants. For ten years, he achieved several victories and controlled most of the Italian penninsula. He could not take that to a decisive defeat of Rome.
Hannibal was so feared by Romans, that the phrase "Hannibal ante portas" (Hannibal in front of the gates) was uttered by the famous Cicero. This is reported by Titus Livius. This was taken up by the populace as "Hannibal ad portas" (Hannibal at the gates) by parents to frighten children not to wander off.
Al-Azraq of Valencia
The Muslim commander was Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibn Huthayl (أبو عبد الله محمد بن هذيل) known as Al-Azraq (the blue eyed الأزرق).
Al-Azraq initially surrendered parts of his domain to the Crusader king Jaime I of Aragon, in the 1245 treaty. Later, he fought against the Christian Crusader, leading a successful revolt in Valencia.
However, the odds were against him given the superior power of the Crusaders.
Paul Chevedden writes:
In Valencian folklore al-Azraq lived on as a bogeyman. His name, transmogrified into "dragon," was used to silence unruly children: "El Drach will get you!" (Que vindra el Drach!). His memory is also preserved in the word aladrach for wild animal.
So how many similarities can we spot here:
- Both were Iberians.
- Both were from an ethnicity that is nominally from outside the Iberian penninsula
- Both were from an ethnicity that did not continue to persist as a separate ethnic component.
- Both were semitic by ethnicity and language (Phoenician and Arab).
- Both were military commanders.
- Both fought against superior power.
- Both lost their fight eventually.
- Both were heros to their people, and villians to the enemy.
- Both ended up as bogeymen whose name used to scare children!
- Hannibal on the web site: Phoenecia.org.
- Hannibal on livius.org.
- Paul Chevedden: A Unique Bilingual Surrender Treaty From Muslim-Crusader Spain.
- ScienceBlog article on the surrender treaty.
- El Drach (the dragon).