Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Diverse Weaponry of Hannibal’s Carthaginian Army

Hannibal employed many soldiers from many different places. His army consisted of soldiers from Africa, Spain, Italy and he even had Celtic soldiers. Each group of soldiers brought their own culturally used armour and weapons to battle with the Romans.

The African soldiers wore very colorful uniforms that came in different varieties. The heavy infantry wore chain mail over their clothes and carried heavy shields. They mostly fought with an assortment of exotic weapons which they were well trained with and proved to be useful and deadly when they wielded them. They also used spears and long and short swords.

The Iberian or Spanish soldiers carried wooded shields and used sling and javelins as well as swords and spears. The heavy infantry also wore chain mail and used the typical heavy roman sword.  They also used the falcata which is a sickle shaped sword made of iron or steel. The falcata is made from 3 lamina or sheet of steel.

an Iberian Falcata

The Celts or Gauls were armed simple iron long swords. The swords weren’t of very good quality and were used more effectively when hacking rather than stabbing (Polybius).  Both Plutarch and Polybius describe the Celts as often ceasing fighting so as to straighten their swords. Polybius and Livy also assert that the Celts didn’t wear any armour and often fought naked.


Wikipedia contributors. “Carthiganian Army.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Web. [Cited 17 Feb. 2012.]

Wikipedia contributors. “Hannibal.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Web. [Cited 17 Feb. 2012.]

Knox, E.L. Skip. The Punic Wars: Battle of Cannae. Boise State University History of Western Civilization. [Cited 17 Feb 2012.]

Shean, John F. Hannibal’s Mules: The Logistical Limitations of Hannibal’s Army and the Battle of Cannae, 216 B.C.. Franz Steiner Verlag, 1996. [Cited 16 Feb 2012.]

Pleiner, Radomir. ”The Celtic Sword.” Oxford: Clarendon Press (1993). Print. [Cited 16 Feb 2012] [Cited 16 Feb 2012 Web]

Polybius. Shuckburgh, Evelyn S. (trans.) “Histories”. London, New York. Macmillan. 1889. Reprint Bloomington 1962. [Cited 16 Feb 2012] Web

Livius, Titus. “The History of Rome”. Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library. Web  [Cited 16 Feb 2012]

Polybius. “The Battle of Cannae.” Fordham University.  [Cited 16 Feb 2012] Web

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Ancient Military Medicine in the Battle of Cannae

The Battle of Cannae was fought between the Romans Republic and the Carthaginian Republic.  The Carthaginian commander was Hannibal and the Roman commanders were Gaius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paullus.  The war took place near Cannae a town in southeast Italy. Hannibal’s army defeated the Roman army even though the Roman army was greater in number.  The victory is credited to the fact that Hannibal’s army used superior tactics and they were united in their efforts (The Battle of Cannae).

The health of the soldiers before the war and the treatment of the wounded during and after the war was an important part of maintaining the effectiveness of an army. The conditions that the soldiers had to endure and the number of people in an area created complications for the sick and the wounded.  During that time in history medical facilities where important and many times would be based in temporary camps.  The Greeks and the Romans both had made many discoveries for medical treatments by this time in history, so it was not uncommon to have a doctor (medicus) who was highly skilled as well as assistants who would oversee the operation of the medical facility (Goldsworthy).

Ancient Medical Tools


Works Cited

Goldsworthy, Adrian. The Complete Roman Army. London: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 2003.

The Battle of Cannae. 8 Feb 2012. 16 Feb 2012. <;.

