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  • Revisiting Zama

    I donít like the account of the Battle of Zama.
    The idea that Hannibal, who won against the odds in three spectacular battles, then decided to use the same tactics as his enemies lost with, when he actually had a larger army is truly preposterous. He would have simply enveloped his opponent from the start and used his elephants to cover the flanks and rear of his infantry. Using elephants to ward off cavalry is on page 1 of the book Elephants 101 (eg Battle of Ipsus 301 BC).
    That said, although Hannibal was a master battlefield tactician, maybe even better than Alexander in this respect, he never won a war. There are those who state that he had never lost battles before Zama, but Iím inclined to disagree. Afaik, he never won a siege. Looking at other historical campaigns, a certain Duke of Marlborough noted at least a ratio of 10 sieges to 1 battle, and looking at another well known English War, Edward IIIís tactically excellent army appears to be no match for Henry V basic army more capable of defeating an urban population, nevermind that of Charles VII of France. Given that Edward IIIís campaign saw him leave this mortal coil with less territory in France than he started with, winning battles does not necessarily automatically win a war for you. Similar to the 100 years war, the 2nd Punic War reminds me of the English campaign, in that they had three stunning tactical victories, failed sieges followed by stalemate, and ultimate strategic failure.
    Back to the account of the Battle of Zama, it is so wrong on so many levels, it is not viable.
    1. If Hannibal had the larger army, why not just start with enveloping your opponent, and overwhelm with sheer numbers. This tactic is too obvious to ignore.
    2. Lanes against elephants donít work. Never used before, and never used again. Lanes are used against scythed chariots, which rely on speed for momentum. Elephants rely on mass, and are quite manoeuvrable. Indians found caltrops to be the effective counter.
    3. Hannibalís Italian veterans could not have crossed the Med. If his brotherís troops could not cross from point A to B, Hannibalís troops could not cross B to A. There could not be a 3rd line of veterans.
    4. Why would Hannibal use the tactics of the enemy generals he defeated during his greatest victories? He would not. With a larger army he can use his standard M.O.
    5. Why not destroy Carthage when you can? Forget tribute when you could have a whole capital cityís worth of slaves and plunder. However, not even a garrison is left.
    OTOH, while you can change the details, the basics cannot.
    Therefore it is safe to assume that Zama took place, which was both a major battle and which decided the war. Hannibal lost at Zama, and Carthage lost the Second Punic War, as a direct result.
    So can we really discover the correct details? Probably not, but we can always try.
    To discover the actual tactics used at Zama, we must first determine the forces used, including the numbers deployed.
    Historians usually tell us that Scipio sailed from Sicily to Africa with 16000 infantry and 1600 cavalry, but we know the proportions of a Republican army, and this figure ignores the 6400 Velites that would also be part of any Roman OOB. They certainly took part in the battle after all. Further, you certainly do not need 400 transports to move such a relatively small force. The largest standard field army you can normally support is around 50000, and the large number of transports used could have certainly carried this number, but what is the likely true figure that Scipio brought to Africa? The second clue is that Carthaginian first line numbered 12000, and that Hastati must have been around the same number, so that neither had an overlap advantage. This gives Scipio an approximately 42000 strong infantry force of 12000 Velites, 12000 Hastati, 12000 Principes and 6000 Triarii respectively, essentially about double the total said to have sailed. Sicily, with its population of a million souls could easily have supplied that number of infantry. However, the number of cavalry is likely to be short. We have the anecdote on how Scipio persuaded local nobles to supply horses with complete sets of weapons and armour to 300 of his men, ie many of the Sicilian nobles did not want to go. Instead of 3000 cavalry that he could have expected to follow him to Africa, his original 1600, plus the 300 upgrades, plus c200 Sicilian nobles who were willing to go is plausible. The 2100 Roman cavalry stated at Zama may well be correct
    OTOH, Hannibalís army is likely to be much smaller. Rome controls the seas, and therefore there will be no Italian veterans at Zama. That means no possible 3rd line as stated. If we take the first line as 12000, how strong is the second? Carthage does appear to have been able to send 10000 man contingents to fight in earlier wars. This figure mirrors ĎImmortalí sized units in Eastern armies, which also implies 1000 cavalry. However, while these 10k units are not noted as being elite (apart from Sacred Band units), and Carthage was not said to have had a standing army, this does not mean that she could not have had a part time ceremonial force. They may not have normally carried out battle training, but they certainly would have been used to wearing the kit, and drilling with weapons to look good. Combined with allied Numidianís, that means 3000 cavalry and 22000 infantry. The numbers may look one sided, but those are reasonably close to the ratios of Carthaginian troops vs Romans at Cannae, if you exclude the 10k made available by Masinissa.
    Given the numbers, and ratio of numbers, a reasonable scenario is that a Cannae style battle was in progress, with the Romans in real trouble, until Scipioís ally Numidiansí arrived. Think of the battle as an earlier Waterloo, with Scipio as Wellington, Hannibal as Napoleon and Masinissa as Blucher, with the exception of the fact that Carthage had a smaller force.
    Despite what happened a Zama, almost everyone can agree that Rome won the 2nd Punic War, but terms appear very light. Doubt can certainly be cast on the real result, which appears more of a favourable truce to Rome, than terms of surrender. That Hannibal had escaped is one concern to Scipio, but there is also the fact that the Carthaginians generals best troops are still in Italy. Archaeology also casts doubt on how debilitating the agreement was, for two reasons. The first is that the great harbour at Carthage was built after their navy was said to be restricted in number. More damning is the lack of victory statues, frescoes, murialsí and other permanent works of art in Rome. After Hannibalís 16 year reign of terror in the Italian peninsular, surely a magnificent burst of sculpture, paintings etc would have suddenly appeared. They did not as far as we know. Therefore it is probably safe to assume, that while Rome was on the winning side at Zama, Romans were not responsible for the victory, and that the resulting peace was not palatable in some quarters. Scipio did not get the recognition he felt he deserved. Of course, the first chance they could, Rome annihilated Carthage.

