EVEN at this critical juncture, jealousy of Scipio was rife in the Roman Senate. His backing, as all through, came from the people, not from his military rivals in the Senate. The consuls had done nothing to assist Scipio’s campaign through fixing Hannibal in Italy, save that Servilius advanced to the shore after Hannibal was safely away. But at the beginning of the year when the allocation of the various provinces was decided, according to custom, both consuls pressed for the province of Africa, eager to reap the fruits of Scipio’s success and thus earn glory cheaply. Metellus again tried to play the part of protecting deity. As a result the consuls were ordered to make application to the tribunes for the question to be put to the people to decide whom they wished to conduct the war in Africa. All the tribes thereupon nominated Scipio. Despite this emphatic popular verdict, the consuls drew lots for the province of Africa, having persuaded the Senate to make a decree to this effect. The lot fell to Tiberius Claudius, who was given an equal command with Scipio, and an armada of fifty quinqueremes for his expedition. Happily for Scipio, this jealousy-inspired move failed to prevent him putting the coping-stone on his own work, for Claudius was slow over his preparations, and when he eventually set out was caught in a storm and driven to Sardinia. Thus he never reached Africa.
Soon, too, as news of the changed situation in Africa filtered through, Scipio’s detractors combined with the habitual pessimists in the distillation of gloom. They recalled that “ Quintus Fabius, recently deceased, who had foretold how arduous the contest would be, had been accustomed to predict that Hannibal would prove a more formidable enemy in his own country than he had been in a foreign one; and that Scipio would have to encounter not Syphax, a king of undisciplined barbarians...; nor his fatherin-law Hasdrubal, that most fugacious general” —a Fabian libel on a man of undaunted spirit; “nor tumultuary armies hastily collected out of a crowd of half-armed rustics, but Hannibal ... who, having grown old in victory, had filled Spain, Gaul, and Italy with monuments of his vast achievements; who commanded troops of equal length of service; troops hardened by superhuman endurance ; stained a thousand times with Roman blood....” The tension in Rome was increased by the past years of indecisive warfare, carried on languidly and apparently endless, whereas now Scipio and Hannibal had stimulated the minds of all as generals prepared for a final death-clinch.
In Carthage the scales of public opinion appear to have been evenly balanced, on the one hand gaining confidence from Hannibal’s achievements and invincibility, on the other depressed by reflection on Scipio’s repeated victories, and on the fact that through his sole efforts they had lost their hold on Spain and Italy—as if he had been “ a general marked out by destiny, and born, for their destruction.”
On the threshold of this final phase, the support, moral and material, given to Hannibal by his country seems to have been, on balance, more than that accorded to Scipio—one more nail in the coffin of a common historical error.
His situation, already discussed, was one to test the moral fibre of a commander. Security lies often in calculated audacity, and an analysis of the military problems makes it highly probable that his march inland up the Bagradas valley was aimed, by its menace to the rich interior on which Carthage depended for supplies, to force Hannibal to push west to meet him instead of north to Carthage. By this clever move he threatened the economic base of Carthage and protected his own, also luring Hannibal away from his military base—Carthage.
A complementary purpose was that this line of movement brought him progressively nearer to Numidia, shortening the distance which Masinissa would have to traverse with his expected reinforcement of strength. The more one studies and reflects on this manoeuvre, the more masterly does it appear as a subtly blended fulfilment of the principles of war.
