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Bolingar23 Apr 2021 1:18 p.m. PST

Zama was a far more cunning battle than is commonly supposed. Here is a 20-minute video that takes a close look at the primary sources. Feel free to like, subscribe and disagree in the comments section. ;-)

Durban Gamer24 Apr 2021 3:04 a.m. PST

Beautifully done video with interesting new interpretations. I also enjoyed Swanton's recent book on ancient battle formations. I found the book both well researched and readable – he frequently challenges traditional views with convincing evidence and analysis.

MichaelCollinsHimself25 Apr 2021 1:48 a.m. PST

Right so, where to begin?
I skipped straight to the battle at 11mins, 46seconds, but the first thing that caught my attention was:
"But Scipio had read Hannibal`s mind…"
So, this explains it then? Where Hannibal was going to send his elephants; would he put them in front, to one side, or in reserve? Well, apparently Scipio had psychic abilities!

The whole battle is rather contrived and the sources make Hannibal appear slow-witted; but then those histories were written by Roman, or Pro-Roman authors.

If the makers of video had made use of the primary sources (well, rather they`d all be using secondary ones, as the earliest we have is Polybius and he was writing his history some 40-50 years after the event) they might have noted that; "…Hannibal placed in front of his whole force his elephants, of which he had over eighty,.." (Polybius 15.11.1). So they were not just in front of the infantry.

The herding of elephants who have been panicked is suspect in the ancient sources it is contradictory they are frightened both away and towards the men who are making the noises. The elephants then disorder people behind them and also run towards the threat which does not really make sense at all.

The Roman infantry deployment is glossed over in simplistic terms in this video. It is in fact the formation of "Cavalry Lanes" and this was one of the Roman infantry`s normal battle arrays.

I have a paper posted at academia.edu on this subject and more on the use of elephants in the Zama campaign.

link

Bolingar27 Apr 2021 9:06 a.m. PST

OK. :-)

"But Scipio had read Hannibal`s mind…"

Sure. I realised after the video was up that that wasn't very clear. Scipio read Hannibal's mind in the sense that he had perfectly anticipated the elephant attack and taken the means to neutralise it (his troops practised the lane trick well before the two armies deployed on the battlefield).

The whole battle is rather contrived and the sources make Hannibal appear slow-witted

In what way contrived? Hannibal had a good plan but Scipio had a better one: wrong-footing him by convincing him he outnumbered the Roman cavalry and by that trick of creating lanes for the elephants.

If the makers of video had made use of the primary sources (well, rather they`d all be using secondary ones, as the earliest we have is Polybius and he was writing his history some 40-50 years after the event) they might have noted that; "…Hannibal placed in front of his whole force his elephants, of which he had over eighty,.." (Polybius 15.11.1). So they were not just in front of the infantry.

1. The makers of the video is one individual: me.

2. Polybius is a primary source as is Livy and Frontinus who describe this battle. A secondary source by definition is someone who quotes those writers that are the first to describe an event.

3. "…Hannibal placed in front of his whole force his elephants, of which he had over eighty,.." (Polybius 15.11.1) Fine. The point of that? Cavalry were not deployed in front of infantry in Punic battles but alongside them as flank guards. So if the elephants were in front of the infantry then by definition they were in front of the cavalry.

The herding of elephants who have been panicked is suspect in the ancient sources it is contradictory they are frightened both away and towards the men who are making the noises. The elephants then disorder people behind them and also run towards the threat which does not really make sense at all.

"Hannibal gave the word to the men on the elephants to charge the enemy. But as they heard the horns and trumpets braying all round them, some of the elephants became unmanageable and rushed back upon the Numidian contingents of the Carthaginian army; and this enabled Massanissa with great speed to deprive the Carthaginian left wing of its cavalry support. The rest of the elephants charged the Roman velites in the spaces between the maniples of the line, and while inflicting much damage on the enemy suffered severely themselves; until, becoming frightened, some of them ran away down the vacant spaces, the Romans letting them pass harmlessly along, according to Scipio's orders, while others ran away to the right under a shower of darts from the cavalry, until they were finally driven clear off the field." Polybius, Histories: 15.12.

"and such a clamour arose, that the elephants, especially those in the left wing, turned round upon their own party, the Moors and Numidians. Masinissa had no difficulty in increasing the alarm of the terrified enemy, and deprived them of the aid of their cavalry in that wing. A few, however, of the beasts which were driven against the enemy, and were not turned back through fear, made great havoc among the ranks of the velites, though not without receiving many wounds themselves; for when the velites, retiring to the companies, had made way for the elephants, that they might not be trampled down, they discharged their darts at them, exposed as they were to wounds on both sides, those in the van also keeping up a continual discharge of javelins; until, driven out of the Roman line by the weapons which fell upon them from all quarters, these elephants also put to flight even the cavalry of the Carthaginians posted in their right wing." Livy, History of Rome: 30.33

What isn't clear about this? I have recreated both these descriptions in the video.

The Roman infantry deployment is glossed over in simplistic terms in this video. It is in fact the formation of "Cavalry Lanes" and this was one of the Roman infantry`s normal battle arrays.

No it wasn't. The quincunx is a complete invention of academia. Reading Livy carefully in the original Latin makes clear that his gaps of the hastati were file intervals, not gaps between one maniple and the next. In other words the maniples were normally deployed in open order (described by the tacticians) in order to permit the files of the line in front of them to retire through them without disorder (also described by the tacticans). Livy had evidently not read them and doesn't use their technical language, but his meaning is clear.

