Scipio Africanus: Tactical Innovator and Vanquisher of Hannibal
We already have a great list of Roman generals, but only Scipio has the claim of defeating a commander who could easily find himself in a top ten list of all-time greatest commanders. Scipio fought in a war that very easily could have ended with a subjugated Rome, but emerged with an extra name (Africanus) for the region he conquered.
The Second Punic War was the last war of the Republican era where the Romans had to fight for their very existence. Scipio brought Rome from the brink of defeat after Cannae, to the beginnings of an Empire.
Scipio was only 18 when Hannibal invaded Rome in 218 BCE, but he fought in at least two of the great Roman losses against Hannibal, including Cannae. When he was old enough, actually even younger than the required age, Scipio was elected Consul and went to Spain to take over his deceased father and uncle’s command.
Fighting against the same Carthaginians who killed his father, Scipio quickly took the offensive against one of the three full-sized armies in Spain. At the battle of Baecula, Scipio faced a fortified Carthaginian army on top of a hill and waiting for reinforcements. Scipio’s well-trained troops executed a series of pincer attacks and quickly surrounded groups of defenders while attacking uphill and eventually routing the whole army.
At Ilipa, Scipio refused his weaker center infantry and attacked with his elite Roman infantry on his wings. This froze the Carthaginian elite center in place while the Romans annihilated the weaker Carthaginian wings.
Finally, after a string of victories in Africa, from ambushes to nighttime assaults on enemy camps, Scipio’s success brought Hannibal back to Africa. Scipio had finally freed Rome from over a decade of Hannibal, but now faced a legendary commander on his home turf.
The 10,000 Roman survivors of Cannae had been living in disgrace for their defeat until they were recruited by Scipio to invade Africa. After 14 years of disgrace, these men finally had the chance to regain their honor by defeating Hannibal.
Scipio and Hannibal fought an epic chess-match of a battle at Zama. Scipio countered Hannibal’s elephants and routed Hannibal’s cavalry. Hannibal reformed his infantry line to envelope Scipio, but Scipio quickly matched the line and the titanic infantry struggle was finally won as Scipio’s cavalry returned to the fight with a devastating charge to Hannibal’s rear.
Not only did Scipio never lose a battle, he defeated several talented commanders, including one of the best generals of world history. Unlike Caesar or many of the other generals, Scipio won his greatest victories in his twenties and early thirties. Caesar was in his forties before he even started his first major campaign in Gaul.