Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Battle of Zama: October 19, 202 BCE

On this day, October 19, in the year 202 BCE, Roman forces under the command of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, and with support from the Numidian King Masinissa, faced off against a Carthaginian force led by Hannibal himself. 

After waging war in Italy itself for over a decade, Hannibal was finally called back by the Carthaginian leaders when Scipio brought the war to their homeland.

Hannibal seems to have significantly overestimated the affect of his elephant core, which were essentially neutralized when Scipio ordered his men to spread out, allowing the elephants to pass through them without inflicting anywhere near the damage which they then received from Roman missiles. 

By the end of the battle, it was a complete rout, with the Romans losing only 2500 or so troops, while the Carthaginians saw 20,000 killed and another 20,000 captured.

The two generals would meet again, at a dinner party in 193 BCE hosted by the Seleucid King Antiochus III. When Scipio asked Hannibal to name the three greatest generals of history, he listed Alexander the Great first, the Greek Pyrrhus second, and himself third. When Scipio inquired what he would say if Hannibal had beaten him at Zama, Hannibal said that then he would list himself before Alexander and Pyrrhus! (Livy, Ab Urbe Condita 35.14).