In the video I describe the elephant (not cavalry) lanes and how they were used to funnel the elephants to the rear. I'll be looking at how the triplex acies' line relief mechanism worked in a future video.

I have a paper posted at academia.edu on this subject

I've written a book on this, available at Pen & Sword. You can see it here.

PS: I've just seen your profile on Academia. Your material looks interesting. I'll have a look at it. Friends?

MichaelCollinsHimself28 Apr 2021 6:45 a.m. PST

Sure, yes, by all means take a look Justin. But you`ll notice that I`m not a big fan of Polybius when it come to this particular conflict.

It seems contrived in the respect that the lines of battle are neatly lined up before the battle, but poor Hannibal does not seem to have a plan; it is not explained by any of the ancient sources. Only modern authors have imposed the feigned cavalry rout, which turns into a real rout when the elephants panic in all directions and disorder the carthaginian wings. If you have 80 elephants up your sleve, why throw away some 4,000 cavalry, to chance it in an infantry engagement frankly, this is a sub-standard tactic that Hannibal would cry over!

Livy supporting Polybius Yes OK, we know Livy followed Polybius, but Appian says something quite different about the elephant`s reactions and their effectiveness against the Roman centre. There were other accounts of the battle available to both Polybius and Livy when they were writing their histories.

Cavalry lanes were not a "quincunx" formation. But yes, the quincunx is an interesting idea perhaps it was better understood by C19th military men, who saw it as a means of achieving a passage of lines in column formation.

Yes, I`ll look forward to seeing what you have to say about line replacement. I`d agree that files were the thing ;)

As for definitions of what a primary or secondary source is, I`ll have to disgree with you. I`ve always understood a primary source to be a contemporary record of an event. I don`t intend to change that understanding.
In this case we possibly have two Laelius` (witnesses) providing Polybius with evidence of events long passed. Not sure myself which Laelius is telling us about the events in Spain, Rome or Africa. The primariness of the evidence presented to Polybius would be hard to determine but I think there is more of a possibly that Polybius was informed by Gaius Laelius Sapiens as he`s writing 40-50 years after the event and he is closer to the son than the father.

I see you`ve downloaded my piece on the Three Spies Story, I think it`s crucial, I believe it is the cover up story for the real battle a largely Numidian victory at Kbor Klib with no elephants.

Marcus Brutus28 Apr 2021 6:49 p.m. PST

If Polybius wrote Histories around 160 BC then he is about 40 years after Zama. That is pretty good for ancient historiography. He would have had access to living witnesses of Zama plus access to written documents from witnesses and perhaps the children of veterans who knew the stories well.

Bolingar29 Apr 2021 12:16 a.m. PST

It seems contrived in the respect that the lines of battle are neatly lined up before the battle, but poor Hannibal does not seem to have a plan; it is not explained by any of the ancient sources.

My take is that Hannibal had a plan, but was completely wrong-footed by Scipio and had to abandon his plan. There are three curious things about this battle:

1. Why did Hannibal deploy his infantry in three lines when evidently they had no idea of how to execute line relief or, at the very least, were not configured to execute it?

2. Why were the veterans a stadium (200 yards) further back from the other two lines?

3. Why did Hannibal fight at all since he was decisively outnumbered in cavalry?

The video attempts to answer these three questions.

Cavalry lanes were not a "quincunx" formation. But yes, the quincunx is an interesting idea perhaps it was better understood by C19th military men, who saw it as a means of achieving a passage of lines in column formation.

What is the evidence for cavalry lanes?

As for definitions of what a primary or secondary source is, I`ll have to disgree with you. I`ve always understood a primary source to be a contemporary record of an event. I don`t intend to change that understanding.

For me a primary source is a writer who is more or less the first we have that wrote on the topic. He may have used earlier sources but we don't have them. He can also be some time after the event he describes. A secondary source is one that depends on primary sources we have. This seems to be the standard understanding and, me, I'll go with it. :-)

MichaelCollinsHimself29 Apr 2021 3:04 a.m. PST

Your questions but my answers

1. Why did Hannibal deploy his infantry in three lines when evidently they had no idea of how to execute line relief or, at the very least, were not configured to execute it?

Rather, we do not know how they would have executed a passage of lines.

2. Why were the veterans a stadium (200 yards) further back from the other two lines?

I confess to missing that in the video and tbh, I can`t think of a practical reason right now why that might be so.


3. Why did Hannibal fight at all since he was decisively outnumbered in cavalry?

Good question… he wouldn`t have fought if he`d known that. It`s my belief that he was ambushed at Kbor Klib in a cavalry battle not knowing he was out-numbered.

And to your direct question:

What is the evidence for cavalry lanes?

Steven James has presented the evidence for cavalry lanes from Livy if i recall…
see the discussion on RAT at: link
I think he posted on this elsewhere too over the last 3 years, so the references will be out there somewheres… Sorry to be a bit vague on this right now.
But cavalry lanes would also fit the description Steven james has provided in Appian`s account of the Roman battle array – with Scipio`s cavalry reserve held behind the infantry. In this case, Appian or a much early source perhaps was confused in acounting for the numbers of Roman and allied cavalry.

Bolingar29 Apr 2021 12:11 p.m. PST

Rather, we do not know how they would have executed a passage of lines.

We know that the Gauls expected to fall back through the levies and could not, and the levies expected to fall back through the veterans and could not. If they couldn't why were the three lines placed one behind the other?

I confess to missing that in the video and tbh, I can`t think of a practical reason right now why that might be so.

