3 – Battle of Zama (202 BC)
Cannae was probably the nadir of Roman military activity, but the Republic survived and learned from the humiliation. Its leaders realized that trying to fight Hannibal in open field battles was pointless and reverted to the Fabian strategy of avoiding pitched battles and using guerilla-style hit and run tactics to frustrate and confuse the enemy. The Romans managed to slowly but surely rebuild their army and in 209 BC, Scipio Africanus led the fight back by taking New Carthage in Spain at the Battle of Cartagena. It was a turning point in Roman military strategy as Scipio used cunning rather than brute force to take the fortress.
Scipio believed that if he attacked Carthage itself, Hannibal would be forced to come home and defend his people. As a result, Scipio invaded North Africa and took the city of Utica in 203 BC after a siege. As Scipio had hoped, Hannibal was recalled, and they faced off at Zama near Carthage. Both armies had approximately 40,000 men and Hannibal was able to field 80 war elephants.
In a complete reversal of Cannae, it was the Roman commander who employed trickery to his advantage. Scipio arranged his men in columns with the gaps masked by light infantry. This gave the appearance that the Romans had lined up in a similar fashion to their enemy. Hannibal sent his elephants into battle, but Scipio ordered his light infantry to move into the columns, so the elephants harmlessly passed through the gaps.
The Roman cavalry got behind Carthaginian lines, and its infantry advanced. Ultimately, Hannibal’s force became trapped as the enemy cavalry were at its rear and the Roman infantry was at the front. Up to 20,000 Carthaginians died at Zama and although Hannibal escaped, he told his Senate that the war was lost and advised them to sue for peace. As well as ending the Second Punic War, Zama marked the real beginning of the Roman expansion.