At the battle of Zama, which army had a higher proportion of native troops? Within the context of this question consider troops to be either "native" or "mercenary". Native troops serve out of allegiance, while mercenary troops serve based on compensation.

The question arose because at dinner the other night, someone remarked, "The Romans won the battle of Zama because most of their soldiers were "native sons," while most of the soldiers on the Carthaginian side were mercenaries." Putting aside the question of whether or not this opinion was valid, was the premise factually correct? That is, were most of the soldiers fighting for Rome actuall "pro-Roman" and most of Hannibal's soldiers mercenaries? Consider e.g. the Numidians "pro Roman" in this regard, they were fighting for a "king and country" (Numidia) allied with Rome.

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    Tom, can you please clarify which question is right, the one in topic or the one in post? Because some comments refer to the first one and others to the second. Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 14:22
  • @DarekWędrychowski: I said to "put aside" the opinion itself (which is not suitable for the site) and concentrate on the "factual premise," was the statement that the Romans made up more of native soldiers actually true.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 15:08
  • I've noticed it and conformed to that in the answer. But as you can see in comments, it can be still misleading. Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 15:15
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    I have edited the question to address the issues raised in the comments.
    – MCW
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 16:17
  • I find it weird that you would consider the Numidians native, but if you do you should consider that most of the mercenaries fighting for Hannibal also had a stake in the outcome. Specifically the Celts, Ligurians, Bruttians, and any Iberian and Italian troops all had a stake in the outcome of the battle. Also a roman consular army was usually composed half of Romans and half of italic allies. I'd advice to be cautious when naming soldiers ether native or mercenary, the situation is a lot more complicated than that.
    – Jeroen K
    Commented Oct 19, 2013 at 17:30

3 Answers 3


The exact amounts of forces that took part in this battle seem to be unknown or at least controversial. My opinion bases on the lecture of 10 pages of discussion at the main Polish historical board.

In overall, it's safe to say that the the answer is yes, most of the Roman soldiers "Roman" and most of Hannibal's soldiers were mercenaries. Even if it would be more adequate to replace mercenaries with allies.

But I don't claim that it was the reason for winning the battle, which is much more complicated thing.

The following quotes come from Appian's History of Rome.


He speedily put in battle array about 50,000 men and eighty elephants. He placed the elephants in the front line at intervals, in order to strike terror into the enemy's ranks. Next to them he placed the third part of his army, composed of Celts and Ligurians, and mixed with them everywhere Moorish and Balearic archers and slingers. Behind these was his second line, composed of Carthaginians and Africans. The third line consisted of Italians who had followed him from their own country, in whom he placed the greatest confidence, since they had the most to apprehend from defeat. The cavalry were placed on the wings. In this way Hannibal arranged his forces.


[§41] [202] [Proconsul Publius Cornelius] had about 23,000 foot and 1,500 Italian and Roman horse. He had as allies Massinissa with a large number of Numidian horse, and another prince, named Dacamas, with 1,600 horse.

This way we can assume that Hannibal had three separate armies that didn't know each other and didn't have previous experience in cooperating together. One of them being Magon's army, containing Celts, Ligures and other tribes, the second Africans (Libyans and Carthaginians) and the third army in which Hannibal believed the most - veterans from Italy. Also half of his cavalry were Numidians.

At the same time, Scipio's army were mainly Roman and Italian soldiers, strengthened by forces of Masinissa who wanted to take revenge on Carthaginians for supporting his opponent on the way to take over the power in Numidia.

  • Good answer. Personally though, I'd rather see a verbal digest and a link than six paragraphs of quotation. As it is, I almost feel like I need to post an answer distilling your answer. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 13:57
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    BTW: My takeaway from this answer is more that it was about the Romans being a more cohesive force. The mercenaries were a symptom, not the cause. Even with that though, Hannibal flubbed the strategic setup for the battle too, so you can't say with certianty it was all about army composistion.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 14:01
  • I agree with TED here. The nationality of the soldiers mattered much less than the generals, strategy, and tactics. Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 14:10
  • I don't say that. The problem comes from the fact that there are two different questions asked by Tom, one in the topic and second at the end of his post. I answer the second one, as Tom clarified that he wants to put away the "was it all about army composition" part. Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 14:12
  • I've shortened the quotes. :) Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 14:26

The Romans used mercenary Numidian cavalry at Zama, and they were more effective than the "Native Sons" in the Roman cavalry, so the assertion is false.

Scipio was a better general, statesman and politician than Hannibal. That's pretty much the beginning and end of it.

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    First sentence is dead on (although some might argue they were more allies than mercs, but that's a distinction only in scale). +1 The second paragraph is debatable. Hannibal did pretty damn good with what he had to work with. All you can really say without much argument was that Scipio was at least in his league. That's high enough praise for most.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 13:19
  • @T.E.D.: IMHO, Scipio was to Hannibal as Grant was to Lee. We had started from that premise at "dinner."
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 20:41
  • @RISwampYankee: The Numidians were "native sons" as RE defined in the edited version (the original wasn't clear on this point), at least in comparison to Hannibal's mercentaries.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 20:42
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    +1 Wasn't exactly the answer I was looking for, but that was the fault of the (original) question, not the answer. Your answer helped me clarify my thinking (and the question).
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 25, 2013 at 12:27

One of the most troubling things about the Carthaginian army at Zama was the fact that Hannibal's "veteran" troops from his Italian campaigns were non-Carthaginians. And the Carthaginians in his army though enthusiastic and well-trained, were non-veterans who were basically enrolled for this one battle. There was a third group, non-veteran mercenaries from Spain. Thus, the Carthaginians did not have anything of a "home court" advantage that one might expect.

The Romans on the other side, were "native sons" (to Rome), and mostly veterans of campaigns against Hannibal in Italy, or other Carthaginians in Spain. There was one group of non-Romans who were even more "native" than them to North Africa, where the battle was fought. These were the Numidians, from a country bordering Carthage, whose cavalry decided the day. Although not Roman, their country in fact had the most to gain from a Roman victory (specifically Carthaginian territory). It's possible that another group of cavalry with less at stake would have failed to win the battle for the Romans, allowing the Carthaginians to win.

  • Hanibal started his career as the commanding general for the Carthaginian empire in Spain. As such, it really shouldn't surprise anyone if he had a large amount of Spanish troops.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 6, 2013 at 13:26
  • @T.E.D.: And the other thing is while that the battle-winning Numidians were "mercenaries" relative to the Romans, they were actually "native sons" relative to North Africa. More to the point, their interests were "long term" (land and livelihood) in the manner of "native sons," not "short term" (pay and plunder) in the manner of mercenaries. They're really opposite sides of the same coin, the way that marriage and one night stands are both about "dating."
    – Tom Au
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 16:55

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