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Scipio Africanus: Rome's Greatest General

By Edited Jan 1, 2016 0 0

The Carthaginian Empire at the outbreak of the Punic Wars

The Carthigian Empire at the outbreak of the Punic Wars

The Savior of Rome

Gaius Cornelius Scipio was raised during a time of terror for the Roman Republic. Scipio came of age when Hannibal Barca crossed the Alps with his army to invade Italy. After surviving the horror of the Battle of Trebia and the Battle of Cannae Scipio left Italy to command the Roman army fighting in Hispania. 

Scipio was both a strategic and tactical genius. He knew that to defeat Hannibal in Italy he had to cut off Hannibal's supply lines and eliminate his training and recruiting grounds in Hispania. To achieve his goal Scipio took command of the Roman army in Hispania after his father and uncle died in battle with the Carthaginians.

Scipio launched a lightning campaign to take New Carthage on the southernn coast of Hispania. Taking New Carthage would cut Hispania off from North Africa and would remove the largest Carthaginian port in Hispania. Scipio two methods to take New Carthage. He launched a two-pronged attack from land and sea, as well as employing scouts and locals to plan his attack.

Scipio had his navy launch an attack on the Carthaginian navy while it was in port, and he simultaneously attacked from land. On land Scipio split his force in two, using one force to hold the enemy's attention at the walls, while a second force ambushed through a marsh that cleared during the tides. Meanwhile the navy landed her marines in the ports and raised havoc there. Scipio's two-pronged attack was  a success and the city fell to the Romans. 

By taking New Carthage Scipio cut Hispania away from Carthage. After taking the city Scipio released the hostages that the Spanish tribes had sent to the Carthaginians, and he gave easy terms to the mercenary forces of Carthage that he captured. By establishing a policy of being gracious in victory Scipio turned the Spanish tribes from enemies to friends, and they left the Carthaginian army in droves.

Scipio used his successes in diplomacy to ambush and defeat the three Carthaginian armies in Hispania and forced them to withdraw. Hannibal, who was still in Italy, was left without reinforcements and was unable to attack Rome as a result. Scipio returned to Italy, and raised an army in Sicily, which the Romans had taken in the First Punic War, to invade Carthage itself.


The Battle of Zama


By the time that Scipio was preparing to invade Carthage he had not yet met Hannibal in battle. Hannibal was becoming increasingly confined to southern Italy where he was able to forage for food for his army. The Roman Senate did not want to fund Scipio's campaign in North Africa. They both feared his growing popularity, and wanted to strike at Hannibal in Italy.

To continue his campaign Scipio raised an army of volunteers from his veterans and by using his diplomatic skills. In one instance he raised a cavalry corps by enlisting all the princes of Sicily to join him with full equipment and a horse, but he allowed them to pay a volunteer to take their place. Thus Scipio gained an entire cavalry regiment at no cost, and he had soldiers that were willing to fight.

Scipio invaded North Africa and met a deposed Numidian prince there. In Hispania Scipio had freed the prince's relative and the prince, Massinissa, joined the Roman cause. Scipio used part of his forces to invest Carthaginian forts while the other half went with Massinissa to capture Numidia. Once Numidia fell to the Romans Massinissa began to supply the Roman army with cavalry, which was a severe blow to the Carthaginians.

Hannibal returned to North Africa and met Scipio in battle at Zama. The Battle of Zama saw two evenly matched armies, the Romans had almost twice as many cavalry but almost ten thousand infantry less than the Carthaginians. Carthage also had their secret weapon, the war elephants.

Scipio planned for the war elephants and created gaps in his army to allow the elephants to march right in to a trap. Once the elephants entered the Roman lines they were funneled down pathways and killed with javelins. Scipio's cavalry then broke the Carthaginian cavalry forces, and chased them from the field.

While the cavalry  engaged the Roman and Carthaginian infantry met in lines. Hannibal sent his Gallic mercenaries in the first line, followed by his Carthaginian soldiers and Macedonian phalanxes. which Philip II had sent unofficially, and Hannibal held his veterans from the Italian campaign  in reserve in the third line.

Scipio followed the Roman battle pattern. His first ranks were the hastati or young men, the second rank was the princeps, middle-aged men who had seen war, and the last rank was the triarii, veterans of many battles. Scipio withdrew his lines as the Carthaginians broke, which kept fresh forces against each Carthaginian rank.

Hannibal had waited with his veterans in reserve, which gave Scipio time to reform his army after he broke Hannibal's second rank. Scipio formed his entire army in to one line and waited for Hannibal to advance. When the two lines met there was bloody fighting, and the Carthaginians had the upper hand until Scipio's cavalry returned to the battle. The Carthaginians routed and Rome won the Third Punic War.



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