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  • #2
    Concerning Roman numbers, assuming the Roman cavalry number is correct at 2100, then that would mean 21000 heavy infantry and 8400 velites, for a total Roman army of 31500.

    With that number of cavalry, you can make the Roman army smaller, if you believe the account of Polybius verbatim. Scipio had managed to persuade 300 Sicilian nobles to equip a like number of his troops as cavalry. This would mean 17700 heavy infantry (assuming Hastati were upgraded) and 7200 velites for a total Roman army of 27000.

    The first line of combat then concerns Carthaginian's 12000 mercenaries vs the Romans 8400 Hastati. Given that even Polybius states that both opponents were about equal in individual ability, the Carthaginians should be winning the first infantry phase easily, and getting flanking attacks. It is worse with the second scenario.

    Given the fighting style of the mercenaries, and that two of the four mercenary contingents appear to be light troops, it may be that Rome could have had less Hastati than the 12k they opposed. However, much less than 11k is almost certainly wrong.
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    • #3
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_...e_mid-Republic

      http://hannibal-barca-carthage.blogs...p/sources.html

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      • #4
        Another interesting link to read in regards to this topic... https://www.thehistoryherald.com/Art...nt-battlefield

        "In modern war... you will die like a dog for no good reason."
        Ernest Hemingway.
        “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Achtung Baby View Post
          Another interesting link to read in regards to this topic... https://www.thehistoryherald.com/Art...nt-battlefield
          Thanks for your input .

          I've seen that article, but I feel even if Polybius wanted to intentionally lie about some of the facts, some battles and events are simply too big to ignore or make up. A good example is GJC's first invasion attempt of Britain, possibly his second as well. Definitely the first, and almost certainly the second, did not pan out the way he stated.

          I would bet money that Zama was fought, and Hannibal lost, although the details don't add up.
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          • #6
            I would say that Hannibal never lost a pitched battle before Zama.
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            • #7
              Originally posted by Salinator View Post
              I would say that Hannibal never lost a pitched battle before Zama.
              That is probably true, much like Edwards III's army in the 1st part of the 100 years war. Of course Edward III lost his campaign, despite two famous battles.

              Back to numbers, because while statistics can lie, they can reveal a truth. Rome is said to have 23000 infantry plus 6000 Numidian additions. Assuming most Numidians have been trained as if a Legion, we are talking aprox 8000 Hastati, 8000 Principes and 4000 Triari at best. 8000 Hastati face 12000 mercenaries. Polybius states they are are initially about equal in ability. Carthaginians have skill and mobility, vs Roman armour and discipline. Assuming equality in ability, at least initially, 12000 mercenaries should easily defeat 8000 Hastati of about equal competence.
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              • #8
                One of the oft overlooked element of the battle is that Hannibal chose the site for battle, yet nothing overtly is mentioned why?

                One distant possibility is the use of chariots. Scythed chariots were mentioned by Strabo being used by Saharan tribes centuries later, here. However, the only evidence is highly circumstantial, although Libya did historically provide Carthage with chariots, and lanes were said to have been used as a tactic, useful against chariots not Elephants.

                In addition, battlefield engineering may be at play here. Hannibal's 3rd line of Italian campaign veterans remains immobile throughout the battle, even when they could have been used decisively. Ignoring the impossibility of these troops being at Zama, these 12000 would have equaled or outnumbered the total of stated Princeps and Triari, and as the Hastati were pushing back the first two lines, these could of been marched to the flanks, and overwhelm the enemy, resulting in the same result as before.

