Wednesday, October 19, 2005

On October 19th in military 202 BC

On October 19th in military history….in 202 BC. The Roman forces under Scipio Africanus Major defeat the Carthaginian forces under Hannibal Barca at the battle of Zama in Tunisia. By the time of the Battle of Zama, the Second Punic War had been going on for about 20 years. At the very start, the Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca had lead his forces from Spain, across southern France, over the Alps and into northern Italy. For the first two years, he had inflicted three crushing defeats (Trebbia, Lake Trasimeno and Cannae) on the Roman legions sent again him. The Roman senate had decided to leave him basically alone and hoped that he would loose interest and go home. Hannibal had hoped to incite an uprising among the various peoples on the Italian peninsula conquered by the Romans, but this did not happen. So, Hannibal was stuck in a stalemate, waiting for reinforcements to eventually arrive in Italy.

In the meantime, a certain Roman general, Scipio Major, had decided that to defeat Hannibal, Rome needed to attack Hannibal’s area’s of support, Spain and Carthage. So, after destroying the Carthaginian presence in Spain, Rome invaded Carthage (modern day Tunisia). The Roman invasion caused the Carthaginian senate to recall Hannibal from Italy to protect the city from the Romans.

For many years, the Carthaginians had relied on their Numidian allies for their cavalry forces. After the Roman invasion, the pro-Carthage Numidian chieftain, Syphax, was replaced with Massinissa, who caused the Numidians to defect to the Roman camp. When Scipio Major met Hannibal at Zama, the Romans were outnumbered by the Carthaginians in infantry, but held a distinct advantage in cavalry. At the start of the battle, the Roman cavalry chased the Carthaginian cavalry from the field, but instead of immediately turning on the Carthaginian infantry, they continued to pursue the Carthaginian cavalry. This left the two infantry forces against each other. The Carthaginians had some war elephants, but the Romans had learned how to deal with elephants and they were soon stampeded past the battle. However, the superiority in Carthaginian infantry started to turn the battle to the Carthaginian favor and things looked like another brilliant victory for Hannibal when the Roman cavalry returned to the battle and attacked the Carthaginians from the rear. This sudden attack from the rear combined with the Roman attacks to the front turned the battle to the Roman’s favor and the Carthaginian forces started to disintegrate, resulting in a typical "sauve-qui-peut" slaughter. After the battle, the Carthaginian senate sued for peace. Carthage was so crippled by the peace terms that they were never able to challenge the Romans for supremacy again. In fact, when Rome finally settled the question of Carthage 50 years later during the Third Punic War ("Carthago delenda est"), the Carthaginians were only able to organize a defense of their home city which was eventually captured and utterly destroyed. For his victory, Scipio Major was awarded the title of Africanus and became known as Scipio Africanus Major or just Scipio Africanus.

Useless Hollywood Information #1: At the first of the movie "Patton" with George C. Scott, he is shown walking along the desert with his aide, talking about a battle between the Romans and the Carthaginians. The battle that he is talking about is the Battle of Zama.

Useless Hollywood Information #2: In the movie "Gladiator", when Russell Crowe and his fellow gladiators are brought out into the Coliseum to battle gladiators riding in chariots, the Romans are recreating the Battle of Zama or some facsimile thereof.


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