Monthly Archives: February 2012

Legionary Life : Medicine

My induction into the role of medicus for cohort VII Scutum Decoris seemed to me to be a bit slapdash. After all, before joining the Legion I had no formal medical training. However, it was possible for a recruit  “who had demonstrated their capabilities for wound dressing and a primitive surgery, but who were not trained physicians” to fill the role of medicus. These green recruits “Probably…learned their medicine from the ‘senior’ medici present in the legion.” (Scarborough) As “Trained physicians were rare,” lack of formal instruction was hardly a deal-breaker. “Success and experience were the main, and in most cases the only, qualifications” for a legionary medicus. (Nutton)

A trained doctor coming into the legions could expect a few perks, but he was still under the rule of his commanders. “By taking the military oath he became a soldier, a miles-and until he reached the rank of centurion he was still technically a miles -his service was counted in stipendia, and he was bound by military law.” However, since he was certainly more useful alive than dead, “his duties [didn’t] necessarily include fighting.” He’d be counted as a ‘non-combattant’ in the legion and after his service could retire “into the select group of civilian doctors who possess immunity from certain taxes and civic duties” (Nutton)

Medici used tools like these to perform surgery on wounded soldiers

Many think of ancient Roman medicine as the kind of clueless bumbling used in the Dark Ages in Europe, when really they were leaps and bounds ahead of the haphazard theories of the four humors and the use of leeches and bloodletting.

Varro’s warning against building homes near swamps, which he stated bred “minute creatures which cannot be seen by the eyes, which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose and there cause serious diseases” demonstrates that Romans had an understanding of germs centuries before blundering medieval doctors attempted to cure the Black Death by “applying a warm poultice of butter, onion and garlic.” (Alchin) Long before the doctors of the middle ages were making Plague Victim Scampi, Roman medici had a working knowledge of “painkillers such as opium and scopolamine,” and knew how to disinfect wounds with “acetum – the acid in vinegar.” (Wikipedia contributors)

Their methods may seem antiquated and a bit superstitious, but Roman medici knew more than we give them credit for. Herbal medicine can sound like hokum, but right alongside the religious plant sage, Romans used fennel for its calming properties. Modern doctors are now exploring the use of fennel as a potential treatment for hypertension. And that new fad of taking garlic supplements for heart health? Not so new; Romans used it for the exact same thing. (Wikipedia contributors)

No one can say how much a good Roman medicus could have done during outbreaks of the Black Death, or the Spanish Flu epidemic, or even against the common cold. We will never be able to measure exactly how, but the loss of Roman medical knowledge irrevocably changed the shape of our history far beyond the field of medicine.



Alchin, L.K.. “Medicine in the Middle Ages.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb 2012.


Nutton, Vivian. “Medicine and the Roman army: a further reconsideration.” Medical History. 13.3 (1969): 260-270. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.


Scarborough, John. “Roman medicine and the legions: a reconsideration.” Medical History. 12.3 (1968): 254–261. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.


Varro, Marcus Terentius. De Re Rustica. 1. Loeb Classical Library, 1934. 211. Web.*.html


Wikipedia contributors. “Medicine in ancient Rome.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 feb 2012. Web. 26 Feb 2012.

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Roman Scouts

When it came to gathering intelligence for the Roman army, the exploratores and the speculatores were the units most often used. Although each unit had specific duties, their jobs did tend to overlap from time to time. Exploratores were generally used to gain information through the use of patrols at a distance from the enemy, whereas speculatores most often acquired enemy intelligence through undercover operations (Evov, 81). Both positions were important to the Roman army when it came to battle strategy and to provide protection from enemies when not in combat.

As previously mentioned, exploratores gathered information concerning the enemy by patrolling the areas around hostiles. When sent on a mission, their objectives were to provide the captain with details of enemy movement and activity. Also, they were to relay information regarding the conditions of the terrain and any strong or weak points within. They usually patrolled about a day ahead of the main army unit, constantly on the lookout for enemies and potential ambush sites (Ezov, 75). Aside from patrolling, they were used to verify information obtained from prisoners taken from the enemy or deserters. In addition to their previous duties, they were often selected to locate a camp site to be used by the army for a period of time. When choosing a site, they had a few factors to keep in mind: size of the army, location, and security from the enemy (Caesar, 2- 17).