It had the intended effect, for the Carthaginians sent urgent appeals to Hannibal to advance towards Scipio and bring him to battle, and although Hannibal replied that he would judge his own time, within a few days he marched west from Hadrumetum, and arrived by forced marches at Zama. He then sent out scouts to discover the Roman camp and its dispositions for defence—it lay some miles farther west. Three of the scouts, or spies, were captured, and when they were brought before Scipio he adopted a highly novel method of treatment. “Scipio was so far from punishing them, as is the usual practice, that on the contrary he ordered a tribune to attend them and point out clearly to them the exact arrangement of the camp. After this had been done he asked them if the officer had explained everything to their satisfaction. When they answered that he had done so, Scipio furnished them with provisions and an escort, and told them to report carefully to Hannibal what had happened to them” (Polybius). This superb insolence of Scipio’s was a shrewd blow at the moral objective, calculated to impress on Hannibal and his troops the utter confidence of the Romans, and correspondingly give rise to doubts among themselves. This effect must have been still further increased by the arrival next day of Masinissa with six thousand foot and four thousand horse. Livy makes their arrival coincide with the visit of the Carthaginian spies, and remarks that Hannibal received this information, like the rest, with no feelings of joy.
The sequel to this incident of the scouts has a human interest of an unusual kind. “ On their return, Hannibal was so much struck with admiration of Scipio’s magnanimity and daring, that he conceived ... a strong desire to meet him and converse with him. Having decided on this he sent a herald saying that he desired to discuss the whole situation with him, and Scipio, on receiving the herald’s message, accepted and said that he would send to Hannibal, fixing a place and hour for the interview. He then broke up his camp and moved to a fresh site not far from the town of Narragara, his position being well chosen tactically, and having water”within a javelin’s throw.“ He then sent to Hannibal a message that he was now ready for the meeting. Hannibal also moved his camp forward to meet him, occupying a hill safe and convenient in every respect except that he was rather too far away from water, and his men suffered considerable hardship as a result. It looks as if Scipio had scored the first trick in the battle of wits between the rival captains! The second trick also, because he ensured a battle in the open plain, where his advantage in cavalry could gain its full value. He was ready to trump Hannibal’s master-card.
On the following day both generals came out of their camps with a small armed escort, and then, leaving these behind at an equal distance, met each other alone, except that each was attended by one interpreter. Livy prefaces the account of the interview with the remark that here met “the greatest generals not only of their own times, but of any to be found in the records of preceding ages ...”—a verdict with which many students of military history will be inclined to agree, and even to extend the scope of the judgment another two thousand years.
Hannibal first saluted Scipio and opened the conversation. The accounts of his speech, as of Scipio’s, must be regarded as only giving its general sense, and for this reason as also the slight divergences between the different authorities may best be paraphrased, except for some of the more striking phrases. Hannibal’s main point was the uncertainty of fortune—which, after so often having victory almost within his reach, now found him coming voluntarily to sue for peace. How strange, too, the coincidence that it should have been Scipio’s father whom he met in his first battle, and now he came to solicit peace from the son! “Would that neither the Romans had ever coveted possessions outside Italy, nor the Carthaginians outside Africa, for both had suffered grievously.” However, the past could not be mended, the future remained. Rome had seen the arms of an enemy at her very gates; now the turn of Carthage had come. Could they not come to terms, rather than fight it out to the bitter end “I myself am ready to do so, as I have learnt by actual experience how fickle Fortune is, and how by a slight turn of the scale either way she brings about changes of the greatest moment, as if she were sporting with little children. But I fear that you, Publius, both because you are very young, and because success has constantly attended you both in Spain and in Africa, and you have never up to now at least fallen into the counter-current of Fortune, will not be convinced by my words, however worthy of credit they may be.” Let Scipio take warning by Hannibal’s own example. “What I was at Trasimene and at Cannæ, that you are this day.” “And now here am I in Africa on the point of negotiating with you, a Roman, for the safety of myself and my country. Consider this, I beg you, and be not over-proud.” “... What man of sense, I ask, would rush into such danger as confronts you now?” The chance of a single hour might blot out all that Scipio had achieved —let him remember the fate of Regulus, from whom likewise the Carthaginians had sought peace on African soil. Hannibal then outlined his peace proposals—that Sicily, Sardinia, and Spain should be definitely given up to Rome, and Carthage confine her ambitions to Africa. In conclusion he said that if Scipio felt a natural doubt as to the sincerity of the proposals, after his recent experience, he should remember that these came from Hannibal himself, the real power, who would guarantee so to exert himself that no one should regret the peace. Hannibal later was to prove both his sincerity and the truth of this guarantee. But in the circumstances of the moment and of the past, Scipio had good ground for doubt.