Feel free to have another look at it. ;-)

Good question… he wouldn`t have fought if he`d known that. It`s my belief that he was ambushed at Kbor Klib in a cavalry battle not knowing he was out-numbered.

Earlier in the video I reproduce Polybius' account of the Carthaginian spies being captured and then shown the Roman camp after which they were released, followed by Hannibal sending an envoy to Scipio requesting a personal meeting. It was only after the envoy returned to Hannibal that the Numidians entered the Roman camp. It's fairly clear to me that Scipio wanted to give Hannibal the idea that Massinisa had not yet joined him and that Hannibal's cavalry outnumbered his own.

Steven James has presented the evidence for cavalry lanes from Livy if i recall…

I've read the thread. James bases the cavalry lanes on the quincunx as I suspected. The gaps between maniples correspond to the width of the cavalry units:

"The cavalry lanes are made by ordines. This is the most overlooked concept by academics. They do not get it. The ordo is commanded by a centurion ordinarii. I guard my research into the ordo very carefully. Understand the ordo and you unlock the legion. However, I am extremely happy that academics and many on this forum believe an ordo is another name for a maniple".

I'm wary of James' approach of discounting the sources as fabrications where they don't make immediate sense.

His treatment of Fabius Pictor in particular: "Fabius Pictor was too emotional to be an objective historian. He has allowed his emotions to drive his writings, creating fictional Carthaginian defeats to appease his emotional hatred of them, and most importantly to cover up any Roman disgrace."

Imagine that I happened to be in the Falkland Islands during the Falkland war in 1982, and wrote about it afterwards. If I decided the Argentinians were confounded bounders and made up additional battles which they duly lost, what chance do you think I would have of not seeing my publication trashed by the critics as a work of imagination? Plenty of people besides me know perfectly well what happened in the Falklands and they would have given the lie to my fabrications. Fabius was a contemporary of Scipio and everyone else involved in the Second Punic War. Could he have made up battles and got away with it? I think we need to have a closer look at that "fairly wealthy Carthaginian city." Taking a large settlement is a major event and could not just have been made up by a contemporary writer.

Another thing I would be wary of: Polyius and, more frequently, Livy, assign motives to the prominent actors to explain why they do what they do, but often those motives are guesswork, since the actors didn't necessarily reveal their intentions. Nevertheless the events of those prominent actors are not thereby ruled out as inventions. So James' dismissal of the two commanders' meeting is not based on any solid proof; he just poo-poos it since the motives assigned for their meeting don't make sense:

"Look at how ridicules Polybius' account is. When Hannibal was informed by his spies of the events that unfolded, Hannibal, full of admiration for Publius Scipio, had a strong desire to meet Publius Scipio. Hannibal had heralds sent to Publius Scipio to establish a place and time for a meeting. Here we are expected to believe that Hannibal was driven by a strong desire to meet Scipio out of nothing more than admiration. Are we expected to believe this drivel? Livy writes that when both commanders met, for a few moments both commanders gazed upon each other in silent admiration. Well admiration seems to be the latest pop culture among the Romans and Carthaginians."

Why did Hannibal want to meet Scipio? We have to use guesswork. My own take is that Hannibal wanted to size Scipio up. His offer of peace to Scipio was a pure smokescreen: if he thought he would lose the battle and he had to ask for terms he wouldn't have fought it, and if he thought he would win it he had no need to offer terms. I think he wanted to ascertain if Scipio was deep or merely rash, and probably decided he was rash after Scipio demanded unconditional surrender. Scipio himself demanded unconditional surrender in order to force Hannibal to fight: he needed to use that cavalry superiority whilst he had it. This is a best-fit hypothesis to explain the fact that they did meet. Or put it this way: if you discard primary source facts because the details around them don't make sense, then you might as well give up doing history.

MichaelCollinsHimself30 Apr 2021 12:24 a.m. PST

Let me say it`s refreshing to have this conversation here with you… we need more of this sort of thing here on TMP.

Ahh yes, quite right, Gauls are different I had Carthaginian spearmen and perhaps Greek hoplites in my mind when I said we may not be 100% clear on a how a passage of lines might have been conducted.

Yes, I will take another look at your video ;)


Re. the three spies:
That is exactly as Polybius intended he has Scipio showing a weakness rather than a strength and goading Hannibal into battle. Polybius` narrative (or rather his witness/es version of the event)is a modification of the original spies story (told of Xerxes in Herdotus) and that supposedly used by Marcus Valerius Laevinus against Pyrrhus. Interestingly Livy uses the older spies story he must have purposely followed another Roman historian in this and not Polybius.

Many doubt the whole spies story took place, but it is perhaps accepted as part of Polybius` scene setting; a literary device which allowed Polybius a pretext (the meeting) at which to make a summary of the war and demonstrate the justness of continuing it to a decisive conclusion.
Hannibal asks for a peaceful settlement. Scipio rejects the idea and so we have a big battle!

Well, as for "ordines" the term isn`t absolutely fixed in its meaning. Is an ordo another name for a maniple?

By my own definition, I`m not giving up on a primary source.

I believe that we should not ignore other sources:

Livy for instance, as I have explained earlier, three spies story conflicts with the evidence given by Polybius and his sources. Why does he not follow Polybius in this detail?

Appian too (and this is where it becomes complex) follows the original version of the spies story before his big battle of Zama. In that battle narrative, he no doubt uses many other earlier sources to compose his version of the grand battle of Zama. Check it out for the stylistic differences by paragraph almost it swings from appearing much like an AAR to a poetic production of heroic, single combats bewteen the commanding generals. If produced today, you`d suspect it was a "cut and paste" job.

