Friday, March 24, 2006

Conversations with Hannibal Part 4

With new consuls elected, Rome raised an enormous Consular Army, the largest ever assembeled. Eight Legions and an equal number of allied units were assembeled to fight Hannibal.

A reasonable estimate of the size of this force has been placed by historians at 83,000 men. Given a typical Roman force, the breakdown would be this: 6,000 cavalry, 17,000 skirmishers and the rest the famous Roman heavy infantry.

Against this Roman force, uniformly equipped and drawn up in formation, we have Hannibal's force composed of individualistic mercenary units who fought in their own national styles and bearing their own equipment. Each unit also had its own national officers. Only the upper echelons of command were actually inhabited by Carthaginian citizens.

Numidian light cavalry, bearing large shields, armed with javelin and spear, riding short ponies gave Hannibal a quick, very maneuverable light cavalry force.

Libyan and Phoenician forces provided heavy cavalry, with helmet, chain corselet, lance, shield and spear.

Spaniards provided slingers, one of the most deadly weapons of the ancient world among those skilled in its use (as these men certainly were).

Spanish and Gallic forces, recently recruited from the north of Italy provided Hannibal with a heavy infantry contigent.

Celtic mercenaries provided Hannibal with heavy cavalry. The cream of Celtic society, these knights would have used chain mail, longsword, shield and lance.

Libyan heavy infantry rounded out this force. These mercenaries were perhaps Hannibal's best men. Not only were they extremely experienced and battle-hardened, they were newly equipped with arms and armor stripped from the best-equipped heavy infantry in the world: the Romans, killed in Hannibal's earlier campaigns.

To a modern general, indeed even to the Romans of the day, Hannibal's army was a chaotic hodgepodge force. What might have seemed a weakness however, Hannibal turned into a strength. Each of these individual units had a tactical capability which Hannibal was able to mix and match to meet the needs of a battle as it unfolded. As a brilliant general, Hannibal was a master at doing just that.

In contrast to what might have been expected moreover, Hannibal's army was well-motivated and completely devoted to their general whom they had served under in numerous campaigns in Spain. This explains his ability to resist the abortive Fabian strategy of harrasment. Hannibal's army was not the type to dissolve beneath him. It is not too strong to say they loved their leader.

The stage was set, the orchestra engaged, the hall was rented.

It was time for these two armies to meet in one of the greatest clashes the world has ever seen: The Battle of Cannae.

To be continued...

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