The exploratore unit originated from the cavalry; it already had the great advantage of mobility. The typical soldier assigned to this unit would generally be native to the area due to his knowledge of the terrain. To this day, we still have little evidence regarding the size and organization of an exploratore unit; they were thought to be relatively small in size and because there was no official ranking for them, by default, they were under a centurion (Ezov, 79).

Athough the picture below contains models, it is assumed that this is how the exploratore units functioned. They traveled in small groups and on horses to remain highly maneuverable and quick.

In addition to the use of exploratores for reconnaissance missions, Caesar also used speculatores. Although they did have similar jobs, speculatores usually gathered information by working in disguise and spying on the enemy (Ezov, 80). Exploratores and speculatores both collected information about hostiles, but only speculatores were ever referred to as spies. Gathering intelligence regarding the enemy was their main duty, but in addition, they patrolled like exploratores, although they were usually involved guarding important people (Wikipedia).

Parallel to the situation of exploratores, we have little evidence to the size and organization of these units. Due to the particular missions of these men, conclusions can be drawn that most likely the units contained few men, if not alone, on a mission (Ezov, 83).

 Works Cited

Caesar, J. (1994) The Gallic Wars (trans. W.A. McDevitte and W.S. Bohn.).

Ezov, A. (1996). The “missing dimension” of c. julius caesar. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 45(1), 64-94.

Richmond, J. (1998). Spies in ancient greece. Greece & Rome, 45(1), 1-18.

Speculatores. (2011, October 14). Retrieved from

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Tribunus laticlavius

The Roman army started to form a new form of military ranks between the time of the late Republic and the time of Principate (753 BC to 476 AD). The Roman military was called a legion. “When recruits have been carefully selected who excel in mind and body, and after daily training for four or more months, a legion is formed by order and auspices of the invincible Emperor.” (Vegetius, page 34) In a legion, there are ten cohorts that are carefully selected by a person’s status. This includes family, honor, prestige, and money. The legion of the Roman army would fight primarily against the Germans and the Parthians. There were legions all throughout Europe and the map below are the legion camps that the Romans had settled into. (Wikipedia)

File:Roman Legions camps - AD 80.png

The head leader of a cohort was the legatus legionis but the second in command was the tribunus laticlavius. The laticlavius “broad-stripped tribune” was usually a younger gentleman whom was from one of the richest families in Rome and knew the legionary commander quite well (Wikipedia). The laticlavius was given the name because of the “broad purple striped tunic which contrasted the narrow stripe of the equestrian tribe.” (Maxfield)

The laticlavius was the typical rich, pretty boy who constantly asked the praefectus castrorum, the prefect, what to do or not do while he is guarding or actually on the senate. (Matyszak) If the legionis were to die in battle, the laticlavius took over the legion. (Wikipedia) However, usually the legionis did not die in battle, but was actually poisoned by a person from the cohort senate. Though the laticlavius was young and inexperienced, they were quick learners and had to take in charge quickly otherwise the cohort would not pay attention. They were trained to become commanders, and if there was a legionis before them, they were on the senate as guards and did not give a lot of orders or talk while in second command.

Works Citied

Maxfield, Valerie

Milnder, N.P. “Vegetius: Epitome of MilitaryScience.” Vegetius: Epitome of Military Scienc. Second RevisedEdition. Trowbridge, England: Redwood Book, 1996. Print.

Matyszak, Philip. Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s Unoffical Manual. New York, New YorkT: Thames and Hudson, 2009. 91.

