Abram Petrovich Gannibal

"Gannibal" redirects here. For Abram Gannibal's son and Russian general, see Ivan Gannibal.
Abram Petrovich Gannibal

Abram Gannibal, bust in Petrovskoe.
Born 1696
Logone-Birni, modern-day Cameroon
Died May 14, 1781(1781-05-14) (aged 85)
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Nationality Russian
Other names Petrov Hannibal

Abram Petrovich[lower-alpha 1] Gannibal, also Hannibal or Ganibal, or Abram Hannibal or Abram Petrov (Russian: Абра́м Петро́вич Ганниба́л; 1696 – 14 May[1] 1781), was an Afro-Russian nobleman, military engineer and general. Kidnapped as a child and presented as a gift to Peter the Great, he was raised in the Emperor's court household as his godson.[2] Gannibal eventually rose to become a prominent member of the imperial court in the reign of Peter's daughter Elizabeth. He is the great-grandfather of the author and poet Alexander Pushkin.[3]

Early life

The main reliable accounts of Gannibal's life come from Peter the Great's Negro, Pushkin's unfinished biography of his great-grandfather, published after Pushkin's death in 1837. Scholars argue that Pushkin's account may be inaccurate due to the author’s desire to elevate the status of his ancestors and family. There are a number of contradictions between the biographies of Pushkin and the German novel, The Blackamoor of Peter the Great based on his great-grandfather.[4] An ahistorical biography by Gannibal's son-in-law Rotkirkh was largely responsible for the myth, propagated by some earlier historians, that Gannibal was born in a part of what was then the Ethiopian Empire.[5] However, early 21st-century research by the scholars Dieudonné Gnammankou and Hugh Barnes has conclusively established that the late general was born in Central Africa, in an area bordering Lake Chad in present-day Cameroon.[4][5]

Born in Logone-Birni, Cameroon in 1696,[6] Gannibal was kidnapped at the age of seven (circa 1703), and taken to the court of the Ottoman Sultan at Constantinople. Based on the year, the Sultan was either Mustafa II (reigned 1695–1703) or Ahmed III (reigned 1703–1730). The German biography of Gannibal, compiled anonymously from his own words, explains that "the children of the noble families were taken to the ruler of all the Muslims, the Ottoman sultan, as hostages" to be killed or sold into slavery if their fathers "misbehaved".

In 1704, after one year in Constantinople, Gannibal was ransomed and taken to the Russian capital by the deputy of the Russian ambassador Sava Vladislavich-Raguzinsky, on orders of his superiors (one of whom was Pyotr Andreyevich Tolstoy, great-grandfather of the celebrated writer Leo Tolstoy), and was presented to Peter the Great. The Emperor is noted to have taken a liking to the boy’s intelligence and potential for military service, and brought the child into his household.[4] Abram had a close relationship with Peter, and starting at a young age the boy Abram would travel alongside the emperor during his military campaigns.[4] During these military journeys, Abram served as his godfather’s valet.[7] Abram valued his relationship with his godfather, as well as that with Peter’s daughter (Elizabeth), and was loyal to them as if they were family.[4]

Gannibal was baptized in 1705, in St. Paraskeva Church in Vilnius, with Peter as his godfather.[2] The date of Gannibal’s baptism held personal significance. He used that date as his birthday because he did not know his actual date of birth.[4]

Coat of arms of Abram Gannibal

In an official document that Gannibal submitted in 1742 to Empress Elizabeth, while petitioning for the rank of nobility and a coat of arms, he asked for the right to use a family crest emblazoned with an elephant and the mysterious word "FVMMO", which means "homeland" in the Kotoko language. In his book, Gannibal: The Moor of Petersburg, Hugh Barnes writes of meeting with the sultan of Logone-Birni, who gave him the same translation of the word.[8] However, Frances Somers-Cocks, author of The Moor of St Petersburg: In the Footsteps of a Black Russian, met the same sultan and received a different translation for FVMMO. She also suggested that FVMMO stands for the Latin expression Fortuna Vitam Meam Mutavit Omnino which means "Fortune has changed my life entirely."[8]


In 1717, Gannibal was taken to Metz to continue an education in the arts, sciences and warfare. By then he was fluent in several languages and excelled in mathematics and geometry. In 1718 Gannibal joined the French Army with hopes of pleasing his godfather by expanding his military engineering education.[7] Gannibal enrolled in the royal artillery academy at La Fère in 1720, and he fought for Louis XV of France against Louis' uncle Philip V of Spain, rising to the rank of captain. It was during his time in France that Gannibal adopted his surname in honor of the Carthaginian general Hannibal (Gannibal being the traditional transliteration of the name in Russian).[6] While fighting in the French war against Spain, Gannibal received a head injury.

