In 202 BC, on this day the Carthaginian General Hannibal Barca unleashed an unstoppable charge of eighty elephants that forced a Roman army commanded by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus to flee the battlefield in terror and confusion.
Battle of ZamaThe defeat was a crushing personal embarassment for Scipio. Elected Consul by an unanimous vote, he proposed to end the Second Punic War by directly invading the Carthaginian home land.
The Senate had initially opposed this ambitious design of Scipio, persuaded by Fabius Maximus that the enterprise was far too hazardous. However, Scipio and his supporters eventually convinced the Senate to ratify the plan, and Scipio was given the requisite authority to attempt the invasion. Initially he received no levy troops, and he sailed to Sicily with a group of seven thousad heterogeneous volunteers. Later, he obtained the authorization to employ also the regulars stationed in Sicily, which consisted mainly of the remnants of the 5th and 6th Legion, exiled to the island as a punishment for the humiliation they suffered in the Battle of Cannae.
Scipio kept on reinforcing his troops with local defectors. He landed at Utica, and defeated the Carthaginian army at the Battle of the Great Plains in 203 BC. The panicked Carthaginians felt that they had no other alternative than to offer peace to Scipio, who, having the authority, granted it with modest terms. According to the terms of the treaty signed between Scipio and Carthage, Carthage could keep its African territory, but would lose its overseas empire, by that time a fait-accompli. Masinissa was to be allowed to expand Numidia into parts of Africa. Also, Carthage was to reduce its fleet and pay a war indemnity. The Roman senate ratified the agreement. The Carthaginian senate recalled Hannibal from Italy in 203 BC. Meanwhile, the Carthaginians breached the armistice agreement by capturing a stranded Roman fleet in the Gulf of Tunis and stripping it of supplies. The Carthaginians no longer believed a treaty advantageous, and rebuffed it under much Roman protest.
Hannibal led an army composed of local citizens and veterans from his Italian campaigns, and Scipio led the already present Roman army of legionaries, along with a body of Numidian cavalry. The battle took place at Zama Regia, near Siliana 130 km south-west of the capital Tunis.
The result earned a temporary truce for Hannibal who died of old age before the commencement of the Third Punic War.