Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Battle for Mastery of the World: Zama 202 BC

"Is there anyone who can remain unmoved in reading the narrative of such an encounter? For it would be impossible to find more valiant soldiers, or generals who had been more successful and were more thoroughly exercised in the art of war, nor indeed had Fortune ever offered to contending armies a more splendid prize of victory, since the conquerors would not be masters of Africa and Europe alone, but of all those parts of the world which now hold a place in history..." (Polybius).

(This game of Zama was the largest ancient game that we have played so far, featuring around 900 points of troops on each side. Our ANF trio was joined by four friends:
Stephen, honorary ANF member;
David and Mark B. ('Biko'), two other ANF regulars, plus;
Oliver, first timer to wargaming ANF-style.)

Our source continues:
"Hannibal was so much struck with admiration of Scipio's magnanimity and daring, that he conceived, curiously enough, a strong desire to meet him and converse with him."

"On the following day both generals came out of their camps accompanied by a few horsemen..."

"After this conversation, which held out no hopes of reconciliation, the two generals parted from each other."

Mark W. arrayed the armies based on Simon MacDowall's excellent scenario along with information from those brilliant ancients 'standards', Connolly's "Greece and Rome at War" and Warry's "Warfare in the Classical World".

The Carthaginians in four lines—elephants and skirmishers in the van, followed by Gallic allies, then Libyans and finally the veteran infantry—were flanked on the right by their national cavalry and those of the Numidians on the left.
Can you spot Mark's little joke in the set-up?!

The Romans, arrayed in their tradition three lines of hastati, principes, triarii, skirmishers to the front and cavalry on each flank—Romano-Italian on the left and Massanissa' Numidians on the right.

Scipio (Bikio Africanus) ordered a general advance.

The Carthaginian and Romano-Italian cavalry came to grips first.

Hannibal sent the elephants to meet the Roman advance.

Scipio was destined to have a less-than perfect day. Double-one for initiative downgraded him from Expert to Fair (Hannibal remained a 'genius', though he did not like to brag, hey Mark?!).

Initial success for the Romano-Italian cavalry led Hannibal to direct an elephant their way. Taking the opportunity, one of the Roman cavalry units charged, before the elephants did...

The mêlée was in the balance, but possibly shifting in favour of the 'home team'.

The legions doing what they do so well; advancing powerfully forwards.

Things were moving more slowly on the Carthaginian left. The Numidians advancing slowly towards one another while, the Carthaginian veterans had taken "a step to the left"!

In the centre, the Roman-Numidian skirmishers and hastati were getting the better of the elephants, though not sufficiently to drive the pachyderms off completely. 

Back on the Roman left, the Carthaginian horse and elephants had prevailed; just, the remaining units being severely weakened.

In the centre, the lines of legions had slowed to a crawl, thanks to the stiffer-than-expected resistance of the skirmishers and elephants.

Unable to control their impetuous nature, the Gauls came to join the fray.

The Carthaginian elephants re-entereed the fray, with impactful results.

Meanwhile, on the Roman left, Massanissa sent his cavalry against the Carthaginian veteran infantry and Numidian allies.

Below are some impressions of the battlefield from a wider perspective.

Finally the elephants and Gauls had been defeated, so the left-hand legions re-ordered their lines in preparation for an attack on the Libyan infantry.

Back on the Roman left, the Carthaginian veterans were making their presence felt while the Numidian cavalry attempted to assist the Italian infantry.

Meanwhile, the legions at the left-hand end of the Roman line charged into the Libyans, losing some order in the process of a long-distance charge (i.e. two consecutive movement phases).

In the Roman centre, the legions had broken into individual fighting formations.

While on the left, the Italian allies were suffering reverses c/- the Carthaginian veteran phalanx.

It was now the end of the ninth turn and both sides had reached their break point!

After such a fabulous game, the hard-fought draw was probably fitting.

In scenario terms, the Carthaginian players ‘won' by doing better than their historical counterparts. 
The sections of the Carthaginian army that did poorly in the real thing (skirmishers, elephants, Gauls) did far better in our version.

In the centre our legions did well, but not decisively, the impact of Gauls and Elephants had been telling—plus those Libyans refused to be beaten! 

