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 Drawing of Balearic Slinger and Castelo Branco - Jardim do Paco

A History of Hamilcar: Akre Leuca, Dream City of Hamilcar Barca– Part II


Like ancient Carthage, Akre Leuca was not only a military center but also a culturally-advanced city in its time. There was no other city like it. If evidence in the urban structure of Castelo Branco and the city walls with their arches confirms its Carthaginian military identity, Castelo Branco’s builder and designer, Hamilcar Barca, planning for his dream city to be the capital of his new Iberian empire, also left here two cultural imprints which were, like the armies he built, so strong that all the subsequent Roman obsessive ethnic-cleansing could not remove their mark. They remain, like the mystery of the name, intrinsically-linked with the city’s identity.  They are the city’s embroidery and the famous gardens.

[Read Part I here]

The Enigmatic Origins of a City’s Identity

Historians have failed to reach a conclusion about either. They claim the ‘bordado de Castelo Branco’ was brought back from the mariners when they returned from India in the age called the Portuguese ‘discoveries’. However, they cannot explain the most important thing— why Castelo Branco? Even leading local historian and writer Jaime Lopes Dias admits in his introduction to the bordado of Castelo Branco that ‘the final word about its origin has yet to be heard’.

Bordado de Castelo Branco Lusitania Tradition.

Bordado de Castelo Branco Lusitania Tradition. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The gardens are claimed to have been built by an 18th century local bishop, Joao Mendonca. Without a doubt, he was instrumental and perhaps even the architect of the gardens, but of their rebuilding— not their origin. Nowhere is it stated that he decided to build some gardens. Could it be that the original architect is the same man who built the prototype, there in ancient Carthage, known as ‘Hamilcar’s gardens’? Comparison of the two can leave little doubt that they are the same design and style.

The two gardens, Hamilcar’s Gardens in ancient Carthage (left) and Jardim do Paco (right)

The two gardens, Hamilcar’s Gardens in ancient Carthage (left) and Jardim do Paco (right) (Images via Tom Hamilton)

With regard to the embroidery for which Castelo Branco is famous, the Phoenicians and their fellow Carthaginians were famous for their embroideries. It was their ‘Ex-Libris’. Not only so, but contrary to modern concepts about the silk trail from China and the silkworm, the Phoenicians and Carthaginians had silk long before the Christian era. They had it, produced it, and sold it all over the Mediterranean world. Their embroideries, just like the famous ‘colchas’ of Castelo Branco, were famed for their elaborate designs and even more so for their bright and beautiful colors. They invented the beautiful and famous Tyrian purple, worth more than twenty times the value of gold.

A fragment of the shroud in which the Emperor Charlemagne was buried in 814. It was made of gold and Tyrian purple from Constantinople.

A fragment of the shroud in which the Emperor Charlemagne was buried in 814. It was made of gold and Tyrian purple from Constantinople. (Public Domain)

Can it be any wonder that Hamilcar Barca, a charismatic and highly-cultured man, would have spared no expense in building his dream city? Recently in nearby historic Idanha Velha I asked an old man as to the origin of the old Mulberry tree in the main square. ‘Ah’ he replied, as if surprised by my ignorance, ‘the Phoenicians brought that here to produce their silkworms to make their embroideries’.

Artist’s reconstruction of ancient Carthage from SEGA Total War Gamepage footage and (right) Castelo Branco in the last century

Artist’s reconstruction of ancient Carthage from SEGA Total War Gamepage footage and (right) Castelo Branco in the last century (public domain).

Long ago, a Luso-Carthaginian Celtic general, Hannibal Barca stood at the gates of Rome. With the help of his longstanding and close Lusitanian and Numidian allies and friends, he had done the impossible: He had taken an army across the whole Iberian Peninsula, crossed firstly the Pyrenees, then the extensive Alps and conquered Roman legions on Italian soil. He only had to finish the job and achieve the goal towards which his amazing life had been directed; as a child he had sworn to make no friendship with Rome, held as a nine-year old boy over the fires of an altar in Carthage. He had spent his youth, grown up, been taught and tutored in Greek and Latin and had his military training in what is now a small Portuguese city in the interior of Portugal. Castelo Branco was once upon a time a unique place, the dream city with a military character, which it has remained to this day. For though the military barracks have now been demolished to make way for modern progress, even today in front of the historic part of the city there are a small group of buildings with a sign which reads ‘military recruitment’.

A sign which reads ‘military recruitment’.