To Hannibal’s overture he pointed out that it was easy to express regret that the two powers had gone to war—but who had begun it? Had Hannibal even proposed them before the Romans crossed to Africa, and voluntarily retired from Italy, his proposals would almost certainly have been accepted. Yet in spite of the utterly changed position, with the Romans “ in command of the open country,” Hannibal now proposed easier terms than Carthage had already accepted in the broken treaty. All he offered, in fact, was to give up territory which was already in Roman possession, and had been for a long time. It was futile for him to submit such empty concessions to Rome. If Hannibal would agree to the conditions of the original treaty, and add compensation for the seizure of the transports during the truce, and for the violence offered to the envoys, then he would have something to lay before his council. Otherwise, “ the question must be decided by arms.” This brief speech is a gem of clear and logical reasoning. Hannibal apparently made no advance on his former proposals, and the conference therefore came to an end, the rival commanders returning to their camps.
Both sides recognised the issues that hung upon the morrow—“ the Carthaginians fighting for their own safety and the dominion of Africa, and the Romans for the empire of the world. Is there any one 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 experienced in the art of war, nor indeed had Fortune ever offered to contending armies a more splendid prize of victory” (Polybius). If the prize was great, so was the price of defeat. For the Romans if beaten were isolated in the interior of a foreign land, while the collapse of Carthage must follow if the army that formed her last bulwark was beaten. These crucial factors were stressed by the opposing commanders when next morning at daybreak they led out their troops for the supreme trial, and had made their dispositions.
Scipio rode along the lines and addressed his men in a few appropriate words. Polybius’s s account, though necessarily but the substance and not an exact record, is so in tune with Scipio’s character as to be worth giving. “Bear in mind your past battles and fight like brave men worthy of yourselves and of your country. Keep it before your eyes that if you overcome your enemies not only will you be unquestioned masters of Africa, but you will gain for yourselves and your country the undisputed command and sovereignty of the rest of the world. But if the result of the battle be otherwise, those who have fallen bravely in the fight will be for ever shrouded in the glory of dying thus for their country, while those who save themselves by flight will spend the remainder of their lives in misery and disgrace. For no place in Africa will afford you safety, and if you fall into the hands of the Carthaginians it is plain enough to those who reflect what fate awaits you. May none of you, I pray, live to experience that fate, now that Fortune offers us the most glorious of prizes; how utterly craven, nay, how foolish shall we be, if we reject the greatest of goods and choose the greatest of evils from mere love of life. Go, therefore, to meet the foe with two objects before you, either victory or death. For men animated by such a spirit must always overcome their adversaries, since they go into battle ready to throw their lives away.” Of this address Livy says “he delivered these remarks with a body so erect, and with a countenance so full of exultation, that one would have supposed that he had already conquered.”
On the other side Hannibal ordered each commander of the foreign mercenaries to address his own men, appealing to their greed for booty, and bidding them be sure of victory from his presence and that of the forces he had brought back. With the Carthaginian levies he ordered their commanders to dwell on the sufferings of their wives and children should the Romans conquer. Then to his own men he spoke personally, reminding them of their seventeen years’ comradeship and invincibility, of the victory of Trebia won over the father of the present Roman general, of Trasimene and Cannæ—“ battles with which the action in which we are about to engage is not worthy of comparison.” Speaking thus, he bade them cast their eyes on the opposing army and see for themselves that the Romans were fewer in numbers, and further, only a fraction of the forces they had conquered in Italy.
The dispositions made by the rival leaders have several features of note. Scipio placed his heavy Roman foot—he had probably two legions—in the centre; Lælius with the Italian cavalry on the left wing, and on the right wing Masinissa with the whole of the Numidians, horse and foot, the latter presumably prolonging the centre and the cavalry on their outer flank.
