Hannibal’s Y chromosome

Click on this map and read about the latest in this fantastic research effort called the “genographic project“. The dots show the areas of the Mediterranean with the highest frequency of the Phoenician haplotype.

They swabbed the cheeks of men from Syria and Cyprus to Malta and Morocco to have a closer look at the Y chromosome of these guys. (The Y chromosome is passed from father to son, and so a good marker of paternal descent. Mitochondrial DNA, inherited only from the mother, does the same trick for maternal descent.)

The result, as the New York Times article puts it, is that

as many as 1 in 17 men living today on the coasts of North Africa and southern Europe may have a Phoenician direct male-line ancestor…

These men were found to retain identifiable genetic signatures from the nearly 1,000 years the Phoenicians were a dominant seafaring commercial power in the Mediterranean basin, until their conquest by Rome in the 2nd century B.C.

Now, why is this exciting for the Hannibal Blog? Because Hannibal was a Phoenician, as I explained here when arguing that Denzel Washington, as much as I love that man, would not be the most ethnically correct choice of actor for this “African hero”.

Carthage, to remind, began as a Phoenician colony. The Roman word for Phoenician was Punic, hence the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage. In Punic itself, the name Phoenicia means “land of purple”, because they loved that color and exported its dye.

Carthage’s mercenaries came from the other peoples of northern Africa at that time, the Numidians and the Libyans. The Numidians, as I said here, were the ancestors of today’s Berbers, and you might as well picture them looking like Zidane. The Libyans, as I said here, were not today’s Libyans, but “white” Mediterraneans. The Arabs, of course, showed up fully 900 years after Hannibal.


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