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"Hannibal`s cavalry tactics at Zama" Topic

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670 hits since 24 Jan 2019
©1994-2019 Bill Armintrout
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MichaelCollinsHimself24 Jan 2019 1:00 a.m. PST

I recently asked a question on an Ancient
& Medieval forum if anyone could name the modern historian who suggested that at Zama, Hannibal ordered his cavalry to carry out a feined flight to draw away Scipio`s more numerous Roman and allied horse.
Any help greatly appreciated,

GurKhan24 Jan 2019 2:00 a.m. PST

Richard Gabriel suggests that in his biography of Hannibal – link

Not sure if he was the first.

MichaelCollinsHimself24 Jan 2019 2:55 a.m. PST

Thanks Duncan.

MichaelCollinsHimself24 Jan 2019 5:00 a.m. PST

Same author 2008, Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General.
…it`s the flip side of the same coin… why Hannibal wasn`t very good at Zama!

Marcus Brutus24 Jan 2019 5:45 a.m. PST

why Hannibal wasn`t very good at Zama!

I don't agree with that surmise. Hannibal may have lost a bit of his sheen but more likely he was meeting a highly capable 2nd generation Roman leader with a finely tuned military machine who held a strategic advantage. Under the circumstances I think Hannibal did about as much as he could and I suspect that Zama was a close run affair until the very last moment.

GurKhan24 Jan 2019 6:00 a.m. PST

OK, as I suspected, Gabriel wasn't the first: Hans Delbrueck suggested it – see link (English translation of D's 1920 third edition):

Hannibal had given his men the order not primarily to fight, but, more importantly, by fleeing to draw the enemy away from the battlefield in pursuit.

MichaelCollinsHimself24 Jan 2019 6:32 a.m. PST

I`m sorry Mark, I`m not a believer in Polybius` battle of Zama and his view that:
"He [Hannbal] had done in the battle and before it all that could be done by a good general of long experience."

Hannibal is out-witted at almost every stage of battle and the pre-battle manoeuvring too, but by saying he had done all he could, he simply sets up Scipio to appear to be a greater general.

And the clincher is at the end of it when he says:
"For there are times when Fortune counteracts the plans of valiant men, and again at times, as the proverb says, "A brave man meets another braver yet," as we may say happened in the case of Hannibal."

Marcus Brutus24 Jan 2019 7:38 a.m. PST

How is Hannibal outwitted either in the campaign or on the day of battle?

MichaelCollinsHimself24 Jan 2019 8:43 a.m. PST

Before the battle:-

1. Knowing Hannibal to be weak in cavalry, Scipio lures Hannibal to battle by sacking Carthaginian towns the Carthaginian senate responds by calling on Hannibal to march. Hannibal delays a bit, but then weakens.

2. The three spies incident before the battle in Polybius version Hannibal is led to believe that Scipio had not been reinforced by Massinissa.

3. Hannibal is also forced to make camp in an unfavourable position without an immediate supply of water

4. In the days before the battle Hannibal does not notice 10,000 Numidians?

During the battle:-

1. Hannibal`s elephants are easily countered by a variation of the Roman manipular formation plus some trumpet blowing.

2. With Massinissa and Laelius chasing the Carthaginian cavalry, Scipio counters the threat of being flanked by extending his line; deploying his reserves to his own flanks.

MichaelCollinsHimself24 Jan 2019 8:57 a.m. PST

Thanks Duncan – volume 1 now ordered on Amazon !

Marcus Brutus24 Jan 2019 12:23 p.m. PST

I thought you didn't hold much store in Polybius' accounts of Zama because everything that you describe is from him.

The journey up the Bagradas valley by Scipio had a two fold purpose, to link up with the Numidians and to force Hannibal to move out from Carthage. Warfare and politics are intimately intertwined. What would have Hannibal do? Hang about Carthage while the Scipio tears up prime Carthaginian territory? How does that advance Carthaginian interests. Better to surrender then.

I think Polybius' is right in at least one important detail.

"As they were nearly equal in numbers as well as in spirit and bravery, and were equally well armed, the contest was for long doubtful, the men falling where they stood out of determination…."

Zama was a close run battle and it could have gone either way. I don't fault Hannibal's generalship because he lost. He was dealt a difficult set of cards and played them as well as he could. If the Roman cavalry had been further delayed the Carthaginians might have prevailed.

Personal logo Grunt1861 Supporting Member of TMP24 Jan 2019 6:51 p.m. PST

Hannibal lost the battle of Zama before he even returned to Carthage.

MichaelCollinsHimself25 Jan 2019 12:52 a.m. PST


Let me me clear, I do not think that Hannibal performed badly at Zama. My fault, I was being sarcastic about Hannibal not being very good at Zama.
But then again, to be honest, I think that the story of the battle of Zama grew in the telling in the 40 years after the event.

Yes, I have referred only to Polybius` version of the battle, without mentioning other accounts and that is because there is enough in his history which concerns Scipio Africanus in this part of the Second Punic War which is both questionable and biased.

The three spies incident for instance, is borrowed from Herodotus` account of Greek spies captured in 481/480 BC by Xerxes before his invasion of Greece.
Did Polybius add this episode himself, was it Polybius` eye-witness Gaius Laelius, or perhaps it comes from another earlier historian?
Whichever was the case, it casts doubt on the cause, the reasons and the purpose of the meeting of the two generals before the battle.
Polybius must have been aware of Herodotus` history; it couldn`t have been a coicindence.
By the way, Livy`s version follows Herodotus original more closely. In Livy, Scipio shows the spies his full strength (with Massinissa`s troops having arrived) so that the spies go back to their camp, spread the word, and this produces a demoralising effect on Hannibal and his army.
In Livy there is a such a slight difference, but how it changes the grand-tactical situation Livy makes Scipio seem more honest, upright, and more Roman – in character with Roman sensibilities.
Perhaps Polybius` version is better than Livy`s, in which Scipio, appearing weak but expecting reinforcement from Massinissa, out-wits Hannibal more appealing to Polybius` Greek audience ?

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