Now, Appian may be bad history to many modern eyes, but his account of campaign and the battle of Zama provide us with insights into the other earlier Roman histories that existed before Polybius` time.

So, what is the value of a primary source? Is the most primary source more reliable simply because it comes first?
Are primary sources always preferrable to secondary ones?

I like to draw a parallel with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
Up until 1997 the sources available (contemporary/primary and even the various secondary sources) to that date did not contain the whole truth about that period.
Only after secret recordings made by Kennedy with the Executive Committee of the National Security Council was it made known that the withdrawal of intermediate-range "Jupiter" nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey was part of a deal made with the Russians late in 1962. These American missiles had been deployed in 1961. But many will still chose to believe that Soviet Union was the ultimate aggressor in the cold war, maybe that`s due to an enduring, habitual political bias, or simply because they may continue to believe that the primary sources were unquestionable, or that any revision of history is somehow suspect in their minds?

information at: link
check out Sheldon M Stern if you`re interested?

I prefer to look at recorded history as more of a guide to the real events; there are other forms of inquiry, other disciplines which may present us with facts. I see them as being potentially supportive of history and they may confirm the written evidence presented. At other times though they tend to challenge the stories that become inserted in to the historical record.

However, regarding Polybius and the 2PW, here`s a couple of examples of archaeological finds that challenge elements in his history of the War in Africa:

Scipio`s treaty offer of 203 BC:
Dexter Hyos. Polybius and the Papyrus: the persuasiveness of P. Rylands III 491 at: link

2nd century dating evidence for the Cothon (naval docks) at Carthage.
Review of Excavations at Carthage: The British Mission: etc… The International Journal of the Nautical Archaeology 1995 (24,4 319-328)
link

Marcus Brutus30 Apr 2021 8:31 a.m. PST

Michael, can you explain further the point at stake in P.Rylands III 491? It is not obvious to me. Also, what do we know about the this papyrus fragment?

Bolingar30 Apr 2021 10:13 a.m. PST

Let me say it`s refreshing to have this conversation here with you… we need more of this sort of thing here on TMP

You really need to come over the the Society of Ancients forum and see the kind of bunfights we have over there. (:-0

Re. the three spies:
That is exactly as Polybius intended he has Scipio showing a weakness rather than a strength and goading Hannibal into battle. Polybius` narrative (or rather his witness/es version of the event)is a modification of the original spies story (told of Xerxes in Herdotus) and that supposedly used by Marcus Valerius Laevinus against Pyrrhus. Interestingly Livy uses the older spies story he must have purposely followed another Roman historian in this and not Polybius.

Many doubt the whole spies story took place, but it is perhaps accepted as part of Polybius` scene setting; a literary device which allowed Polybius a pretext (the meeting) at which to make a summary of the war and demonstrate the justness of continuing it to a decisive conclusion.

Let's look at Livy, Polybius and Appian's accounts of the spies:

Livy
"Some spies, whom he sent out from this place, being intercepted by the Roman guard, and brought before Scipio, he directed that they should be handed over to the military tribunes, and, after having been desired fearlessly to survey every thing, to be conducted through the camp wherever they chose; then, asking them whether they had examined every thing to their satisfaction, he assigned them an escort, and sent them back to Hannibal. Hannibal received none of the circumstances which were reported to him with feelings of joy; for they brought word that, as it happened, Masinissa had joined the enemy that very day, with six thousand infantry and four thousand horse; but he was principally dispirited by the confidence of his enemy, which, doubtless, was not conceived without some ground."

Polybius
From that place he sent spies to ascertain the place, nature, and strength of the Roman general's encampment. These spies were caught and brought to Scipio, who, so far from inflicting upon them the usual punishment of spies, appointed a tribune to show them everything in the camp thoroughly and without reserve; and when this had been done, he asked the men whether the appointed officer had been careful to point out everything to them. Upon their replying that he had, he gave them provisions and an escort, and despatched them with injunctions to be careful to tell Hannibal everything they had seen. On their return to his camp, Hannibal was so much struck with the magnanimity and high courage of Scipio, that he conceived a lively desire for a personal interview with him. With this purpose he sent a herald to say that he was desirous of a parley to discuss the matters at issue. When the herald had delivered his message, Scipio at once expressed his consent, and said that he would himself send him a message when it suited him to meet, naming the time and place. The herald returned to Hannibal with this answer. Next day Massanissa arrived with six thousand infantry and about four thousand cavalry.

Appian
"The latter moved off, but he sent three spies into the Roman camp who were captured by Scipio. The latter did not put them to death, however, according to the custom of dealing with spies, but ordered that they should be taken around and shown the camp, the arsenals, the engines, and the army under review. He then set them free so that they might inform Hannibal concerning all these things."


The idea that this account is fiction because something similar happened several centuries earlier is a real reach. Allowing captured spies to see what you have and then letting them go can, in the right circumstances, be a good idea, and good ideas tend to be emulated. Scipio was fluent in Greek and had almost certainly read Herodotus, so the idea of letting spies go for a good reason would have already been familiar to him.

There is one discrepancy between the accounts: Livy says that Massinisa was already in the camp when the spies were caught whilst Polybius affirms he arrives only after Hannibal's messenger had left. One of them is wrong. Polybius is much nearer in time to Zama than Livy and he personally knew the family of Scipio, so my conclusion is that his is the right account. It explains why Hannibal decided to fight even though decisively outnumbered in cavalry.

