How many legions and equivalents at Zama?

welcome to the benefits of my wisdom, or depths or my hubris, depending on your POV.

To understand the battle of Zama, one of the important elements is determining the size of relevant armies. For good reason, Polybius is considered the most reliable source concerning the battle, and he gives the Carthaginian side a total of 40,000. Given that the Scipio family won that battle, and providing the information, we can safely assume that this is the absolutely maximum figure for Hannibal’s force, those particular Romans are not going to diminish their victorious accomplishment after all.

Polybius was writing his histories to prove the inevitability of Rome as a superpower, and if Hannibal’s army was the larger he would have said this. He had two chances to do so. The first when he stated Hannibal lost with 40k soldiers. The second was when the Hastati faced 12k mercenaries. In both instances, if the Romans were outnumbered, it would have underscored his point about why Rome won. By remaining silent in both cases we can be sure Scipios army was larger, despite some modern historians using Appian’s figures used for Rome, simply because they are all that are overtly stated . Given that he increases Hannibal’s army by 10k men, it already points to a massaging of figures.

It appears that Appian lies are one of omission. He states Scipio leaves Italy with 7000 volunteers, picks up two legions in Sicily, and arrives in Africa with 16000 infantry and 1600 cavalry. On initial viewing, this is wrong, simply because the proportions are incorrect. If we are talking about 4 standard legions we are short 800 infantry, but with 400 additional cavalry. OTOH, if we are talking two legions and attached alae, we are short 800 infantry and 800 cavalry. It’s unlikely that a general of Scipio’s calibre would make such an organisational mistake.
Fortunately, Appian mention that the two legions, the 5th and 6th, were at Cannae, and oversized. At 5300 men apiece, these exactly fit the additional troops Scipio is said to have picked up on route from Italy to Africa. 600 of these are cavalry, useful, since it means we can calculate that the initial volunteers consisted of 1000 cavalry and 6000 infantry. Velites do not have seem to have been volunteers in the legionary system much of the time, thus we are looking at 2 standard Roman legions plus 400 additional noble close colleagues. Thus Appian states Scipio had 2 standard and 2 larger Roman legions, plus 400 volunteers, which made up the stated force. These figures would not include the alae that would also accompany the legions. 4 standard alae consists of 16800 foot and 3600 cavalry, although 2 could have been oversized, to mirror the 5th and 6th. This should give us a Scipio army of a minimum of 40k+ foot and 5200 cavalry.

The cavalry figure is obviously too large. If the victor of a battle states on the importance of an ally general for his additional cavalry, and no one usually places Hannibal’s mounted troops greater than 4000 total, Scipio almost certainly did not arrive with far more than the stated 1600. The cavalry element consists of nobles, and the Sicilian aristocrats clearly did not want to be part of Scipio’s endeavour. The 5th and 6th legions that were garrisoned in Sicily may not have had their full compliment of cavalry, some of the noble element having escaped censure, such as Scipio himself. It is possible that the 1600 cavalry, perhaps with an additional 300 upgraded foot is about right.

Scipio’s army would have been reduced in number even after a successful campaign by the time of Zama, but it is almost certain the Hastati equalled the number of mercenaries in Hannibal’s first infantry line. 12000 mercenaries means c12000 Hastati.

Hannibal’s army is easier to understand. We have figures of 12000 mercenaries and 80 elephants in a total of 40000. We also know that Carthage was able to field 10000 citizen infantry for campaigns. The later is reminiscent of the Persians Immortals, and if so, also implies 1000 cavalry, supposition on my part. This ‘levy’ would most likely be guardsmen of various types, disciplined and well armoured to look the part, but green. However, the Italian campaign veterans would not be at the battle for several reasons. If Carthage was unable to supply Hannibal troops by sea, Hannibal will be unable to send troops in the other direction. Even if there was a truce, the Italian army is tying down around a score Roman legions, and leaving the ‘toe’ would free nearly 100k Roman soldiers to wage war on Carthage direct, not a real option. One stated opinion is a successful naval battle that allowed Hannibal to escape with his vets. This is very silly for many reasons. The real give away is that during the battle, the veterans are said to lower their spears to prevent the first two lines from retreating through their lines. By the time of Zama, Hannibal’s European troops were fighting in the Spanish style (short sword and javelin), while it was the Africans who were still using the Greek style (long spear and Hoplon). The Carthaginian’s 3rd line troops were likely Africans. The fact that Hannibal’s 3rd line was so far back in relative terms reminds me of Alexander’s use of sarissophoroi to inspire fear of retreat among his own troops. The fact that non Carthaginian troops are used in this way is not surprising, given how green the 2nd line probably was, and the fact that these troops were technically a higher ‘caste’, and thus if not hated, at least partially despised. The Citizens knew they would have to fight.