Gannibal returned to Metz to further his education at a new artillery school.[7] In Paris he met and befriended such Enlightenment figures as the Baron de Montesquieu and Voltaire (this claim by his biographer Hugh Barnes is disputed by reviewer Andrew Kahn.[9]). Voltaire called Gannibal the "dark star of the Enlightenment".[10] In 1723 Gannibal returned to Russia to fill a post as a military engineer.[7]

Under Peter and Elizabeth

Letter signed by A. Ganibal on 22 March 1744. Tallinn City Archives.

Gannibal's education was completed by 1722 and he was due to return to Russia. It is rumoured that he was met on his return by Peter himself, a few kilometers away from Moscow. After the death of Peter in 1725, Prince Menshikov gained power in Russia due to his good standing with Peter. However, Menshikov was not fond of Abram and was suspicious of his foreign origins and superior education.[7]

Gannibal was exiled to Siberia in 1727, some 4,000 miles to the east of Saint Petersburg. He was pardoned in 1730 because of his skills in military engineering. After Peter's daughter Elizabeth became the new monarch in 1741, Gannibal became a prominent member of her court, rose to the rank of major-general, and became superintendent of Reval (now Tallinn, Estonia), a position he held from 1742 to 1752. A letter signed on 22 March 1744 by "A. Ganibal" (note only one 'n') is held at the Tallinn City Archives. In 1742, the Empress Elizabeth gave him the Mikhailovskoye estate in Pskov province with hundreds of serfs.[10][11] He retired to this estate in 1762.

Gannibal speaking with Alexander Suvorov.

It is rumoured that the great general Alexander Suvorov owed his career as a soldier to Gannibal, who convinced Suvorov's father to let his son pursue a military career.


Gannibal married twice. His first wife was Evdokia Dioper, a Greek woman. The couple married in 1731. Dioper despised her husband, whom she was forced to marry. The marriage between Dioper and Gannibal was very volatile and he suspected her of infidelity early in their marriage.[12] Gannibal’s suspicions were confirmed when Dioper gave birth to a white daughter.[4] When Gannibal found out that she had been unfaithful to him, he had her arrested and thrown into prison, where she spent eleven years living in terrible conditions. Gannibal began living with another woman, Christina Regina Siöberg (1705–81), daughter of Mattias Johan Siöberg and wife Christina Elisabeth d'Albedyll, and married her bigamously in Reval (now Tallinn, Estonia), in 1736, a year after the birth of their first child and while he was still lawfully married to his first wife. His divorce from Dioper did not become final until 1753, upon which a fine and a penance were imposed on Gannibal, and Dioper was sent to a convent for the rest of her life. Gannibal's second marriage was nevertheless deemed lawful after his divorce. Gannibal’s second marriage to Christina was much happier and he appreciated her fidelity and affection towards him.[4]

Ivan Gannibal, Abram's son

On her paternal side, Gannibal’s second wife was descended from noble families in Scandinavia and Germany: Siöberg (Sweden), Galtung (Norway) and Grabow (Denmark and Brandenburg).[1][13] Her paternal grandfather was Gustaf Siöberg, Rittmester til Estrup, who died in 1694, whose wife Clara Maria Lauritzdatter Galtung (ca. 1651–98) was the daughter of Lauritz Lauritzson Galtung (ca. 1615–61) and of Barbara Grabow til Pederstrup (1631–96).[14]

Abram Gannibal and Christine Regina Siöberg had ten children, including a son, Osip. Osip in turn would have a daughter, Nadezhda, the mother of Aleksandr Pushkin. Gannibal's oldest son, Ivan, became an accomplished naval officer who helped found the city of Kherson in 1779 and attained the rank of General-in-Chief, the second highest military rank in imperial Russia.