Well, as for "ordines" the term isn`t absolutely fixed in its meaning. Is an ordo another name for a maniple?

"Ordo" is a generic term, used for a body of men of indeterminate size. I translate it as "unit". Livy uses "ordo" in his description of the legion when referring to units having 60 soldiers and, later, calling the units behind the antepilani "ordines" even though they have 186 men (History: 8.8). He implies that the maniples are "ordines": "When an army had been marshalled into these units [ordines referring to the hastati and principes maniples as well as the composite units behind them] the hastati were the first to engage."

I like to draw a parallel with the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
Up until 1997 the sources available (contemporary/primary and even the various secondary sources) to that date did not contain the whole truth about that period.
Only after secret recordings made by Kennedy with the Executive Committee of the National Security Council was it made known that the withdrawal of intermediate-range "Jupiter" nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey was part of a deal made with the Russians late in 1962. These American missiles had been deployed in 1961. But many will still chose to believe that Soviet Union was the ultimate aggressor in the cold war, maybe that`s due to an enduring, habitual political bias, or simply because they may continue to believe that the primary sources were unquestionable, or that any revision of history is somehow suspect in their minds?

Sure, but none of this does anything to dispel the facts of the crisis: the Russians put missiles in Cuba and the American blockaded the island and threatened war if they weren't removed.

Scipio`s treaty offer of 203 BC:
Dexter Hyos. Polybius and the Papyrus: the persuasiveness of P. Rylands III 491 at: link

This looks to me like trying to make a lot out of very little. An example:

"First, at lines 18-25 the papyrus reports, or seems to report, the representatives sent by the Senate landing at Scipio's camp near Utica but the Carthaginian envoys doing so at Carthage. If so it diverges from Polybius' and Livy's accounts. For though these two also record Roman representatives being sent over together with the returning Carthaginian envoys, they report these latter landing at Scipio's camp too."

But what does the papyrus actually say?

"…about the oaths they sent out, with the men from Carthage and from themselves, to render oaths and take (oaths) from them. They [the Roman and Carthaginian envoys] then from Rome therefore sailed to Scipio's city, but the Phoenicians, when they had reached Carthage and (announced) the agreements about the peace…"

It's clear that everyone sails to Utica. From Utica the Carthaginians travel by land (or possibly by sea) to Carthage. Where is the contradiction?

The bit about the oathbreaking contradicting Polybius:

The papyrus
"…about the oaths they sent out, with the men from Carthage and from themselves, to render oaths and take (oaths) from them. They [the Roman and Carthaginian envoys] then from Rome therefore sailed to Scipio's city, but the Phoenicians, when they had reached Carthage and (announced) the agreements about the peace…"

"…sent men to them, repudiating the oaths they sent out men bearing, instead of peace, war. On this therefore being announced to both generals…"

Notice that the Carthaginian envoys don't break their oaths until after they have returned to Carthage, i.e. after Scipio has let them leave Utica safely and with honour, since at that time peace was still in the air. Which is exactly what Polybius says:

Polybius
"It happened that just at this time the envoys from Rome arrived at the naval camp. Those of them who had been sent by the Roman government, Baebius at once caused to be escorted to Scipio, while he retained those who were Carthaginians. The latter were much cast down, and regarded their position as one of great danger; for when they were informed of the impious outrage committed by their countrymen on the persons of the Roman envoys, they thought there could be no doubt that the vengeance for it would be wreaked upon themselves. But when Scipio learnt from the recently-arrived commissioners that the senate and people accepted with enthusiasm the treaty which he had made with the Carthaginians, and were ready to grant everything he asked, he was highly delighted, and ordered Baebius to send the envoys home with all imaginable courtesy. And he was very well advised to do so, in my opinion. For as he knew that his countrymen made a great point of respecting the rights of ambassadors, he considered in his own mind, not what the Carthaginians deserved to have done to them, but what it was becoming in Romans to inflict."

So what is the problem?

Bolingar30 Apr 2021 1:20 p.m. PST

Livy for instance, as I have explained earlier, three spies story conflicts with the evidence given by Polybius and his sources. Why does he not follow Polybius in this detail?

Livy affirms that Masinissa arrived the same day the spies were at the Roman camp, but there may be some hesitancy in the way he affirms it. The translation reads:

Hannibal received none of the circumstances which were reported to him with feelings of joy; for they brought word that, as it happened, Masinissa had joined the enemy that very day, with six thousand infantry and four thousand horse.

The Latin runs:

Hannibal nihil quidem eorum, quae nuntiabantur nam et Masinissam cum sex milibus peditum, quattuor equitum venisse eo ipso forte die adferebant, laeto animo audivit

"Forte" has a common meaning of "perhaps" though it can also mean "perchance", "by luck", which doesn't quite make sense in this context. What is more lucky about the Numidians coming the same day as the spies as opposed to coming any time earlier?

Livy goes on to say that Hannibal "was principally dispirited by the confidence of his enemy, which, doubtless, was not conceived without some ground." This seems a bit odd if it was the superiority in cavalry that was to hand Scipio the battle. So I see real doubt in Livy here.

Notice that the doubt would be about the time of the Numidians' arrival ipso forte die not the fact of their arrival. So I suggest that for Livy the Numidians did arrive and he supposes Hannibal was aware of the fact, but he speculates they arrived on the same day the spies were in the camp.