The army of Hannibal at Zama, thus consists of 80 elephants with 3-4k escorts, 12k mercenaries, 10k levy and 10k ‘veterans’, with 2k Numidian cavalry and 1k guard cavalry, for about 38-39k total. Both armies have around 30k heavy infantry, and that is what really determines the battle's 'flavour' until Scipio's cavalry returns.
 
Nov 2011
863
The Bluff
When the evidence cannot be countered, an "inquiring mind" ignores it to go back and re-run the entire farrago again; complete with the assumptions, guesses, leaps of "logic' and supposition. Near every claim you make in that re-run has been refuted, though there seems, at least to me, one or two new ones.

This is very silly for many reasons. The real give away is that during the battle, the veterans are said to lower their spears to prevent the first two lines from retreating through their lines. By the time of Zama, Hannibal’s European troops were fighting in the Spanish style (short sword and javelin), while it was the Africans who were still using the Greek style (long spear and Hoplon). The Carthaginian’s 3rd line troops were likely Africans.
Leaving aside how these troops were armed (for it matters not), you hang your hat on the single word "spears". From this, you decide that these troops are hoplites. Nowhere in this sentence does Polybios use any Greek word denoting "spear", the actual word being προβάλλω/proballo. This generally means "put forward" or "put out in front" and Polybios uses this often. For confirmation you only need look at Baecula (10.38.8) where the level ground is προβεβλημένην (in the front) of Carthaginian entrenchment; Trebia (3.72.7) where the longchophoi and slingers are προβαλόμενος/thrown forward or Cannae (3.113.6) where the same two groups cross the river προεβάλετο/in front of the rest of the army. The word also has another sense and that is "level arms" or "present arms" as can be seen at Diodoros 17.100.6 where Koragos προβεβλημένος/presents his sarisa and charges.More tellingly is Xenophon, Anabasis 1.2.17 where Greek mercenaries are told προβαλέσθαι τὰ ὅπλα/ advance arms and subsequently προβαλόμενοι τὰ ὅπλα/ advance arms. This is the exact same usage as Polybios at Zama (προβαλέσθαι). As can be seen, the word says absolutely nothing about how these troops were armed, only that they were ordered to advance their arms or present arms to prevent retreating troops entering their line. Regardless of whether those arms were shields, pila, swords or longche.

As for Appian's numbers, the source he uses for Zama says the below about Roman numbers:

Scipio had about 23,000 foot and 1500 Italian and Roman horse. He had as allies Masinissa with a large number of Numidian horse, and another prince, named Dacamas, with 1600 horse.
Or did you miss that one?

Fortunately, Appian mention that the two legions, the 5th and 6th, were at Cannae, and oversized.
Can you please provide the passage wherein Appian states this?
 
welcome to the benefits of my wisdom, or depths or my hubris, depending on your POV.

To understand the battle of Zama, one of the important elements is determining the size of relevant armies. For good reason, Polybius is considered the most reliable source concerning the battle, and he gives the Carthaginian side a total of 40,000. Given that the Scipio family won that battle, and providing the information, we can safely assume that this is the absolutely maximum figure for Hannibal’s force, those particular Romans are not going to diminish their victorious accomplishment after all.

Polybius was writing his histories to prove the inevitability of Rome as a superpower, and if Hannibal’s army was the larger he would have said this. He had two chances to do so. The first when he stated Hannibal lost with 40k soldiers. The second was when the Hastati faced 12k mercenaries. In both instances, if the Romans were outnumbered, it would have underscored his point about why Rome won. By remaining silent in both cases we can be sure Scipios army was larger, despite some modern historians using Appian’s figures used for Rome, simply because they are all that are overtly stated . Given that he increases Hannibal’s army by 10k men, it already points to a massaging of figures.

