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"Was Scipio`s army just a bunch of rejects?" Topic


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MichaelCollinsHimself12 Aug 2019 9:44 a.m. PST

Does any one have an idea as to how many of Scipio`s army of Africa were draftees from Roman defeats at the hands of Hannibal?
Those from Cannae we know about right? And I think I recall reading in Livy that Laevinus in Sicily had received troops in 210/209 from defeated legions in Italy… So does anyone have more information on this? Meantime I will search Livy.

Thanks for any help you might be able to lend me on this one!

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP12 Aug 2019 12:59 p.m. PST

The thousands of survivors from Cannae and also from Herdonia (4344 men) had been sent there. Various others had been sent as reinforcements as well – Scipio arrived with 7000. There were also local recruits though there is a story that Scipio preferred that any wavering Syracusan cavalry instead gave their equipment and horses to Romans (and also had to train them – I wonder how effective they would have been). There were also a 'large number'of Numidian deserters – mounted and unmounted.

"Scipio was far from despising these men*, he was quite aware that the defeat at Cannae was not brought about by any cowardice on their part, and he knew, too, that there were no soldiers in the Roman army who had had such a long experience in every kind of fighting, and in the conduct of sieges. They formed the fifth and sixth legions."

Some were not fit to go, though, and he replaced them with men he brought from Italy:
"In this way he brought up the strength of each legion to 6200 men and 300 cavalry. He selected the Latin contingent also, both horse and foot, out of the army of Cannae."

Livy 27.8 28.46, 29.1, 29.24-25 are the best bits I found.

*Well – he was probably at Cannae (according to Livy) as a tribune and had also escaped.

MichaelCollinsHimself14 Aug 2019 3:35 a.m. PST

I checked Livy and also Lazenby

I think that Lazenby, counting the troops Livy lists throughout the text, makes it 14,500 from Cannae.
Also in Livy (24.18) 2,000 disgraced troops were sent in addition to the very exacting total of 4,344 of those from the defeat at Herdonia.
But only upto 3,000 of these would have been replaced by Scipio to make the legions at the strength Livy describes.

Whatever Livy said about what Scipio believed, I myself find it hard to believe that such an army would have much of a fighting chance against Hannibal and his seasoned veterans.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP16 Aug 2019 10:31 a.m. PST

Despite – or because of – their defeat, they seem to have become a very capable force. They had something to prove and knew that victory was their only way home. They had a better track record than most of the armies in Italy, having had a lot of success once they reached Sicily. They had been campaigning pretty continuously for a decade or more. Lapses of discipline when Scipio arrived were sorted out rapidly – similar things were needed with a number of Roman armies at various times, including some with an even better track record.

Only 3000 might have been needed to make up the numbers, but that assumes that none have them had died in Sicily. Some are also stated to have been unsuitable to join the forces going to Africa.

At Zama, only Hannibal's third line were his veterans. They were indeed difficult to beat but being hit in the rear by the Numidians while fighting to their front was not likely to end well for them.

Scipio's tactics and reputation for success will also have helped the Romans. Overall, this was an army where the men and the commander had learnt valuable lessons through the war and had better success as a result.

MichaelCollinsHimself19 Aug 2019 9:19 a.m. PST

So, was it "despite or because of…" I wonder?

I don`t know, maybe only half of them had mixed feelings about possibly getting beaten by Hannibal again maybe it was only the 3,000 unsuitable Romans and they were asked politely to leave?
I wonder how that worked.

Polybius and others do tell us that Hannibal`s third line were veterans, but in a virtual replay of Cannae you`re right, there would be no hope for them.

Any ideas on the numbers involved ?
I`ve seen 12,000 to 18,000 as estimates for Hannibal`s best troops

The higher estimates are almost equal to the numbers of Roman infantry at the battle given 4 legions, and yet Scipio does not find teh need to replace his lines in the conventional sense… the Hastati withstand attacks from elephants, warbands, citizen spearmen, and then Hannibal`s best troops – I do find that most questionable.

I`ll admit, I think that the great battle as described by Polybius (and by those who have followed him since) is a fabrication and I believe that the truth about the campaign is to be found by reading Appian and Cassius Dio and also paying some mind to Livy.

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2019 11:15 a.m. PST

"Scipio does not find teh need to replace his lines in the conventional sense… the Hastati withstand attacks from elephants, warbands, citizen spearmen, and then Hannibal`s best troops I do find that most questionable."

Though this isn't what Polybius says.

He gives the main credit for defeating the elephants to the velites and the cavalry. The 1st line of infantry is dealt with by the hastati but Polybius says that "the greater part of the mercenaries and Carthaginians had fallen either by mutual slaughter or by the sword of the hastati". This may be an exaggeration but does suggest that at the very least the withdrawal of the first line was badly carried out. This may have been Hannibal trying to use a variant of the Roman line replacement tactics but without success.
For the fight against the veterans, Scipio uses the princepes and triarii as well as the hastati. As at the successful battle of the Great Plains, the princepes and triarii form up on the wings. As the hastati had been victorious against their previous enemies, their losses were probably quite small – that is usually the case in ancient battles. They would have been more fatigued and probably had expended their pila.