                If there was a 3rd line, and immobile, it may be a temporary fortification. This tactic was certainly used later. Sulla used battlefield engineering to defeat enemy scythed chariots during the Battle of Chaeronea 86BC.
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                • #9
                  Not my POV, but an interesting article nevertheless.

                  http://www.alex.k12.in.us/highschool...ester/Zama.pdf
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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Nick the Noodle View Post
                    One of the oft overlooked element of the battle is that Hannibal chose the site for battle, yet nothing overtly is mentioned why?
                    In addition, battlefield engineering may be at play here. Hannibal's 3rd line of Italian campaign veterans remains immobile throughout the battle, even when they could have been used decisively. Ignoring the impossibility of these troops being at Zama, these 12000 would have equaled or outnumbered the total of stated Princeps and Triari, and as the Hastati were pushing back the first two lines, these could of been marched to the flanks, and overwhelm the enemy, resulting in the same result as before.
                    The third line did get involved in the battle. I find Gabriels explanation in the article linked a good one.
                    One theory I've read is that Hannibal wanted to do another Cannae on the Romans. As the first two Carthaginian lines were forced back by the Romans they would retire to the flanks of the third line making the Carthaginian line much wider than the Roman and giving the opportunity of a double envelopment. Scipio avoided this by ordering the Triarii and Principes to join the Hastati in the same line.

                    Thats maybe why Hannibal chose that ground - it had the space to allow his manoeuvre.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Gooner View Post

                      The third line did get involved in the battle. I find Gabriels explanation in the article linked a good one.
                      One theory I've read is that Hannibal wanted to do another Cannae on the Romans. As the first two Carthaginian lines were forced back by the Romans they would retire to the flanks of the third line making the Carthaginian line much wider than the Roman and giving the opportunity of a double envelopment. Scipio avoided this by ordering the Triarii and Principes to join the Hastati in the same line.

                      Thats maybe why Hannibal chose that ground - it had the space to allow his manoeuvre.
                      Thanks for reading the article and posting a reasonable opinion.

                      The problem is that Hannibal would end up with his best troops in the centre, with his worn out mercenaries and citizen levy on the wings. Scipio had his worn out Hastati in the centre, and his more able Principes and Triarii on the wings. Further, since the lines are said to be of equal length, surely the fresh Roman wings would crush their weakened opposition in short order.

                      What is damning is that Hannibal allows the Romans time to adopt this formation, and yet the Romans soon find themselves in a serious position, saved only by the returning cavalry.

                      Napoleon is alluded to have said: " never interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake". Whether true or not, Hannibal, who has always relied on initiative, is unlikely to have allowed this to happen unless it suited him.

                      .................................................

                      The battle according to the Romans.
                      1. Dealt with the elephants.
                      2. Chase off the enemy cavalry.
                      3. Use weakest heavy infantry units to defeat first two lines of enemy troops.
                      4. Pin Hannibal's veterans.
                      5. Returning cavalry completes victory.

                      The battle according to Hannibal?
                      1. Use elephants to remove enemy light infantry from the battle.
                      2. Cavalry feigns retreat to draw off superior numbers of enemy equivalent.
                      3. Use 'stratagem' to win heavy infantry battle.
                      4. Lose at last minute to returning enemy cavalry when on brink of victory.
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Nick the Noodle View Post

                        Thanks for reading the article and posting a reasonable opinion.

                        The problem is that Hannibal would end up with his best troops in the centre, with his worn out mercenaries and citizen levy on the wings. Scipio had his worn out Hastati in the centre, and his more able Principes and Triarii on the wings. Further, since the lines are said to be of equal length, surely the fresh Roman wings would crush their weakened opposition in short order.
                        And the Italian veterans should crush the knackered Hastati in the centre - Yes, that is the flaw in the theory.

                        What is damning is that Hannibal allows the Romans time to adopt this formation, and yet the Romans soon find themselves in a serious position, saved only by the returning cavalry.

                        Napoleon is alluded to have said: " never interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake". Whether true or not, Hannibal, who has always relied on initiative, is unlikely to have allowed this to happen unless it suited him.
                        That is the puzzle about Zama. Did Hannibal, one of the greatest generals of the Ancient era, really have no better idea on how to wage the battle (one he need not even have fought) than a crazy Elephant charge followed by three lines of infantry hacking and slashing at each other?


                        .................................................

                        The battle according to the Romans.
                        1. Dealt with the elephants.
                        2. Chase off the enemy cavalry.
                        3. Use weakest heavy infantry units to defeat first two lines of enemy troops.
                        4. Pin Hannibal's veterans.
                        5. Returning cavalry completes victory.

