The Second Punic War is famed for the Carthaginian commander Hannibal leading his troops and elephants over the Alps to face the Roman armies. After seventeen years, the war was finally brought to an end with the decisive victory of the Roman general and consul Scipio Africanus over Hannibal at the Battle of Zama.

Scipio proposed an invasion of the Carthaginian Empire itself, and gradually built a force of volunteers to mount the offensive. These Roman forces secured victories at the battles of both Utica and the Great Plains in 203 BCE, resulting in an armistice between the two sides and Hannibal being called back to Carthage. However, the Carthaginians soon broke the armistice, and the stage was set for the decisive Battle of Zama in modern day Tunisia.

Hannibal arrived first and arranged his army, consisting of 36,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, and 80 war elephants, in three lines. Scipio’s smaller force of 29,000 infantry and 6,100 cavalry was arranged in three broken lines, with gaps between groups of soldiers hidden from the Carthaginians by loose collections of other troops.

Hannibal opened the battle by sending his war elephants at the opposing Roman forces. The Romans blew loud horns to confuse the elephants, and then channelled them through the prepared gaps in the lines and away from the battle. Meanwhile the Roman cavalry drove the Carthaginian cavalry from the field and, later, returned to attack Hannibal’s troops from the rear. Hannibal and many of his men managed to escape, but up to 20,000 others were killed. The ensuing peace treaty crippled Carthage and paved the way for the Roman victory in the third and final Punic War fifty years later.

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© Scott Allsop