- historical event:
- Roman general Scipio knew that the Carthaginians would use battle elephants for their attack. He therefore ordered his troops to make way for them, which meant the elephants simply passed through the Roman legions without doing any damage.
The well-known Battle of Zama took place on this day in 202 BC. It was the battle where the Romans finally managed to defeat the great Carthaginian general, Hannibal. The battle took place in northern Africa, on the territory of modern Tunisia, around 100 km southwest of the capital, Tunis. Those who have visited Tunis are doubtless aware that the center of the Punic state – the famous Carthage – is located near the center of the modern city of Tunis, on the Mediterranean coast. The Romans thus attacked the Carthaginians (Punics) on their home ground.
The Roman commander was the famed Publius Cornelius Scipio. He was at the head of a large army of 34,000 legionnaires and 6,000 cavalrymen. However, Hannibal’s army was even larger, consisting of roughly 45,000 infantrymen and 6,000 horsemen. The Carthaginians also possessed a specific, fearsome weapon: battle elephants. Around 80 elephants attacked the Romans, but their appearance wasn’t as shocking because the Romans had already faced them in previous battles.
Scipio knew that the Carthaginians would use battle elephants for their attack. He therefore ordered his troops to make way for them, which meant the elephants simply passed through the Roman legions without doing any damage.
Scipio also foresaw Hannibal’s other basic tactic – his reliance on his cavalry. Namely, Hannibal was known for using light cavalry to deliver an unexpected blow to his opponent at the key moment during a battle. Therefore, Scipio ordered his own cavalry to attack Hannibal’s and try to defeat it at the very beginning of the battle. His plan worked – the Roman cavalry neutralized the Carthaginian cavalry and finally returned to the battlefield and attacked Hannibal’s infantry from behind.
The Roman victory was decisive. Carthage sued for peace and thus finally ended the war in which Hannibal had terrorized Italy for a full 17 years. Scipio then took the honorific surname (Lat. cognomen ex virtute) “Africanus”.