THE BATTLE OF ZAMA

 

Hannibal and Scipio

HANNIBAL BARCA                               SCIPIO AFRICANUS

 

 

 

 

After crossing the alps in 218 BC, Hannibal's Carthaginian army advanced across the Italian peninsula defeating every Roman force sent against them. Although Hannibal had not been defeated, neither had he succeed in destroying the Romans military dominance over the region. 

As the years wore on Hannibal's great victories at Ticinus, Trebia, Lake Trasimenus and Cannae began to fade from memory. In 208 BC, Carthage finally granted Hannibal's urgent pleas for more troops to finish the campaign in Italy. 

Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal, crossed the alps with 25,000 men to join up with Hannibal's standing army of 20,000. The Carthaginian hopes of overall victory suffered a major setback when Hasdrubal's army was destroyed on route by the Romans at the battle of Metaurus.

During the next four years while Hannibal's army roamed impotently throughout southern Italy, the Romans had wrestled all of Hispania from the Carthaginians. In 204 BC, the Romans succeeded in landing an army under the command of Publius Cornelius Scipio on the African coastline just outside the Carthaginian capital of  Carthage. In response to this invasion, the Carthaginian's ordered the immediate recall of Hannibal's army from Italy.

Hannibal was now facing major logistical problems, first he had to find a way to get his army to a seaport while avoiding Roman forces sent to intercept him and second that the Carthaginian transport fleet would somehow go undetected by the Roman navy and arrive at the port itself. While this incredible feat was been accomplished, the Carthaginian home army was soundly defeated by Scipio at the battle of Cirta in 203 BC. 

After the Roman victory, Scipio could have easily occupied Carthage unopposed, but reports began to reach him of Hannibal's escape from Italy, thus Scipio choose to rest and refit his legions for the inevitable showdown with Hannibal. 

The Carthaginian defeat at Cirta also prompted Massinissa to replace Syphax as King, thus dissolving Numidia's alliance with Carthage and allying itself with that of Rome. Hannibal soon returned to Africa with his veteran army and began gathering additional forces for his upcoming confrontation with Scipio.

In the summer of 202 BC, fifty miles south west of Carthage on the barren plains of Zama, the two great commanders would finally clash. A Roman army numbering 40,000 men (30,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry) would be pitted against a Carthaginian army 37,000 strong comprising (31,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry) including 80 war elephants.

Scipio drew up his legions into three staggered lines deep each consisting of 10,000 men. The first line was made up of  raw recruits fresh from Italy, the second line comprised a mixture of trained recruits and veterans and on his last line stood the veteran legionnaires of the Punic wars. The newly crowned King Massinissa and his Numidian cavalry of 5,000 horsemen took up their positions on the Roman right wing while another 5,000 Roman cavalry formed the left.

Hannibal placed his 80 war elephants to the front of his infantry stretching them out the entire length of his front while forming the remainder of his army very similar to that of Scipio's. Hannibal's first line of troops consisted of 8,000 mercenaries, the second line numbering 10,000 men was formed of conscripted levies from the  Carthaginian territories, to the rear of Hannibal's army stood his most reliable troops, 13,000 veterans from his victories on the Italian peninsula. On the  Carthaginian left wing stood 3,000 Numidian cavalry still loyal to Carthage, while another 3,000 Carthaginian cavalry formed the right.

 

THE BATTLE LINES AT ZAMA

 

 

 

 

Although both armies were fairly equal in numbers, Hannibal knew Scipio's forces had the advantage in cavalry and that the Carthaginian infantry was of lesser quality to the highly trained Roman legions, therefore Hannibal thought it imperative he strike first and open the battle.

Hannibal ordered his war elephants forward to commence the attack, as they lumbered forward across the  open plain, the ground began to shake under the weight of their charge. As the elephants drew nearer Scipio's front line, the recruits began to grow terrified at the sight before them. Scipio however had fought against Carthaginian forces using elephants in Hispania and he was quite prepared to deal with the coming onslaught. 