A sign which reads ‘military recruitment’. (Photo: Tom Hamilton)

For whatever reason, Hannibal decided to spare Rome. Perhaps, as is my own view, he wasn’t the brutal and cruel person the Romans later made him out to be. Greek writer Tzetches vividly describes how the women were weeping at Rome’s gates, as there were no men left in the city. It was, for all intents and purposes, all over. History was in the balance perhaps like no other time. Had Hannibal decided to end it there and then, perhaps history would have been different. Just imagine—Rome would have never become the superpower it later became. Julius Caesar, Trajan, Nero, and Caligula would never have been Roman emperors. Jesus would not have been crucified by Pontius Pilate nor Jerusalem destroyed. Constantine would never have made Christianity a world religion nor Hadrian’s wall have been built in Britain. All hinged on his decision. The whole course of history as we know it was waiting just to follow the result of the whim of this one man.

Bust of Hannibal Barca.

Bust of Hannibal Barca. (Public Domain)

The Destruction of Carthaginian Memory, and Bringing the Pieces Back Together

So why has the city built by charismatic Hamilcar Barca, the home for Hannibal from when he and his brother Hasdrubal were young children seeking adventure in Iberia, and the place where they had forged the army which accompanied Hannibal to Rome, now become a mere backstage town in rural Portugal, detached from its identity? The answer is that just like historic Carthage of old, the Romans destroyed everything, leaving no trace of its former glory and culture. They ethnically-cleansed the Carthaginian memory, assimilated their culture into their own, and built their own empire. They tried their utmost to leave no trace.

They copied, used and exploited all that the Phoenicians and Carthaginians had brought over eight hundred years to Iberia. The Romans had ordered the books of Mago on agriculture and farming to be copied. The Carthaginians had very precise knowledge of wine-making, olive oil, fruits trees, salted cod, metal-working, embroidery, and many other such things which had been brought here a long time before the Romans ever set foot in Iberia.

The Romans, in their turn, also left, and other peoples came here. Goths, Sueves, Visigoths, Alans, then Moors, Berbers and eventually, during the ‘reconquista’ under Portuguese king Afonso II, the Knights Templars were given a small property known as Vila Franca de Cardosa. They found the ancient ruins of Castraleuca and rebuilt the city, calling it officially, Castelo Branco.

A man comes to my house to repair some electrical faults. “Hello”, as I greet him and welcome him into my home. “My name is Amilcar” he says. “Hello and welcome” I reply. “Mine is Tom”. For a brief moment, I think we touched on something timeless.

Carthaginian Coins with the symbol of a horse and a palm tree.

Carthaginian Coins with the symbol of a horse and a palm tree.  (Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. BY-SA 3.0)

As if by some amazing providence, a friend of mine showed me his ‘colcha’, a fine example of Castelo Branco’s embroidery. It is possibly one of the oldest known of these tapestries (colchas) known to exist. My eyes could hardly believe what they were seeing. There in front of me, repeated all over the tapestry was the famous national emblem of Carthage— a horse with a palm branch behind. Identical to their coins minted over two thousand three hundred years ago.

Tapestry with horse and palm.

Tapestry with horse and palm. (Photo: Tom Hamilton)

Thanks to the famous Knights Templars, Castelo Branco has been preserved as a rebuilt Carthaginian city. This is unique. There is no other; the Romans made sure nothing remained. Hannibal was not only Carthaginian, but Lusitanian, and he united the tribes which now form modern Portugal under one banner and one purpose: to prevent Roman ambitions of expansion and world domination.

A lost city, Akre Leuka, shares the same name as Castelo Branco, and the nickname it bears in its Latinized form, Castraleuca. Its people have a name, Albicastrenses, whose origin no one knows, a handicraft which nobody can really explain and some beautiful, unique and equally-mysterious gardens.

Like mysteries of nature, turtles which return after years in the wide oceans to their beaches of birth, and salmon to their rivers, which no one can really explain, so I for one believe that the dream of one man, Hamilcar Barca, was so strong that neither time, nor ethnical cleansing could erase it. His city has been constantly rebuilt since the Templars, the gardens still remain, the famous embroidery particular to Castelo Branco has become its hallmark. The arches still hold the houses together, the military still recruit in the ‘devesa’. Palm trees still line the entrance into the city, the cedars stand tall and people still call their children Hasdrubal, Hamilcar, and Hannibal. And, despite the frowning look of Herculano, people still call the city Castraleuca.

Final thoughts

It is hard in writing this story not to focus on the man Hannibal himself, but this work however has been as much about a city, a small Portuguese city lost in the interior heartlands of the Iberian peninsula, inseparably linked to the story of the Carthaginians. It has also been about Hamilcar Barca, a man of great genius and vision. Both Akre Leuca and the man Hamilcar Barca are needed if we are to understand the man Hannibal. He united Lusitania way before Portugal emerged as a nation over a thousand years later. We are not told how many of the Lusitanians returned from Italy. Many died either on the dangerous trans-Alpine journey or in battle. They followed him, left their homes and families, to embark on an unknown journey to a place they had never seen, to fight battles against unknown enemies and to behold a city, Rome, of which they had only heard or dreamt.

Hannibal and his men crossing the Alps.

