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Army of Carthage During Hannibal's Time

Posted April 27th, 2011 at 01:15 AM by markdienekes
Updated December 12th, 2011 at 01:34 AM by markdienekes

The Army of Carthage During Hannibal's Time

The Carthaginian army at the time of the Second Punic War is largely unknown, in-fact even less is known about it than the Roman army of the same period. Most historians agree in regards to its structure and organisation that 'it is impossible to say', though we are in a position to list the peoples who fought for and made up Carthage's army.

Our most reliable source on the armies of Carthage comes from Polybius, and even then that proves to be a tricky case. At a time when the Greeks were facing life under Roman rule, Polybius considered himself to be writing pragmatic history for mainly a Greek audience. Polybius' analysis of Carthage's constitution and military system is brief, and as a result they were intended purely as a contrast to what he regarded as a far superior Roman system.

Carthaginians entirely neglect their infantry, though they do pay some slight attention to their cavalry. The reason for this is that the troops they employ are foreign and mercenary, whereas those of the Romans are native of the soil and citizens... The Carthaginians depend for the maintenance of their freedom on the courage of a mercenary force but the Romans on their own valour and on the aid of their allies... Italians in general naturally excel Phoenicians and Africans in bodily strength and personal courage. (6.52.3-10)

His observations on Carthage's military institutions show's little respect for the Carthaginian army, and contains obvious bias in favour of the Roman system.

Nevertheless, Polybius does seem to be correct in his description for Carthaginian institutions. The Carthaginians themselves rarely took the field – only on occasions when the city itself was threatened would a citizen militia be assembled, and they largely relied upon allies and mercenaries led by Carthaginian officers to fight their wars. Carthaginians were thus found in positions of authority rather than the ranks, the bulk of their armies being made up of subject or allied levies and foreign mercenaries. (Daly, pp.83) Lower-ranking officers most likely shared the nationality of the men, made clear by Polybius as he records mercenary officers at Lilybaeum attempting to betray the town to the Romans during the first Punic War (Poly. 1.43)

With such a wide range of foreign troops serving in Carthaginian armies, such as Libyans, Numidians, Iberians and Celts, Moors, and Gaetulians, there appears to be no attempt made to standardise these troops into a uniformed fighting force. They appear to have been equipped and to have fought according to the customs of their respective nations. Balearians fought as infantry skirmishers armed with slings, while Numidian cavalry were armed with javelins and fought as skirmishers rather than shock cavalry (Daly, pp.83)

As it would have been impractical to deploy troops together who did not understand each other and their combat styles, or lacked similar weapons, they must have been organised on the basis of nationality.

After the Truceless War of 241-237 BC, Hamilcar Barca and his successors in Spain likely made changes to reform the army in order to prevent such revolts from happening again and the command structure perhaps changed to reflect this, removing elements of leadership from the nations under their command, though it is clear from Polybius that the Celtic elements in Hannibal's army had their own officers. (Polyb. 8.30.4)

I will analyse Hannibal's army in terms of nationality, starting with Africans soon! For this, I have used the ancient sources of Polybius and Livy (Penguin classics versions), and Hannibal's Army by Ian Stephenson, The Armies of the Carthaginian Wars 265-146 BC by Terrence Wise and Cannae by Gregory Daly. (I've used a few more and will include a full biography at the end)


Hannibal's army contained many Africans from the Carthaginians themselves, to Libyans, Liby-Phoenicians, Numidians, Moors and Gaetulians. The first I shall look at are the Libyans.

The Libyans were the native subjects of Carthage and supplied the core of the Carthaginian army. They had served in Carthaginian armies from a very early date. During the sixth century, Carthage had stopped relying on a citizen levy and began to hire mercenaries and employ allied troops, many whom would have been Libyan.

The earliest Libyans to fight for Carthage were mercenaries, as those who fought at Himera in 480 BC were. After this defeat, Carthage began to acquire African territory, and the Libyans obliged to supply Carthage with troops once they had been conquered. The term, Libyan – was used to refer to lighter-skinned Northern Africans, though it is clear when Polybius mentions Libyans he does not refer to either the Numidians and Moors, but rather to the native subjects of Carthage. Libyans were of Berber stock with a possible Negro admixture who had their own language – though Punic would have been common among the elite (Daly, pp.85)

Libyans were known for their power and endurance, and were traditionally skirmishers armed with javelins, small daggers and small round shields– however, by Hannibal's day – they were line infantry, and were equipped accordingly. Evidence suggests they were armed by the Carthaginian state rather than themselves, if the report that 200,000 Carthaginian cuirasses were surrendered to Rome during the Third Punic War is historical, as that number far-exceeded the number of citizen combatants, and including women and children, the population of Carthage at that time probably did not exceed 400,000 people.