Transliterating the Latin:

"Hannibal nothing indeed of those things that were told him Masinissa with six thousand foot, four thousand horse having come perhaps on that same day they reported heard with a joyful heart."

Why didn't Livy just repeat Polybius? He may have had other sources that described the spy incident differently and wasn't entirely sure who to believe, and so chose the version that made the most sense to him.

MichaelCollinsHimself01 May 2021 12:18 a.m. PST

The Three Spies

"The idea that this account is fiction because something similar happened several centuries earlier is a real reach. Allowing captured spies to see what you have and then letting them go can, in the right circumstances, be a good idea, and good ideas tend to be emulated. Scipio was fluent in Greek and had almost certainly read Herodotus, so the idea of letting spies go for a good reason would have already been familiar to him."

Yes, Scipio would have known of the event in Herodotus` history, but then if the story was so well-known to the educated classes (those people who could understand Greek), wouldn't Hannibal too be aware of "the spies" being an old trick with a new twist? Was the three spies' story enough to trick one of the greatest generals the world has known. Again, this is an example of early Roman historians belittling Hannibal in order to inflate Scipio`s reputation.
But Polybius himself isn't that hard on Hannibal`s reputation as a commander and naturally so, as one needs to make Scipio`s adversary a worthy one, in order to raise the reputation of Scipio to an even higher level and as you know this is exactly what does in his summary of the battle.

Yes, Livy has a different version he follows the older story of a weak, unnerved and undermined Hannibal. This is in my three spies paper.

Massinissa is the key to all of this his arrival on the battlefield, giving Scipio cavalry superiority was crucial and how this took place is what the three spies` story focused on. I believe that the version of it in Polybius would have been an excellent cover-up story, if it wasn't for the fact that all other narratives in this case and at all other the occasions, it was (allegedly) employed, it involved showing the enemy that you had an overwhelming superiority so that it undermined their resolve to fight.


Rylands
The two texts, Polybius and Rylands are so very different in style aren't they?
Polybius says much more and refers to much more. Note the way that Polybius lends his opinion to Scipio`s decision to spare the Carthaginian envoys ordering Lucius Baebius to release them, but there is so much left unsaid in the earlier source, there's no reference in Rylands to the treatment of the Roman delegation it's only a fragment, just a few lines and seemingly quite uneventful. So, it looks like we have an elaboration of the event in Polybius` history.
In "The Persuasiveness..", Dexter Hyos` makes a good case for the Rylands text being the work of Fabius Pictor and interestingly, with regard to our discussion about source definitions, this makes it more of a primary source than Polybius!

Missiles and the bigger picture
The Cuban crisis was part of a wider issue that of an increasing deployment of first-strike weapons by each of the super-powers. The primary sources (from the first people to write about the crisis) in this case were unaware of the larger picture and therefore the Cuban missile deployment appears unprovoked, portraying Russia as the aggressor, but when new evidence came to light in the late 1990`s the cold war is seen to be rather more than about the Soviet threat to the west. I'm just making the point that primary sources are not necessarily more reliable than secondary ones and we have to evaluate them all.

MichaelCollinsHimself01 May 2021 12:43 a.m. PST

Livy`s doubts about Polybius` version might be telling us something?
But at times Livy openly questions the accuracy of his sources and this is one of the things in his favour.
Examples:
Because of the widely ranging estimates, he doubts the size of Scipio`s army and yet he gives detailed information on the exact size of each legion and their cavalry strengths.
He expresses some doubt that two Hanno`s were defeated in cavalry battles early on in the African campaigns.
But when he doubts things he doesn`t just plump for one of them without giving some reason for doing so. There are many occasions he quotes or refers to a range of battle stats or figures and he tends to say that why he favours one …or habitually we find him complaining about Valerius Antias` wild exaggerations.

Bolingar01 May 2021 12:10 p.m. PST

Yes, Scipio would have known of the event in Herodotus` history, but then if the story was so well-known to the educated classes (those people who could understand Greek), wouldn't Hannibal too be aware of "the spies" being an old trick with a new twist? Was the three spies' story enough to trick one of the greatest generals the world has known. Again, this is an example of early Roman historians belittling Hannibal in order to inflate Scipio`s reputation.

Presuming Hannibal knew Herodotus' spy story, he would have concluded that Scipio was happy to show how invincible the Roman cavalry and infantry were, just as Xerxes was happy to show how invincible the Persian host was. In other words, Scipio is demonstrating overconfidence and wants Hannibal to think he is arrogant and rash. His demanding of unconditional surrender supports this idea. The fact that, according to Polybius, Masinissa arrived at the Roman camp the day after Hannibal's envoy left it hints that Scipio told Masinissa to keep out of sight until the coast was clear.

I believe that the version of it in Polybius would have been an excellent cover-up story, if it wasn't for the fact that all other narratives in this case and at all other the occasions, it was (allegedly) employed, it involved showing the enemy that you had an overwhelming superiority so that it undermined their resolve to fight.

Precisely. Scipio shows Hannibal the shop and gets across the idea he is not afraid to fight Hannibal with what he has. I find it rather interesting that Scipio moved to a new campsite after the spies had left, near to a water supply which means the Numidians didn't need to leave the camp before the battle and get spotted.

This is all best-fit hypothesizing of course, but it does make sense of subsequent events.

Rylands
The two texts, Polybius and Rylands are so very different in style aren't they?
Polybius says much more and refers to much more. Note the way that Polybius lends his opinion to Scipio`s decision to spare the Carthaginian envoys ordering Lucius Baebius to release them, but there is so much left unsaid in the earlier source, there's no reference in Rylands to the treatment of the Roman delegation it's only a fragment, just a few lines and seemingly quite uneventful.