It appears that Appian lies are one of omission. He states Scipio leaves Italy with 7000 volunteers, picks up two legions in Sicily, and arrives in Africa with 16000 infantry and 1600 cavalry. On initial viewing, this is wrong, simply because the proportions are incorrect. If we are talking about 4 standard legions we are short 800 infantry, but with 400 additional cavalry. OTOH, if we are talking two legions and attached alae, we are short 800 infantry and 800 cavalry. It’s unlikely that a general of Scipio’s calibre would make such an organisational mistake.
Fortunately, Appian mention that the two legions, the 5th and 6th, were at Cannae, and oversized. At 5300 men apiece, these exactly fit the additional troops Scipio is said to have picked up on route from Italy to Africa. 600 of these are cavalry, useful, since it means we can calculate that the initial volunteers consisted of 1000 cavalry and 6000 infantry. Velites do not have seem to have been volunteers in the legionary system much of the time, thus we are looking at 2 standard Roman legions plus 400 additional noble close colleagues. Thus Appian states Scipio had 2 standard and 2 larger Roman legions, plus 400 volunteers, which made up the stated force. These figures would not include the alae that would also accompany the legions. 4 standard alae consists of 16800 foot and 3600 cavalry, although 2 could have been oversized, to mirror the 5th and 6th. This should give us a Scipio army of a minimum of 40k+ foot and 5200 cavalry.
As far as I'm concerned, this reconstruction, and the assumptions upon which it rests, have been refuted, and so I'm not going to comment on it further. I don't intend to come across as rude, but it's become too repetitive.

We also know that Carthage was able to field 10000 citizen infantry for campaigns. The later is reminiscent of the Persians Immortals, and if so, also implies 1000 cavalry, supposition on my part. This ‘levy’ would most likely be guardsmen of various types, disciplined and well armoured to look the part, but green.
I'm guessing that your figure of 10,000 is based on Plutarch's Timoleon, who says that there were 10,000 citizen soldiers at the Battle of the Krimissos in 341 BC (27.4-5). If there is more to your claim than this reference, I'm happy to be corrected, but this reference alone cannot allow conclusions about Carthaginian military organisation, as it's a single instance that makes no suggestion of normalcy. Moreover, even if there was indeed an established militia quota of 10,000, that would not be enough to conclude that there were 10,000 citizen soldiers at Zama, since one cannot assume militia numbers in an emergency context.

However, the Italian campaign veterans would not be at the battle for several reasons. If Carthage was unable to supply Hannibal troops by sea, Hannibal will be unable to send troops in the other direction. Even if there was a truce, the Italian army is tying down around a score Roman legions, and leaving the ‘toe’ would free nearly 100k Roman soldiers to wage war on Carthage direct, not a real option. One stated opinion is a successful naval battle that allowed Hannibal to escape with his vets. This is very silly for many reasons.
The Carthaginians supplied Hannibal by sea soon after Cannae, and they sent fleets to Sicily and Italy several times throughout the war. Bear in mind also that we're talking about the toe of Italy. It was not a great distance to travel. It was also pretty difficult to blockade an enemy army by sea in ancient times, since galleys needed to be regularly beached or docked. Moreover, the Romans wanted Hannibal to leave Italy for Africa. They probably allowed him uninhibited passage. After all, the Romans had showed no intention since Marcellus' death in 208 of defeating Hannibal in a pitched battle in Italy. They were merely trying to contain him and take back their allies. Also, one can hardly believe that Hannibal left for Africa without equipping his fleet with his veteran troops as marines. He needed to protect himself during the passage and he needed to defend Carthage against Scipio. Both of these were much bigger priorities than defending the last vestige of his dominion in Italy. The fact that he did hardly anything proactive after his brother's defeat in 207 suggests that he was no longer committed to the war in Italy. And he should not have expected the consuls in Italy to immediately cross to Africa in pursuit. They would have needed senatorial permission. So I don't see a good reason for doubting the literary sources on this point.