The Libyans once fought as Hoplites much in the fashion of their Carthaginian masters, wearing bronze helmets of Hellenistic style, iron breastplates and using large white shields, spears and swords, but whether they were armed and fought as hoplites in Hannibal's army is open to debate.
At the battle of Crimisus River, (fought in 341 BC according to Daly – 339 BC according to Ian Stephenson) the Carthaginians fielded a force of 10,000 heavy infantry, comprising citizen troops in the form of the 2500 strong Sacred Band, and the rest were predominately Libyan in makeup and fought in the fashion of hoplites.

During the First Punic War and Zama, they are described by Polybius as a phalanx, which perhaps suggests they had once fielded classical style hoplite, but had joined the trend and reequipped by the First Punic War in the fashion of Macedonian phalangites. (Stephenson, pp.87) The nature of their equipment however, is much disputed. Considering the developments in warfare throughout the Mediterranean world since the mid-fourth century, it is foolish to assume that Carthaginian and Libyan infantry were armed and fought the same way in 216 BC as they did in 341 (Daly, pp.87) Also, the term phalanx could also be used to simply describe a large body of men fighting en masse.

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Carthaginian Citizen, Sacred Band

For the Libyans who fought for Hannibal, according to both Polybius and Livy (Polyb. 3.87.3, 114.1; Liv. 22.46.4) they were armed with the best Roman equipment looted from the battles of the Trebia and Trasimene. What exactly were they armed with – defensive items like shields, helmets and greaves, or did they also receive offensive weapons such as pila or gladii?

Livy mentions an episode where Libyans are mistaken for Roman soldiers at close range, which suggests they wore the panoply of scutums, greaves and helmets and even their tunics to pass themselves off as Roman.

As for being equipped with pila or gladii, this would suggest they were swordsmen, since it was highly unlikely Hannibal would take the risk to retrain his men during campaign, though Bagnell seems to think there would be no trouble retraining experienced soldiers. Daly seems to think they were almost certainly swordsmen, his hypothesis supported by the fact that at Lake Trasimene both Polybius and Livy report that the Carthaginians attacked from higher ground, charging downhill at numerous points to attack the Romans. It would have been much more difficult to do so with spears and armed as a phalanx, one trip possibly sending entire sections into disarray, (Daly, pp.90) and considering the style of Hannibal's tactics, I'm inclined to agree. It is highly likely also, that the Libyans adopted Spanish equipment having fought for the Barcids in Spain since 237 BC, much like the Romans adopted Spanish equipment from mercenaries serving in the First Punic War. Being efficient equipment, it would be strange if the Carthaginians did not equip the Libyans with it. This equipment consisted of large oval or oblong shields, short cut-and-thrust swords and throwing spears.


Though there is no record of Liby-Phoenicians serving in Hannibal's army in Italy, it is likely that some went to Italy with him. The man Hannibal sent to Sicily to command the Numidians, Muttines, was a Liby-Phoenician which possibly reveals the scope for promotion of Liby-Phoenicians in the Carthaginian army.

Hannibal had a force of 450 Liby-Phoenician and Libyan cavalry stationed in Spain according to Polybius, (3.33.15) while Livy states they were all Liby-Phoenician (21.22.3).

Liby-Phoenicians could have been Phoenicians living in colonies, or Libyans who had adopted Phoenician culture. Livy says they are half Punic and half African, but this is too simplistic.

They are primarily thought to have served as heavy cavalry – but some believe they may have served as line infantry, mixed in with the Libyans, forming a Macedonian phalanx, organised into speirai (Connolly, p.148) though it is more probable they were heavy cavalry armed in the Hellenistic fashion, wearing mail coats or plated cuirass, armed with a lance and shield.

A figurine of a bareheaded cavalryman wearing a Hellenistic muscled plate cuirass carrying two light spears/javelins and a round shield with a rounded boss and raised rim has been identified by Duncan Head as a Liby-Phoenician cavalryman. (Daly, pp.91) If this is true, they would have also carried a curved slashing sword for use once their missiles had been cast.

(Forgot to mention this book as part of my bibliography - Greece and Rome at War by Peter Connolly, 1998)


Probably the most famous of Hannibal's army (aside from elephants) are these light cavalry warriors of Berber stock. In the ancient world however they were generally victims of stereotyping – though their endurance was often remarked, so too were their cowardice and other vices. According to Polybius, Libyans and Numidians had a tendency to flee for days if defeated in battle (Polyb. 1.47.7), and Livy remarks on them being untrustworthy, and their undisciplined violent appetites – marking them as worse than other barbarians. (Liv. 25.41.4, 28.44.5, 29.23.4, 30.12.18).