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Legionary Life on Commemorating a Soldier

Tombstones laid for deceased soldiers were methods of displaying personal success and individual identity especially within the legion. The tombstones were often erected and executed by their comrades in arms. As most who received them either had purchased their burial rites before their death or were given to them by fellow soldiers (Hope, 87). A Roman soldier could pay into a burial fund while he was in the service. Likewise, a soldier could commemorate his life by having one constructed for him by his heir as a tribute to a life of service for Rome(Matyszak, 192-193).  These acts of recognition were dually a private affair and received for those servicemen who died off the battlefield. Hope asserts:

Rome and its empire were littered with reminders of battles, but it needs to be emphasized that theses ‘war memorials’ celebrated conquest, victory, and power, rather than death, grief, and individuality. In general, communal expressions of military loss, sacrifice, and mourning were not a feature of the Roman landscape.

On the battlefield death was to be dealt with as opportunity dictated. Burial was a matter of convince and practicality. Corpses on the field were unsightly as well as unhealthy. Most fallen soldiers were cremated and some given shallow graves. Precautions were taken by the surviving troops to limit desecrations to the graves but ultimately practicality gave way. Few corpses were transported home and permissions were only given for the elite. One reason being the large numbers of dead soldiers would deter future enrollment. Any mention of the soldier was likely praiseworthy, as funeral processions were to celebrate the glory and honor of Rome (Hope,87-88).

Hopes research helps us construct a society different than our own. But like she suggests we must be critical of our assertions and assumptions reasons being: incomplete evidence, different contexts with in the empire, and personal points of view. 

Tribute to Rome was ultimately paid to her conquering generals and emperors.  Monuments and structures such as Trajan’s Column were built to honor a successful campaign. The epitome of the emperors boasting was a triumph. A triumph as listed by Matyszak was parading of jovial generals and soldiers in which the roman civilians celebrated the success of the emperor and the army was congratulated by the people and by the emperor himself. After the parading the soldiers participate in rituals and later would spend a week partying. Hope states, “A triumph was a celebration of and for the living rather than the dead” (82). On both the scales of mega and micro, tribute was paid for success.

Scene 54. Trajan rewarding his troops. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Contrasting the triumph as we learn from Livy, a Roman soldier’s death on the battlefield was to remain hushed, silent, and private (22.55).  As Hope puts it, “Trophies and triumphs were about forgetting the dead rather than remembering them” (84). The life of a slain soldier was likely meant to be forgotten and the people to move on. Death of a soldier on the battlefield was in no way a public affair.  Rather it was and isolated moment in which the family of the soldier could find solace. Not to say that death on the battlefield received no public attention for it did, but its recognition was fostered in a private and silent way.

Works Cited

Hope, Valerie M. “Trophies and Tombstones: Commemorating the Roman Soldier.” World Archaeology, Vol. 35, No. 1, The Social Commemoration of Warfare (Jun 2003), pp. 79-97  JSTOR  Web. Feb. 28 2012. 

Livy, Titus. “Livy’s History of Rome: Book 22 The Disaster of Cannae.” The History of Rome, Vol. III  Web. 18 Feb. 2012.

Matyszak, Philip. Legionary The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual.London: Thames andHudson. 2009. Print.

Rockwell, Peter. Trajan rewarding his troops. Trajan’s Column. Photograph. The McMaster Trajan Project.  1999. 28 Feb. 2012. Web.


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Standard-Bearers of the Roman Legions

In the Roman Legions, standards were very important. Every century, cohort, and legion had a standard. These symbols represented their units, acted as a symbol of unity and pride, and served as a rallying point during battle (McManus). During the Roman Empire, there were many different kinds of signifers: aquilifers that bore the legion’s eagle, imaginifers that carried an image of the emperor, vexillifers who bore a banner with the legion’s name and symbol, and signifers that carried a signum, a tall pole with an open hand, the symbol of the legionaries’ oath of loyalty (Wikipedia contributors). All signifers wore animal-skin headpieces in order to be distinguished from the normal soldiers (McManus).

Scene 113. Roman standard-bearers. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

Signifers had rather dangerous jobs in battle, but had relatively good jobs in day-to-day life. On the front lines in battle, a signifer could only carry a buckler (small shield) and did not have a weapon to protect himself. Polybius, when describing who is selected for the position of signifer, described them as “the bravest and most vigorous among the soldiers” (Polybius, History, Book 6). Although they would have to also be literate and good with numbers in order to act as bankers for the many members of the legion. Outside of battle, signifers were in charge of the legionaries’ pensions, meaning they had clerk-type work that would be done indoors. Matyszak suggests that putting the pension in the hands of the standard-bearer was beneficial because the legionaries would fight all the harder to protect him during battle (80).  Signifers were counted as officers, so they received twice the pay of a normal legionary (Breeze), which is not surprising, given the importance of all their duties.



