How many legions and equivalents at Zama?

Oct 2015
671
Virginia
#2
Scipio commanded two legions in Africa. The core of these legions were the survivors of Cannae who had been serving in Sicily since 215BC. Livy calls them the Vth and VIth (XXIX.24), and says the two legions (reinforced by volunteers and men who had served under Marcellus) plus Latin and Italian allies that crossed to Africa in 204 numbered 17,000-32,000, depending on the source (XXIX.25).

When Scipio was consul in 205 political opponents (Fabius and Valerius Flaccus et al) had prevented him from holding a levy, and he took only 7000 volunteers with him to Sicily. Polybius (fragment XV.5) and Appian (Pun 32) say Massinissa joined with 6,000 Numidian infantry and 4,000 cavalry before the battle of Zama.
 
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#4
Appian (Punic Wars 41) says Scipio had 23,000 Roman, Latin and Italian infantry and 1500 cavalry in the battle; plus the Numidians.
The battle does not work with the official numbers. Even if we assume most of Masinissa's foot were actually Roman, giving Scipio 28k total in the legions and Alae, that would mean 8k Hastati. If the Hastati were significantly outnumbered by the 12k mercenaries, Polybius would certainly have stated as such. He does not. Further, given the mercenaries were said to be more skillful and mobile than the green legionaries, the Hastati would have been overlapped and cut down. They were not. Given the available info, we have to assume the numbers of Hastati and mercenaries were about equal.

12k Hastati also means 12k Principes, 12k Velites and 6k Triari, hence my belief in that 10 legions were present.
 
#5
I have a theory about how Zama was fought, but it has a major flaw, ie it is wrong concerning one specific and major element. I'm looking for inspiration.

Before I proceed further, I want to state that I believe Zama took place, Scipio beat Hannibal and the battle ended the 2nd Punic War. My concerns are over the details.

The real problem with almost any battle or person of antiquity is the paucity of information. For example, there are more separate sources of info on King Arthur in the c500 years after assumed reign, than there are on Zama. Fortunately we have a reasonably reliable Polybius. Even then, we should take note that not only was he pro Roman, he was very pro Scipio, so while he probably won't overtly lie, he could exaggerate or lie by omission.

The number of troops available to each side are key in guessing how the battle was fought, as are the tactics that were said to be used. Assuming Polybius is telling the truth, Hannibal's army was no larger than 40k total, and had no more than 12k mercenaries in its front line. Given that Polybius would have stated if the Roman was smaller, we can safely guess it was greater than 40k, with an maximum upper limit of 50k, the largest possible size for most field armies of this period.

Before invading Africa, Scipio was able to recruit from Sicily, a huge island with a population around one million at the time. Theoretically this could give him all the troops he desired, but clearly there was a great reluctance of the local nobles to enlist. The clever stratagem of gaining equipment to upgrade 300 velites to cavalry, masks his likely inability to recruit the cavalry element of the Alae. The number of transports used, 400, is enough to transport 10 legions. Appian stated it only took 60 transports to ship 10k infantry and 700 cavalry to Spain, which technically allows 66666 foot and 4666 cavalry in 400 transports. However, since he also stated it took 160 ships to transport 2 legions (and by implication 2 legions equivalent in the Alae) to Africa under Tiberius Sempronius Longus, we can be fairly sure it takes 40 ships to transport a legion equivalent (4500 men and 300 horses (plus mules)). Confirmation of this number is given by GJC's first attempt to invade Britain, with 2 enlarged legions, but sailing without cavalry, transported in 80 ships. When sailing from Sicily, Scipio's army therefore numbers around 42000 foot and 1500 cavalry (or 41700 foot and 1800 cavalry). Masinissa adds 4000 cavalry, his foot are probably mostly Roman, probably numbering 10 cohorts.

With a maximum of 40k total, with 12k of those mercenaries, the rest of Hannibal's army composition can only be theorised. However, we can make an educated guess. Carthage does have a history of being able to supply a contingent of 10k, and even if the city did not have a standing army, it certainly would have guardsmen for wall and gate defense, patrolling streets, and civic ceremonial duties. It would not be unlikely to suggest that if 10k foot was present, 1000 cavalry would also be available, a mirror/shadow of eastern kingdoms. Appian stated that 4000 Macedonians were present, unlikely, but there could have been 4000 allies fighting in a Hellenistic or Spanish style, ie sword and javelin. That gives a second line of 14k. The 3rd line is said to have consisted of Italian campaign veterans, which I don't believe for a second. If Hasdrubal was unable to travel to Italy be sea, Hannibal is not going to be able to send a smaller army in the opposite direction. However, 10k veterans from Spain could have been present. To this 37k, we can add 2000 Numidian cavalry.