Some British aristocrats descend from Gannibal, including Natalia Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster and her sister, Alexandra Hamilton, Duchess of Abercorn. George Mountbatten, 4th Marquess of Milford Haven, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, is also a direct descendant, as the grandson of Nadejda Mountbatten, Marchioness of Milford Haven.[15][16]


Debate over Gannibal's place of birth

Russian scholars for many years had believed that Gannibal was from the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia. Gannibal stated that he was from the town of "Logon" in a letter he wrote to Empress Elizabeth, Peter the Great's daughter.[6] Anthropologist Dmitry Anuchin wrote an essay about Alexander Pushkin in which he theorized that "Logon" referred to Logo in northern Ethiopia, currently an area bordering Eritrea.[8] Vladimir Nabokov was the first to doubt Gannibal's ancestry, based on research findings during his work on translating Pushkin's novel Eugene Onegin. Nabokov disagreed with Anuchin's theory, stating that it was just as likely that Gannibal was referring to "the Lagona region of equatorial Africa, south of Lake Chad."[8] Support for Anuchin's theory of Ethiopian birth declined after it was exposed as racially based, implying that "hamitic" Ethiopian origins better explained Gannibal's success than "negroid" origins.[8]

Benin historian Dieudonné Gnammankou studied Russian, French, and African sources and discovered that Gannibal was indeed from Logone-Birni, most likely the son of a chief in the ancient sultanate. In 1995 Gnammankou made the assertion that the "Logon" Gannibal wrote about was actually Logone, capital of the ancient Kotoko kingdom of Logone-Birni, now located in northern Cameroon.[6] He believed that the pattern of slave trade around Lake Chad made that region a more likely candidate for Gannibal's birth than Gondar, Ethiopia.[8] Gnammankou's biography of Gannibal was translated into Russian, and was voted the best book on Pushkin at the 1999 Moscow Book Fair.[6]

Ethiopia is still considered the traditional birthplace of Gannibal despite new evidence supporting a central African birthplace.[17][18] A street is named for his great-grandson Alexander Pushkin in the country's capital, Addis Ababa. The Russian Institute in Addis Ababa campaigned for a commemorative stamp to honor Pushkin's bicentennial in 1999, and the Ethiopian government placed a bust of him near the African Union headquarters in 2002.[8][19] Eritrea, which seceded from Etiopia in 1991, claims Gannibal was actually born in Loggo Sarda, an area that is in modern-day Eritrea. The Eritrean government erected their own statue of Pushkin and named a street for him in 2009.[19][20]

Honor at La Fère

In November, 2010, representatives from Russia and Estonia, the ambassador of Cameroon, and the sultan of Logone-Birni went to La Fère, France to unveil a commemorative plaque honoring Abram Petrovich Gannibal as a graduate of La Fère's royal artillery academy. The academy, which closed in the 1990s, had been started by King Louis XV shortly before Gannibal's enrollment there in 1720. The plaque declares that he was a graduate of the royal artillery academy of La Fere, and later became chief military engineer and General-in-chief of the Imperial Russian Army. It also notes that Gannibal is the great-grandfather of Alexander Pushkin, Russia's greatest poet. Dieudonné Gnammankou, whose research into Gannibal's background was largely responsible for the ceremony at La Fère taking place, also served as the main speaker at a symposium following the historic event.[6]

Popular culture


Alexander Pushkin used his great-grandfather Abram Gannibal as the model for Ibrahim, the lead character in his unfinished novel Peter the Great's Negro. After leaving school in 1817, Pushkin met Abram's last surviving son, Peter. He met Peter again in 1825, after writing in his diary about wanting to "get from him some memoirs about my great-grandfather."[21] Pushkin spoke often about his African heritage, and how he had suffered racist taunts about his own appearance. He seemed to use his own experiences, along with Gannibal's to create the plot for the Peter the Great's Negro.[21] A stage version of Peter the Great's Negro was written by Carlyle Brown and premiered at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival's 13th Southern Writers' Project in March 2001.[22]

Art and film

Abram Gannibal is a protagonist of the Soviet comedy movie How Czar Peter the Great Married Off His Moor, although the film's plot has almost nothing to do with Gannibal's real biography. The film is partly based on Alexander Pushkin's book Peter the Great's Negro.[23]

There are several portraits thought to depict Gannibal which include a painting of the Battle of Lesnaya by Pierre-Denis Martin the Younger. The young boy present in Martin’s painting is argued to be Gannibal because of the young boy’s role as valet to Peter during military campaigns and Gannibal’s possible connection to the artist while in France.[4] A portrait by Adriaan Schoonebeeck is also believed to portray Gannibal during his time with Peter the Great. In Schoonebeeck’s portrait of Peter the Great, the young servant boy directly behind Peter is thought to be Gannibal.[7] Although there are variety of portraits that claim to contain Gannibal, there is little evidence to suggest the claims are accurate.[24] In the Lesnaya painting, the young boy is dressed in traditional slave attire, which Gannibal did not wear due to his status under Peter the Great.[24]

See also


  1. The Russian middle name or patronym is based on the father's first name; in this case it is based on the godfather's, Peter the Great.