Works Cited


Breeze, David J. “Pay Grades and Ranks below the Centurionate.” The Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971):130-135. Print.


Matyszak, Philip. Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s (Unofficial) Manual. London: Thames & Hudson, 2009. Print.


McManus, Barbara F. “The Roman Army in the Late Republic and Early Empire.” VRoma. The VRoma Project, June 1999. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


Polybius. History: Book 6. Trans. Oliver J. Thatcher. Constitution Society, 1999. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


Rockwell, Peter. Photo of Roman standard-bearers on Trajan’s Column. n.d. The Stoa Consortium. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


Wikipedia contributors. “Signifer.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 5 Dec. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.


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The Budget of the Roman Empire

Roman Currency (Wikipedia Contributors)

While there is a relative shortage of accurate information about the finances of the Imperial era, it is assumed that state expenditures of the Roman Empire were first and foremost devoted to military payments. It is estimated that these expenditures most likely accounted for half of the revenues of the Empire. Whatever these revenues may have been they were eaten up so quickly that often taxes were increased (or invented) depending on circumstances (Southern, 75-76).

For the average legionary, military life was not a life of great wealth, even though “[Roman] soldiers formed part of the rare salaried class in antiquity” (Bohec, 209). The appeal of legionary life did not lie in an opportunity to earn a large fortune, or even anything resembling affluence. Why then did so many young recruits volunteer for service under rather unappealing conditions? The answer lies in looking outside of the military: conditions of daily life were not much better. When under military service, a “[soldier] could…look forward to regular meals, pay, and free medical treatment form an army doctor” (Herz, 307). Each soldier’s level of pay was blatantly uneven and not dependent upon task difficulty or capability, but upon social status (Herz, 308).

Polybius provides the first indication of the amount of a legionary’s stipendium (pay that initially covered a six-month time period). He states that legionaries received two obols daily, centurions double, cavalrymen a whole drachma (Brunt). Polybius’s drachma is taken to mean the Roman denarius which is the equivalent of 10 asses (Brunt).


Denarii depicting various Roman Emperors (Wikipedia Contributors)

It has also been noted that the stipendium is not so much the equivalent of a modern day wage, but more a credit record to compensate for costs incurred by a legionary during the term of service, i.e. clothing, food and arms supplied by the Empire (Brunt). One example of deductions made for a soldier’s foodstuffs over the period of service indicated that “state deductions for provisions were usually higher than their cost, and that the state normally made a profit” (Herz, 311). The assumption has been made that generally, about two-thirds of a soldier’s gross income was kept back and remained under the control of the state (Herz, 311). Perhaps the most distinct example of pay deductions can be seen in a young recruit—with the necessary supply of weapons, clothing and food, a new legionary incurred a large deficit that could only be paid off after a few years of service (Herz, 314).

Although the costs of maintaining a functioning army were certainly the largest portion of the Roman budget, the political and economic benefits provided by the army’s existence cannot be translated into a financial figure. The stability and security provided by the army both internally and externally, as well as the valuable contributions to the infrastructure of the Roman Empire are astronomically important to the history of the Roman state, and “represented the largest organized and qualified work-force that was present throughout the empire” (Herz, 319). Though it was costly, the value of the Roman army was well worth the price required to sustain it.

Denarius of Marcus Aurelius

Denarius of Marcus Aurelius (Wikipedia Contributors)

Works Cited:

Bohec, Yann Le. The Imperial Roman Army. Trans. Raphael Bate. Routledge, 2000. Print. 28 Feb. 2012.

