Battle of Zama (strategy & tactics)

The Battle of Zama took place between the Romans, accompanied by the Numidian cavalry, and the Carthaginians with Scipio as the commander of the Roman forces and Hannibal as the leader of the Carthaginian troops. This confrontation between the Romans and Carthaginians marked the end of the Second Punic War, which had been occurring for many years. It took place on the plains of Zama Regia in the fall of 202 BC.

Romans marching and making camp- Use by permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell

Previous to the battle, the Romans utilized diverse mental tactics to psych out their opponents and prove dominance. As they won each battle, the Romans intentionally mangled the bodies of their fallen foes to demonstrate their ruthlessness and display an example of what the next enemy could expect to occur (75 Zhmodikov). They also made a camp each night, not only out of necessity, but to show their superiority as a force. The Romans had enough sophistication to build an entire village in one night and have it taken down by morning in order to be ready to march.

Both the Romans and the Carthaginians used similar battle layouts, but each tweaked their tactics with personal techniques. Hannibal utilized a traditional phalanx line of troops consisting of three rows with a cavalry on the wings, but also had war elephants as a unique weapon of war. Scipio, on the other hand, used a maniple formation of troops consisting of three lines with a large cavalry on the wings. The first two lines consisted of lighter infantry men known as the Hastati and the Principes (67 Zhmodikov). The last row consisted of heavy infantry men called Triarii; they were only used as back-up so they rarely saw much fighting. Although the Romans had fewer infantry troops, they made up for it in number and skill of cavalry troops. This became an important factor in the outcome of the battle; the terrain highly favored cavalry troops.

As the battle commenced, Hannibal unleashed his elephants on the Roman lines, which Scipio had anticipated. Scipio then used the maniple formation in order to allow his troops to move apart and permit the elephants to run right past them; it worked. In addition, the Romans blew loud horns as the elephants approached in an attempt to scatter them from their charge (Scullard 1930). As the lines clashed, they met in deadlock and each side repeatedly gained and lost ground with their opponent. It wasn’t until the superior Roman cavalry joined the battle, victorious over the Carthaginian cavalry, that the Romans were able to surround the Carthaginians and slaughter them. Roughly 20,000 Carthaginians were killed and another 20,000 were taken prisoner, while only 5,000 Romans were slain during the battle of Zama.

Works Cited

Rockwell, P. (1999). Romans marching and making camp- trajan’s column. Retrieved from

Sabin, P. (2000). The face of roman battle. The Journal of Roman Studies, 90, 1-17.

Scullard, Howard Hayes (1930), Scipio Africanus in the second Punic war, CUP Publisher Archive .

Zhmodikov, A. (2000). Roman republican heavy infantrymen in battle. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 49(1), 67-78.

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