The Numidians practiced a form of nomadic pastoralism rather than a settled form of agriculture – but again, this could be too simplistic a statement. They were not a single nation, but consisted of two main kingdoms – the Massaesyli in the west and the Massyli in the east, but there were also many small tribes with their own chieftains and domains.

They appear to have served in an allied capacity as opposed to being mercenaries. When they were led by their own princes or chieftains they were certainly allies – examples being Naravas, Tychaeus, Massinisa and Syphax. Appian names many chieftains who fought at Zama (App, Pun. 33,44).

There is a chance that the Numidians who served Hannibal did so out of loyalty to him, and not their own kings in Numidia, having served the Barcids for many years in Spain – the bond between commander and men being strengthened through marriage ties. In the Mercenaries War, the Numidian Prince Naravas had been betrothed to Hamilcar's daughter – which would have certainly secured his men under the Barcid banner. (Daly, pp.93)

The Numidians fought in small groups as we learn from Livy when he mentions them operating in turmae (Liv.25.17.3, 27.26.8) and darted back and forth hurling their javelins and using their speed and agility. They rode small hardy ponies, Barbary horses common in North Africa before the Arab invasions. From Trajan's Column we can see depicted Numidians riding small mounts, and from a passage from Livy we can see him praising their horsemanship but mocking their appearance (Liv. 35.11.6-11). They rode barebacked, without bit nor bridle for control, using only a neck strap to steer.

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They were armed lightly, wearing tunics fastened at the shoulder, carrying light and round boss-less leather shields, slightly convex with a narrow rim, though some of course, did not carry shields. Their basic weapon was the javelin, of which they carried several and fought as mounted peltasts. Appian (Pun. 11) tells us they were trained day and night to hurl showers of javelins from horseback, an image reinforced by Caesar, Virgil, Livy and Arrian (Stephenson, pp.73) The javelins, called longchai had both round and square cross-sectional heads, and carried knives or short-swords with a blade approximately 60cm in length.

The Moors

The Moors, known also as the Mauri, lived in the lands west of the Numidians, and were of the same racial stock as the Libyans and Numidians. Polybius seems to have regarded them as another group of Numidians. King Baga ruled over all the Moorish tribes during the Second Punic War – forming a single nation. This nation seems to not have had any formal relationship with Carthage and there is no mention made of any alliance between the two.

At the battle of Zama, part of Hannibal's first line was made up of Moors, and Polybius classifies them as mercenaries (Polyb. 15.11.1). The best idea of how they were armed comes from Livy, when he mentions Hiero of Syracuse sent a force of archers to aid Rome, well adapted to cope with Moors and Balearians and any other tribes that fought with missiles (Liv. 22.37.8)They were then light-armed skirmishers. Polybius mentions longchophoroi, spearmen who made up the greater number of Hannibal's light-armed troops, of which the Moors most likely made up part of its number. The skirmishers were certainly of mixed nationality, unlike the rest of Hannibal's army, and they are never identified as separate racial groups by Polybius. Daly believes that most of the spearmen were Moors, and were mercenaries rather than allied troops (Daly, pp.108-9)

We have established that the skirmishers in Hannibal's army were of mixed nationality, so how were they equipped? Polybius describes the skirmishers as psiloi at one point, which suggests they were light-clad troops such as javelinmen, archers and slingers, armed with only missiles and unsuited for close combat. Livy states about the light-armed contingent in Hasdrubal's army in 209 - troops that are accustomed to skirmishing and, while avoiding the real battle by hurling long-range missiles, are protected by distance, but prove unsteady in the face of hand-to-hand combat (Liv. 27.18.14)

Moorish infantry were armed with javelins and a round boss-less leather shield, and probably carried swords or daggers for close combat once their javelins had been used. It is also thought that they may have been equipped with a stabbing spear rather than throwing spears alone (Daly, pp.110) but there must have been quite a diverse range of weapons, being highly unlikely Hannibal would have issued them standardised equipment (Daly. pp.111).