Brunt. P. A. “Pay and Superannuation in the Roman Army.” Papers of the British School at Rome. Vol. 18. British School at Rome, 1950. Pg. 50-71. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

Herz, Peter. “Finances and Costs of the Roman Army.” A Companion to the Roman Army. Ed. Paul Erdkamp. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2007. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

Southern, Pat. The Roman Army: A Social & Institutional History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print. 28 Feb. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Denarius.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Roman currency.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Feb. 2012.

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Legionary Selection and Training

The Roman Army did not begin as a finely tuned fighting machine, but it did develop into one.  In the beginning it mostly consisted of Roman citizens who were farmers.  Part of the reason the leaders would choose the type of man for the legion is because they were in good physical condition because the work they did was physically demanding. In the beginning men would join part-time and then the men would return home after a summer of fighting.  Under the leadership of the Roman general Marius, the army began to be more of a profession (Gill, 2012).

The recruitment of soldiers was the foundation on which the army was built upon.  The plan for their training was geared specifically for the requirements of the work which they would be expected to do.  It would take great skill and courage to be able to leap into a trench or the opponent’s line of battle and engage in the type of combat the Romans were notorious for.  The length of time that a soldier would be in training would depend on his condition, skills, and how quickly he could master the tasks that would be required of him.  It was important for the recruits to be skillfully selected, learn to use and care for arms, be in top physical condition and strong.  In addition they had to learn about every situation they may encounter in battle and how to deal with it, as well as learn to obey orders (Stout, 1921).

  According to Vegetius the new recruits should be judged according to their strength as well as their moral characture.  He could see no benefit to training a coward.  They had strict requirements such as height (between 5’10” and 6 ft. at the minimum), good eyesight, muscular build, and long fingers.  Part of the process of becoming a soldier would be giving him a tattoo with the official mark, but the man would have to prove himself before he could truly become part of the military.  The potential soldier would have to prove his mobility and strength, as well as be able to learn to use weapons and prove he had self-confidence. After he proved himself, he would receive the mark and begin to learn the “science of arms” in his daily training (Vegetius, 1996).

The Romans were known for their ability to build military training camps.  This is where the training would take place.  It really didn’t matter if the site was a permanent installation or a place to stay for the night, the Roman military was good at it.  Vegetius wrote, “one could almost say that the Roman military carried a walled town with them were ever they went.”  New recruits would be trained in the art of building these camps as well as entrenchments (Davies, Breeze, & Maxfield, 1989).

Once the soldier was placed officially in training he would have to endure a rigorous routine of training to do many things.  Examples of things that the soldiers were required to be good at are: military step, both running and in jumping, swimming in case there was no bridge to cross a river.  They also had to train with wooden swords that were heavy and shields that were made of wicker.  They were also taught to use the point and not the edge when they were in combat, this way they would do more damage to their opponents.  They were also proficient at throwing javelins and using arrows, firing stones with slings, and using lead weighted darts.  They had to learn to vault onto horses.  This was done by practicing with wooden horses.  In addition to all of the things mentioned they were expected to carry about 60 pounds of equipment while they were marching in full armor (Vegetius, 1996).

All of this rigorous training was designed to give the soldier strength, courage, and the ability to face the enemy without fear, because the soldier would know that he was superior to his enemy.

The image below is a sketch of a what a Roman soldier may have looked like when he was getting ready to face his enemy.



Davies, R., Breeze, D., & Maxfield, V. A. (1989). Service in the roman army. New York: Columbia University Press.

Gill, N. (2012). The roman army and the roman republic. Retrieved from

Stout. (1921). Training soldiers for the roman army. The Classical Journal, 16(7), 423-431. Retrieved from

Vegetius. (1996). Epitome of military science (2 ed.). (N. Milner, Trans.) Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.


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The Column of Trajan Assignment

The goal of this assignment is to get you to look at the benefits and perils of using non-text primary sources,  in this case art.  Specifically, I’ve asked you to look at different scenes from the Column of Trajan.

1.  Look at scenes about your topic and see what it tells you about the subject.  Can you figure out weapons?  What they’re wearing?  What they’re doing?  How do the various scenes support (or not) the information you’ve read in your textbook (Matyszak. Legionary) and elsewhere?