The real give away is that during the battle, the veterans are said to lower their spears to prevent the first two lines from retreating through their lines. By the time of Zama, Hannibal’s European troops were fighting in the Spanish style (short sword and javelin), while it was the Africans who were still using the Greek style (long spear and Hoplon). The Carthaginian’s 3rd line troops were likely Africans.
Salaminia has noted that your conclusion about spears is not borne out by the Greek, but you also seem to me to be assuming too much about how different nationalities fought. Can you really say that Hannibal's European troops were all fighting in the Spanish style? That seems like a huge generalization. I don't think we know much at all about how Carthaginian citizens fought. It seems to me that they appear too rarely in the available accounts to allow strong conclusions. The above-mentioned reference to Plutarch merely says that they had splendid armour and large white shields, although even so, that's a campaign from over 100 years earlier. I also recall reading that Hannibal re-equipped many of his African troops with Roman equipment.
 
Last edited:
Nov 2011
863
The Bluff
Fortunately, Appian mention that the two legions, the 5th and 6th, were at Cannae, and oversized. At 5300 men apiece, these exactly fit the additional troops Scipio is said to have picked up on route from Italy to Africa. 600 of these are cavalry, useful, since it means we can calculate that the initial volunteers consisted of 1000 cavalry and 6000 infantry. Velites do not have seem to have been volunteers in the legionary system much of the time, thus we are looking at 2 standard Roman legions plus 400 additional noble close colleagues. Thus Appian states Scipio had 2 standard and 2 larger Roman legions, plus 400 volunteers, which made up the stated force. These figures would not include the alae that would also accompany the legions. 4 standard alae consists of 16800 foot and 3600 cavalry, although 2 could have been oversized, to mirror the 5th and 6th.
Parts of this have been addressed before and, while DiocletianIsBetterThanYou is correct that it is repetitive, some are in need of restating for clarity:

  1. "we can calculate that the initial volunteers consisted of 1000 cavalry and 6000 infantry": We can calculate nothing of the sort; you speculate.
  2. "Velites do not have seem to have been volunteers in the legionary system much of the time". These are volunteers and nothing whatsoever indicates that velites were not amongst them. Indeed, as the lowest ranking citizenry, pay for service will have been attractive (as with Athenian sailors).
  3. "thus we are looking at 2 standard Roman legions plus 400 additional noble close colleagues." We are looking at nothing of the sort as has been explained in detail earlier. The volunteers are just that: a random selection of military volunteers (most likely Scipionic veterans). They were not recruited as legions as the sources make absolutely plain. They are sorted and enrolled into companies and maniples in Siciliy.
Having, on the basis of assumption and pure speculation, concluded that "Appian states Scipio had 2 standard and 2 larger Roman legions, plus 400 volunteers, which made up the stated force" (Appian, of course, "states" nothing of the sort), you then claim that this does not include the alae for the supposed "two legions" (the volunteers) which Scipio brought from Italy. This, I'm afraid, is utter nonsense. The sources are plain that Scipio was specifically denied the ability to raise new legions in Italy for his Sicilian/ African consulship. Scipio was only allowed to call for volunteers from Italy and he had only 7,000. He did not raise two legions and their alae. You cannot simply make these alae suddenly appear out of thin air in Sicily on a whim of utter convenience. Do you not see this?

Again, you fail to comprehend that the two legions of Sicily were formed from the survivors of Cannae. The two legions did not, as you so readily assume, survive this battle wholly intact at 5,300. Being cobbled together from what remained of the slaughter and sent to Sicily, essentially for guard duty (see earlier posts), in no way demands that they, and their alae, somehow are made up to that unprecedented strength.

I would suggest you open that supposed "inquiring mind" to the actual evidence rather than keep it locked away in the vault of your own view.
 
Apr 2010
4,867
Oxford
The Sicilian legions were also actually made up of men from the two battles of Herdonia, too, so perhaps we should not be so quick to dismiss them as under-strength legions. However, as for the Cannae soldiers, Livy has this to say of them, (I think it also means the Herdonia fellas to), which clearly indicates that they were very busy on Sicily. Indeed, there were plenty of battles and sieges undertaken throughout the war there, which must have reduced them down the years.