The papyrus is just fragments! There are whole bits missing, and we have no idea of how detailed or laconic the original writer intended to be. What matters is that the papyrus doesn't contradict Polybius and hence confirms his reliability.

Missiles and the bigger picture
The Cuban crisis was part of a wider issue that of an increasing deployment of first-strike weapons by each of the super-powers. The primary sources (from the first people to write about the crisis) in this case were unaware of the larger picture and therefore the Cuban missile deployment appears unprovoked, portraying Russia as the aggressor, but when new evidence came to light in the late 1990`s the cold war is seen to be rather more than about the Soviet threat to the west. I'm just making the point that primary sources are not necessarily more reliable than secondary ones and we have to evaluate them all.

This is all about motivations behind the events which do not refute the events but clarify them. In the 20th 21st century we have the benefit of a vast mass of records that, once released, make some things much clearer. Writers in Antiquity had much less to work with nonetheless they had enough to establish what the major events were, using their personal intuition to decide why those major events took place.

MichaelCollinsHimself02 May 2021 1:23 a.m. PST

Spies:

"Presuming Hannibal knew Herodotus' spy story, he would have concluded that Scipio was happy to show how invincible the Roman cavalry and infantry were, just as Xerxes was happy to show how invincible the Persian host was. (1) In other words, Scipio is demonstrating overconfidence and wants Hannibal to think he is arrogant and rash. His demanding of unconditional surrender supports this idea. (2) The fact that, according to Polybius, Masinissa arrived at the Roman camp the day after Hannibal's envoy left it hints that Scipio told Masinissa to keep out of sight until the coast was clear."

With Xerxes army this was rather more about numerical superiority than with Scipio and his three spies; Scipio was appearing to be the weaker and was goading Hannibal to attack him.
That demand of unconditional surrender is nonsense you can't demand an unconditional surrender without it being known that you have total superiority and the enemy's position is untenable.
Yes, undoubtedly Scipio knew where Massinissa was Zama was an ambush.
The three spies provides the pretext for the meeting and the meeting explains the justness of the war and therefore the necessity for a big conclusive battle. But actually after Hannibal's cavalry was defeated and the chance of his receiving reinforcements from Vermina were fading fast, there was no necessity for either army to slug it out.

The Battlefield:

The majority of modern authors make a fundamental error in assuming that the battle of Zama took place in an extensive open plain. They seem to have done this to make the deployment of all available forces with big cavalry manoeuvres possible.
The problem with locating the battle of Zama within a plain is that Hannibal would have had warning of Massinissa arrival and up until that point Hannibal had more light horse than Scipio and so he would have had a scouting advantage. In order to trick Hannibal, the circumstances needed to be different.
The witnesses` versions conflict and that three spies cover up story is not quite watertight.

We do have a potential battlefield at Kbor Klib as proposed by Duncan Ross.
Kbor Klib and the Battle of Zama: An analysis of the monument in Tunisia and its possible connection with the battle waged between Hannibal and Scipio in 202BC. BAR 1399 (2005)
In my short paper, "Kbor Klib, the battlefield of Zama" I have identified features in the terrain around Kbor Klib and Seba Biar areas with descriptions of the battlefield in Polybius, Livy, Appian and Cassius Dio.
link
I am writing a follow up to this now with a view to identifying specific areas that may produce finds that would either show it to be a major battlefield, or site of a cavalry engagement,… or otherwise.

The Papyrus:

OK, I`m unable to convince you that the Rylands fragments present a different viewpoint of the treaty of 203 BC, but in your opinion does the dating evidence at the Cothon in Carthage confirm or refute Scipio`s peace treaty terms of 201 BC?

Missiles and the secret deal made with the Russians:

My point is simple; primary sources aren't necessarily the best sources.
Ancient authors had just as much motivation, but rather more opportunity to conceal the truth and put a spin on battles than modern ones do now – there was no Freedom of Information Act back in the day.

Bolingar03 May 2021 10:02 p.m. PST

OK, I`m unable to convince you that the Rylands fragments present a different viewpoint of the treaty of 203 BC, but in your opinion does the dating evidence at the Cothon in Carthage confirm or refute Scipio`s peace treaty terms of 201 BC?

I don't seem to be able to access the article. Tell me how it bears on Scipio?

MichaelCollinsHimself03 May 2021 11:02 p.m. PST

"The [ship] ramp make-ups contained 2nd century pottery. The ramp surfaces were burnt and spreads of charcoal above them suggest destruction by burning, with stratified pottery providing a "terminus post quem" in the early 2nd century.
H [Hurst] reasonably identifies the destruction with the siege of 146 BC, since Appian refers to the burning of the buildings of the Rectangular Harbour just before the capture of the Circular Harbour." (Review of Excavations at Carthage: The British Mission: etc… The International Journal of the Nautical Archaeology 1995).

MichaelCollinsHimself03 May 2021 11:04 p.m. PST

…the charcoal layer gives us an early C2nd date before 146 BC.
Losing overseas harbours and ports, the redevelopment of the port and the military harbour at Carthage itself would have been important to the Carthaginians at this time.
The peace treaty of 201 did not therefore actually limit the Carthaginian navy to 10 warships as per Scipio`s peace treaty terms that we find in Polybius` history.