The Gaetulians

To the south of the Numidians and Moors lived the Gaetulians. They were of Libyco-Berber stock, who were separated into three main tribal groups by Pliny – who was no doubt simplifying things. The Autoteles lived in the west, the Baniurae in the east and the Nesimi lived in the desert south of the Atlas Mountains. We only have one mention of them being in Hannibal's army, and that comes from Livy – referring to an advance party sent on to Casilinum in 216, led by an officer named Isalcas. (23.18)

Though we have no numbers in regards to the strength of this national grouping in the Carthaginian army, the fact that Hannibal may well have expected them to storm the town if they could might reveal they had some numbers. Daly seems to think that Polybius simply mistook them for Numidians, and suggests that because their cavalry went without bridles and they were armed and fought like Numidians, Polybius classed them as such.


The Spaniards formed an integral part of Carthaginian armies, coming from the Iberian peninsula. According to Polybius, Hannibal had 8,000 Spanish infantry when he descended the Alps, and most modern historians believe that out of the 6000 cavalry that made it, 2000 of that number were Spanish cavalry.

The majority of Spaniards in Carthaginian armies would have come from areas directly under Carthaginian control, namely from the southern half of the peninsular – though it did include Lusitanians and Celtiberians who were people of Celtic origin who inhabited the northern half. Despite lacking political unity, the Spanish appear to have had a common language and culture.

The Iberians:

Before the Punic Wars, Carthage had already employed Iberians in their armies. There is mention of them being led by an officer named Hamilcar in Sicily in 480 BC by Herodotus, while they were described to be among the best fighting material to be found in the Western Mediterranean by Alcibiades according to Thucydides. This indicates that they must have served in a purely mercenary role before Hamilcar Barca extended Punic control into the Iberian peninsular shortly after the First Punic War. This role had changed by the Second Punic War however, and Daly asserts they were indeed allied levies by this time(Daly, pp.95)

Iberian levies came from a number of Spanish tribes and old Phoenician colonies – Polybius tells us the Spanish troops that were sent to Africa came from the Thersitae, Mastiani, Iberian Oretes and Olcades tribes (Polyb. 3.33). The old Phoenician colonies that supplied troops were Gades, Malaca, Sexi and Abdera, while the Blasto-Phoenicians from the lower coastal area of Andalusia also supplied Carthaginian forces with men (Daly, pp.96) These had close links to Carthage.

Accordingly, the levy seemed an unpopular way to recruit troops, though some must have been generally willing to serve in Carthaginian armies. In 218, the Oretani and Carpetani were close to revolting because of the demands Hannibal had put on them. They had seized and retained Hannibal's recruiting officers and Hannibal had to act quickly to repress this revolt, swiftly taking them by surprise which made them abandon all thought of resistance (Livy. 21.11)

Following the sack of Saguntum, Hannibal maintained Spanish loyalty by granting them a leave of absence so they could be with their families before setting out for Italy in the Spring. He sent troops to both act as hostages and a garrison to Africa in 218, and he also released thousands of troops before crossing the Pyrenees.

Daly believes that the Iberian troops were, as a rule, loyal to Hannibal and it was of an extremely personal nature (Daly, pp96). Hannibal was possibly given a title the equivalent of strategos autokrator as Hasdrubal the Handsome had according to Diodorus (25.12) and it should be noted that Scipio had also been given a title – that of king - by the Spanish after his victories against the Carthaginians in which he asked them to call him by the term his own troops used – that of imperator. This giving of titles reveals that Iberian nobles recognised leaders such as Hannibal were more powerful than themselves (Daly, pp97)

The Iberians who fought for Carthage included skirmishers, line infantry and cavalry. The skirmishers also known as caetrati carried small round shields that were 0.3 m – 0.6 m (1-2 feet) in diameter made from hide with a central boss. They were most likely javelinmen who also carried falcata-type swords as sidearms. They wore caps made from sinew.

Iberian line infantry are thought to be have contained 'maniples' of about 100 men according to Connolly (Connolly, p187) and they are described by Polybius as having been deployed in speirai which is the same term he uses as maniple. The size and strength of these maniples is not clear, having been anything between 100 to 500 men (Daly, pp97) They were most likely formed into groups from individual settlements, their size according to how many men the tribe could supply which would have made for maniples of irregular sizes. They were organised by political units so that they fought alongside friends and relatives, forming a tight bond.

How then, were the Iberian line infantry equipped? According to Polybius:

The shields of the Spaniards and Celts were very similar, but their swords were entirely different, those of the Spaniards thrusting with as deadly effect as they cut... the Spaniards in short tunics bordered with purple, their national dress. (Polyb. 3.114.2-4)

The large oval shields they carried gave them their name – scutarii. The shields were flat rather than curved, and with the central handgrip parallel to the shield's long axis (Daly. Pp 97) They carried two basic types of swords, one in which the Roman gladius hispaniensis was modeled, perhaps 60 cm long with a point and two cutting edges, and the elegant, curved sword called the espada falcata commonly found among the tribes of the south of Spain. The falcata was sharpened on the the back edge near the point in order to enable it to thrust and cut, with a smaller blade of between 35-52 cm long. They most likely carried another weapon for a backup, like a knife which was also worn on the sword scabbard which was connected to the left hip suspended by a baldric. Some of the scabbards were highly decorated.