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Strategic Formations of the Battle of Cannae

August, 216 B.C: near the small township of Cannae, a mere two hundred fifty miles from Rome, Hannibal of Carthage and his army prepared for battle. They were faced off against the legions of Aemilius Paullus and Caius Terrentius Varro, the Consuls of Rome. Under normal circumstances, one consul and a couple of legions was enough to stir optimism in a Roman victory. “On the occasion in question, however, they were so alarmed and terrified that they decided to send not just four, but eight Roman legions into battle at once” (Polybius 213) as well as both of their consuls. These were also extended legions, each consisting of 5000 infantry and 300 cavalry instead of 4000 and 200 respectively (Lancel 104). Legionary command alternated every other day for Paullus and Varro, who disagreed on nearly everything. On August 2, 216 B.C., it was Varro’s turn to command the army. Just after sunrise, he led his troops out onto the battlefield, forming a continuous line facing south. Aemilius commanded the right wing of 2,400 Roman cavalry posted near the river Aufidus. Center force of 55,000 heavy infantry  and forward center position of 15,000 light infantry(McKnight 7) was commanded by the previous year’s consuls, Atilius and Servilius (Polybius219). Varro headed the Allied cavalry of 3,600 on the left wing. In total, the Roman army was a force of approximately 86,000 men.

Hannibal’s army of 50,000 was much smaller than that of the Romans. However, he also had cavalry superiority, which was perfect for the flat and treeless battlefield they would be fighting on. Hasdrubal was in charge of the Spanish and Gallic cavalry of 6,500 on the left wing near the river. Hannibal and his brother, Mago, commanded the center of 10,000 Libyans, 6000 Spaniards, and 1,250 Gauls/Celts as well as the 11,500 light infantry that took up the forward position. Right wing made of  3,500 Numidian cavalry was commanded by Hanno (McKnight). The fighting had begun: it was Hasdrubal’s Spanish/Gallic cavalry versus Paullus’ Roman cavalry near the river, the main bodies of infantry in the center, and Hanno’s Numidian cavalry versus Varro’s Roman Allied cavalry on the opposite side.

Varro’s plan was to smash through the Carthaginian center using sheer weight of numbers. To further this ideal, he reduced the gaps between the maniples in each line and made each maniple very deep (Goldsworthy 97) increasing its power but sacrificing its order and flexibility. Hannibal took his straight line of infantry and moved the center forward, making a crescent shaped line that protruded out toward the enemy (Polybius 218).

Outcome and movements of the Roman and Carthaginian armies

 Near the river Afidus, Hasdrubal’s cavalry engaged Paullus’ Roman cavalry. Varro hoped that the cramped space between the river and the flank of the river army would cancel out any advantage Hasdrubal may have had in making a mobile attack. However, the Gauls and Spaniards were used to fighting in close quarters (McKnight 11). Their ferocity decimated the Roman cavalry, whose survivors were chased along the riverbank and slaughtered. Paullus escaped and rejoined the main conflict in the center.

 The Roman line of infantry had become much thicker in the center, since Hannibal’s formation provoked the Romans to attack there first.  The thin crescent line of Gauls and Spaniards began to fall back under the pressure of the densely packed maniples. As they gave way and swiftly retreated, the Romans chased after them. Exploiting their supposed success, maniples from behind as well as large numbers from the sides were drawn into the struggle. The Roman infantry was now more like a frenzied crowd than an organized body of soldiers. (Goldsworthy147)

 Meanwhile, the Numidian Cavalry on Hannibal’s right wing attacked the Roman Allied Cavalry facing them. The Numidians harassed them from all sides, taking turns at throwing javelins and then running away. They did not inflict or sustain any major damage but at the same time distracted the Roman allies from aiding the infantry in the main conflict.

 Hasdrubal’s cavalry had regrouped and came over to assist the Numidians. The outnumbered Roman Allies panicked and fled. The remaining Allied horsemen were picked off by the pursuing Numidians, whose peculiar tactics became more dangerous once they had the enemy on the run (Polybius 220).

During this time, the Roman legions rushed right into Hannibal’s trap. In pursuit of the fleeing Gauls and Spaniards, the Romans had continued so far forward that they exposed both flanks to the heavy Libyan infantry. Having not yet fought, these eight to ten thousand troops were fresh and in good order (Goldsworthy 148). Startled by the energetic attack from the Libyans on either side, the Romans stopped dead in their tracks and turned to face their attackers. The Gauls and Spaniards returned, walling them in from three sides.  