The heavy infantry were drawn up in the normal three lines, first the hastati, then the principes, and finally the triarii. But instead of adopting the usual chequer formation, with the maniples of the second line opposite to and covering the intervals between the maniples of the first line, he ranged the maniples forming the rear lines directly behind the respective maniples of the first line. Thus he formed wide lanes between each cohort—which was primarily composed of one maniple of hastati, one of principes, and one oftriarii.
His object was twofold : on the one hand, to provide an antidote to the menace of Hannibal’s war elephants and to guard against the danger that their onset might throw his ranks into disorder; on the other, to oil the working of his own machine by facilitating the sallies and retirements of his skirmishers. These velites he placed in the intervals in the first line, ordering them to open the action, and if they were forced back by the charge of the elephants, to retire. Even this withdrawal he governed by special instructions, ordering those who had time to fall back by the straight passages and pass right to the rear of the army, and those who were overtaken to turn right or left as soon as they passed the first line, and make their way along the lateral lanes between the lines. This wise provision economised life, ensured smooth functioning, and increased the offensive power—a true fulfilment of economy of force. It may even be termed the origin of modern extended order, for its object was the same—to negative the effect of the enemy’s projectiles by creating empty intervals, a reduction of the target by dispersion, the only difference being that Hannibal’s projectiles were animal, not mineral.
The Carthaginian had eighty elephants, more than in any previous battle, and in order to terrify the enemy he placed them in front of his line. Supporting them, in the first line, were the Ligurian and Gallic mercenaries intermixed with Balearic and Moorish light troops. These were the troops with whom Mago had sailed home, about twelve thousand in number, and it is a common historical mistake to regard the whole force as composed of light troops.
In the second line Hannibal placed the Carthaginian and African levies as well as the Macedonian force, their combined strength probably exceeding that of the first line. Finally Hannibal’s own troops formed the third line, held back more than two hundred yards distant from the others, in order evidently to keep it as an intact reserve, and lessen the risk of it becoming entangled in the mêlée before the commander intended. On the wings Hannibal disposed his cavalry, the Numidian allies on the left and the Carthaginian horse on the right. His total force was probably in excess of fifty thousand, perhaps fifty-five thousand. The Roman strength is less certain, but if we assume that each of Scipio’s two legions was duplicated by an equal body of Italian allies, and add Masinissa’s ten thousand, the complete strength would be about thirty-six thousand if the legions were at full strength. It was probably less, because some wastage must have occurred during the earlier operations since quitting his base.
The First Phase.—The battle opened, after preliminary skirmishing between the Numidian horse, with Hannibal’s orders to the drivers of the elephants to charge the Roman line. Scipio promptly trumped his opponent’s ace, by a tremendous blare of trumpets and cornets along the whole line. The strident clamour so startled and terrified the elephants that many of them at once turned tail and rushed back on their own troops. This was especially the case on the left wing, where they threw the Numidians, Hannibal’s best cavalry wing, into disorder just as they were advancing to the attack. Masinissa seized this golden opportunity to launch a counter-stroke, which inevitably overthrew the disorganised opponents. With Masinissa in hot pursuit, they were driven from the field, and so left the Carthaginian left wing exposed.
The remainder of the elephants wrought much havoc among Scipio’s velites, caught by their charge in front of the Roman line. But the foresight that had provided the “ lanes ” and laid down the method of withdrawal was justified by its results. For the elephants took the line of least resistance, penetrating into the lanes rather than face the firm-knit ranks of the heavy infantry maniples. Once in these lanes the velites who had retired into the lateral passages, between the lines, bombarded them with darts from both sides. Their reception was far too warm for them to linger when the door of escape was held wide open. While some of the elephants rushed right through, harmlessly, and out to the open in rear of the Roman army, others were driven back out of the lanes and fled towards the Carthaginian right wing. Here the Roman cavalry received them with a shower of javelins, while the Carthaginian cavalry could not follow suit, so that the elephants naturally trended towards the least unpleasant side. “ It was at this moment that Lælius, availing himself of the disturbance created by the elephants, charged the Carthaginian cavalry and forced them to headlong flight. He pressed the pursuit closely, as likewise did Masinissa.” Both Hannibal’s flanks were thus stripped bare. The decisive manœuvre of Cannæ was repeated, but reversed.
