Painting Carthaginians
(DBA I/61 & II/32)


Jonathan Lim

Ah, the might of Hannibal's Punic force! What mortal can withstand his superhuman strategies! Actually, Scipio Africanus didn't do too badly - and it was his son, Scipio Aemilianus who burnt Carthage to the ground, killed every man, woman, child, animal and plant, (Honestly!) and made sure no native Carthaginian lived to tell the tale. Just think - today, there are no native descendents of the Carthaginians, who numbered a million. Roman atrocities aside, here is a painting guide for those who wish to command the brilliant but tragic army of the Carthaginians.

INFANTRY: The Carthaginians originally had a force of spearmen, in a hoplite fashion. These were superceded by..well, other spearmen...but these were armed with Roman chainmail.

  • African Spearmen: These were armed with a spear. They had red tunics, wore Roman chainmail, and had a bronze helmet with a black stripe across the brow. Their shields were round hoplite shields painted "shining white". I painted mine with the now-famous emblem of the Carthaginians, the horizontal crescent above a circle, in regimental colours.

  • Sacred Band: These were the elite spearmen of Hannibal's army. They wore a white linen cuirass, with a sunburst, presumably the symbol of the Sacred Band, an red on the shoulder flaps. This looked rather like the Macedonian Star. The tunic was yellow. The pteruges had red rectangles along the bottom edge. The cuirass also had a red belt, and red piping along the edges. The Sacred band also carried a large hoplite shield painted red.

  • Spanish: These were mercenary troops in Hannibal's pay. Allow me to quote from Polybios:

    "The shields used by the Spaniards and Celts were very similar to one another, but their swords were quite different. The point of the Spanish sword was no less effective for wounding than the edge...the troops were drawn up in alternate companies, the Celts naked, the Spanish with their short linen tunics bordered with purple - their national dress - so their line presented a strange and terrifying appearance." (Penguin Translation 1979 p271)

    There we have it. The only uniform army I know of that is confirmed by an ancient writer - and one of the few mentions of uniform colours in ANY ancient source.

    The Spanish wore white tunics with a ten centimetre purple border along the lower edge, along the sleeves, and along the tunic neck, which was not rounded but pointed,. like a bathrobe. They wore a bronze helmet. Their most famous weapon was the falcata, a short, scimitar like sword with a hand guard extending around the hand. This was made of famously high-grade steel (ancestors of Toledo??) that could allegedly cut through armour with great ease. The Imperial Roman sword was heavily based on the falcata, although it was straight not curved.

  • Celts/Celtiberians: These were, like the Spanish, in mercenary pay. From the preceding passage we can deduce that, like the Gaesati, they fought naked (though this may mean "naked to the waist") or maybe in the traditional Celtic clothes we all know about. Colours the Celts liked were red, blue, green, especially in checkers or stripes. They were un-uniform in clothing, so be creative. Oh, yes, and Celts at this time probably still wore woad tattoos in battle!

  • Balaeric Slingers: These were your basic skirmisher, armed merely with a spear and a bronze helmet.

The Cavalry:

  • Sacred Band: They're everywhere aren't they! The Sacred Band also fought on horseback as rather good cavalry. They dressed much like the foot soldiers, except they had a white cloak with light blue and yellow stars dyed on it. These were tiny and shaped like asterisks.

  • Numidians: These happy-go-lucky light horse were incredibly fast and efficient, knowing every light horse trick in the book. They wore brown clothes, had brown hair and brown ponies....even their shields were covered in brown cow hide. Very boring to look at, but they're good at their business.

  • Celts: Expect these to be higher class than the Celtic foot, with chain mail tunics with the celtic chainmail short cape going down to the shoulders only and done up with a golden brooch. They would have more iron helmets than the normal chaps. Otherwise much the same.

Chris Norwood

"Armies & Enemies of the Macedonian & Punic Wars" by Duncan Head is the best place to find info on the Carthaginian army. I think Essex Miniatures also produce a painting guide available with each starter pack's list for a minimal fee.

My understanding is that Libyan light infantry wore red leather tunics, African spearmen and Poeni spearmen resembled other Hellenistic types with bronze helmet and decorated/painted cuirass (possibly white). Poeni spearmen are commonly depicted with red or crimson tunics in line with references in ancient sources. In later years the Poeni spearmen only rarely left the city-area and so may well have been able to retain this uniformity. On a campaign, however, tunic colours would vary depending on textile availability.

The one question I have not seen dealt with satisfactorily regarding Carthaginians is skin colour. The Carthaginians were of Phoenician origin, but by the time of the Punic Wars they had been in Africa a long time and so with inter-marriage I assume that there would be very little difference in appearance between Libyans, Numidians and Carthaginian citizens.

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Last Updated: December 16, 2003

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome.
Send them to Chris Brantley,