With the Allied cavalry being taken care of by the Numidians, Hasdrubal’s horsemen joined the main conflict. Closing in and attacking from the back served to boost morale for Hannibal’s troops as well as demoralize and terrify the Romans. They were now surrounded on all sides, unable to escape because of their packed formations. Inner maniples may not have realized the danger until the men in front of them were cut down; the victorious Carthaginians annihilated the remaining Roman army rank by rank from the outside in.

Works Cited

Polybius. The Histories. Trans. Robin Waterfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print

Goldsworthy, Adrian. Cannae. London: Cassell & Co. 1988. Print.

McKnight, Sean. Holmes, Richard., ed The Hutchinson Atlas of Battle Plans. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1998. Print.

Holmes, Terence M. “Classical Blitzkrieg: The Untimely Modernity of Schlieffen’s Cannae Programme.” The Journal of Military History 67.3 (2003) 745-771. Web. 15 Feb. 2012

Lancel, Serge. Hannibal. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc.

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The Battle of Zama: Aftermath

Carthage was reduced to a fraction of its empire at the end of the Second Punic War. (Picture in public domain.)

The Battle of Zama took place at Zama, near Carthage, in October of 202 BC. Publius Cornelius Scipio led the Roman army and extra Numidian cavalry against Hannibal and his Carthaginian troops. The Romans soundly defeated the Carthaginians, which brought an end to the Second Punic War (Wikipedia contributors).

According to Polybius, Scipio set the terms for a treaty and told the Carthaginian ambassadors. The ambassadors returned to Carthage to tell their senate, and Hannibal persuaded them to accept the “lenient terms” (Polybius). The terms of the treaty included parts beneficial to both sides, though naturally favoring the Romans. Carthage was to be a client state of Rome, but would be able to retain all territory owned prior to the war, as well as all property. Carthage would still rule itself, and no Roman garrison would be set in the city. In return, Carthage needed to return all prisoners of war and deserters to Rome, pay a tribute of 10,000 talents (200 a year for 50 years), and provide corn and pay the Roman army while they waited until Rome replied to the treaty. Also, Carthage had to give up 100 hostages (males between the age of 14 and 30), and give up their war elephants and all warships except 10 triremes. If crippling any potential land or sea force wasn’t enough, Rome forbade Carthage from making war on any nation outside of Africa, and required permission to war within Africa. F.E. Adcock suggested the Romans crippled the Carthaginian navy because they had a policy of making their states keep weak ones, so Rome wouldn’t have to build up a strong navy (118).

Masinissa, of the Numidians that had helped the Romans, was crowned as the King of greater Numidia. Scipio was given the name “Africanus”, and was proclaimed a war hero (“Results of the Second Punic War”).


Works Cited

“Results of the Second Punic War.” United Nations of Roma Victrix., 2003-2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Battle of Zama.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 Dec. 2011. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Adcock, F.E. “‘Delenda Est Carthago.’” Cambridge Historical Journal 8.3 (1946): 117-128. Print. 6 Feb. 2012.

Polybius. Histories: IV. Trans. W.R. Paton. Ed. Jeffrey Henderson. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000. Print.

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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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The Battle of Zama

The Battle of Zama was fought in October of 202 BC between “a Roman army led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus” and “a Carthaginian force led by the legendary commander Hannibal.” (Battle of Zama)

Scipio set himself apart from other historical leaders by using scouts and spies from both his own, and the Carthaginian army to benefit his cause. When Hannibal came to Zama, “he sent spies to ascertain the place, nature, and strength of the Roman general’s encampment.” The Roman soldiers caught them, and brought them before Scipio to decide their fate, but rather than punishing them, he “appointed a tribune to show them everything in the camp thoroughly and without reserve,” and then “gave them provisions and an escort, and dispatched them with injunctions to be careful to tell Hannibal everything they had seen.” This reaction was so far from the norm that it seemed to charm Hannibal into “a lively desire for a personal interview with” Scipio, at which meeting he proposed a treaty which, although not successful, seemed to hint at some intimidation by Scipio’s tactics. (Polybius)

