How many legions and equivalents at Zama?

It's work in progress but here's what I believe at present:

Part 1

Zama is one of those battles, where there is a comparatively large amount written about it by ancient historians, and yet that evidence conflicts with each other. What we can be fairly sure is that the strategic basics are correct, ie that the battle actually took place, whom it was fought between, when and where it took place, and who won. When Polybius was writing within living memory of the battle, these essential elements of the battle are unlikely to be incorrect. However, the detail of the battle is truly suspect.
To understand the battle of Zama, one of the important elements is determining the size of relevant armies. If you do not know the relevant sizes of the armies you cannot truly understand which tactics were actually used. By analysing the numbers, it becomes crystal clear why Hannibal did not use his larger army to simply engulf his foe. This is because his army was smaller than his opponents, although not for the first time when facing Romans.
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 Hannibals 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 Hannibals 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 Appians figures for Rome, simply because they are all that are overtly stated. This is actually lazy. Given that Appian increases Hannibals army by 10k men, it already points to a massaging of figures. The obvious reason for this is to make Romes win at Zama, and Carthages wins at Cannae comparable, as opposed to Polybius giving the defeat at Cannae twice as bad, as far as numbers were concerned.
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. Its unlikely that a general of Scipios 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 Hannibals 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 Scipios endeavour. The 5th and 6th (penal) legions that were garrisoned in Sicily may not have had their full compliment of cavalry either, some of the noble element having escaped censure, such as Scipio himself. It is possible that the 1600 cavalry mentioned, perhaps with an additional 300 upgraded foot, and a few Sicilian nobles is about right, for a total of about 2000.
Scipios 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 Hannibals first infantry line. 12000 mercenaries implies at least c12000 Hastati. 12k Hastati implies 12k Principes and 6k Triarri, for 30k heavy foot, ie 10 legions effective.
Hannibals army is easier to understand. We have figures of 12000 mercenaries and 80 elephants in a total of max 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, the proportion of 10 heavy infantry to 1 heavy cavalry also being usual in a standard Legion). This levy would most likely be guardsmen of various types, disciplined and well armoured to look the part, but mainly green, thus similar to Hastati in quality. 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, or Spain, 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 that these elite troops were not present, 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, Hannibals 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 Carthaginians 3rd line troops were almost certainly Africans. The fact that Hannibals 3rd line was so far back in relative terms reminds me of Alexanders 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 the Levy were technically a higher caste, and thus if not hated, at least partially despised. The Citizens knew they would have to fight. Livys 4000 Macedonians are unlikely to be present, for a number of reasons too numerous to list here, but c3-4000 extra troops could be accounted for by elephant escorts at around 40-50 velites per elephant, standard practice over a century previously.
The probable 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. Important to note is that this hypothesis has Hannibal with around 30k heavy foot, the same number as in Scipios army. It is implied in both Polybius and Livy that these types of troops were quantitatively equal in both armies, and thus a decent indicator that these totals are correct.
Scipio has c30k heavy foot, if we assume Masinissas foot were trained as 2 legions, c12k velites, and 6k+ cavalry. Scipios advantage in numbers is easily explained by the number of ships required to transport them from Sicily to N Africa, far more than required to transport 16k foot and 1.6k cavalry. Scipios advantage is in the superior numbers of light troops and cavalry, Hannibal has 80 elephants.
Part 2