Scipio was certainly an artist in tactical “ boomerangs,” as at Ilipa so now at Zama his foresight and art turned the enemy’s best weapon back upon themselves. How decisive might have been the charge of the elephants is shown by the havoc they wrought at the outset among the velites.
The Second Phase.—In the meantime the infantry of both armies had “slowly and in imposing array advanced on each other,” except that Hannibal kept his own troops back in their original position. Raising the Roman war-cry on one side, polyglot shouts on the other—this vocal discord was a moral drawback,—the lines met. At first the Gauls and Ligurians had the balance of advantage, through their personal skill in skirmishing and more rapid movement. But the Roman line remained unbroken, and the weight of their compact formation pushed the enemy back despite losses. Another factor told, for while the leading Romans were encouraged by the shouts from the rear lines, coming on to back them up, Hannibal’s second line—the Carthaginians—failed to support the Gauls, but hung back in order to keep their ranks firm. Forced steadily back, and feeling they had been left in the lurch by their own side, the Gauls turned about and fled. When they tried to seek shelter in the second line, they were repulsed by the Carthaginians, who, with apparently sound yet perhaps unwise military instinct, deemed it essential to avoid any disarray which might enable the Romans to penetrate their line. Exasperated and now demoralised, many of the Gauls tried to force an opening in the Carthaginian ranks, but the latter showed that their courage was not deficient and drove them off. In a short time the relics of the first line had dispersed completely, or disappeared round the flanks of the second line. The latter confirmed their fighting quality by thrusting back the Roman first line—the hastati —also. In this they were helped by a human obstacle, the ground encumbered with corpses and slippery with blood, which disordered the ranks of the attacking Romans. Even the principes had begun to waver when they saw the first line driven back so decisively, but their officers rallied them and led them forward in the nick of time to restore the situation. This reinforcement was decisive. Hemmed in, because the Roman formation produced a longer frontage and so overlapped the Carthaginian line, the latter was steadily cut to pieces. The survivors fled back on the relatively distant third line, but Hannibal continued his policy of refusing to allow the fugitives to mix with and disturb an ordered line. He ordered the foremost ranks of his “ Old Guard ” to lower their spears as a barrier against them, and they were forced to retreat towards the flanks and the open ground beyond.
The Third Phase.—The curtain now rose on what was practically a fresh battle. The Romans “ had penetrated to their real antagonists, men equal to them in the nature of their arms, in their experience of war, in the fame of their achievements....” Livy’s tribute is borne out by the fierceness and the for long uncertain issue of the subsequent conflict, which gives the lie to those who pretend that Hannibal’s “ Old Guard ” was but a shadow of its former power in the days of Trasimene and Cannæ.
The Romans had the moral advantage of having routed two successive lines, as well as the cavalry and elephants, but they had now to face a compact and fresh body of twenty-four thousand veterans, under the direct inspiration of Hannibal. And no man in history has shown a more dynamic personality in infusing his own determination in his troops.
The Romans, too, had at last a numerical advantage, not large, however—Polybius says that the forces were “ nearly equal in numbers,” —and in reality still less than it appeared. For, while all Hannibal’s third line were fresh, on Scipio’s side only the triarii had not been engaged, and these represented but half the strength of the hastati or principes. Further, the velites had been so badly mauled that they had to be relegated to the reserve, and the cavalry were off the field, engaged in the pursuit. Thus it is improbable that Scipio had at his disposal for this final blow more than eighteen or twenty thousand infantry, less the casualties these had already suffered.