Hannibal’s terms for a new treaty (Now that they had broken the previous one) were unnacceptable to Scipio, and eventually told Hannibal the Carthaginians “must submit [them]selves and [their] country to us (The Romans) unconditionally, or conquer us in the field.” Hannibal chose to attempt the latter.

Scipio had also been studying Hannibal’s techniques for years. “Having been at Cannae,” He knew most of Hannibal’s tricks, and was able to “trump [him] with a few minor adjustments.” Having seen the use of war elephants before, he knew how to counter them in a battle. After they were taken care of, he used Hannibal’s own “battle strategy from Trebbia and Cannae” (Billau) to defeat him. One might say that he had been gathering intelligence for fourteen years, and it served him well.

Charlotte Mary Yonge, 1880, Hannibal and Scipio meet to discuss terms.




“Battle of Zama.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 09 Dec  2011. Web. 16 Feb 2012. <;.

Billau, Daneta, and Donald Graczyk. “Hannibal: The Father of Strategy Reconsidered.” Comparative Strategy. 22.4 (2003): 335. Web. 16 Feb. 2012.

Polybius. Evelyn S. Shuckburgh. Translator. Histories. London: Bloomington, 1962. Web. <;.

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by | February 16, 2012 · 11:27 pm

To Rome!! Or not…

After a victory of epic proportions at the Battle of Cannae, the assumed logical step for Hannibal and the Carthaginian army would be to march on Rome and overtake the capital. With 20/20 hindsight, it is in fact quite obvious that Hannibal’s failure to capture Rome “cost him his one good chance of final victory” and eventually led to his downfall (Matyszac). Livy has recorded that while congratulating him on an incredible victory, Hannibal’s general Maharbal stated:

“That you may know, what has been gained by this battle I prophesy that in five days you will be feasting as victor in the Capitol. Follow me; I will go in advance with the cavalry; they will know that you are come before they know that you are coming” (22.51). Livy records that Hannibal “told Maharbal that he commended his zeal, but he needed time to think out his plans” (22.51). To this Maharbal replied: “The gods have not given all their gifts to one man. You know how to win victory Hannibal, you do not how to use it” (22.51).

One can only speculate his true motivation behind the decision not to march on Rome, but clues exist that help to illustrate a clearer picture of Hannibal’s judgment.

Hannibal (Wikipedia Contributors)

One of the most fundamental, yet easily overlooked reasons behind Hannibal’s decision is his supply of food. Prior to Cannae, Hannibal lacked the sustenance necessary to support an army. At this time he was not receiving any support from Carthage and his troops spent much of their time foraging across the Italian countryside (Shean, 185). Hannibal’s strategy once in Italy focused largely on relying upon Rome’s resources (Lazenby, 43). Shean states that “logistical problems had dogged him throughout his early campaigns in Italy [and] the victory at Cannae brought no immediate relief to these problems” (185). It is not difficult to imagine why Hannibal chose not to drag an already battered, poorly provisioned and underfed army on a 250 mile march to attack a walled and fortified city. Even after a catastrophic defeat, the Romans still had an advantage of an “inexhaustible suppl[y] of provisions and of men” (Lazenby, 43). According to Shean, “Hannibal’s failure to move on Rome stemmed from the least glamorous and most mundane reason of all: no food” (185).