The Battle of Zama then begins, and both Polybius and Livy both state that Hannibal did what he could to win, but was essentially let down by his troops. The actual narrative belies this, and Hannibals impact on the battle is essentially negligible when it mattered. Hannibal starts off fairly well, choosing where to fight, although his men are said to suffer great thirst in achieving said aim. The Carthaginian general also makes sure the enemy has the sun in its eyes, and then unleashes his elephants. The enemy is forced to react, and at this point, Hannibal retains initiative. Then it goes horribly wrong for the Carthaginian forces, which then appear to become paralysed by inertia, with a total and utter lack of leadership.
The elephants are routed while the rest of the army stands still.
The Carthaginian cavalry are than charged while at a halt, and routed, while the rest of the army stands still.
The Hastati then melee the mercenaries, while the rest of the army stands still.
The mercenaries fall back and melee their employees, while the veterans stand still.
Both mercenaries and levy now route while the veterans stands still.
Scipio now reorganises his army while the veterans stand still.
Scipios reorganisation, with his best troops on the wings, plus the returning cavalry, defeat the veterans. At this point the Carthaginian general has an epiphany, and Hannibal stops standing still and runs away.
The narrative assumes Hannibals plan revolves around using elephants to destroy Scipios army, and when it fails, he suffers a fatal lack of initiative, his army being defeated in detail.
Fortunately for posterity, there is a clue in the text that reveals that Hannibal may have had a plan beyond hoping the elephants would win by themselves. It appears that one small element of the Zama prose is really important. When the elephants routed, they fled to their own right flank, apparently causing the Carthaginian heavy cavalry to become disordered, and routed by a subsequent Roman charge. I personally find this element very important. A pro Roman historian has actually told us a few useful points. The first is that elephants were used. While elephants are obviously stated to have been used, the fact that Polybius has stated they routed to the absolutely most useful point they could possibly be sent essentially destroys many revisionists opinion that Zama had fewer elephants, or were not even present.
Elephants on a flank to prevent superior numbers of enemy cavalry having an effect, was shown to be a battle winner since Ipsus 301BC. It suggests that Hannibal was creating an anchor for his front line and intending to win the battle elsewhere, ie on the other flank. A left flank victory was shown to be possible by the Thebans against superior quality forces at the battle of Leuctra 371 BC. Hannibal is likely to have a Sacred Band of 2500 elite troops among his 10000 Levy, given that in the absence of stated change, a particular convention will continue. Obviously these 2500 may not be of the quality the Theban 300 were, but they did give a very good account of themselves in their previous outing.
Concerning the mercenaries, it should be noted they always bent or broke in the previous 3 known battles (Trebia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae), and for Hannibals 2nd and 3rd lines simply waiting for this to happen, instead of manoeuvring, as in every other battle, is highly unlikely.
My best guess is that if Hannibal does have his line anchored on the right, and his position of his elephants suggests it was, his tactic will be of an Alexanders hammer and anvil style of battle, albeit a left handed strike. We are told he initially has initiative, with Scipio being forced to counter his elephants with a(n unlikely) tactic (never used before or since). At this point we can either believe Hannibal had a plan, not yet revealed, or that his army simply sat, to be defeated in detail. Received wisdom states the latter.
While I believe the strategic basics of the battle are correct, the details are definitely suspect.
So what happens after the battle?

Scipio is incredibly lenient. Carthage not only survives, but starts to build a new military harbour. Carthage loses all territories north of the Mediterranean, but with the absence of Hannibal, is likely to lose them anyway. Punitive massive fines are said to have been imposed on Carthage, but there is no hard evidence of a sudden decline of Punic economic decline, or the Scipio family gaining massive wealth.
My opinion, and that is all it is, is that Carthage had seen Rome being able to hold out during a siege for over a decade, and would follow suit. Scipio simply did not have the men to mount a siege, and any negotiations would be skewed by this fact. Scipio simply got the best deal he could, and getting Carthage out of Europe is pretty impressive.
Nov 2011
The Bluff
Unless my memory fails me, the majority of what Nick has posted has already been refuted, usually multiple times, in this thread. I think we have gotten to a point where the moderators should close the thread.
I've essentially asked for same via other means. Really, it makes a complete nonsense of the site that the same refuted essays (of assertions based upon assumptions) are simply continually reposted every few weeks as if new.


Forum Staff
Jun 2006
Thread re-opened. Discussing historical theories, however flawed, is what this forum is about. It is incumbant on both sides of a discussion to provide evidence and sources and more importantly, modify their theories/assertions in light of contrary evidence presnted, or abandon them altogether if conclusively refuted.
Nov 2011
The Bluff
It is incumbant on both sides of a discussion to provide evidence and sources and more importantly, modify their theories/assertions in light of contrary evidence presnted, or abandon them altogether if conclusively refuted.
Thanks for the effort of reading over what would appear an interminable (if not intractable) thread Belisarius. As refutation only results in the same theory being reposted - and there's been much refutation - I'll await the evidence and sources Nick will assuredly bring to the discussion.