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Battle of Zama
The Battle of Zama was fought on the 19th October 202BC and marked the final round of the Second Punic War.
A Roman army, led by Publius Cornelius Scipio, faced the Carthaginians, commanded by the legendary general Hannibal Barca. The Carthaginian general was defeated on his home ground, so reaching a definite end of the 17-year conflict.
In actuality, Zama was not a typical battle of the Second Punic War. While the Romans had fewer infantry, the Carthaginians—following the Numidians’ defection—were outnumbered more than 2 to 1 in cavalry.
Hannibal had managed to assemble around 50,000 infantry and 4000 cavalry, while Scipio had a total of 34,000 infantry and 8700 cavalry.
Positioning his inexperienced cavalry on the flanks, Hannibal aligned his troops in three straight lines with eighty war elephants in front of them.
The first line consisted of mixed infantry from Gaul, Liguria, and Baleria, the second had Carthaginian and Libyan levies, while his Italian veterans made up the third line, intentionally held back to thwart Scipio's tendency to pin down the Carthaginian center and then encircle his opponent's lines. These were the same tactics he had previously deployed at the Battle of Ilipa.
Hannibal’s plan was to combine his war elephants and the depth of his first two lines to weaken and break up the Roman advance. His reserves in the third line could then overlap Scipio's lines and complete the victory. However, although this plan was well conceived, it was not to result in victory for Hannibal.
The battle began with the superior Roman cavalry sweeping aside the Carthaginian horsemen and then pursuing them from the battlefield. In one stroke, Hannibal was deprived of his essential cavalry force. Meanwhile, Hannibal’s first two infantry lines were unable to cope with the well-trained, confident Roman soldiers and were themselves soon dispersed. Hannibal had won many victories over the years with his battle-hardened army, but this time his hastily assembled troops were confronted by the very best of the Roman army and were simply no match for them.
In addition, Scipio had discovered a way to neutralize the Carthaginian elephants. Hannibal’s original elephant force, which had crossed the Alps with him, had recently been strengthened by more of the enormous pachyderms.
Scipio, however, was aware that elephants could only be directed in a straight-ahead charge. To counteract this, he avoided the traditional checkerboard formation pattern and instead positioned his velites, principes, and triarii in succeeding lines of 500-man groups with intentionally open spaces between them. So, when the elephants charged, the Romans allowed them to pass harmlessly between the blocs and then picked them off on the other side. Indeed, some of the elephants became so maddened with pain that they charged back into their own Carthaginian lines. Scipio's troops then reorganized into formation and marched against the Carthaginians.
Even with these reverses, the battle remained a closely fought contest. When the Roman infantry confronted the Carthaginian third line, the resulted was a fierce, bloody man-to-man battle in which neither side could achieve a clear superiority. At one point during the battle it seemed that Hannibal was very close to victory. However, Scipio managed to rally his men, including his cavalry – that had returned after the pursuit of the Carthaginian cavalry- and delivered a decisive blow in Hannibal's rear that caused his forces to collapse in a major defeat, thus putting an end to all Carthaginian resistance.
In total, at Zama, Hannibal lost around 20,000 men killed, 11,000 wounded and 15,000 taken prisoners. On the other hand, Roman casualties were around 1500 dead with 4000 wounded.
Following Scipio´s victory, Carthage was punished so harshly that it was never again able to challenge Rome for supremacy of the Mediterranean...
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