Maharbal’s eager exclamation of Hannibal dining as a victor in Rome within five days is indeed a pretty sentiment, but would be logistically next to impossible. The distance Hannibal’s forces would be required to cover the between Cannae and Rome within five days would equate to a pace of fifty miles per day, as opposed to the usual pace of Hannibal’s army which hovered around nine (Lazenby, 41).  After such a sprint across the Italian countryside, it is highly unlikely that his troops would be able to accomplish anything significant once they reached Rome—a city that was by no means left unfortified or lacking in able-bodied civilians (Lazenby, 41). Hannibal would not only face many who would have already seen military service, but many armed slaves, and all who would rise to defend their country, honor, wives and children (Lazenby, 41; Polybius, par. 109).

It is impossible to pinpoint a single motivation for Hannibal’s decision not to attack the capitol. Food, logistics and manpower may have all contributed to the objections against taking the city. Hannibal may have recognized his disadvantage in the particular type of “trench warfare” that would have been required to take Rome (Lazenby, 41). It is also a possibility that the victory at Cannae left Hannibal with the impression that the “war was already won” (Matyszac, 38). Whatever the reason behind the decision, “that day’s delay is believed to have saved the City and the empire [of Rome]” (Livy, 22.51).


Knox, E.L. Skip. The Punic Wars: Battle of Cannae. Boise State University History of Western Civilization. 15 Feb 2012.

Lazenby, John. Was Maharbal Right?. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. 22 Feb 2011. Web. 16 Feb 2012.

Livy. Livy’s History of Rome: The Disaster of Cannae. Book 22. University of Virginia Electronic Text Center. Web. 15 Feb 2012.

Matyszac, Philip. The Enemies of Rome From Hannibal to Attila the Hun. London: Thames and Hudson, 2004. Print.

Polybius. The Battle of Cannae, 216 BCE. Book III. Fordham University Ancient History Sourcebook. Web. 15 Feb 2012.

Shean, John F. Hannibal’s Mules: The Logistical Limitations of Hannibal’s Army and the Battle of Cannae, 216 B.C.. Franz Steiner Verlag, 1996. 16 Feb 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Hannibal.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 14 Feb. 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2012.

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The Lines of the Battle of Zama

The Carthaginians did not think that the Romans, or anyone for that matter, could stop them from taking world. Hannibal had defeated the Romans with the tactic of circling around them and had taken the Romans and Scipio down. However in 202 BC, Scipio returned to Rome and wanted revenge and take Hannibal down to his knees.

The Carthaginians definitely had the upper hand at first glance. Hannibal had 45,000 people in infantry, 4,000 men in cavalry, and had eighty war elephants (Wikipedia). Hannibal had put his people in three rows, and the last row being farther back than the others with the elephants at the front of his army. “He placed his elephants in front so that their irregular charge and irresistible force might make it impossible for the Romans to keep their ranks and maintain the order of their formation, in which their strength and confidence mainly lay. Then he posted the mercenaries in front of his Carthaginians, in order that this motley force drawn from all nations, held together not by a spirit of loyalty but by their pay, might not find it easy to run away.” (Livy)

However, Scipio used the same tactic as Hannibal did when they had the first Punic War. Scipio turned the tables on Hannibal by having three rows of his army, which only had 34,000 in infantry and 9,000 men in cavalry, but had the infantry all according to the best warriors. “The Hastati first, with an interval between their maniples; behind them the Principes, their maniples not arranged to cover the intervals between those of the Hastati as the Roman custom is, but immediately behind them at some distance, because the enemy was so strong in elephants. In the rear of these he stationed the Triarri. On his left wing he stationed Gaius Laelius with the Italian cavalry, on the right Massanissa with all his Numidians.” (Polybius) The Hastati, Principes, and the Triarri were all according to the classman of the Roman army.

The reason why the Romans had won even with the disadvantage is that they had blown horns to scare the Carthaginian war elephants and the elephants almost completely wiped out the left wing side of the Carthaginian lines. With the elephants out of the way, Scipio made the Romans go behind the Carthaginians and stab them in the back as well as surrounded them, and ultimately destroying them in the second Punic War.