2.  Once you’ve done that,  it’s time for the harder part.  Art is not created, nor does it exist, in a vacuum.   When it’s created, why it’s created, how it’s created, what it’s made from, all affect the finished product.  As you look at your scenes, think about why Trajan had the column created, why the particular scenes that are shown might have been chosen (for example:  look at the Dacians.  How are they portrayed? ), how the choice of a column affected the design, etc.

3.  Once you’re ready to post, be sure to give proper credit for the scene and the cartoon, if you use one.  Mr. Peter Rockwell  has kindly given us permission to use his pictures in our blog.  Directly under each image, you need to use the caption feature to give credit.  For help using the caption feature see:  – the easiest way is to click on the highest resolution image available then copy the URL.

4.  The caption should give the following information:  Scene number if available,  subject of image.  Used with permission.  Copyright Peter Rockwell.  Via http://URL of the image you used.

5.  You also need to credit the image at the end of your post using the correct APA or MLA style.

For example:

Scene from the Column of Trajan

Scene 110. Legionaries foraging. Used with permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell. Via

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Hannibal’s Roman prisoners

I couldn’t get this video to embed correctly. This is a video created by the History Channel on the Battle of Cannae. There were also some enjoyable YouTube videos of Cannae as well; however, I could not figure out how to give due dilligence.

August 2 of 215 BC, on the field of Cannae 50,000 Romans lay dead. Eight-thousand prisoners have been captured and the victorious Hannibal following the customs of war had made preparations to capitalize on the situation. Modern scholars and historians Livy and Polybius alike speculate Hannibal was in need of provisions in particular financial support for his campaign and fresh troops. As such, Hannibal may not have wanted take Rome, rather it is possible he only wanted to decrease its power and therefore sent an embassy of roman prisoners to settle the negotiations of defeat.

Note: Roman prisoners of war lost their citizenship and patriarchal rights afforded to them. In effect they became the property of the enemy to be exploited or killed as the victor saw fit. However, a roman prisoner of war could gain his freedom by paying his ransom, being recaptured (treated), or possibly petition for freedom if he escaped (Brill’s New Pauly, 878).

Unfortunately for Hannibal, at some point at the during the close of the First Punic War, the customs of prisoner exchange had changed in Rome. The governing body in Rome felt no obligation to uphold the customs of the world which they helped establish (Hopkins, 17-18). This change was an ethical change in society which now held strong belief of honor and what it meant to be a soldier of Rome. Romans were not apt to negotiate terms upon their defeat. Hannibal may have underestimated the pride and society of the Roman state (Lazenby, 42).

Perhaps this Roman notion of honor is best understood from the senator T. Manlius Torquatur, who was under the persuasion to disallow the liberation of the prisoners of war despite the public opinion. He argued two points. First, the prisoners were idle cowards who made no attempt to save themselves. And second, they didn’t truly defend the camp, and in actuality gave up, reserved to their fate as prisoners of war (Livy, 22.60).Further Livy records the senators held other reservations against the ransoming of the captive Romans, the most noteworthy being monetary (22.61). O’Connell coincides that the refusal for the ransoming of the slaves was strictly a monetary one. As he makes claim that the families of the captive soldiers were denied that ability to pay the ransom (168).

Nonetheless, upon these points the senate voted against the ransoming of the prisoners. The decision from the senate was to Hannibal’s dismay, the prisoners we sold into slavery and some slaughtered (O’Connell, 168). Hannibal was ineffective in convincing Roman allies to defect. Thus, Hannibal’s plan was then thwarted as his ability acquire necessary provisions for his army and his ability to create battle with the learning Romans.

Works cited:

“Hannibal Leads Carthaginians.” 2012. The History Channel website. Feb 22 2012, 9:29

Hopkins, Tighe. Prisoners of War. London : Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton and Kent Co 1914.

Livy, Titus. “Livy’s History of Rome: Book 22 The Disaster of Cannae.” The History of Rome, Vol. III  18 Feb. 2012. Online.

