A Football Chant: Ancient and Modern

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Here’s something Association Football fans amongst our readership may be surprised to learn. That is to say, when a capacity crowd of 98,767 Catalans thronging Barcelona’s Camp Nou football stadium sings the praises of its favourite team: ‘Barca! Barca! Barca! – they are inadvertently chanting the surname of the Barca family whose most famous son, Hannibal (the “elephants”, not the “cannibal” one), crossed the Alps in 218BC to threaten the gates of Rome itself.

And lest we make any mistake about it, be it noted that had the outcome of that ancient conflict been different – that is to say, if Rome had lost the Punic Wars and Carthage had won, then those Catalans chanting: ‘Barça!’ at Barcelona’s Camp Nou would not nowadays be speaking another word we might recognize – and we, ourselves in the UK and elsewhere would be speaking a language totally different from what is sometimes referred to as the Queen’s English!

The Barca family (pron. Barka in ancient times) were Carthaginian traders with wide-ranging commercial interests in Spain. (Hamilcar Barca was Hannibal’s father, Hasdrubal and Gisco Barca were his uncles.) So powerful were the Barcas that their place of origin together with the very tools of their trade are still remembered in contemporaneous place names (the town of Cartagena in Spain, for instance) and in the word bark (or barque), which is a small sailing vessel.

The Carthaginians of north Africa were descendants of Phoenician traders from Tyre and Sidon in what is nowadays Lebanon. They settled around the entire rim of the Aegean and Mediterranean in cities such as Troy, Beirut, Care, Tangier, Carthage, Itica, Marseille, Genoa, Cagliari, Palermo, Medina, Rabat, Cádiz, Cartagena, Malaga, Ibiza, Barcelona, Tarragona and – I would strongly (and controversially) suggest, Venice.

Because, notwithstanding the fact that most Venetians would dispute this fact for reasons best known to themselves, it is to my mind somewhat more than interesting to note that the “Phoenix”, the emblem of the Phoenicians, translates as “Fenice” in Italian – that is to say, “Phoenix” translates as “Venice” in Italian if we but give a tad more emphasis to that incipient labial sound.

QED, methinks.

So why on earth would Italians look elsewhere for the founding fathers of Venice? Well, maybe it simply doesn’t suit a so-called Catholic country for the city of Venice to have been founded by devotees of the heathen God, Baal, in much the same way as it doesn’t suit present-day Red Flag loudmouths that the Labour Party in the UK was originally founded with strong support within the English Low Churches such as the Congregationalists, Methodists and Quakers.

The Phoenicians trading methods differed greatly from those of Rome. There was minimal law making, road building and other forms of empire building. They would simply establish a trading post on the coast in order to attract commerce from the hinterland.

When you are next in Venice block out all sound except the soughing of water alongside your gondola, breath in the dankness of the canal upon which you are afloat. The clues to Venice’s foundation and history are eminently available via your five senses. Evil lurks there still and (see Casanova, Napoleon) reasserts itself from time to time, though in general it is competently contained by the widespread Christian culture of the past two thousand years.

See Ross Leckie’s fictionalised trilogy: Hannibal, Scipio, Carthage [Canongate]:
Hannibal is first rate; Scipio is okay; Carthage is an also-ran.

(30 November 2014)


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