Works Citied:

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Roman Military Tech at the Battle of Zama

The Battle of Zama was fought in October of 202 b.c.e. which was the deciding battle in the Second Punic war and brought Carthage under Roman control. The battle was fought in North Africa near Carthage. The forces involved were Hannibal and his 51,000 troops and 80 war elephants for Carthage against Scipio Africanus and his 40,000 Roman soldiers. The battle was a decisive victory for the Romans with casualties on the Carthaginian side over 20,000 and the same number captured. The Roman force suffered 5,500 casualties in comparison. (Wikipedia)

The military technology used at this time was the standard load-out for the Romans. From the Archeological and Documentary evidence found for this time period the following weapons and armor are assumed to have been used by the Romans:

Gladius Hispaniensis: The basic short sword used by the Romans that was adopted from Spain.

Gladius Hispaniensis

Pila: The throwing weapon of choice for Legionaries.


Pugio: The dagger that was the fallback weapon when all else had failed.

Also used at this time was Artillery that threw heavy pieces of debris or other pieces of material. The exact information regarding the artillery pieces are sketchy at best due to the lack of physical evidence to verify what they did exactly. The artillery was constructed with information gathered from Defectors from the Greek forces of the time thus enabling the Romans tech without the pain of trial and error. (Bishop)

The standard armor kit for the Roman soldiers at this point was a Chain or Ring Mail. This was light enough for desert campaigning while also providing the protection needed for close combat. The last piece of protective equipment that was used was the Scutum, or large shield that provided the protection needed to wage war in the Phalanx formations that Romans favored. (Zhmodikov)

Possibly the most telling information we have regarding the military tech of this time is summed up in the following statement:

“Our ignorance of the equipment and garb of Republican Soldiers is almost total: for not only is the archaeological evidence lacking, but also there is hardly any representational material to help fill the gaps.” (Bishop)


Works Cited

Bishop, M.C. Roman Military Equipment: from the Punic Wars to the fall of Rome. Oxbow: Oxford, 2006. Print.

Wikipedia. Battle of Zama. February 2012. Web. February 2012.

Zhmodikov, Alexander. Roman Republican Heavy Infantrymen in Battle. Verlag, 2000. Web.



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Horses, Camels, Elephants, Oh my!


Alexander’s army of 65,000 Macedonians was also accompanied by 1300 baggage animals and 6100 cavalry horses, according to Engel. The estimation of this exact number of animals would fluctuate due to the provisions  being carried, availability of animals, as well as those lost to sickness and exhaustion. Horses, mules, and camels were the main types of pack animals included in Alexander’s baggage train.

 In addition to food and provisions, some pack animals were used for carrying non-comestible supplies like tents, hammocks, firewood, medical supplies, and treasure. A few horse or mule-drawn carts were designated to carry siege weapons, act as the army ambulance, or sometimes carry women and children. These were limited due to their tendency to break down and their cumbersome nature over rough terrain. Carts were additionally restricted because of the inefficient throat and girth harness, which was placed directly over the animal’s windpipe: the harder the horse pulled, the more it choked him. (Engel)

Horses and mules are basically the same as far as rations and carrying capacity; both  require an average of ten pounds of grain rations, ten pounds of grazing fodder, and eight gallons of water per day (Engel 18). A horse or mule can carry two-hundred pounds and each animal is capable of pulling a load directionally proportional to its body weight. The animals can bear the load, whether from pack or rider, for about five to seven consecutive days. After that, they will need to rest and have time – at least sixteen hours a day – for grazing to stay in good condition (Sidnell 85). Being a military campaign, conditions were not particularly ideal for the animal. Many horses died from exhaustion and/or malnutrition because the speed of the march prevented them from grazing, even though there was plenty of grain supply (Engel 81). Under these types of harsh conditions, common equine health issues may have also included wounds, poor body condition, respiratory diseases, parasites, dental problems, and lameness (Burn et al.)

