The Battle of Zama
Tunisia is awash with history. Ancient ruins from the Carthaginian, Greek, Numidian, Roman, Byzantine times along with modern relics from the modern Ottoman, Arab, and French eras are found nearly everywhere. There's over 25,000 historical sites in Tunisia. Much of that history is associated with warfare. The Romans and Carthaginians fought three Punic Wars, the Byzantines fought off the Arabs as long as they could, and the Numidians attacked whoever wasn't in their favor in their day. Then there were to two World Wars in the 20th Century.
Studying ancient history back in my college days, I was fascinated by the Punic Wars and the Battle of Zama especially caught my interest. I made it a life goal to visit the site of this epic battle and I finally had the opportunity to go while I was still working in the region. I made plans with my driver once I arrived in Tunis and headed south to the area where the battle was fought. I looked at the date on my watch and it showed October 18, 2014. And then I remembered from my research that the Battle of Zama was fought on October 19, 202 BCE, one day shy of 2,216 years earlier.
First problem with locating the battlefield is that there is no consensus as to where the battle was actually fought. The armies ranged far and wide across this countryside, looking for high ground, looking for water and food, and looking for defensible ground. So while I wasn't sure exactly where the battle occurred, I knew that both armies had to have trampled the ground where I stood. We drove to Siliana and the small towns surrounding it and I looked for what I thought could be the actual site. Interestingly (and off topic), the Jasmine Revolution, the trigger that sparked the so-called Arab Spring, started here in Siliana with one guy who torched himself in protest of the corrupt government of Ben Ali who was eventually overthrown.
Yeah, it's all agricultural fields. But to be fair, so is the location of the Battle of Waterloo. Beneath these fields lie thousands of war dead. Carthaginians, Romans, and mercenaries from all of the region lie beneath the fertile soil. So do the war elephants. By the time of the Battle of Zama, war elephants had been used for hundreds of years. Seeing them on the field of battle would not have startled the Romans. They were a disciplined land army and had strategies to deal with these beasts. They got the best of them, unfortunately for the elephants and the Carthaginian soldiers who were trampled by the fleeing animals.
The Romans were victorious, Hannibal fled to fight another day, and the Third Punic War ensued years later. This time, the Romans finally put an end to Carthaginian meddling in their affairs and destroyed the city of Carthage.
Thought I'd pop into the Hotel Zama to snap a shot or two and have coffee and pastries. But the restaurant was gutted and it looked like the entire building was under renovation. It was hours before my driver and I could find a place to have a meal. A minor sacrifice compared to the poor sots who died tired, hungry, and filthy in the fields surrounding this town.