Scipio had placed trumpeters in the front ranks of his army and with the elephants now one hundred yards from his positions, Scipio ordered them to blow their horns in unison creating a deafening noise which instantly startled and confused the beasts. The charge quickly began to break up as some elephants stopped dead in  their tracks refusing to advance another foot while others turned and fled in all directions. 

The elephants which did carry home their charge crashed into Scipio's front ranks tearing huge gaps in the Roman line. Hundreds of men were trampled under foot or impaled by twelve foot tusks, each man in the elephants path hurled their javelins and slashed with their swords in a desperate attempt to bring down the two ton behemoths. When the charge was finally stopped and put down, the damage to the Romans front ranks was considerable.

               War Elephants Battle of Zama

                                          

HANNIBAL'S WAR ELEPHANTS SLAM AGAINST THE ROMAN RANKS

 

 

 

 

Scipio now needed to buy time and keep Hannibal busy so he could reorganize his battered front line, Scipio thus gave the order for both his cavalry wings to charge the enemy cavalry formations.

Hannibal's left wing Numidian cavalry were no match for King Massinissa and their fellow country men while Hannibal's right wing Carthaginian cavalry faired no better against the Roman assault. Both Hannibal's cavalry wings soon crumbled under the weight of superior horsemanship and fled the battlefield. 

In their over aggressive pursuit of the fleeing enemy horsemen, the attacking cavalry failed to turn in on Hannibal's exposed flanks and attack the Carthaginian's from the rear. This was a costly mistake on the part of the Romans and just the break Hannibal needed.

Scipio was in total disbelief as he watched his entire cavalry force chase after the already fleeing enemy, he knew that he had lost a golden opportunity to turn the enemy's exposed flanks and finish off Hannibal's army. Not allowing Hannibal to follow up on the error, Scipio ordered his entire army to advance. 

The Roman front line was still suffering from the effects of the attack by the war elephants that when they reached the enemy's front ranks, they were completely cut down by Hannibal's mercenaries. But as the Roman second line came up the mercenaries slowly began to give ground.

Against the desperate urgings of his subordinate commanders, Hannibal choose not to order his second line forward in support thus leaving the mercenaries to fight on alone. Roman professionalism over fight for pay soon began to tell as the mercenary ranks quickly dissolved allowing the Romans to continue onward into Hannibal's second line.

At first the Carthaginian levies put up a gallant and stubborn fight but the weight of the Roman advance slowly forced their central formations to the flanks, exposing Hannibal's last battle formation. 

This did not easily panic Hannibal for he knew the men comprising his last line were no doubt among the best troops in the world and that when the Romans did finally engage them, they would be tired and exhausted.

The gap in the Carthaginian second line was now wide enough for Hannibal to launch his veterans on the exposed Roman center, but as they advanced towards their foe, Scipio's cavalry suddenly returned to the battlefield and began attacking them from the rear. 

Caught completely by surprise Hannibal's men suffered immense casualties as lances, swords and arrows struck down the unsuspecting foot soldiers. It was at this critical moment that the Carthaginian levies in the second line were completely pushed aside exposing Hannibal's last formation to Scipio's legionnaires. 

Now within clear view of their foe, the Roman infantry hurled their javelins into the ranks of Hannibal's infantry dropping hundreds with each volley. Pinned between the legions and the Roman cavalry, Hannibal's decimated ranks lost heart and the Carthaginian army began to collapse. As men dropped their weapons and ran for their lives, Hannibal's veterans resisted to the very last.

This valiant effort enabled Hannibal to escape capture and return to Carthage where his efforts to rally support and raise a new army fell on deaf ears. The Punic wars  had bled Carthage white, she had no more men nor resources to continue the war against Rome.

Carthaginian losses at Zama numbered 20,000 dead and 10,000 taken prisoner in comparison to 1,500 Roman casualties. With this final Carthaginian defeat Rome now controlled the vast western Mediterranean sea and possessed the keys to empire.

Hannibal was now forced to flee Carthage were his attempts to rally support from other kingdoms ended in failure. The Romans would continue to mercilessly pursue Hannibal throughout Africa and Asia until they finally caught up with him in 183 BC. Unable to bring himself to surrender to his most hated enemy, the great General  choose suicide rather than surrender.

 

 

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