  1. 1 2 Лихауг [Lihaug], Э. Г. [E. G.] (November 2006). "Предки А. С. Пушкина в Германии и Скандинавии: происхождение Христины Регины Шёберг (Ганнибал) от Клауса фон Грабо из Грабо" [Ancestors of A. S. Pushkin in Germany and Scandinavia: Descent of Christina Regina Siöberg (Hannibal) from Claus von Grabow zu Grabow]. Генеалогический вестник [Genealogical Herald]. Санкт-Петербург [St. Petersburg]. 27: 31–38.
  2. 1 2 Phillips, Mike. "Pushkin's African background - the Pushkins and the Gannibals." British Library. Retrieved May 26, 2016.
  3. Wirth, Nikolaus. "Hannibal, Abram Petrovich \ Gannibal, A. P. (1696?–1781)." BlackPast.org. Retrieved May 26, 2017.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy; Nicole Svobodny; Ludmilla A. Trigos, eds. (2006). Under the Sky of My Africa: Alexander Pushkin and Blackness. Northwestern University Press. pp. 31, 47–49, 56, 63, 74. ISBN 0810119714. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  5. 1 2 Gee, Maggie. "Dark star of the Enlightenment. How did an African slave surmount 18th-century attitudes to become a top military commander and intimate of Peter the Great? Maggie Gee charts an extraordinary life.", New Statesman, 8 August 2005. Retrieved May 20, 2016.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Schmemann, Serge. "Of African Princes and Russian Poets." The New York Times, November 12, 2010. Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Blakely, Allison. Russia and the Negro: Blacks in Russian History and Thought, Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1986. ISBN 0882581465. 14, 20-21. Retrieved May 20, 2016.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Marsden, Phillip. "From Slave to Slav." theguardian.com, October 21, 2005. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
  9. Black Russian – A Review by Andrew Kahn of Hugh Barnes' Gannibal: The Moor of Petersburg. Archived December 11, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. 1 2 Barnes, Hugh. Gannibal: The Moor of Petersburg. London: Profile Books, 2006. ISBN 1-86197462-0. 4, 219. Google Books. Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  11. Gnammankou, Dieudonné. Abraham Hanibal - l’aïeul noir de Pouchkine. Paris: Presence Africaine, 1996. ISBN 2708706098. 129. amazon.com. Retrieved May 25, 2016.
  12. Parry, Albert (1923). "Abram Hannibal, the Favorite of Peter the Great." Journal of Negro History 8.4: 359–66. JSTOR. Retrieved May 25, 2016.
  13. Lihaug, Elin Galtung (2007). "Aus Brandenburg nach Skandinavien, dem Baltikum und Rußland. Eine Abstammungslinie von Claus von Grabow bis Alexander Sergejewitsch Puschkin 1581–1837" [From Brandenburg to Scandinavia, the Baltics and Russia. A lineage of Claus von Grabow to Pushkin 1581–1837]. Archiv für Familiengeschichtsforschung (in German). 11: 32–46.
  14. van de Pas, Leo. "Christine Regina Siöberg (1705-1781)." Genealogics.org. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  15. van de Pas, Leo. "Abraham Petrovich Hanibal (1696-1781)." Genealogics.org. Retrieved May 22, 2016.
  16. van de Pas, Leo. "Aleksander Sergeevich Pushkin (1799-1837)." Genealogics.org. Retrieved May 22, 2016.
  17. "Alexander Pushkin: Ethiopian Origins." www.ethiopiatours.eu. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  18. "Pushkin's Genealogy." Frontline. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  19. 1 2 "Addis Abab awaits Pushkin statue from Moscow." www.worldbulletin.net, October 8, 2014. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  20. "Loggo Sarda: Eritrea." www.geographic.org. Retrieved June 8, 2016.
  21. 1 2 Phillips, Mike. "The Negro of Peter the Great." British Library. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  22. Litchfield, Robyn Bradley. "East meets South: Southern Writers' Project production set in Russia." Montgomery Advertiser, March 4, 2016. www.ckellyuva.com. Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  23. "Tale of How Tsar Peter Married off His Negro." www.rusfilm.pitt.edu, 2006. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  24. 1 2 Edwards, John (2003). "Looking For Abram Hannibal". Slavonica. 9 (1): 19–33. doi:10.1179/sla.2003.9.1.19.


External links

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