Major-General Abram Petrovich Gannibal, also Hannibal or Ganibal or Ibrahim Hannibal or Abram Petrov (Russian: Абра́м Петро́вич Ганниба́л; 1696 – 14 May 1781, Suida, in present-day St. Petersburg), was an African brought to Russia as a gift for Peter the Great. He became major-general, military engineer, governor of Reval and nobleman of the Russian Empire. He is perhaps best known today as the great-grandfather of Alexander Pushkin, who wrote an unfinished novel about him, Peter the Great's Negro.
His origins are uncertain. Early writings about Gannibal suggest he was born in 1696 in a village called "Lagon", in present day Eritrea, located "on the northern side of the Mareb River..." (which serves as much of the modern border between Ethiopia and Eritrea). On an 1810 map by Henry Salt, "Logo" appears in Ethiopia (the area corresponds to today's Loggo Sarda, which had its own rulers, and which is inhabited by Christian Tigrinyans and Muslim Saho; others claim it to correspond to nearby Loggo Chewa further west in Eritrea). The research (1996) of Dieudonné Gnammankou suggests he may actually have been from what is now the Sultanate of Logone-Birni on the Logone River, in Cameroon, south of Lake Chad.
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" (means homeland in Kotoko). However, FVMMO has also been suggested to stand for the Latin expression "Fortuna Vitam Meam Mutavit Oppido" which means "Fortune has changed my life entirely.".
At the age of seven (c. 1703), Gannibal was 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 Turkish sultan, as hostages", to be killed or sold into slavery if their fathers misbehaved. Gannibal's sister Lahan was taken into captivity at the same time but was so cruelly raped that she died during the voyage.
In 1704, after one year in Constantinople, Gannibal was ransomed and brought 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). Emperor Peter the Great adopted Gannibal and raised him together with his own children.
In 1717, Gannibal was taken to Metz (although Pushkin claimed Paris) to continue an education in the arts, sciences and warfare. By then he was fluent in several languages and knew mathematics and geometry. He fought with the forces of Louis XV of France against those of Louis' uncle Philip V of Spain and rose 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). In Paris he met and befriended such Enlightenment figures as Denis Diderot, the Baron de Montesquieu and Voltaire. (This claim by his biographer Hugh Barnes is disputed by reviewer Andrew Kahn.) Voltaire called Gannibal the "dark star of the Enlightenment".
Under Peter & Elizabeth
Letter signed by A. Ganibal March 22, 1744. Tallinn City Archives.
Gannibal's education was completed by 1722 and he was due to return to Russia. It is rumored that he was met on his return by Peter himself, a few kilometers away from Moscow.
After the death of Peter in 1725, Gannibal was exiled to Siberia in 1727, some 4,000 miles to the east of Saint Petersburg. He was pardoned in 1730 for his skills in military engineering. After Peter's daughter Elizabeth became the new monarch in 1741, he became a prominent person at 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 March 22, 1744 by "A. Ganibal" (note only one 'n') has been photographed at the Tallinn City Archives, see photo. The Empress Elizabeth had in 1742 given him the Mikhailovskoye estate in Pskov province with hundreds of serfs. Here, he retired in 1762.
Gannibal speaking with Alexander Suvorov.
It is rumored 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 and had one daughter. Unfortunately Dioper despised her husband, whom she was forced to marry. 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 (1705–1781), 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.
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). Her paternal grandfather was Gustaf Siöberg, Rittmester til Estrup, who died in 1694, whose wife Clara Maria Lauritzdatter Galtung (ca. 1651–1698) was the daughter of Lauritz Lauritzson Galtung (ca. 1615–1661) and of Barbara Grabow til Pederstrup (1631–1696). Abram Gannibal and Christina 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.
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.
Woody Allen's film Love and Death features a black sergeant in the Russian army, but this is played for comedy and may not be a reference to Gannibal.
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