Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The Battle of Zama: Scipio defeats Hannibal (202 BC)

The Zama Tapestry, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, Spain
The Battle of Zama, in what is now Tunisia, resulted in the defeat of Hannibal and Carthage and marked the end of the Second Punic War.

Hannibal was defeated by Scipio (later 'Africanus'), who had learnt Hannibal's tactics.

After destroying the Carthaginian presence in Spain, Scipio Africanus proposed ending the war by invading Carthage's home territories, an area now roughly comprising modern-day Tunisia.

Despite the cautious senate's opposition to this plan, the Roman people gave Scipio the authority to attempt the invasion. At first Scipio operated cautiously, acting mostly to reinforce his army with local defectors.

After Massinissa replaced the pro-Carthage Syphax as chieftain of the Numidians, Scipio felt able to risk a decisive battle and began menacing the city of Carthage itself.

The Carthaginian senate recalled Hannibal from Italy and he met Scipio at Zama, leading an army composed of local citizens and veterans from his Italian campaigns.

Zama marked a reversal from typical battles of the Second Punic War in that the Romans were numerically deficient in infantry, while the Carthaginians - by the defection of the Numidians - were outnumbered 6,000 to 3,000 in cavalry.

To make his line look more menacing, Hannibal posted his elephants in front. He had eighty altogether, a larger number than he had ever brought into action before. Behind them were the auxiliaries, Ligurians and Gauls, with an admixture of Balearics and Moors. The second line was made up of Carthaginians and Africans together with a legion of Macedonians. A short distance behind these were posted his Italian troops in reserve. These were mainly Bruttians who had followed him from Italy more from the compulsion of necessity than of their own free will. Like Scipio, Hannibal covered his flanks with his cavalry, the Carthaginians on the right, the Numidians on the left.
At the start of the battle the Roman cavalry swept their Carthaginian counterparts off the field, but instead of immediately turning around to help in the larger battle, continued their pursuit, in effect wiping out the advantage the Romans enjoyed in this arm.

After an extended skirmish between Rome's light infantry and the mix of light infantry and war elephants deployed by Hannibal, the main formations of the two sides met. Hannibal had deployed his veterans in echelon formation behind his first line of infantry, with the intent of using them to envelop the Roman flanks. However, Scipio had done the same with his combined line of principes and triarii, and so was able to counter the Carthaginian flanking action. They also made loud noises, frightening the elephants and causing them to stampede past the battle.

Still, the Romans struggled with the numerically superior Carthaginian infantry and was on the verge of defeat when their cavalry suddenly returned and attacked Hannibal's forces in the rear. This two-pronged attack caused the Carthaginian formation to disintegrate.
The village of Jama is thought to be the location of the Battle of Zama

Soon after Scipio's victory at Zama, the war ended with the Carthaginian senate suing for peace. Unlike the treaty that ended the First Punic War, and which amounted merely to an extended armistice, the terms Carthage acceded to were so punishing that it was never able to challenge Rome for supremacy of the Mediterranean again. When Rome waged a third war on Carthage 50 years later, the Carthaginians, far from having the power to invade Italy, could only organise a defence of their home city, which after an extended siege was captured and utterly destroyed.

1 comment:

  1. Today's warriors must learn from the Battle of Zama. This is true of Sun Tzu that know your enemy and know yourself, and in a hundred battle, you can be assured of a hundred victory. Scipio studied Hannibal and adapted to his tactcs and was able to defeat Hannibal at Zama. Karl Von Clausewitz warns us as warriors not to fight the enemy too long because he will adapt to our tactics AND use them against you. WARRIORS BEWARE IN YOOUR NEXT COMBAT ACTIONS!