Carthage holds a special place in history to many as early Rome’s most dangerous opponent and her most famous general, Hannibal as one of history's most brilliant. The army of Carthage was mostly made up of mercenaries because of Carthage’s low population and to this day it is a wonder that Carthage never suffered a major revolt from her mercenaries.
For most of her early history Carthage had a citizen army. From Carthage’s founding to the 6th century B.C. Carthage maintained a rather small but well led army whose core was its cavalry. From the early days to the Silician Wars the sons of the most influential nobles served in a unit called the “Sacred Legion”. Which is described as carrying large white shields and ornate breastplates (in fact some of these breastplates became so ornate that they could not used in battle and as a result hung in the wearer’s home) as a distinguishing mark. The early Carthaginian army organized along the lines of the army of Alexander the Great, and like that army the Carthaginians used heavy cavalry as the core and expert infantry as support. As Carthaginian explorers discovered new lands, in particular Hanno it became increasing obvious that the citizen army was not enough to defend Carthage’s ever expanding territory.
From the 6th century on Carthage began to hire mercenaries. As Carthage’s territory grew in size the citizen army was found to small to protect all of the overseas possessions that Carthage possessed. This was the reason that Carthage began to hire large amounts of mercenaries. Carthage hired many mercenaries from all over the Mediterranean Sea. Carthage primarily hired mercenaries from Numidia, Libya and from the Berber peoples living in those regions. Later on large contingents of mercenaries came from Celtiberia. In the 3rd century Carthage passed a law exempting all men from military service so that they could concentrate on trade and industry. Some Carthaginians however became officers in the mercenary army, this however carried a big risk for if you lost a battle the Hundred Magistrates (Carthage’s ruling council) would crucify you.
Under their officers the mercenary army organized like so: the backbone was the Libyan heavy infantry which carried the sarissa into battle and fought Macedonian style. Numidian spearmen also formed an important part of the center of the army. Balearic slingers who’s hardened clay projectiles could kill easily supported the Libyans and Numidians. The Numidian archers and javelinmen also provided support. The cavalry arm of the army was the hammer to the infantry’s anvil it consisted of: the Numidian light cavalry, whose javelins and quickness made them world’s best light cavalry at the time. There was also the Berber cavalry who rode into battle with a weapon in each hand screaming at the top of their lungs. There was also Celtiberian cavalry who provided Carthage a with a excellent medium to heavy cavalry force to be reckoned with, the Celtiberian cavalry could also dismount and became infantry, their fighting capabilities were second only to the Libyans. The real heavy cavalry of the Carthaginians was the Libyan-Phoenician cavalrymen whose heavy hitting force was amazing for the size of most units of them.
The most famous part of the army of Carthage was the War Elephants that were used by Hannibal in the Second Punic War. The War Elephants used by Carthage were African Forest Elephants, which was the smaller of the two sub species of African Elephants. Forest Elephants were anywhere between 7 feet and 8 feet tall, never actually reaching 8ft which was the height of the larger of the two, the Bush Elephant. The Carthaginians used many War Elephants in their army, and often times the Elephants decided the course of the battle. While the Elephants had thick skin the Carthaginians as most peoples using Elephants fastened on to the beast thick sheets of armor plating and often times the Elephants had a plate on their forehead that had a large iron point sticking out of it. Many Elephants had towers fastened on their backs, which served to hold contingents of Numidian and other assorted mercenary archers. War Elephants served many different purposes in battle such as routing infantry and cavalry, acting as a defense screen, and destroying enemy camps (using War Elephants to destroy the enemy’s camp was done rarely). The Carthaginians learned early on to keep their Elephants in reserve and use them only when the time was right, Hannibal in particular heeded this pearl of wisdom in the Iberian campaigns and in the Second Punic War. In the Punic Wars the Romans learned after a few battles that Elephants could be beat and used many different tactics such as: carrying pigs into battle (their squeal seems to upset Elephants), killing their horses in front of the Elephants (the smell of horse blood seems to disturb Elephants). The Romans also deployed in open order in order to spread out the damage caused by the Elephants. The Carthaginians knew very well that the Romans tactics and being wounded would make Elephants go berserk and so each Mahout (Elephant driver and trainer) was given a spike and hammer to kill the Elephant by driving the spike into the Elephants skull near the neck.
While the Carthaginians never out numbered the Romans in battle or out did them in weaponry it was the Carthaginian leadership that lead their polyglot army to victory. In particular the Barcids such as Hannibal and Hasdurbal.