                        The battle according to Hannibal?
                        1. Use elephants to remove enemy light infantry from the battle.
                        2. Cavalry feigns retreat to draw off superior numbers of enemy equivalent.
                        3. Use 'stratagem' to win heavy infantry battle.
                        4. Lose at last minute to returning enemy cavalry when on brink of victory.


                        Excellent

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Gooner View Post

                          And the Italian veterans should crush the knackered Hastati in the centre - Yes, that is the flaw in the theory.



                          That is the puzzle about Zama. Did Hannibal, one of the greatest generals of the Ancient era, really have no better idea on how to wage the battle (one he need not even have fought) than a crazy Elephant charge followed by three lines of infantry hacking and slashing at each other?






                          Excellent
                          There is a way to make the battle account that Polybius suggests work, albeit with fewer numbers. It also suggest an actual tactic Hannibal may have employed.

                          The lowest number of Roman cavalry stated is 1500. This implies 15000 legionaries, with very convenient totals of 6000 Hastati, 6000 Principes and 3000 Triari, and all heavy infantry. Hannibal had 12000 mercenaries and probably 10000 Carthaginians, for probably aprox 6000 light and 16000 heavies. The Italian vets will not be at Zama because if Hasdrubal cannot sail to Italy, due to the Roman Navy, Hannibal cannot bring troops back for the same reason.

                          Whether one believes elephants were at Zama or not, most can agree that the battle opened with Hannibals shock troops countered by Scipios light troops, neutralising both. Whether one believes Hannibals cavalry fled the battlefield, or whether they feigned flight, most can agree that all the cavalry left the battlefield for a reasonable duration. That leaves an infantry fight.

                          Hannibal knows the amount of Scipios troops, and their composition from spies.

                          Hannibals first line is said to consist of 12000 mercenaries. 2 of the 4 contingents are almost certainly light infantry - Moorish archers and Balearic slingers, which alludes to 6000 skirmishers and 6000 medium infantry. Instead of the mercs being deployed in one line, they could have been in two, as would have been standard practice. When the 6000 Hastati push back the 6000 lights, they would then be pushing them back onto friendly mediums. Both contingents could then fall back to the wings of the 3rd line, local Carthaginian 'levy'. They have space and time do so, the 3rd line being held back far from the 2nd, and Hannibals troops have less armour, so can move faster. Scipio counters by placing his Principes on the Hastati flanks, and the Triari on the wings. We then have one line of 15000 close order 'Romans' facing 16000 close order 'Carthaginians'.

                          While Roman quality is superior along the line, Hannibals armies bend before they break, and unlike Scipios infantry, the wings are supported by skirmishers, around 6000 of them. This is why Scipio could have been in trouble.

                          However, this is purely conjecture, however well it appears to work.

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                          • #14
                            More numbers..........................

                            Concerning other campaigns Appian states 160 transports were required to transport 2 legions to Africa, under Tiberius Sempronius Longus. We can safely assume that includes equal amounts of supprting Alae (16400 foot and 1200 cavalry), since he states it only took 60 transports to transport 10000 foot and 700 cavalry to Spain. What this implies is that you need 40 transports per legion or equivalent in size. Given 400 transports were used this implies 42000 foot and 3000 cavalry.

                            The number of 42000 is extremely convenient.

                            42000 foot implies 12000 Hastati, 12000 Principes, 12000 Velites and 6000 Triari. Given that the account of the battle implies that the Hastati and Mercenaries were about equal in number, and Hannibals first line was 12000, it does suggest the 42k is the correct figure of infantry used by Scipio.

                            Appian stated that 16000 foot and 1600 horse were sent to Africa. Those numbers alone prove that he has not bothered to mention the Velites. It is not improbable that he chose to omit the numbers in the Alae as well. merely being auxilleries.
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                            • #15
                              Roman scholars and historians had a wonderful habit of exagerating the enemy forces to make their victories look larger and better....Maybe Zama falls into this category?

                              Elephants are frightened easily, and my reading of the battle wold seem to indicate that this is precisely what happened. Elephants stampeded in fright due to much blowing of trumpets and drumming of drums. There is also some reason to believe that the elephants may have trampled their own troops in the confusion, something highly likely.
                              Did Scipio really have a numerical disadvantage? By this stage of the contest the Carthaginians must have been scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel to make up the numbers, so experience must have been a factor as well, or the lack of it. What about lack of money to pay all these Carthaginian soldiers as well,
                              Massinissa's late arrival reminds me more of Cannae than Waterloo, with the cavalry closing the trap. If the inexperienced troops were placed in the center of the line, as the Gauls were at Cannae, then its reasonable to assume that they were the first to break and run as well.

                              All in all, Zama appears to be as much a propaganda coup as anything else, with the Republic making the most of the victory for many years to come afterward.

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