Daly believes they used heavy javelins and similar tactics to the Romans. There are several types of javelins known throughout Spain. A distinct type was a slim javelin called the saunion, which was about 1.6-2 metres long and was made entirely from iron, with a small barbed head and a pointed butt. Their throwing spears with iron heads of about 25 cm long are thought to have served as models for the Roman pilum. The most well known javelin was called the falarica:

The missile used by the Saguntines was the falarica, a javelin with a shaft smooth and round up to the head, which, as in the pilum, was an iron point of square section. The shaft was wrapped in tow and then smeared with pitch; the iron head was three feet long and capable of penetrating armour and body alike. Even if it only stuck in the shield and did not reach the body it was a most formidable weapon, for when it was discharged with the tow set on fire the flame was fanned to a fiercer heat by its passage through the air, and it forced the soldier to throw away his shield and left him defenseless against the sword thrusts which followed. (Livy 21.8)

Apparently they wore no armour, wearing only their belted tunics Polybius described as their national uniform, but some may have worn pectorales looted from the Roman dead. The tunics themselves may have been stiff enough to withstand cuts but this seems unlikely according to Daly (p.99) Sinew caps were popular throughout Spain at the time, some simple and unadorned, others may have had hoods covering the nape of the neck with horsehair crests.

Iberian Cavalry:

In all there was about 2000 Spanish cavalry in Hannibal's army, who were most likely both noblemen and allied troops. They were actually armed like their infantry for the most part, wearing white tunics trimmed with crimson, with sinew caps, though it is probable that Celtic balcksmiths produced Montefortinos for his army, and that they made use of the ones from the Roman dead. These helmets were conical, with cheek plates and a small neck guard and were decorated by horsehair plumes and feathers. They were equipped with a falcata sword which would have been perfect for slashing from a horse. Along with this infantry equipment, they also carried small round, central hand-grip shields much like the caetra and two javelins or spears with buttspikes.

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Iberian Infantry - alongside skirmishers

These cavalry used horses to fight as platforms, and sometimes they rode into battle carrying an extra man who would dismount and fight on foot. At Cannae we see the Spanish and Celtic cavalry engage the Roman citizen cavalry with many men dismounting to fight on foot (Polyb. 3.115) however, the combat would have been begun by lots of grappling on horses as opposed to charging into the enemy which would have been mutually catastrophic, leading to a collapsed scrimmage of horses and men growing bigger as succeeding ranks collided with the leading ones. This would have led to numerous friendly-fire deaths being crushed or trampled by their own horses, or accidentally impaled by their comrades spears and javelins. The fighting would have been between small groups and individuals then as they allowed gaps to appear in the formation to penetrate lines (Daly, p.181)

Some however did appear to fight as shock cavalry, wearing scale cuirasses and carrying larger oval or round shields and a single long thrusting spear which they would have released just before impact to stop them from being thrown from the saddle because of their lack of stirrups, much like Alexander's shock cavalry.

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Iberian cavalry wearing a Montefortino type helmet

The Celtiberians:

Diodorus remarked that the Celtiberes were a fusion of two peoples and that the combination of Celts and Iberes took place only after a series of long and bloody wars. The culture emerged from a 'proto-Celtic' substratum. When the Celtic-speaking people came to the peninsular has been a subject of much debate. One theory is that there were in fact two waves of Celtic settlers. The first arrived from the north of the Pyrenees in about 1000 BC, while another came a few centuries later in around the sixth century. Another theory is that they arrived in one single wave sometime around the eighth century. They regarded strangers as being under divine protection and were known for their hospitality as well as their military ferocity. Their homeland was in the north-eastern part of Iberia, from the southern flank of the Ebro valley to the Eastern Meseta, but their culture did expand into other areas of the country. They practised pastoralism – taking their flocks and herds to upland mountain pastures before the heat came, returning in autumn.