His next step is characteristic of the man—of his cool calculation even in the heart of a battle crisis. Confronted by this gigantic human wall—such the Carthaginians would appear in phalanx, —he sounds the recall to his leading troops, and it is a testimony to their discipline that they respond like a well-trained pack of hounds. Then in face of an enemy hardly more than a bow-shot distant he not only reorganises his troops but reconstructs his dispositions! His problem was this—against the first two enemy lines the Roman formation, shallower than the Carthaginian phalanx and with intervals, had occupied a wider frontage and so enabled him to overlap theirs. Now, against a body double the strength, his frontage was no longer, and perhaps less than Hannibal’s. His appreciation evidently took in this factor, and with it two others. First, that in order to concentrate his missile shock power for the final effort it would be wise to make his line as solid as possible, and this could be done because there was no longer need or advantage for retaining intervals between the maniples. Second, that as his cavalry would be returning any moment, there was no advantage in keeping the orthodox formation in depth and using the principes and triarii as a direct support and reinforcement to his front line. The blow should be as concentrated as possible in time and as wide as possible in striking force, rather than a series of efforts. We see him, therefore, making hishastati close up to form a compact centre without intervals. Then similarly he closes each half of hisprincipes and triarii outwards, and advances them to extend the flank on either wing. The order from right to left of his now continuous line would thus be half the triarii, half the principes, thehastati, the other half of the principes, the other half of the triarii. He now once more overlaps the hostile front. To British readers this novel formation of Scipio’s, inspired by a flash of genius in the middle of a momentous conflict, should have a special interest. For here is born the “ line ” which the Peninsular War and Waterloo have made immortal, here Scipio anticipated Wellington by two thousand years in revealing the truth that the long shallow line is the formation which allows of the greatest volume of fire, which fulfils the law of economy of force by bringing into play the nre—whether bullets or javelins—of the greatest possible proportion of the force. The role of Scipio’s infantry in the final phase was to fix Hannibal’s force ready for the decisive manœuvre to be delivered by the cavalry. For this role violence and wideness of onslaught was more important than sustenance. Scipio made his redistribution deliberately and unhurriedly—the longer he could delay the final tussle the more time he gained for the return of his cavalry. It is not unlikely that Masinissa and Lælius pressed the pursuit rather too far, and so caused an unnecessary strain on the Roman infantry and on Scipio’s plan. For Polybius tells us that when the rival infantries met “ the contest was for long doubtful, the men falling where they stood out of determination, until Masinissa and Lælius arrived providentially at the proper moment.” Their charge, in the enemy’s rear, clinched the decision, and though most of Hannibal’s men fought grimly to the end, they were cut down in their ranks. Of those who took to flight few escaped, nor did the earlier fugitives fare any better, for Scipio’s cavalry swept the whole plain, and because of the wide expanse of level country, found no obstacle to their searching pursuit.
Polybius and Livy agree in putting the loss of the Carthaginians and their allies at twenty thousand slain and almost as many captured. On the other side, Polybius says that “ more than fifteen hundred Romans fell,” and Livy, that “ of the victors as many as two thousand fell.” The discrepancy is explained by the word “ Romans,” for Livy’s total clearly includes the allied troops. It is a common idea among historians that these figures are an underestimate, and that in ancient battles the tallies given always minimise the losses of the victor. Ardant du Picq, a profound and experienced thinker, has shown the fallacy of these cloistered historians. Even in battle to-day the defeated side suffers its heaviest loss after the issue is decided, in what is practically the massacre of unresisting or disorganised men. How much more must this disproportion have occurred when bullets, still less machine-guns, did not exist to take their initial toll of the victors. So long as formations remained unbroken the loss of life was relatively small, but when they were isolated or dissolved the massacre began.