The final role of the hastati may have had similarities to the central line at Cannae – prevent a breakout by their enemy while the stronger/fresher troops on the wings do the real damage.

Even then, Polybius says "Being nearly equal in numbers, spirit, courage, and arms, the battle was for a long time undecided" – it is only the return of the victorious cavalry hitting the veterans in the rear which decides it.

While details and emphasis are not always the same, I don't see a great deal of difference in the accounts of Polybius, Livy, Dio and Appian, except that the last two compress some of the action and Appian includes a fairly unlikely personal combat between the two CinCs.

History has a good number of armies who are initially defeated but later are the victors.
However, even ignoring this, are Hannibal's veterans the men who won Cannae? Livy says that they were mostly Bruttians and their reliablity was more down to fear of what would happen to them if they lost. Even if this is an exaggeration, well over a decade of campaigning in a hostile country would have created an even higher attrition rate than the Romans in Sicily.
The first line were, IIRC, fairly new recruits. The second line were likely of limited experience and may have included the few survivors of the Battle of the Great Plains. The third line is certainly said to have been of good quality but may have had some issues – not least of which would be the morale hit of having to leave Italy and all their hard won gains. I'm sure it must have been apparent to them that much of their prior success had been down to the Carthaginian cavalry and seeing it lose cannot have helped their morale.

The Romans, otoh, have been defeated by Hannibal a decade earlier but in the meantime have been pretty consistently successful including, under their current general, in extremely similar circumstances a year earlier.

MichaelCollinsHimself19 Aug 2019 12:15 p.m. PST

Look again, but to the rest of the campaign as described by Appian – it does vary with that of Polybius.
Interestingly, Appian does not mention the battle of the Great Plains – why should that be the case?

Personal logo Swampster Supporting Member of TMP19 Aug 2019 4:08 p.m. PST

"Look again, but to the rest of the campaign as described by Appian it does vary with that of Polybius."
But it was Polybius's account of the battle itself which you said was a fabrication, and Appian is pretty close to it.

I think there has been plenty of discussion elsewhere e.g. link regarding the reliability of the various historians, so I won't start going into it.

MichaelCollinsHimself19 Aug 2019 10:18 p.m. PST

I`m sorry, but I thought you had started to go into it Swampster.
But nevermind, you`ll find some my own efforts to determine what exactly may have taken place in 202 and how Appian is the key to unlocking the history on this thread… link

Marcus Brutus20 Aug 2019 3:53 a.m. PST

Remember the assignment of the two Cannae legions in Sicily to Scipio was done by his opponents in the Senate to thwart his African campaign. The fact that Scipio was able to train this mishmash of forces (I don't agree that they represented the cream of the Roman army) into an elite fighting force shows again how amazing Scipio was as a general and leader of men.

MichaelCollinsHimself20 Aug 2019 4:18 a.m. PST

Well, I don`t accept that the force was elite.
It didn`t need to be if the best way of fighting a war in Africa was with African troops; the role and importance of Numidian forces was crucial; for years before Zama and the landings in Africa by Scipio`s army he had courted the main Numidian leaders to join him.

Marcus Brutus20 Aug 2019 8:24 a.m. PST

The Legion maneuvers at the Battle of the Great Plains shows how versatile and well trained the Roman infantry had become under Scipio. They maneuvered like the battle hardened veterans of his Spanish legions. The recruitment of Numidian allies was also crucial to Scipio's success in Africa. One does not preclude the other.

MichaelCollinsHimself20 Aug 2019 10:25 p.m. PST

It's of interest to note that Appian does not include the battle of the Great Plains in his history at all.
Reading the account of the battle by Polybius I am left unconvinced by the dispositions of the troops. You'll find this in Polybius 15.8. The Carthaginian infantry array for the battle is not clear; Polybius refers only to some 4,000 Celt-Iberians and that they opposed the Roman maniples, with no mention of African/Libyan spearmen and remarkably, the Italian and Numidian cavalries manage to rout both the infantry and the cavalry wings at the same time.
The general impression given from this that the Carthaginians proved to be weak and cowardly and that only their mercenaries redeemed themselves by holding their ground and buying time for their employers to escape.
Compared to the tactical finesse of Polybius` version of the battle of Zama, it is poorly constructed.
The legionary manoeuvres at this battle seem by Polybius` description here, to have been an enveloping action on a much smaller body of troops; the 4,000 Celt-Iberians.

No, you're right, one factor might not preclude another, but the context of the campaigns of 203-202 were of a war fought in more extreme conditions than a Roman army was already accustomed – environmental conditions were perhaps ignored by Regulus in the first Punic war. It's something that the Romans and other imperialist armies learned to do; that is to fight their wars abroad by employing significant numbers of auxiliaries or local forces. There is evidence for the part played by the Numidians and Massinissa in particular in Duncan Ross` Kbor Klib and Battle of Zama Bar 1399.

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