At the end the Carthaginian veterans were beginning to throw their weight around against the Italians and were heading for the Roman left. Having 18 pts still on the table greatly helped to prevent a Roman victory.

The Numidians did not emulate their historical counterparts, instead fighting one another to a stalemate.

The 'dead' tables were covered with around half of the troops from each army.

The Romans

The Carthaginians

The Outcome

History was re-written; in part, at least.

Our Carthaginians were able to make Hannibal’s plan work. Every line performed better than in the real thing. The legions were unable to produce a ‘killer punch’. The Carthaginian veterans were not there for the final clash, but were making merry on the Roman right. The Romano-Numidian cavalry were only able to exact a bloody stalemate against their Carthaginian-Numidian foes, so were not available to return to tip the balance (Roman players out-played there).

Interestingly though, with so much going well for Carthage#, as opposed to going badly in the real thing, the best that could be achieved was a bloody draw.
(#There was plenty of good luck (beneficial dice rolls) for the Romans in combat, but the Carthaginians had their fair share of those too. It does tend to even out over a game, not matter what the perceptions of a biased outlook.)

The evenness of the struggle was borne out by turns 7 to 9. Turn 7 went very much in favour of the Romans, with several Carthaginian & allied units broken. Turn 8 went the other way. Turn 9 was even. In all three of these last turns there were plenty of combats that merely whittled one or the other side down—or were scoreless draws.


As neither side gained the ascendency, the war would continue. Carthage could ill afford such losses. Rome would do what Rome always did. Raise another army and try again (and again, if necessary). Carthage would be defeated, but it would not be Scipio who assumed the epithet 'Africanus'!


  • Clare, JD Livy on the Battle of Zama. Hannibal. Ancient History Website.
  • Connolly, P (2012) Greece and Rome at War. Frontline Books (an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Ltd), Barnsley, South Yorkshire, UK.
  • Fields, N and Dennis, P (2010) Hannibal : leadership : strategy : conflict. Command 11 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, England. 64 pp.
  • MacDowall, S (2010) The Battle of Zama, 202 BC. Lego Wargames.
  • Polybius The Histories. Fragments of Book XV. I. Affairs of Italy and Africa.*.html
  • Warry, JG (1981) Warfare in the Classical World. St Martins Press, New York. 224 pp.


  1. A splendid commentary and pictures James.

    Lucid analysis.

    What an epic day!

    1. Cheers Biko, it was a most enjoyable game/day. We'll do another one again soon.

  2. A very impressive spread! A draw for Rome under the walls of Carthage would have been problematic as far as supply, but as you point out, the ability of the Republic to raise army after army over the course of the Punic Wars was astounding!

    1. Thanks Peter. Figures Mark's (mainly), plus a few of Julian's.
      The Roman never-say-defeat approached seems to have been there for most of their 500-odd years of rise and domination, hey?

  3. Was looking forward to seeing how it all washed up. Your report captured the feel of the whole thing. It was a tremendous game!

    1. Thanks David, great to have you join us again.
      We'll do 'them Carthaginians' next time! :)

  4. It certainly was, Zama has always been on the wish list, I am so pleased to have been there and helped fight the invader to a standstill. An excellent battle report, and certainly demonstrates the capacity of Impetus to handle a large ancients battle.

    1. Yeah, they seem to be working well for us, don't they—version 1 with the clarifications, that is. We'll see if we bother with version 2...
      Their interesting way of dealing with the 'imponderable' helps to bring luck into the outcome (the importance of which Polybius eloquently points out), without turning it into a game of dice/chance.

  5. Excellent job, James! Zama has seen action in 6mm on my gaming table several times but nothing in a larger size. Very impressive battle array on both sides.

    1. Having played it once and enjoyed it, I can see us doing it another time too Jonathan.
      The main 'job' was down to Mark (most of the figures and the set-up), but the players all contributed by playing the game in the spirit of fun and enjoyable contest that we like!

  6. Great read and photos of figures and step by step game turn phases James! I concur, the Romans were infamous as the ;o) "come back kid" raising new armies to defeat their enemies with avenges!..


    1. Thanks Phil. Hopefully they can come back and win next time that I'm on their side, haha!!

  7. Hi James - I do like an ancients game to have lots of figures (they so seldom seem to) and you have certainly delivered with this one. Well done to all concerned!