Abram Petrovich Hannibal (1696-1782)

  • Believed to be born in Born in either Senegal or Eritrea, he was brought to Peter the Great as a gift.
  • Abram studied math and languages in Paris, fought in the French military and returned home to become commanding general of the Russian army.
  • He was the maternal great-grandfather of Alexander Pushkin, one of the most revered figure in Russian culture.

Sold into Turkish slavery, Abram Petrovich Hannibal was brought as a black servant to Czar Peter I, known as Peter the Great. He became one of the royal favorites, a general-in-chief and one of the best educated men in Russia. His great-grandson was Alexander Pushkin, the famous Russian writer who later glorified the deeds of his black ancestor in his book, The Negro of Peter the Great.

It is believed that Hannibal was born on an unknown date around 1696 in the principality of Logon in present day Cameroon or South west Eritrea. Abducted by a rival tribe, Hannibal was sold to Turkish slave traders who brought him to Constantinople in 1703. As an eight-year-old boy he came to the court of Peter the Great who adopted him immediately. Being the Czar’s godson, Hannibal assumed his name, Petrovich, and became his valet on Peter’s various military campaigns and journeys. When the Czar visited France in 1716, Hannibal was left behind in Paris to study engineering and mathematics at a military school. Two years later, he joined the French army and fought in the war against Spain. In January 1723, Hannibal finally returned to Russia.

To Hannibal’s misery, his protector Peter the Great died in 1725, leaving the black artillery lieutenant in the dependence of the royal advisor Prince Menshikov, who–due to his dislike for Hannibal–assigned him to Siberia and later to the Chinese border where his task was to measure the Great Wall.

Hannibal’s fortunes changed in 1741, when Empress Elisabeth took the throne and Hannibal was allowed to officially return from his exile although in fact he had done so clandestinely in 1731. Five years after his illegal return, he married his second wife Christina Regina von Schöberg, the daughter of a Swedish army captain, who bore him eleven children. One of his sons named Osip was the grandfather of the poet Alexander Pushkin.

Although it had been his wish to retire, Empress Elisabeth did not want to abandon Hannibal and his engineering skills. He was made commander of the city of Reval between 1743 and 1751 and by 1760 had been promoted to the rank of a full general. During his military career he oversaw various projects such as the construction of the Ladoga Canal and Russian fortresses. Abram Petrovich Hannibal died on April 20, 1781, as one of the leading pioneers of his country and probably the first outstanding engineer in Russian history.

Hugh Barnes, Gannibal: The Moor of Petersburg (London: Profile Books, 2005); Allison Blakely, Russia and the Negro: Blacks in Russian History and Thought (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1986); N. K. Teletova, “A.P. Gannibal: On the Occasion of the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Alexander Pushkin’s Great-Grandfather,” Under the Sky of My Africa: Alexander Pushkin and Blackness, Ed. Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy, Nicole Svobodny, and Ludmilla A. Trigos (Evanston, Northwestern University Press, 2006).

here are some excerpts from the Economist’s review of Gannibal: The Moor of Petersburg (published in America as The Stolen Prince)

Click here for more.

But I thought black people didn’t exist in European history. or something.

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