Scipio was far from despising these men, he was quite aware that the defeat at Cannae was not brought about by any cowardice on their part, and he knew, too, that there were no soldiers in the Roman army who had had such a long experience in every kind of fighting, and in the conduct of sieges (29.24).
 
Nov 2011
863
The Bluff
The Sicilian legions were also actually made up of men from the two battles of Herdonia, too, so perhaps we should not be so quick to dismiss them as under-strength legions. However, as for the Cannae soldiers, Livy has this to say of them, (I think it also means the Herdonia fellas to), which clearly indicates that they were very busy on Sicily. Indeed, there were plenty of battles and sieges undertaken throughout the war there, which must have reduced them down the years.

Scipio was far from despising these men, he was quite aware that the defeat at Cannae was not brought about by any cowardice on their part, and he knew, too, that there were no soldiers in the Roman army who had had such a long experience in every kind of fighting, and in the conduct of sieges (29.24).
As always, ascertaining numbers in ancient sources and the toing and froing of troops can be a difficult task, but there are indicators. Plutarch's Life of Marcellus (13.3, cf Livy, 23.25.7-8), with regards to the survivors of Cannae, tells us that the Senate "suffered some of them to be put to death and others to be sold out of Italy; and as for the multitude who had saved themselves by flight, they sent them to Sicily, ordering them not to set foot in Italy as long as the war against Hannibal lasted". Pace Nick The Noodle's claim regarding pardoned nobles and equites, Livy is plain that those survivors of Cannae were "stigmatised" (made aerarii ) and made to serve on foot in Sicily along with the rest of the survivors of Cannae (24.18.3-9). The number of these men is quite unknown as are the numbers sold and put to death. In any case, it is equally plain that these are the men Marcellus inherits in 216 (27.7.14-16):

M. Valerius and L. Cincius had their term in Sicily extended, and the army of Cannae was placed under their command; they were required to bring it up to full strength out of any that remained of Cn. Fulvius' legions. These were hunted up and sent by the consuls into Sicily, where they were subjected to the same humiliating conditions as the defeated of Cannae and those belonging to Cn. Fulvius' army who had already been sent to Sicily as a punishment by the senate.
Again, the numbers are obscure but the need to "bring them up to strength" with the slackers from the army of Fulvius indicates they were below strength. Below what strength? We're not told but, in the absence of any unprecedented emergency, I would take that as normal strength (4,200). In any case these were garrison troops (see 26.1.6-11).

We are better served when it comes to the survivors of Herodina. There were 4,344 sent in 209 and Valerius had to return two to Italy with Gaius Fulvius Flaccus. Valeirus then recruited auxiliaries so as to preserve "the appearance of two armies". Just which two legions did he return? These are perhaps those raised in 214 when 18 legions were to be put into the field and six new legions had to scraped up. This is likely the time the so numbered Vth and VIth are created. I don't have the time or the inclination to go through all of Livy's recordings of annual office and troop allotments I'm afraid! At any event, when Scipio arrives in Sicily (205) he:

chose out of them (the legions in Scicily) soldiers who had served for the greatest number of campaigns, especially those who had done so under Marcellus as commander, believing them to have been schooled by the best training and in particular to be most skilled in besieging cities in consequence of the long siege of Syracuse.
The men who'd served under Marcellus we know are those from Cannae and possibly Herodonia - certainly Cannae. Now, you may well be right in that the men of Herodina became part of these legions after 209. It is well to remember, though, that Livy states that of these men, so many were Latins (or allies) that there was nearly a major uprising among the Latins over their bannishment. So these are not Roman citizens for the great part. In what fashion these are absorbed into the Vth and the VIth is anyone's guess. We are expressly told, though, that Scipio chose "especially those who'd served under Marcellus" and these are prior to the arrival of the Fulvian exiles. In other words, not only did Scipio replace a good number of the Vth and VIth with his volunteers, he also specifically chose the Cannae men over the later arrivals - for the great part I'd assume. We are therefore back to guessing just who went and who stayed (for the province had to be garrisoned). At that juncture, we are back to Livy's figure for Scipio's legions for Africa: oversize at 6,200 each or 24,800 infantry out of a "perhaps" total of over 28,000 for these nominal stregth legions, the 4,344 and Scipio's 7,000.
 
Last edited: