How many legions and equivalents at Zama?

Nov 2011
1,146
The Bluff
I believe that it would be implicit in Polybius` descripition of battle arrays that Scipio was out-numbered at Zama. Livy may have followed Polybius with the figure of 6,200 per legion and so a consular army (which Scipio`s was) would have 24,800. But Polybius tells us that Hannibal in one of his lines had 12,000 mercenaries alone - multiplied by three gives us at least 36,000. If propaganda is the aim, and it`s quite subtly done too, it` is better to have the enemy out-number the Romans by 50%.
I agree the 6,200 figure has come from Polybios whose text for the departure from Sicily has not survived. As I said earlier, Livy's text there reads as one of the Megalopolitan's explanatory notes describing just how Scipio got his numbers of men. I don't see the propaganda. Polybios is extremely lacunose throughout this campaign (Book 14 particularly). What is interesting is that there are rarely any Roman army figures given (for Great Plains as an example). Figures for Carthage there are and one has to wonder at the source(s) used by Polybios. For Zama, there is only the one figure given for Hannibal's front line as you say. This figure includes slingers and javelin throwers to a number not specified but they would, at a bare minimum, be , 1,000 apiece and likely more (elephant-s need support - another thing which goes missing in the description). That would put Hannibal's front line close order infantry at somewhere between 8,000 - 10,000 with a figure to the lower end far more probable. From that one would likely work out the numbers of the Punic second and third lines.

On the sources, I'm minded of the tradition for Magnesia. If we are to believe the numbers, the Roman consular army was well outnumbered by the usual massive, polyglot army of a Great King full of largely useless Asians. Going by the received tradition, this consular army was near on the way to defeat until saved by Eumenes of Pergamon and his cavalry. Antiochos had chosen his ground and that ground suited, one would think, his numbers and deployment. Again we lack Polybios and rely on later sources. To me, Antiochos did not field an army of 70,000 - paticularly after the losses of the campaign to date. The tradition which has come down to us via Polybios is, to my view, strongly influenced by Rome's amicus, the Attalids. Eumenes had wanted this war and had done so for some time. The Attalid monarchy, having brought Rome to settle its war, would ensure its place in the history books. That would show just important Pergamon was and just how huge an army she, along with their friends, Rome, had overcome. The question is just what are Polybios' sources for Carthage's numbers in the absence of Roman?
 
Jan 2018
20
England
I agree the 6,200 figure has come from Polybios whose text for the departure from Sicily has not survived. As I said earlier, Livy's text there reads as one of the Megalopolitan's explanatory notes describing just how Scipio got his numbers of men. I don't see the propaganda. Polybios is extremely lacunose throughout this campaign (Book 14 particularly). What is interesting is that there are rarely any Roman army figures given (for Great Plains as an example). Figures for Carthage there are and one has to wonder at the source(s) used by Polybios. For Zama, there is only the one figure given for Hannibal's front line as you say. This figure includes slingers and javelin throwers to a number not specified but they would, at a bare minimum, be , 1,000 apiece and likely more (elephant-s need support - another thing which goes missing in the description). That would put Hannibal's front line close order infantry at somewhere between 8,000 - 10,000 with a figure to the lower end far more probable. From that one would likely work out the numbers of the Punic second and third lines.

On the sources, I'm minded of the tradition for Magnesia. If we are to believe the numbers, the Roman consular army was well outnumbered by the usual massive, polyglot army of a Great King full of largely useless Asians. Going by the received tradition, this consular army was near on the way to defeat until saved by Eumenes of Pergamon and his cavalry. Antiochos had chosen his ground and that ground suited, one would think, his numbers and deployment. Again we lack Polybios and rely on later sources. To me, Antiochos did not field an army of 70,000 - paticularly after the losses of the campaign to date. The tradition which has come down to us via Polybios is, to my view, strongly influenced by Rome's amicus, the Attalids. Eumenes had wanted this war and had done so for some time. The Attalid monarchy, having brought Rome to settle its war, would ensure its place in the history books. That would show just important Pergamon was and just how huge an army she, along with their friends, Rome, had overcome. The question is just what are Polybios' sources for Carthage's numbers in the absence of Roman?
Polybius` sources - good question.
But where does the 12,000 come from? - I couldn`t even guess.
How can one determine the numbers of Hannibal`s Italian campaign veterans and the number of Carthaginian spearmen (raised in present-day southern Tunisia, given a year or so to equip and train since Hannbal`s recall). Although in the perfect world battlelines are equalised, you can`t really base these probable forces (Roman or Carthaginian) upon the limited and vague numbers given by Polybius for Hannibal`s first line alone. I know I gave a figure of 36,000 earlier, but I don`t believe there were any infantry at Zama at all. That 36,000 is just the product of modern historians` number-crunching efforts to make Polybius` great battle run to the plan.
Anyhow, I really do think that the implication in Polybius` vagueness is that Scipio was out-numbered in infantry, but he won it with his cavalry. That is the propaganda element; few historians with an interest in representing their clients (as Polybius did) would have said that the numbers were equal, or favourable to their heroes.
 