It is said that the battle opens with an elephant charge, which is countered by Velites and lanes. While Velites are a reasonable counter to elephants, lanes are not, and never used before or since, not even by the natives of the Indian sub continent who would know better. Lanes are used against chariots, caltrops being a more effective obstacle to hinder elephants. That said, the skirmishers, 12k of them, are so badly mauled that they take no further part in the battle. This means each elephant needs to neutralise 150 Velites each, an impossible task imho. Even in the official account, each elephant would need to neutralise 100 Velites?

The elephants are beaten, fall back to Hannibals right wing, and said to disrupt the cavalry there. The Romans take advantage, and rout their opponents, chasing them off the field for enough time to nearly lose the battle. Numidian cavalry may be used to Forest Elephants, but Romes would not be. I for one do not find it surprising that the elephants fell back to the one place they can do most good, ie protecting Hannibals right flank from superior numbers of enemy cavalry. Elephants protecting infantry this way had already been used in the Battle of Ipsus 301BC, so hardly a new tactic.

Then 12k mercenaries initially face an unkown number of Hastati. Given the description implies both sides number the same, we have 12k Hastati, therefore with 12k Principes and 6k Triari as well. Initially the first lines are equal in combat, but eventually the mercenaries break. What happens next is pure BS. There may have been a few scuffles as Mercs fought 2nd line Carthaginian 'levy', but for both groups to descend into a huge melee is a joke. The official account ignores that 6k of the Mercs are lights, and will simply bounce of heavy infantry. It also ignores that the other 6k are fatigued, broken and thus easily dealt with as well. More plausible imho is that the Mercs fell back and to the sides at a prearranged signal.

Now that Hannibal has extended his line, the Principes come up to support the Hastati. We now how 24k Legionaries vs 20k melee infantry, and therefore Hannibal brings up his vets, countered by Scipio's Triari. As per the official account, we now have two armies in an extended line, both consisting of 30k heavy infantry. Given that Hannibal was outnumbered c2:1 in both cavalry and light infantry, at the oppening of the battle, he could not have hoped for more. Further, he has more fresh elites on his wings, 10k vs 6k, and his usual outcome is assured........................except............................

Unfortunately for Hannibal, the returning Roman and Numidian cavalry alters the outcome.
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I like this scenario, as circumstantial as it is. It fits the facts, and barely distorts the official account, allowing for the ancient sources bias.

HOWEVER, even in the official version, I cannot see how 80 elephants would neutralise 8000+ Velites. My best guess, and it is a real longshot, is that scythed chariots were used. These vehicles were still used in the region centuries after the battle, Hannibal did choose the battlefield, and lanes are said to be used to counter Hannibals shock troops. It fits scythed chariots being used, but this evidence is even more circumstantial than my guess of numbers used by each general.

Therefore, it is likely that my hypothesis is wrong, but aside from the Velites that should have been present, it appears correct. I learn more from being wrong, so if anyone can find fault with my logic, I would be very grateful :cool:
 
Nov 2011
790
The Bluff
#6
I can't see this scenario as any more convincing than the other version. It's Livy (30.33.5) who actually has a Macedonian "legion" arrayed in the Carthaginian second line. This is not convincing either. Just how Philip might have spared such at this time is more than perplexing!
 
#7
I can't see this scenario as any more convincing than the other version. It's Livy (30.33.5) who actually has a Macedonian "legion" arrayed in the Carthaginian second line. This is not convincing either. Just how Philip might have spared such at this time is more than perplexing!
Apologies for stating Appian, not Livy. My bad :crying:.