Because they did not fall into the area of Punic control, it is most likely that they served as mercenaries rather than allies, and were used by both Carthage and Rome during the Second Punic War in this capacity. There is little mention of them in Hannibal's army which suggests their may have been few of them, but we know they were raiding the north of Italy in 218 BC (Liv. 21.57), while Appian claims some fought at Cannae (App., Hann. 20)

They wore linen and mail cuirasses with leather straps hanging down to protect the abdomen. Some wore leather cuirasses reinforced with discs of metal. They wore helmets made from brass or copper with crimson plumes, most probably of Monterfortino type, though Wise admits we know next to nothing on this subject, and reckons simple metal or leather bascinets were used by the common soldier, the metal helmets of Celtic design by chieftains. A score of reliefs reveal that some wore greaves and short boots. (Wise, p.18) They used both the falcata and the straight swords like the gladius hispaniensis, and javelins, along with large oval and oblong shields of the scutum design. Diodorus says they wore black cloaks made from goat hair, but also says along with scutum type shields, they carried circular wicker shields as large as an aspis.

If there were any Celtiberian cavalry in the armies, Daly believes they probably wore mail shirts, and were armed with javelins, slashing swords and small round shields.

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Like the Celtiberians, the Lusitanians served as mercenaries in Carthaginian armies. Though we only have one reference to them in Hannibal's army operating on rough terrain, which suggests that they were likely light armed skirmishers (Livy 21.57). The Lusitanians were certainly known to fight in this style.

They were armed with the caetra – Diodoros presents it as dexterous as they whirled the shield round to parry blows (Head, p.148) and also carried javelins – notably the barbed iron saunion, and both the gladius hispaniensis and the falcata. Some may have carried bronze-headed spears as bronze weapons were still in use in the west of Spain. They wore sinew helmets and linen cuirasses that may have been hard enough to be protective, but both Head and Daly dismiss this idea, though Head believes some may have worn quilted linen cuirasses. Some had adopted the use of triple-crested Celtiberian helmets, greaves and iron mail shirts. According to Head, confusingly, their heavy weapons and armour suggest that some Lusitanian caetrati were close equivalents to other peoples' scutarri (Head, p.148)

If any Lusitanian cavalry served in the army, they favoured mail, and carried the round cavalry shield with a long spear used to thrust over or under arm. The spearhead was long and slender, up to 55cm in length, with long buttspikes.

The Celts

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The Celts made up an important part of Hannibal's army – resupplying Hannibal's weary and battered force after the heavy toll through the Alps had reduced it. Hannibal's Celtic troops were from the two largest tribal federations in Cisalpine Gaul, the Insubres in the north and the Boii from the south. The Insubres were bigger than the Boii and controlled several other tribes, notably the Ligurian Laevi. They often appear to have suffered the brunt of Roman attacks in Hannibal's battles - and they were also depicted as drunk and unreliable - particularly stereotypical images of the barbarian compared to the civilized Romans. Instead of fighting for Hasdrubal Barca at the Metarus in 207 BC, a large number were slaughtered after the battle whilst drunk in their beds in camp.

The nature of their alliance with Hannibal is far from clear, but he did appear to have some sort of alliance with them which may have involved a sort of levy, but according to Daly it should be borne in mind that diplomacy was the best way to recruit mercenaries in the Hellenistic era, and that the first Celtic elements in Hannibal's army were likely mercenaries. Polybius mentions that at Tarentum in 212 BC, they were led by their own leaders as opposed to Carthaginian officers (Polyb. 8.30)

Celtic society was dominated by individual nobles with their own retainers and warbands. The chieftain's status would be based on ties of obligation and patronage, or of charisma, while status among the retainers was determined by relations with their leaders and their own skill as warriors which would earn them honour and prestige (Daly, p.102).

The nobles and their retainers mainly fought as cavalrymen, while amongst the infantry they would have fought closely packed, besides friends and family, the bravest and best equipped leading the charge in battle. Polybius refers to them deploying as speirai, which likely refers to irregularly sized tribal units who Connolly suggests were about 250-strong. (Connolly, p.187)

The Celts were generally taller than the Mediterranean peoples, and were muscled, fair-skinned and fair-haired. Men were prone to wearing long moustaches sometimes backed up by short beards. The hair was smeared with lime which bleached it and made it stiff and spiky, which they combed back to stick out like an animal's mane.

According to Polybius' account of the Battle of Telamon between the Roman Republic and the Insubres and Boii in 225 BC, the Gauls employed Celtic mercenaries from Transalpine Gaul – the Gaesatae – who fought naked. These warriors would have worn gold or bronze torcs and armlets like the majority of Celtic warriors. Fighting nude was a common method of battle among early Celts, but the majority of Celts in Hannibal's army would not have fought naked. The Insubres at Telamon and in Hannibal's army were described as fighting stripped to the waist, wearing trousers and cloaks. This clothing would have been usually made of wool and been brightly coloured. The trousers were often woven into striped or checked patterns. Both loose and tight trousers may have been worn which were tied at the ankles as well as wearing shoes. The heavy Celtic cloak, the sagnum, would have been made from wool and were usually dyed then fastened with a brooch on the right shoulder. Some of theses cloaks were hooded. They also wore short tunics with long sleeves.

