Semitic Hannibal

The previous post was about Hannibal’s ethnicity, this one is about his language.

For the record, I love language–whether that means being wantonly pedantic or tracing words to their etymological origins. Let me do the latter now, to show that Hannibal was a Semite. Just to be clear: The word semitic, properly used, has a linguistic, not an ethnic, context (just as, say, Germanic or Anglo-Saxon are terms about language, not ethnicity.)

Hannibal’s clan name was Barca. Barca means ‘lightning’ (quite fitting, don’t you think?). Barca also tells us about the Punic language.

For explanation, I asked Rutie Adler, a scholar and the coordinator of the Hebrew Language Program in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley.

Punic (the Roman world for Phoenician), she said, is a Northwest-Semitic language, and thus closely related to Hebrew and somewhat more distantly related to Arabic. A good family tree is here.

Thus the Punic word for lightning, Barca, is essentially the Hebrew word Barak (as in Ehud Barak, former prime minister of Israel, but not as in Barack Obama).

It is also the Arab word Buraq, which happens to be the name of the winged horse that carried Muhammad from Mecca to Jerusalem and back during his night journey.

Cool, isn’t it?

Bookmark and Share