Roman Military Conquests Part 2


Two decades after Carthage lost the Punic War, Hannibal (247-c. 182 BC) was now a soldier and leader of his nation’s military. At 25 years old, he was already a great warrior.

Fresh from the Conquest of Spain he remained his troops of his promise to punish Rome. Attacking Rome would not be easy.

No longer in control of the Mediterranean, Hannibal would have to make the journey by land. He would cross the Alps with 40,000 men and 37 elephants.

Autumn 218 BC, men and beast would trudge over cruel terrain. When they finally make it through the mountains, one-third of his men are dead.

Most of the horses and all but one of the elephants have perished. Yet, the survivors marched on.

Even before the first battle, Rome sees Hannibal as a potent threat. The Roman Senate raised six new legions more than 30,000 men.

The Second Punic War had begun.

The Second Punic War

This time the deciding factor would not be manpower, but strategy. Most Romans commanders were political appointees with battlefield experience. They were no match for a military genius like Hannibal.

2nd Punic War (221-183 BC) – In battle after battle. Hannibal defeated the Roman Legions. The most devastating defeat was the battle of Cannae.

Here, Hannibal, though badly outnumbered, managed to surround the Romans and slaughtered them. 50,000 Romans, more than half the entire Roman military killed. It was the worst defeat Rome ever suffered.

For 15 long years, the war against Hannibal dragged on. Large areas of southern Italy defected to him. Hannibal never lost a single battle and many wondered how long it would be before he attacked the city of Rome.

The tide didn’t turn against Hannibal until the Senate called up a military leader in the same league with the legendary Carthaginian. Publius Cornelius Scipio (died 211 BC) had the cunning and the charisma to match “the Scourge of Rome.”

Son of a general and a survivor of the Battle of Cannae, the younger Scipio studied Hannibal’s strategy closely. In 204 BC rather than confront Hannibal in Italy Scipio had a brilliant, but risky plan- an end run.

He sailed to Africa, and invaded the empire of Carthage.

Carthage was forced to respond, recalling Hannibal from 17 years of torment of Italy. It was the moment of truth.

The Battle of Zama

Scipio and Hannibal would fight a single battle to decide the 2nd Punic War- the Battle of Zama. The two sides were well matched with almost 34,000 men each but there were crucial differences.

Hannibal had been resupplied with 80 of his dreaded elephants, but Scipio had drilled his troops in tactics for dealing with the great beasts. Roman troops would form long corridors to funnel the charging elephants away from the front lines where they do the most damage.

Scipio also had the support of thousands of local Numidian cavalry, who defected from Hannibal. Renowned as the best cavalry in the world, the horsemen added to Scipio’s edge.

Scipio finally and soundly defeated Hannibal at Zama.

The Battle of Zama (Carthage defeated 202 BC) Carthage was crippled.

Carthage was forced to hand over all but 10 of her warships, all her elephants, and a treasure so great it would take 20 years to pay.

The once great empire was improvised and stripped of all her power. Hannibal escaped from the Battle of Zama. For a time, he tried to revive his waning Carthage, but eventually fled to exile in Greece.

And though the aging warrior no longer posed any threat. Rome still pursued him to capture the famous Scourge.

He put a drink of poison to his lips and drained his cup. His suicide was not victory enough.

The Third Punic War

After so many years of war, Rome still saw Carthage as an enemy and could not abide her survival in any form.

Third Punic War (149-146 BC) in 146 BC, Rome destroyed the African empire once and for all in the final Punic War, slaughtering half a million people.

The Pearl of the Mediterranean was ground into dust. Carthage was no more.

Expansion of the Empire

Rome now controlled the entire Mediterranean along with parts of Spain- southern Gaul and the Italian Peninsula. In the past 50 years alone, she would more than triple her domain.

Her military was the most successful fighting force the world had ever known. No power on Earth could truly threaten her and every nation in her reach had reason to fear.

Success wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be. More than a century after the wars against Carthage began Rome was drained, both financially and emotionally.

War weary Romans had lost hundreds of thousands of sons in bloody battles in faraway lands. Surviving soldiers had been fighting so long, they barely remembered their homes.

A Professional Standing Army

A non-professional citizen enemy was no longer adequate for an empire the size of Rome’s. It would fall largely to one man’s professionalism the Roman military a general and politician named Gaius Marius (157-86 BC).

Marius saw the need for far-reaching changes in the structure of the Roman army. To be a soldier would now be a career in itself, not merely a sideline from landed citizens.

Marius recruited even the poorest Roman into the legions and issued them standardized equipment, making them the best outfitted soldiers in the ancient world.

But the biggest change at all, this new class of warrior had a special relationship with its commander. When they became veterans, Marius would personally seem to it that his men received a grant of land, often in recently conquered territories.

In the end, this was more than a generous perk for poor soldiers with no forms to return to. In fact, it was revolutionary.

Suddenly, a soldier’s first loyalty was to the general who recruited him and took care of him in old age, and not to the state. Powerful generals now controlled their own private armies.


Soon, they would use them, however, they saw fit, even against Rome herself. By 1st Century BC, in a powerful general. Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138-78 BC) would be the first to ask in on the loyalty of his men.

Sulla was famous for commanding the affections of his soldiers. In 89 BC, when the Senate ordered Sulla to hand over control of his army in Southern Italy, he refused, and his troops remained fiercely devoted to him.

Armed with six renegade legions, more 30,000 men. Sulla then did an astonishing thing. He marched on Rome on the city of Rome. Once in control of the city Sulla’s troops went on a bloody rampage.

Hundreds of Sulla’s political enemies were then rounded up and executed. Sulla planted his own and supporters in power and quickly left of the city in peace, but nothing in Rome would ever be the same.

Soon, another Roman army would march against Rome, led by a great leader, politician and general. His name was Julius Caesar.


Boak, A. E. (2010 ). A HISTORY OF ROME TO 565 AD. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Univeristy of Michigan Press.

de la Bédoyère, G. (2006). The Romans For Dummies. West Sussex, England : John Wiley & Sons.