The majority of warriors were armed with sword, shield and one or two throwing spears. The long slashing sword was common in the 3rd century, and despite the misconception that it was a slashing weapon, it also had a prominent point to thrust, though slashing would have been a more natural use of the long blade. These swords were 75-90cm long, and were of seemingly high quality despite Polybius mentioning them bending in battle and becoming useless, which Daly thinks spread from camp rumours to reassure nervous troops, or had been confused with the Celtic ritual of bending weapons for burial with their dead owners. Perhaps the quality of the swords varied.

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Celtic Swordsman

Celtic infantry were also armed with throwing spears or javelins. These spears were up to 8 foot long, and the spearheads varied in size and shape; most were long and broad with curving sides between the broadest point and the tip. Diodorus describes one gruesome type of spearhead with a notched blade:

breaks throughout the entire length so that the blow not only cuts but also tears the flesh, and the recovery of the spear rips open the wound (Hist. 5.30)

From our archeological discoveries, the great variety of spearheads suggests a degree of specialisation in the use of the spear in the hunt and warfare. In fact, Celtic spears were well known in the ancient world and there were four terms to denote these weapons; lancea, mataris, saunion and gaesum.

The Celts are said to have invented mail armour in the 4th century BC, and Celtic nobles wore mail armour of interlocking iron rings over a padded undershirt. Bronze and iron helmets were more common than mail, and were worn by nobles and those ordinary infantry warriors who could afford one. The most common type of helmet was the Montefortino style, though other, more elaborate helmets were also worn. Celtic helmets were sometimes adorned by metal birds with flapping wings, or other animals like the boar.

Celtic shields were described by Diodoros as being decorated by bronze, and this is certainly true of ceremonial shields. Battle shields however, had painted decoration. They were oval shaped, though some had been squared-off at the ends and some had nearly straight sides. They were made from oak or linden planks covered by leather, doubled over the rim as they lacked metal reinforcement on the edges. They were much like Roman shields, but were flat instead of convex. The shields varied in length, but most were about a metre high and 55cm wide. They had spindle-shaped bosses with iron or bronze boss plates hollowed out to accommodate the handgrip running horizontally across the spine. The thickest part of the shield was at its centre, being about 13mm thick, while the edges were only 6mm. This provided strength and flexibility.

Celtic skirmishers were not common in Celtic armies, though some are mentioned in the army at Telamon in 225 BC. Most were javelinmen, armed with daggers instead of swords, and used a light shield. Archers and slingers were used in small numbers by the 1st century BC, so there may have been some numbers in Hannibal's army armed with these ranged weapons.

Celtic musicians usually carried horns, the most distinctive being the carnyx which had bronze heads with open mouths shaped like animals most commonly being a boar.

Click the image to open in full size.
120-122 - Celtic Infantry, 123 Celtic Skirmisher, 124-5 Celtic Nobles, a-j Variety of Celtic helmets

Hannibal made great use of them, and turned them into a disciplined fighting force, best shown with the retreat and drawing in of the Romans at Cannae.

Celtic Cavalry

Click the image to open in full size.
Celtic Cavalryman alongside infantry

The first Celtic elements in Hannibal's army were thought to be mercenary cavalry noblemen picked up on his descent from the Alps. By the time of Cannae, he had about 4000 Celtic cavalry who operated on the left flank by the Aufidus River against the Roman citizen cavalry.

The Celtic cavalry were mostly well armoured being made up of dominantly nobles and their retainers, wearing mail armour with possibly overhanging shoulder defences and helmets. They carried round shields, but sometimes oval ones too. They were equipped with a long thrusting spear and the traditional Celtic sword. They sat on four-horned saddles that offered added security, and they also used short prick spurs to urge on their mounts.

Though they operated as heavy cavalry, Daly believes that their strong warrior ethos led them to not fight as a single, centrally co-ordinated unit (Daly, p.105) certain individuals acting independently as revealed by the Insubres Ducarius at the Battle of Lake Trasimene who sought out the Roman consul Flaminius for revenge after the Consul had, a few years before, campaigned in Insubres territory.

