Society / Massacre

202BC Oct. 19 , Duration 700d ± 30d

Event #13: Battle of Zama, Scipio Africanus vs Hannibal

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  • Carthage (click here to focus in map)


Text #16

"Battle of Zama", in Wikipedia.
[Polyb. . ]

The Battle of Zama, fought around October 19, 202 BC, marked the end of the Second Punic War. A Roman army led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus defeated a Carthaginian force led by the commander Hannibal. Soon after this defeat on their home ground, the Carthaginian senate sued for peace, which was given to them by the Roman Republic on rather humiliating terms, ending the 17-year war.

Hannibal’s army consisted of 36,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, and 80 war elephants, while Scipio had a total of 29,000 infantry and 6,100 cavalry.

Scipio knew that elephants could be ordered to charge forward, but they could only continue their charge in a straight line. Scipio predicted that if he opened gaps in his troops, the elephants would simply pass between them, without harming any of his soldiers. At the outset of the battle, Hannibal unleashed his elephants and skirmishers against the Roman troops in order to break the cohesion of their lines and exploit the breaches that could be opened. The attack was confronted by the Roman skirmishers. In addition, Scipio ordered the cavalry to blow loud horns to frighten the beasts, which partly succeeded, and several rampaging elephants turned towards the Carthaginian left wing and disordered it completely. Seizing this opportunity, Masinissa led his Numidian cavalry and charged at the Carthaginian left wing, which was also composed of Numidian cavalry, and was unknowingly lured off the field. Meanwhile, the rest of the elephants were carefully lured through the lanes and taken to the rear of the Roman army, where they were dealt with. Scipio’s plan to neutralize the threat of the elephants had worked.

The battle finally turned in the Roman’s favor as the Roman cavalry returned to the battlefield and attacked the Carthaginian line from behind. The Carthaginian infantry was encircled and annihilated. Thousands of Carthaginians, including Hannibal, managed to escape the slaughter. Hannibal experienced a major defeat that put an end to all resistance on the part of Carthage. In total, as many as 20,000 men of Hannibal’s army were killed at Zama, while 20,000 were taken as prisoners. The Romans, on the other hand, suffered as few as 2,500 dead.

Soon after Scipio’s victory at Zama, the war ended, with the Carthaginian senate suing for peace. Unlike the treaty that ended the First Punic War, the terms Carthage acceded to were so punishing that it was never able to challenge Rome for supremacy of the Mediterranean again. The treaty bankrupted Carthage and destroyed any chance of its being a military power in the future, although its economic recovery was quick. One provision was that the Carthaginians were not allowed to make war without Roman consent.


Theodore Ayrault Dodge (2004-03-30). Hannibal: A History of the Art of War Among the Carthaginians and Romans Down to the Battle of Pydna, 168 B.C., with a Detailed Account of the Second Punic War. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0-306-81362-7. Polybius; The general history of Polybius, Volume 2; W. Baxter for J. Parker, 1823
Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart (1926). Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon. Greenhill Press. ISBN 978-1-85367-132-6.

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