South African Military History Society


The entire evening meeting of 8th June was taken up by a three-man talk on the Second Carthaginian (Punic) War. It was an outstanding effort on the part of Hamish Paterson, Martin Ayres and society chairman Kemsley Couldridge, remarkable for the depth of its research, the extent of its coverage and the competence of its staff work.

Hamish opened proceedings with an account of the rise of both Rome and Carthage. Rome was founded in 753 BC, and by the start of the second war with Carthage in 218 BC had extended its imperial power northwards into the territory of the Etruscans, southward in a series of protracted wars against the Samnites, and westward into southern Gaul and Spain. It had also driven the Greek King Pyrrhus from southern Italy.

Carthage was a former colonial outpost of the Levantine city of Tyre, which by the early 3rd century BC had established itself as a formidable military and commercial power with extensive trading interests in Sicily and, especially, Spain. The collapse of the Greek hegemony in southern Italy left Rome and Carthage facing one another in a rivalry that resulted in three prolonged wars, before Rome eventually emerged victorious.

The first Carthaginian war, a 15-year struggle that ended with the Roman annexation of Sicily and an extension of the Roman imperium to Corsica and Sardinia. Rome also added a navy to its already impressive military array, and Roman gains in Spain, which the Carthaginians regarded as their preserve, made a second war inevitable.

At this time the Roman State was, as explained by Kemsley, a republic "organized for defence, and to prevent the emergence of a professional military caste". It was ruled over by two annually appointed consuls, chosen by virtue mainly of family connections rather than their military ability.

The army itself was organised into legions of heavy infantry, numbering about 6 000 Roman citizens, either professionals or levies, supported by cavalry, mercenaries, and units of "allies" -- subject peoples -- of varied capabilities and loyalties. Dress and weaponry was supplied by the troops themselves, and was by no means uniform in appearance or effectiveness.

Apart from a small group of citizen levies and cavalry commanded by men of noble birth, the Carthaginian Army, as described by Hamish, also consisted of levies from subject peoples, mercenaries and allies.

The infantry was made up of Hoplites, heavily armed and armoured, close-order troops; Peltastes, loose-order infantry capable of operating in broken ground; and Psiloi, skirmishers fighting mainly with missiles. The cavalry was organised on similar lines, but included a portion of highly effective horsemen from the kingdom of Numidia in eastern Algeria, whose contribution to the army's capability was to prove crucial to the Carthaginians' subsequent victories.

The Second Carthaginian (Punic) War was started by the Carthaginians in a desperate attempt to counter the spread of Roman power and influence into regions and activities they had come to regard as their exclusive preserve. A huge army was assembled in southern Spain under the command of Hannibal, one of the most competent military leaders in the history of warfare. As every schoolboy knows, the army was spearheaded by a troop of war elephants.

Hannibal's strategy was to march northward through eastern Spain and southern Gaul, obliterating the Roman presence as he went, cross the Alps, defeat whatever Roman military power he encountered, and weaken Rome irretrievably by separating her from her allies and subject peoples.

No serious resistance was encountered until the army reached northern Italy five months after setting out from the Spanish city of Cartegina (new Carthage), although it suffered severely from disease and desertions, especially during the 15-day crossing of the Alps. By this time Hannibal badly needed a victory, and the Romans, under Publius Cornelius Scipio, father of the future Scipio Africanus, obligingly provided him with two, one each at the rivers Ticinus and Trebia, south of modern Turin.

Hannibal's next major victory was won at Lake Trasimene on the Carthaginians' line of advance. Assembled on the hills overlooking the lake, and hidden by mist from a Roman army using the road below, the Carthaginians were able to impose a stunning defeat on the Romans in what amounted to a classic ambush.

After Lake Trasimene Hannibal was able to cross the Apennines and march his army east of Rome into southern Italy against minimal resistance from the Romans, but in the teeth of appalling privation and disease. It was at this time that Hannibal lost the sight of one eye.

In response to its extreme peril Rome appointed a dictator, Fabius Maximus, whose military strategy was to weaken the Carthaginians using guerrilla tactics and avoiding another pitched battle. This did not satisfy the growing desperation in Rome, however, and Fabius was forced to make way for two pro-consuls, Gnaeus Servilius and Marcus Atilius Regulus. The two were to share command, on alternate days, of Rome's last effective field army, which was quickly put in training.

Martin Ayres described how the next and decisive clash was precipitated by Hannibal's army running short of supplies in its resting zone at Geronium, south-east of Rome on the eastern side of the Apennines. Hannibal marched swiftly southward, crossed the River Aufidis and seized the Roman supply depot at Cannae, the centre of a region that comprising the Romans' granary.

The Roman Senate, now thoroughly alarmed, ordered Servilius and Regulus to await the arrival of two new legions and then give battle. The subsequent clash was yet another disaster for the Roman Army, which was completely out-manoeurved and out-generalled.

It was also a disaster for Rome, which was left virtually defenceless. Hannibal has often been criticized for not attacking the city itself after his stunning victory at Cannae, but this does not appear to have been part of his overall strategy.

Instead, for a further 13 years he cut Rome off from its possessions in southern Italy, until eventually the Romans were able to raise fresh armies and, under Scipio Africanus, invade the Carthaginian home territory in north Africa.

Hannibal was recalled from Italy with his much-depleted forces, and in 202 BC the two armies met in the final and decisive battle of the war at Zama, 110 km from Carthage. Once again Numidian cavalry played a crucial role in the victory, but by this time they had changed sides and were fighting alongside the Romans.

Rome's victory forced Hannibal to flee to Greece, while Rome's influence was restored in Italy and enlarged in Spain. The stage was set for the third and final Carthaginian war in 140 BC.

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The chairman would like to remind all members that before the 13th July meeting, and starting at 7pm, there will be a cheese and wine party held in the canteen at a nominal charge of R10 per head.
An e-mail message has reached our Treasurer, Mike Marsh, from an American military memorabilia enthusiast collected a small World War Two museum of uniforms, weapons, equipment and such like, of the US and other participants. In 1987 he began contacting veterans of the war -- already more than 2 000 in 24 countries -- whose experiences he is compiling into a book. He is anxious to find more, and is seeking information such as name, rank, unit of veterans, plus accounts of battle experiences, humour etc. -- "can be anything". He would also appreciate pictures of veterans while in service.

If anybody is able and willing to help they should contact Mike on Tel: (011) 648-2087 or P.O. Box 59227, Kengray 2100.

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13th July
CR - F Machanik - The Tattoos & Trophies of War
ML - D Friend - The German influence in SA military history.
(Supplemented by artifacts from the Museum)


13th July - Mark Coghlan of the Kwazulu Natal Museum - Show a video and give a talk
on his research into the 1918 film "The Symbol of Sacrifice" about the 1889 Anglo/Zulu War.

Cape Town

13th July - A representative of the SA Air Force Museum will give a talk on the SA Air Force 1920-1995.

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George Barrell

(011) 787-1524

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