Unfortunately, sick, injured, or exhausted horses were an encumbrance to the army and had to be left behind. Worse things could happen to a pack animal, namely being engulfed by sand, washed away by monsoons, or eaten by hungry soldiers (Arrian 6.24.4-6, 6.25.1-3, 6.25.4-5). Alexander turned a blind eye on this sort of ravenous activity, especially during desperate times. It made sense for the soldiers to eat the animals – after all, the average camel carcass provides 900-1400 pounds of meat (Wikipedia Contributors).

The introduction of the camel may have occurred after the Battle of Issus where Darius’ baggage train, which included camels, was captured by Alexander’s army. The benefits of using camels as pack animals in arid climates is obvious; camels are genetically developed to withstand temperatures and conditions that would kill most other animals (Wikipedia). A camel can also carry at least one hundred pounds more than the typical horse or mule (Engel 14). The largest disadvantage of using camels is that they require more water – ten gallons per day on average (Engel 18).

A mosaic depiction of Alexander and his horse Bucephalus at the Battle of Issus.

Besides camels, Alexander’s entourage even included elephants at times, some of which were captured from enemy baggage trains or rounded up from abandoned settlements (Arrian 3.15.4,4.30.7). When Alexander arrived at the Indus River, he was presented with thirty elephants in addition to the two ships, two hundred silver talents, three thousand sacrificial oxen, and ten thousand head of cattle (Arrian 5.3.5). Alexander’s horse, Bucephalus, was bred from famous Thessalian strain and cost thirteen talents – enough money for a Greek laborer to live on for a hundred years (Sidnell 85).

Among the 6100 cavalry horses, there are three distinct breeds that may have used. The first is an extinct breed: the Nisaean. Sixteen hands high and very muscular, the sacred Median horses were prized for their unusual size and strength. They were the most valuable horses in the ancient world and regarded as the most beautiful horses alive (Wikipedia Contributors). Modern descendants of the Nisaean include the Iberian breeds such as the Andalusian and Lusitano. The second breed used by the Macedonians, the Ferghana, is also extinct. Bred in what is now modern Uzbekistan and measuring at 15.3 hands, this ‘celestial’ breed used by Alexander was also greatly sought after by the Chinese to establish an Imperial bloodline. Emperor Wu Ti’s army suffered fifty thousand casualties when he forcibly seized three thousand stallions from Ferghana (Sidnell). The third breed, the Akhal-Teke, is the only one still in existence. A bit smaller than the Ferghana and more finely built than the Nisaean, these horses have prodigious stamina and beautiful, shining coats that look almost metallic in sunlight; the capital of the country from which the Akhal-Teke originate was even called ‘Bactra of the Golden Horses’ (Sidnell 85).

A modern day photograph of an Akhal-Teke. Tekes come not only in gold, but also in many other colors including bronze, copper, and obsidian.


A dark brown Andalusian horse. Andalusians and other Spanish breeds are believed to be descended from the now extinct Nisaean horse - the most beautiful and valuable breed in antiquity.










One of Emperor Taizong's horses from Zhaoling - likely to have Ferghana bloodlines. Tang Dynasty (c.650). University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.











Works Cited

Arrianus, Lucius Flavius. The Landmark Arrian: the Campaigns of Alexander. New York: Pantheon Books, 2010. Print

 Sidnell, Philip. Warhorse: Cavalry in Ancient Warfare. New York: Continuum Books US, 2006. Print

 Engels, Donald W. Alexander the Great and Logistics of the Macedonian Army. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978. Print.

 Burn, Charlotte C., Tania L. Dennison, and Helen R. Whay. “Relationships between behaviour and health in working horses, donkeys, and mules in developing countries.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 126, 3 (2010): 109-118. Web. 8 Feb. 2012

Wikipedia contributors. “Nisean horse.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 12 Dec. 2011. Web. 9 Feb. 2012.

Wikipedia contributors. “Camel.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Web. 8 Feb. 2012.

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