“ Hannibal, slipping off during the confusion with a few horsemen, came to Hadrumetum, not quitting the field till he had tried every expedient both in the battle and before the engagement; having, according to the admission of Scipio, acquired the fame of having handled his troops on that day with singular judgment ” (Livy). Polybius’s tribute is equally ungrudging: “ For, firstly, he had by his conference with Scipio attempted to end the dispute by himself alone; showing thus that while conscious of his former successes he mistrusted Fortune, and was fully aware of the part that the unexpected plays in war. In the next place, when he offered battle, he so managed matters that it was impossible for any commander to make better dispositions for a contest against the Romans than Hannibal did on that occasion. The order of a Roman force in battle makes it very difficult to break through, for without any change it enables every man individually and in common with his fellows to present a front in any direction, the maniples which are nearest to the danger turning themselves by a single movement to face it. Their arms also give the men both protection and confidence, owing to the size of the shield and owing to the sword being strong enough to endure repeated blows.... But nevertheless to meet each of these assets Hannibal had shown supreme skill in adopting ... all such measures as were in his power and could reasonably be expected to succeed. For he had hastily collected that large number of elephants, and had placed them in front on the day of the battle in order to throw the enemy into confusion and break his ranks. He had placed the mercenaries in advance with the Carthaginians behind them, in order that the Romans before the final engagement might be fatigued by their exertions, and that their swords might lose their edge ... and also in order to compel the Carthaginians thus hemmed in front and rear to stand fast and fight, in the words of Homer : ‘ That e’en the unwilling might be forced to fight.‘
“ The most efficient and steadfast of his troops he had held in rear at an unusual distance in order that, anticipating and observing from afar the course of the battle, they might with undiminished strength and spirit influence the battle at the right moment. If he, who had never yet suffered defeat, after taking every possible step to ensure victory, yet failed to do so, we must pardon him. For there are times when Fortune counteracts the plans of valiant men, and again at times, as the proverb says, ‘ A brave man meets another braver still,’ as we may say happened in the case of Hannibal.”
Using this proverb in the sense that Polybius clearly meant it, here in a brief phrase is our verdict on the battle—a master of war had met a greater master. Hannibal had no Flaminius or Varro to facet. No longer was a complacent target offered him by a Roman general, conservative and ignorant of the “ sublime part of war ” like those who first met Hannibal in Italy, unwilling recipients of his instructional course. At Zama he faced a man whose vision had told him that in a cavalry superiority lay the master-card of battle ; whose diplomatic genius had led him long since to convert, in spirit and in effect, Hannibal’s source of cavalry to his own use ; whose strategic skill had lured the enemy to a battle-ground where this newly gained power could have full scope and offset his own numerical weakness in the other arms.
Rarely has any commander so ably illustrated the meaning of that hackneyed phrase “ gaining and retaining the initiative.” From the day when Scipio had defied the opinion of Fabius, monument of orthodoxy, and moved on Carthage instead of on the “ main armed forces of the enemy,” 7 he had kept the enemy dancing to his tune. Master in the mental sphere, he had compassed their moral disintegration to pave the way for the final act—their overthrow in the physical sphere. That this followed is less remarkable than the manner of its execution. Scipio is almost unique in that as a tactician he was as consummate an artist as in his strategy. Of few of the great captains can it be said that their tactical rivalled their strategical skill, or the reverse. Napoleon is an illustration. But in battle as in the wider field Scipio achieved that balance and blend of the mental, moral, and physical sphere which distinguishes him in the roll of history. Thus it came about that on the battlefield of Zama Scipio not only proved capable of countering each of Hannibal’s points, but turned the latter’s own weapon back upon himself to his mortal injury. Scan the records of time and we cannot find another decisive battle where two great generals gave of their best. Arbela, Cannæ, Pharsalus, Breitenfeld, Blenheim, Leuthen, Austerlitz, Jena, Waterloo, Sedan—all were marred by fumbling or ignorance on one side or the other.