Lazenby, John. Was Maharbal Right?. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 41: (1996) 39–48. Print. doi: 10.1111/j.2041-5370.1996.tb01912.x

Messer, Rick Jay. The influence of Hannibal of Carthage on the art of war and how his legacy has been interpreted. MA thesis. Kansas State University Manhattan, Kansas 2009. Print.

O’Connell, Robert L. The ghosts of Cannae : Hannibal and the darkest hour of the Roman republic. New York : Random House, 2010. Print.

“Romans as Prisoners of War.” Brill’s New Pauly: Encyclopedia of the Ancient World. Antiquity Vol. 11 English Ed. 2007.


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Politics and War: Scipio Africanus and the Battle of Zama

Meeting of Hannibal and Scipio at Zama. Adapted from Young Folks' History of Rome by Charlotte Mary Yonge. “Battle of Zama.” Wikipedia. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

The first Punic War (264-241 B.C.) began as a small conflict in Sicily which quickly escalated into an all out war between Carthage and Rome (“Punic Wars”). The Romans won many of the battles, and the war eventually ended with a peace treaty that gave the Romans control of Sicily. Twenty-two years later (219 B.C.) Hannibal “attacked Saguntum in Hispania, a city allied to Rome, starting the second Punic War” (“Punic Wars”). After suffering a major defeat at Cannae, the Roman armies under the direction of Publius Cornelius Scipio (Scipio Africanus) traveled to Africa and prepared for the Battle of Zama.

From the accounts given of him, Scipio Africanus appears to have been not only a strong general, but also a capable politician in the time surrounding the battle of Zama. There was significant initial resistance to Scipio’s plan to attack the Carthaginians in their own territory by the Roman Senate. They were “persuaded by Fabius Maximus that the enterprise was far too hazardous” (“Battle of Zama”). However, Scipio, who had been elected a consul because of his recent victories against the Carthaginians, apparently had enough political savvy and support to convince the Senate to let him go, but not enough to convince them to supply him with an army of anything more than volunteers (“Battle of Zama”). Eventually he did receive the support of formal troops.

Scipio’s language during the battle of Zama also indicates political savvy. Polybius recounted that Scipio’s reply to a speech made by Hannibal at the beginning of the battle was “That neither in the Sicilian nor Iberian war were the Romans the aggressors, but the Carthaginians” and that “the gods themselves had confirmed this by giving the victory…to those who acted only in self-defense” (Polybius 15.8). This is, of course, frankly false. The first Punic War was started because of offenses on both sides, but Scipio’s statement, if recorded accurately, would have served to validate the actions of his troops and intimidate his enemies. Though it is possible that Polybius may have distorted Scipio’s language in order to strengthen the “righteous” image of the Roman army in the second Punic War, and though it is possible that Scipio himself may have believed that they Romans were completely innocent, it is not outside the realm of possibility that Scipio might have used such a tactic purposefully to his advantage.

One of the strongest indications of Scipio’s political prowess, however, came at the end of the battle. As part of the treaty to end the war after the Carthaginians had been defeated, Scipio requested various things including “a hundred hostages of their good faith, —such hostages to be selected from the young men of the country by the Roman general, and to be not younger than fourteen or older than thirty years” (Polybius 15.18). According to M. James Moscovish, “the Senate had authority to amend treaty clauses issued by its generals in the field, but in the case of Scipio’s terms with the Cartheginians…the Senate ratified them without change” (418). Though the Senate might have changed any number of terms in the treaty, they remained satisfied with Scipio’s decisions. This seems to indicate that Scipio had either enough insight into the Senate to create a treaty that supported their interests, or enough influence because of the significance of his victory that the Senate wanted to pacify him. Either way, Scipio’s political and military abilities during the battle of Zama significantly impacted the empire.

Works Cited

“Battle of Zama.” Wikipedia. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Polybius. Histories. Perseus Digital Library. Ed. Gregory R. Crane. Tufts University. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

“Punic Wars.” Wikipedia. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Muscovich, M. James. “Hostage Regulations in the Treaty of Zama.” Histora: Zeitschrift fur Alte Geschichte. 23.4 (4th Qtr., 1974): 417-427. JSTOR. Web. 16 Feb. 2012

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