Second Punic War/Talk

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BlackGriffen, I want to thank you for creating an outline for the page. It's much easier to fill articles in than start them off, and this was fun to do.

To those who edit the page, a note about the battle of Zama - the tactical description given is correct. Often one sees the claim that the Carthaginians fell into the same trap they had created at Cannae, something that I think even appears in some Roman sources, but this is quoted not so much because it happened as because it makes a neat story. IMO, the real version is dramatic enough.


All right! The real Cunctator, basking in glory. ---TheCunctator


Should it be mentioned that the Roman's were rotten tacticians? They relied on an frontal assault and the superior quality of their soldiers for victory. So Hannibal's retreating the centre and attacking from the wings was an obvious tactic? --Unknown

It wasn't just that they were rotten tacticians, the Romans inherited a battle system that enabled even a mediocre general to perform well. IIRC, a typical roman legion consisted of three battle lines, the first two containing six rows of troops each, and the last one containing only three. The least experienced soldiers were in the front, and the veterans were in the back (of the legion). As Jomini put it, this arrangement did a great deal for the morale of the individual soldier since his back and sides were protected and if he were wounded or had a flank exposed, he could fall back a row. The net result was either a Roman victory, or the lines fell back in to the last three veteran ranks, and the army retreated. The flaw was that even though the system could make a mediocre general good enough to fight off a disorganized foe like a Gallic horde, any enemy who had disciplined men and decently competant general, let alone one of Hannibal's brilliance, could defeat the system if it didn't have a good general leading it. I'm fairly sure Roman tactics worked basically like this, but my description isn't exact. Jomini's book (public domain by now, I'm sure [he was a Frenchman who fought in the Franco-Prussian(?) war in the late 1800's and who wrote his book around that time]) is an excellent resource on the effects of morale, and it uses the Romans as a case study.

Also, one of the reason's the Romans lost so consistantly was that their cavalry was crap. The article touches on this by almost implying that the Numidian cavalry saved Scipio's butt (especially since cavalry has a habit of running off the battlefield when it breaks the enemy [in persuit], and the Numidian cavalry didn't). If Hannibal had only faced Roman cavalry, he probably would have taken Scipio apart.

From what I read, the Numidian cavalry did leave the battlefield. They were simply nice enough to come back.

Also, thanks for the compliment, I only wish I could recall mor detail. Unfortuneately, the last book I read on Hannibal was 4 or 5 years ago. Writing the article rekindled my interest, though. I also vaguely recall an anecdote about Rome demanding Hannibal (so the could execute him) when he was 85 (or so), and he and Scipio even met face to face... My recollection is too vague to be reliable, though.--BlackGriffen

One last thing. Surrounding the enemy is generally extremely risky, since a competant surrounded general would concentrated his forces and attack one point of the circle, breaking it (I believe Clauswitz said something like that, but I'm not certain). The only time encirclement isn't a gamble is when your superiority is so great that the enemy would have lost a field battle by a large margin anayway, and you want to prevent retreat. A stupid general lets his men panic and get butchered like the Romans did. --BG


Wow! Thanks, folks. Now we have put the lie to the specific claim by that Penn professor.  :-) --LMS