The Battle of Zama

History of War - Ancient Wars




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On October 19th in the year 202 BC a big battle commenced that finished a great war. The battle in question is the Battle of Zama and the war that finished because of the outcome of this battle is the Second Punic War.

The Second Punic War was a battle between the Roman Republic and Carthage. The army of Carthage was commanded by the infamous ancient commander Hannibal.

Prior to the Battle of Zama

Before the battle commenced there had been many battles and much bloodshed at the hands of both armies. 16 years before the battle, the Carthaginians marched across the Alps under the leadership of Hannibal and started winning important battles against the Romans.

The Romans decided they wished to remedy the situation and find a way round the formidable Hannibal so tactics were changed and a new direction was taken. This new direction came in the form of Roman commander Scipio Africanus who had an interesting idea which was to form the backbone of the battle.

Scipio Africanus decided that while Hannibal was in the southern peninsula of Italy, to let him stay there while the Roman army headed to Africa to invade the Carthaginian homeland. This would then finish the war without battle with Hannibal.

In 203 BC Scipio Africanus landed in Africa while Hannibal was still in Italy. Once in Africa Scipio won some landmark victories, most notably the huge victory at the Battle of the Great Plains. This manoeuvre by Scipio and the big victories he achieved caused the Carthaginians to call Hannibal back to the homeland for commanding their army in a defensive capacity.

The Battle of Zama

After Hannibal managed to make his way back with his army to Carthage, he collected local citizens along with his veteran force from Italy and made on his way to face the Romans commanded by Scipio.

Hannibal was the first to reach the battle point, a place called Zama Minor not far from Carthage. The battle was to take place on the plains as it gave Hannibal a great vantage point for using his cavalry, unfortunately he never thought about the prospect of the Romans having a stronger cavalry force.

Hannibal had 51,000 men, of which 45,000 were infantry and 6,000 cavalry (including 80 war elephants). Scipio had 43,000 men of which 34,000 were infantry and 9,000 were cavalry.

Both armies faced one another in three straight lines and cavalry on the flanks.

Hannibal was the first to engage in battle, this was done by sending his war elephants along with a skirmishing group. The Romans retaliated with their skirmishers and by blowing their horns as loud as possible to scare the elephants. This move with the horns actually partially worked as a group of the war elephants turned back and completely disrupted Hannibal’s left flank.

A group of Roman cavalry made up of Numidian cavalry was sent to mop up the left flank of Hannibal’s army, which also happened to be made up of Numidian cavalry. In the end there was no left flank of the Carthage army left as the flank simply left the field (for reasons unknown).

While all this was occurring the other war elephants had simply been lured to the back of the Roman lines and despatched of.

The left flank of the Roman lines was made up of cavalry; this cavalry was then sent against the right flank cavalry of the Hannibal line. Hannibal made his cavalry leave the battle field with the Roman cavalry in pursuit, literally rendering them ineffective.

The Romans now marched their central lines on to the Carthage forces. Hannibal in response sent his first two lines forward, the first line of which was pushed back and the second line charged forward causing big losses of the Roman lines.

The Romans reinforced their second line to stop the rout of Hannibal’s army on the Roman forces, this move caused Hannibal’s second line to get annihilated and the third line to push out to the wings.

The cavalry chasing the Carthage cavalry came under attack off the field as the Carthage cavalry turned back to do battle, but this ploy didn’t work as the Romans slaughtered the Carthage cavalry.

The Romans now formed one large line and engaged in battle, a fierce battle that was carrying on for some time. This was until the Roman cavalry returned and encircled the rear of Hannibal’s men and started tearing through them.

A large portion of the Carthage army, along with Hannibal, fled the battlefield.

The outcome of the battle was a resounding victory for the Romans. The Romans lost 5,500 men while the Carthage army lost 20,000 and also had 20,000 captured as prisoners.





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