I agree that Macedonians were unlikely to have been present as I said above and quoted here:
With a maximum of 40k total, with 12k of those mercenaries, the rest of Hannibal's army composition can only be theorised. However, we can make an educated guess. Carthage does have a history of being able to supply a contingent of 10k, and even if the city did not have a standing army, it certainly would have guardsmen for wall and gate defense, patrolling streets, and civic ceremonial duties. It would not be unlikely to suggest that if 10k foot was present, 1000 cavalry would also be available, a mirror/shadow of eastern kingdoms. Appian stated that 4000 Macedonians were present, unlikely, but there could have been 4000 allies fighting in a Hellenistic or Spanish style, ie sword and javelin. That gives a second line of 14k. The 3rd line is said to have consisted of Italian campaign veterans, which I don't believe for a second. If Hasdrubal was unable to travel to Italy be sea, Hannibal is not going to be able to send a smaller army in the opposite direction. However, 10k veterans from Spain could have been present. To this 37k, we can add 2000 Numidian cavalry.
So what do you think of my hypothesis on actual numbers present? If you have better suggestions I'd be grateful.
 
Nov 2011
790
The Bluff
#8
You really need to read the sources. Scipio did not requisition 400 troop transports; he requisitioned boats of whatever kind from Sicily. What was gettable. Just as was his his requisition of troops or kind from Italy. It is not conceivable that he levied infantry from Sicily. That is fanciful speculation. This already comprises your numbers before we get to your rationale based on Hannibal's first line.
 
Oct 2015
671
Virginia
#9
It is far more likely (and consistent with the sources) that the Romans numbered about 34,000 and the Carthaginians perhaps a few thousand more.

Scipio had two legions (Vth & VIth) plus associated Latin and Italian allies, as did all Roman commanders of consular rank until the Social War. These were veteran troops, many were survivors Cannae and Herdonea and had been serving many years. They were brought up to strength by men who served with Marcellus in crushing the Sicilian revolt (215-211BC) and volunteers from Italy, most of whom probably had served with Scipio in Spain or seen service in Italy. Scipio was not allowed by the Senate to levy troops in Italy, and he would hardly recruit in Sicily which was recovering from being defeated, sacked and massacred by the Romans during the revolt. The 32,000 given by Livy is reasonable for the total expeditionary force, and Appians' 24,500 is also reasonable after 2 years of campaigning and necessary detachments. Both Polybius and Appian say Massinissa joined Scipio before the battle with 10,000 Numidians, he was by this time ruler of the kingdom and didn't need any Roman troops (nor would Romans accept a foriegn commander).

The only numbers the sources provide on the Carthaginian side are the 80+ elephants, 12,000 Gauls, Ligurians, Mauritanians and Bealearic Islanders (these were men who had served with Mago in North Italy 205-203BC) and 1500 dissident Numidian cavalry. The rest of Hannibals' army consisted of an unspecified number of recent levies of Carthaginian citizens and Lybians (upon whom he placed little reliance) and his veteran troops from Italy (Livy's 4,000 Macedonians are very unlikely and probably a patriotic insertion in his account which was taken from Polybius). How many of the "old guard" of Africans and Spaniards had survived 15 years of campaigning in Italy, and how many Bruttians, Lucanians and Oscans were willing to forsake their homes to follow their commander is uncertain. Hallward (in the old edition of the Cambridge Ancient History) estimates a total of 40,000, Liddell-Hart says 50-55,000, I don't know what Walbank, Goldsworthy or Lazenby say. If forced to speculate, I'd say (for what it is worth) Hannibal knew he was outnumbered in cavalry and that at least a third of his infantry was inferior to the Roman veterans, so he would not have engaged unless he was at least equal in overall numbers.
 
#10
You really need to read the sources. Scipio did not requisition 400 troop transports; he requisitioned boats of whatever kind from Sicily. What was gettable. Just as was his his requisition of troops or kind from Italy. It is not conceivable that he levied infantry from Sicily. That is fanciful speculation. This already comprises your numbers before we get to your rationale based on Hannibal's first line.
Let's assume you are right, with Scipio's army being 29k infantry max, and received wisdom states you are, how many Hastati do you believe faced 12000 mercenaries of Hannibal's first line?

Even if we assume most of Masinissa's 6000 foot were Roman, or trained in that style, we have at most 8000 Hastati. If the Romans were outnumbered, Polybius surely would have said so. However, he makes no mention of numbers, instead stating Roman discipline and armament eventually overwhelmed the Mercenaries skill and mobility. He more than implies Hastati numbers were at least equal to that of their opponents.

Unfortunately, Appian owes his Zama account at least as much to Punica as Polybius, and combined with his seriously dodgy account of the Great Plains battle, makes any account of his unreliable at best. That includes numbers present, which simply does not work.