For almost three hours the fighting went on; everywhere a desperate struggle was kept up, but it raged with greater fierceness round the consul. He was followed by the pick of his army, and wherever he saw his men hard pressed and in difficulties he at once went to their help. Distinguished by his armour he was the object of the enemy's fiercest attacks, which his comrades did their utmost to repel, until an Insubrian horseman who knew the consul by sight - his name was Ducarius - cried out to his countrymen, "Here is the man who slew our legions and laid waste our city and our lands! I will offer him in sacrifice to the shades of my foully murdered countrymen." Digging spurs into his horse he charged into the dense masses of the enemy, and slew an armour-bearer who threw himself in the way as he galloped up lance in rest, and then plunged his lance into the consul (Livy 22.6)

The Ligurians:

The Ligures once inhabited the rich plains of north-west Italy and south-eastern France, and spoke an Indo-European language that was related to both Celtic and Italic having absorbed the earlier inhabitants of these regions. The Celts however coveted their land and pushed them out to mainly modern Liguria, Piedmont and the northern Appennines. Livy mentions several tribes who supplied Carthage and Hannibal in particular with troops against Rome, namely the Ingauni, Ilvates, Celeiates and Cerdicates (Liv. 31.2, 10.2, 32.29)

They were a generally poor people who practiced hunting, herding and forestry, but also took to raiding and piracy. However, some places like the port town of Genoa were quite prosperous. The people were a short and slightly built and their harsh mountain life gave them a reputation as warlike, proud and tough, with more endurance than the Celts. They wore their dark hair fairly short, and sported short beards.

They wore round necked, long-sleeved tunics with slits at the side made of mostly wool, and went about with bare legs and feet, though some wore Gallic-syle leather shoes. They used furs which were also exported in exchange for richer foreign textures that the chiefs would make use of. Lightly armoured, they also carried shields similar in design to Celtic ones, and swords of medium length, though some did also use Celtic swords of longer length, usually hung from belts but occasionally baldrics. Their main weapon were 4 feet long javelins with three-wedged iron heads, of which they would have carried a bundle. The chiefs made use of Celtic or Etruscan helmets.

Ligurians were not known for their cavalry, and were primarily skirmishers and infantry who 'could fight doggedly hand-to-hand when necessary' (Head, p.158)

The Ligurians who were said to have aided Hannibal were possibly mercenaries according to Head (p.158) and also made up a small part of Hasdrubal's army in 218 (Polyb. 3.33) whilst certainly serving as mercenaries at the Battle of Zama making up part of Hannibal's first line. In the treaty between Hannibal and Phillip V of Macedon, the Ligurians were stated as allies of Carthage:

That King Philip and the Macedonians and the rest of the Greeks who are their allies shall protect the Carthaginians, the supreme lords, and Hannibal their general, and those with him, and all under the dominion of Carthage who live under the same laws; likewise the people of Utica and all cities and peoples that are subject to Carthage, and our soldiers and allies and cities and peoples in Italy, Gaul, and Liguria, with whom we are in alliance or with whomsoever in this country we may hereafter enter into alliance. (Polyb. 7.9)

The Balearian Slingers:

The Balearians were among the most famous of mercenaries of the ancient world, and specialised in the use of the sling. Hannibal did not make use of many of them, and Head estimates that he took under 1000 of them into Italy, though there is no evidence of this estimate. We hear from both Polybius and Livy that Hannibal sent 870 slingers to Africa and left 500 in Spain (Polyb. 3.33. Liv. 21.21. 22.2. Daly believes that 1000 is too low a number, and thinks it was substantially higher, but not as many as Dodge's estimate of around 2000.

Those working for Carthage were mercenaries, although Serge Lancel believes their islands were under Punic control, but it seems that Carthaginian power did not extend further than the coast of these islands, their limit of power trading ports and held no power over the natives. We don't know how they were paid by Hannibal's time, but they had at one point in the past been initially hired with wine and women as they did not use money.

The slingers were deadly, supposedly capable of shooting stones that weighed up to a mina (436g) with great accuracy. Strabo tells us that the slings were made from black tufted rushes, hair or sinew, and that they carried a variety of slings of various sizes designed for short, medium and long ranges. These were wrapped around the head and belt while the one in use was carried.

Apparently they did not use lead shots, preferring stone ammunition which was both easier to come by and was cheaper to get a hold of. How they carried the stones is still not known for certain, though we have seen a Balearic slinger on Trajan's column carrying his ammunition in his cloak, which may be the reality during the Second Punic War, though they may also have carried bags of some sort.

Daly believes it was possible that they carried small shields that were strapped to the forearm so it left the hands free to operate the sling.

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