Bolingar04 May 2021 12:18 a.m. PST

Losing overseas harbours and ports, the redevelopment of the port and the military harbour at Carthage itself would have been important to the Carthaginians at this time.
The peace treaty of 201 did not therefore actually limit the Carthaginian navy to 10 warships as per Scipio`s peace treaty terms that we find in Polybius` history.

Isn't that rather tenuous? Carthage was not obliged by the treaty to dismantle her port facilities so they would be there for archaeologists to find. Furthermore, the peace treaty had been concluded 50 years earlier – plenty of time in between for Carthage to ignore its terms and start rebuilding her navy (look at German rearmament after WW1). The Seleucids for example were obliged to kill their entire elephant herd by the treaty with Rome after Magnesia, but they still kept some elephants alive. Peace treaties are notorious for being broken.

MichaelCollinsHimself04 May 2021 1:08 a.m. PST

No, it isn`t tenuous at all, the port facilities were built after the treaty of 201 BC.
If the terms of the treaty of 201 had been broken then Rome would have found cause to punish Carthage a lot earlier than she did. It took about 50 years of provocation from Massinissa to lead to the 3PW.

Bolingar04 May 2021 10:40 a.m. PST

No, it isn`t tenuous at all, the port facilities were built after the treaty of 201 BC.
If the terms of the treaty of 201 had been broken then Rome would have found cause to punish Carthage a lot earlier than she did. It took about 50 years of provocation from Massinissa to lead to the 3PW.

I doubt Rome would have immediately gone to war with Carthage if the city simply expanded its port facilities unless the rebuilding was shortly before the Third Punic War and was interpreted by Rome as Carthage seeking to restore her military power. The construction could be easily explained away by Carthage as a need to accommodate more commercial shipping. That may even have been the case. Rome did not see Carthage as a threat after Zama (nor was she).

I suspect that Rome from the 170's was in a expansionist frame of mind after demonstrating her military superiority against the Seleucid Empire at Magnesia in 189. Macedonia had been incorporated after Pydna in 167 and Greece was also effectively subject. Carthage was going to be next and all that was needed was an excuse, provided by Carthage's reaction to Masinissa's depredations.

MichaelCollinsHimself05 May 2021 12:36 a.m. PST

Most have interpreted the long slipways and bays of the Cothon at Carthage as being for the accomodation of warships.
This was not simply a case of the expansion of the commercial port facility – the Cothon was a naval base.
The Harbours of Carthage by Cecil Torr The Classical Review
Vol. 5, No. 6 (Jun., 1891), pp. 280-284 (5 pages)

Even if the Cothon was a rush-job in the 150`s, why isn`t this infringement of the treaty known to us now? Surely it woud be one of the reasons given by Appian for Rome`s actions?

Bolingar05 May 2021 1:44 a.m. PST

OK. Granted that the expansion of the Cothon harbour represented an attempt by Carthage to restore her naval power, that is precisely the kind of thing that would start pushing Rome to consider war. In the real world, Rome would not have gone to war with Carthage simply because Carthage was taking punitive action against Masinissa. There has to be a build-up of other reasons that reach a tipping point, and expanding a military harbour is a good reason. This is several decades after the treaty so I doubt anyone is much concerned about its precise terms by this time, hence no mention of treaty-breaking. The Seleucid Empire broke its treaty with Rome by keeping a pool of its elephants alive, but nobody mentions that.

As a general principle, I always try to reconcile primary sources with each other and known facts, rather than try to use a known fact to instantly discredit a primary source. It pays off. :-)

MichaelCollinsHimself05 May 2021 1:57 a.m. PST

Great, and I try not to be biased towards one single source. I also try to take other forms of evidence into account.

Declaring war on another state in Africa was the reason given for Roman action… not the building of the Cothon.

You`re right, Carthage was not a threat to Rome, but if you`re looking for the motive that Rome had to finally crush Carthage; it was probably because she feared that the Numidian state under Massinissa was becoming too powerful and Massinissa had been doing this at the expense of Carthage… but in time they sorted the Numidians out too didn`t they?

MichaelCollinsHimself05 May 2021 2:31 a.m. PST

OK "…that is precisely the kind of thing that would start pushing Rome to consider war. "
Is this assertion supported in an ancient source?

Bolingar05 May 2021 4:59 a.m. PST

OK "…that is precisely the kind of thing that would start pushing Rome to consider war. "
Is this assertion supported in an ancient source?

Nothing offhand. I'm speculating in a way that reconciles Scipio's treaty with subsequent events. I Imagine "if you`re looking for the motive that Rome had to finally crush Carthage; it was probably because she feared that the Numidian state under Massinissa was becoming too powerful and Massinissa had been doing this at the expense of Carthage" does it too? ;-)

MichaelCollinsHimself05 May 2021 5:34 a.m. PST

"she feared that the Numidian state under Massinissa was becoming too powerful…"
Yes, I think I`ve heard that said before. It`s speculation history involves interpretation of sources and evidence.
Those pottery fragments are evidence that the treaty that Polybius attributes to Scipio is questionable.

Evidence of Polybius` Zama; a battlefield and 4 camps within 3 days` march are lacking. As yet no javlein heads, hob-nails for Roman boots, cavalry spurs, camp equipments for a combined 80,000 men; firestarters, remains of pack and draught animals, a mass-grave for 1,500 Romans; these have not come to light.

That Livy generally corroborates Polybius` narrative is no great deal, it`s where the other Roman historians` testimonies conflict and include altogether different events that interests me.

As for potential evidence; take a look at Kbor Klib!

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