Hamilcar, surnamed Barca ("lightning"), a Carthaginian general, is first heard of in 247 B.C., when he was appointed commander of the Carthaginian forces in Sicily. He was then still a young man. At the time of his arrival the Romans had gained possession of the whole island, excepting Drepanum and Lilybeeum. Landing unexpectedly on the north coast, he occupied Mount Ercte, near Panormus, and from this centre led numerous expeditions against the Romans, while his fleet laid waste the shores of South Italy. In 244 he suddenly left Ercte, and sailing along the coast, seized the town of Eryx, a point from which he was able to continue his tactics with even better success.
Here he remained until the defeat of the Carthaginian fleet under Hanno off the AEgates islands (242) brought the First Punic War to a close. A revolt of the mercenary troops under Spendius and Katbo, assisted by the native Africans, which broke out in 241, was finally quelled by Hamilcar in 238. At home he allied himself with the Democratic party, as a counterweight to the intrigues of his aristocratic opponents, led by Hanno. Sent to Spain in 236, he formed the design of founding a Punic dominion in that country, which might serve as a basis for future operations against Rome. Little is known concerning his movements in Spain, but the distance to which he carried his arms may be judged from the fact that he perished in a combat with the Vettones, who inhabited the region between the Tagus and the Anas (Guadiana).