Battle of Zama

Battle of Zama

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Zama
partof=the Second Punic War

caption=The Battle of Zama by Cornelis Cort, 1567
date=October 19, 202 BC
place=Zama, near Carthage
result=Decisive Roman victory;
Marks end of Second Punic War
combatant2=Roman Republic
Massyli (East Numidia)
commander2=Scipio Africanus
strength1=Almost 50,000 infantry
4,000 cavalry
80 war elephants
strength2=34,000 Roman infantry,
3,000 Roman cavalry,
6,000 Numidian cavalry
casualties1=20,000 killed,
11,000 wounded,
15,000 captured
casualties2=1,500 killed,
4,000 wounded
The Battle of Zama, fought around October 19 of 202 BC, marked the final and decisive end of the Second Punic War. A Roman army led by Scipio Africanus defeated a Carthaginian force led by Hannibal. Soon after this defeat on their home ground, the Carthaginian senate sued for peace, ending the 17-year war.


Despite nearly two years of constant victories, much of it on Italian soil, the Carthaginian commander Hannibal Barca was still in Italy, although confined to the south of the peninsula. A decisive victory by Gaius Claudius Nero in the brief Metaurus campaign ended with the death of Hannibal's father, Hasdrubal Barca, and permanently severed Hannibal from all hope of reinforcements. Hannibal was now stranded and forced to sustain a scorched earth policy throughout Southern Italy. Hannibal had entered Italy as a victorious conqueror. He humiliated the Romans at Ticinus, Trebia, Lake Trasimene, and finally Cannae where the cream of the Roman army was slaughtered. Hannibal had anticipated using these victories to persuade the Italian city-states to mutiny and ally themselves with him. Instead, they only produced a growing resolve in the Italian states to rally to Roman leadership.

Following his decisive, victorious campaign in Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula), Scipio proposed ending the war by invading Carthage's home territories, an area now known as Tunisia. Despite the cautious Senate's opposition to this plan, the Roman people gave Scipio the requisite 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 panicked Carthaginians offered peace with Scipio, who, having the authority, granted it with modest terms. Carthage could keep its African territory, but would lose its overseas empire, a "fait-accompli". Masinissa was to be allowed to expand Numidia into parts of Africa. Also, Carthage was to reduce its fleet and pay a war indemnity. The Roman senators had ratified the agreement, but during the intervening period, Carthage captured a stranded Roman fleet in the Gulf of Tunes and stripped it of supplies. Meanwhile Hannibal, recalled from Italy by the Carthaginian senate, had returned with his army. Fortified by both Hannibal and the supplies, the Carthaginians no longer believed a treaty advantageous, and rebuffed it amidst much Roman protest.

As a result, the war renewed. Scipio led an army of Roman legionnaires, with Hannibal leading an army composed of local citizens and veterans from his Italian campaigns and Scipio leading the already present Roman army, along with a body of Numidian cavalry. The two men are said to have met face-to-face before the battle. Hannibal said that fate played a role in the war to bring them here, and Scipio said that because of the Carthaginan treachery at the Gulf of Tunes, he would no longer agree to peace without battle.


Hannibal's army consisted of 50,000 infantry, 80 war elephants, and 4,000 cavalry, while Scipio had a total of 34,000 infantry and 8,700 cavalry. Putting his inexperienced cavalry on the flanks, Hannibal aligned his troops in three straight lines behind eighty war elephants. The first line consisted of mixed infantry from Gaul, Liguria, and Baleria. In his second line he placed the Carthaginian and Libyan levies, while his veterans from Italy were placed in the third line. Hannibal intentionally held back his third infantry line, in order to thwart Scipio's tendency to pin the Carthaginian center and envelop his opponent's lines, as he had previously done at the Battle of Ilipa.

Hannibal hoped that the combination of the war elephants and the depth of the first two lines would weaken and disorganize the Roman advance, whereupon he would complete a victory with his reserves in the third line and overlap Scipio's lines. Though this formation was indeed well-conceived, it failed to produce a Carthaginian victory.

At the outset of the battle, the superior Roman cavalry swept aside their Carthaginian counterparts and pursued them off the field— depriving Hannibal of his entire body of cavalry. It is sometimes claimed that Hannibal had intended his cavalry to lure their opponents away from the battlefield, in effect eliminating the advantage the Romans enjoyed in this arm. Likewise, Hannibal’s first two lines, unable to cope with the well-trained and confident Roman soldiers, were soon dispersed. For years, Hannibal had won victories with his experienced army, but now he faced the best of the Roman army, while he commanded a hastily assembled army, which fared poorly against the Romans. As Livy states “...the Romans immediately drove back the line [s] of their opponents; then pushing their elbows and the bosses of their shields, and pressing forward into the places which they had pushed them, they advanced at a considerable pace, as if there had been no one there to resist them...” [10] .

Moreover, Scipio came up with an inventive method of neutralizing Hannibal's elephants. Hannibal had lost all of his original elephant troops (who had crossed the Alps with him) after the battle of the Trebia, but they were replenished in Africa. First of all, Scipio knew that elephants could be ordered to charge forward, but they could only continue their charge in a straight line. So rather than arranging the maniples in the traditional checker pattern manipular formation, Scipio instead put the velites, principes, and triarii in succeeding lines of 500-man groups. Scipio predicted that intentionally opening gaps in his troops would result in the elephants simply continuing between them, without harming any of his soldiers. The elephants indeed harmlessly passed through his troops and were picked off on the other side. (Many of them were so distraught, in fact, they charged back into their own Carthaginian lines.) Scipio's troops then fell back into formation and continued marching.

Despite these setbacks to Hannibal's forces, the battle remained a closely contested engagement. Although Hannibal's first two lines broke formation and retreated around the ends of the third, when the Roman infantry confronted the Carthaginian third line the resulting clash was fierce and bloody, with neither side achieving local superiority. In fact, at one point during the battle, it seemed that Hannibal was on the verge of victory. However, Scipio was able to rally his men, and his cavalry, after pursuing the Carthaginian cavalry, returned in time to deliver a devastating blow in Hannibal's rear. This two-pronged attack caused the Carthaginian formation to disintegrate and collapse. Unable to cope against the well-trained and confident Roman soldiers with his own indifferent troops after losing his advantage, Hannibal experienced a major defeat that put an end to all resistance on the part of Carthage. In total, as many as 20,000 men of Hannibal’s army were killed at Zama, while 11,000 were wounded and 15,000 were taken as prisoners. The Romans on the other hand, lost as few as 1,500 dead and 5,000 wounded.


Soon after Scipio's victory at Zama, the war ended, with the Carthaginian senate suing for peaceFact|date=April 2008. Unlike the treaty that ended the First Punic War, 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 Punic War on Carthage 70 years later, the Carthaginians had little power, and could not even defeat Masinissa in Africa. They could, however, organize a defense of their home city, which, after an extended siege, was captured and completely destroyed. Only 55,000 survivedFact|date=April 2008.


*Hans Delbrück; "Warfare in Antiquity"; 1920; ISBN 0-8032-9199-X
*Robert F. Pennel; [ "Ancient Rome from the earliest times down to 476 A.D"] ; 1890
*Theodore Ayrault Dodge; "Hannibal: A History of the Art of War among the Carthaginians and Romans down to the Battle of Pydna, 168 B.C., with a Detailed Account of the Second Punic War"; 1891; ISBN 0-306-81362-9
*In fiction, Dante's Divine Comedy, poem, Inferno XXXI.97-132, 115-124

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