Nov 2011
1,146
The Bluff
In the absence of any hard evidence, we can only guess whence came Polybios' figure of 12,000. Interesting is the fact that it is the only number given and it is only for the front line. The strong suspicion is the usual source of such information in the absence of details from the other side: Roman estimation. Only the front line is visible and the Romans, based on their own numbers, are looking at the enemy and decide that's got to be 10-12k. There clearly can be no estimation of the lines further back and so there is none. The whole thing has always appeared to me (and I'm in the battle happened camp as you know) that the Punic front line had 3,000-4,000 light armed and therefore 8,000 - 9,000 close order infantry. Given the number of elephants, 4,000 will have been more likely for the light armed (the "regular" accompaniment being 50 such per animal, Diod. 19.82.3-4 for example).

This, then, has implications for Hannibal's numbers. The Celts, although hand to hand infantry, fought in a more open order to your Carthaginian spearman (hesitate to say "hoplite") and Roman-style infantrymen which the veterans likely were (if still armed in such a fashion). Likely between four to five feet apart when engaged (hence the movement described by Polybios). Eight thousand at the usual depth would correspond near enough to 10,000 close order spearmen. The veterans, in an unbroken line, would likely be a similar number and spacing to the Celts if they are Roman armed. I'm estimating 26,000 close quarter infantry and 4,000 lights. The casualty figures and prisoners are based on a nice even, rounded number and if 20,000 were in fact killed, then substantially less were made prisoner. If propaganda exists, it is here for the Roman losses do not really convince given the bloody, close fought engagement described. Much like Alexander's meagre losses.
 
Jan 2018
20
England
In the absence of any hard evidence, we can only guess whence came Polybios' figure of 12,000. Interesting is the fact that it is the only number given and it is only for the front line. The strong suspicion is the usual source of such information in the absence of details from the other side: Roman estimation. Only the front line is visible and the Romans, based on their own numbers, are looking at the enemy and decide that's got to be 10-12k. There clearly can be no estimation of the lines further back and so there is none. The whole thing has always appeared to me (and I'm in the battle happened camp as you know) that the Punic front line had 3,000-4,000 light armed and therefore 8,000 - 9,000 close order infantry. Given the number of elephants, 4,000 will have been more likely for the light armed (the "regular" accompaniment being 50 such per animal, Diod. 19.82.3-4 for example).

This, then, has implications for Hannibal's numbers. The Celts, although hand to hand infantry, fought in a more open order to your Carthaginian spearman (hesitate to say "hoplite") and Roman-style infantrymen which the veterans likely were (if still armed in such a fashion). Likely between four to five feet apart when engaged (hence the movement described by Polybios). Eight thousand at the usual depth would correspond near enough to 10,000 close order spearmen. The veterans, in an unbroken line, would likely be a similar number and spacing to the Celts if they are Roman armed. I'm estimating 26,000 close quarter infantry and 4,000 lights. The casualty figures and prisoners are based on a nice even, rounded number and if 20,000 were in fact killed, then substantially less were made prisoner. If propaganda exists, it is here for the Roman losses do not really convince given the bloody, close fought engagement described. Much like Alexander's meagre losses.
You may have gathered that I`m in "the battle happened, but it was a cavalry engagement" camp myself. I`m working on a paper now that will establish the forces available to Scipio in the autumn of 202 BC - I`ll post this soon at academia.edu, but first I think, nearer completion is a short piece on the location of the battlefield and the ancient sources.
 

mariusj

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,057
Los Angeles
You may have gathered that I`m in "the battle happened, but it was a cavalry engagement" camp myself. I`m working on a paper now that will establish the forces available to Scipio in the autumn of 202 BC - I`ll post this soon at academia.edu, but first I think, nearer completion is a short piece on the location of the battlefield and the ancient sources.
Do share.