Hannibal and his men crossing the Alps. (Public Domain)

One of Hannibal’s closest friends was Viriato from the Celtici. He was apparently a ‘Lusitanian prince’ coming from what is now the Alentejo. He went alongside Hannibal and ironically bears the same name as the Lusitanian hero who later was to become one of the most marked men of Rome. In the Lusitanian wars which followed the Punic Wars, Viriato outwitted all the Roman generals sent to subdue and conquer Lusitania. It took them nearly two hundred years, and even then they could only subdue Lusitania by trickery and lies. These Lusitanian wars are called in Greek the ‘fiery wars’. I wonder why? No doubt the successful guerrilla tactics of Viriato had come as a result of Hannibal’s training there at Akre Leuka. The Lusitani had become allied with the Vettones and once united the Lusitanian tribes fought together making an invincible front against Rome.

Statue of Viriatus (Viriato), the Lusitanian leader during the Lusitanian War

Statue of Viriatus (Viriato), the Lusitanian leader during the Lusitanian War (155 to 139 BCE).  (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Eventually, by trickery, craftiness, deceit, and a general relentlessness on the part of the Romans, they did put down the resistance and crush the Lusitanian tribes. Viriato was killed by his own men who were offered bribes by Rome. The Romans never paid-up to the traitors but killed them instead. The pre-roman Celtic tribes of Iberia, ancestors of large part of the British people according to recent DNA studies, were forced to accept Roman rule. They were taken down from the mountains and hills where they had had their prettily-colored castro homes and villages for thousands of years and made to adapt to a more agricultural lifestyle in the lowlands and valleys.

Ancient castro ruins, Galicia, Spain.

Ancient castro ruins, Galicia, Spain. (Henrique Pereira /CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Roman ‘marketing campaign’ convinced many that ‘everything which comes from outside is better’ and this opinion is still felt today. In almost all the villages (called ‘aldeias’ in Portuguese) the castro walls can still be identified in the hills above.

I feel sure that many of the Celtic tribespeople at that time left and took the ancient Atlantic route they had always known from ancient times, the route to Ireland. This was to preserve their Celtic roots and culture. The British people, as has been recently discovered and about which much has been written, are largely descended from Iberians. The ancient name for Ireland is Hibernia. The Vetton people from this corner known as Raia, bordering with Spain, were well-known for being excellent horsemen and cavalry. Even today there are two places which maintain a day in June where they celebrate S. Joao festival with horses which jump with their riders over and through fires in the open streets. Some of these Vettones went on to become champions in the chariot races in Rome. Others enlisted in the Roman armies and served and some died in the British Isles where their graves are marked even today. These Celtic Iberian emigrants became the first peoples of Ireland, and from there they went to Scotland.

Reenactor armed as an Iberian soldier with Falcata.

Reenactor armed as an Iberian soldier with Falcata. (CC BY-SA 3.0)


History in Ruins?

I joked with a historian recently about whether I had enough evidence to show that this city, Castelo Branco is the lost Akre Leuca. I said maybe Hannibal’s blood would help and she laughed.

Recent excavations, which are legal requirements to accompany building projects in historical zones, brought to light extensive and ancient ruins which I saw. They were underneath the medieval constructions. I asked the archaeologist about what he thought was still there underneath. ‘It’s loaded’ he replied. Later I spoke with a man who was in charge of the cement truck sent to fill-in and cover the archaeologist’s work with cement.

‘Where is the archaeologist?’ I asked him. ‘Which archaeologist?’ he replied, anxious to do his job and build the new floor of the proposed museum. I wonder how many other finds have been covered-up? How many important artifacts are lying around in homes and gardens?

The evidence I have presented I feel is enough for me to make my case. Hannibal took an Iberian woman as wife and legend says they had a son. So perhaps Hannibal the Carthaginian can be linked to the British people and somewhere in the midst of that large, complex genetic pool, who knows, there may be a gene that is his— part from his genius father, Hamilcar, and part from his Lusitanian mother. One thing I am sure about, that having come with his father and brother-in-law Hasdrubal at the age of nine to join in with his father’s adventures, he grew up, was trained in Greek, became a man and a leader and trained his armies here in a place called Akre Leuka in the barren Lusitanian hills.

 Tom G. Hamilton

(Photo: Tom G. Hamilton)

Musician, composer and producer, Tom G Hamilton is currently writing a book about the historical city Castelo Branco. His Lusitanian Heroes album was written to accompany the story about Hannibal Barca, famous for his epic journey across the Alps with elephants.

Top Image: Drawing of Balearic Slinger (Public Domain) and Castelo Branco - Jardim do Paço (CC BY-SA 3.0);Deriv.

By Tom G. Hamilton



Born in Burnham, England in 1959, Tom moved to the interior of Portugal in 1992. He is currently investigating the ancient peoples of Beira Baixa, a small region in the interior of Portugal. He has made documentaries and films about... Read More

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