Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major

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Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major

Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major (236-184 B.C.) was a Roman official during the Second Punic War. He defeated Hannibal in the Battle of Zama and was a champion of both Roman imperialism and the enlightened pro-Hellenic spirit of a new age.

Scipio was married to Aemilia, sister of Lucius Aemilius Paullus (victor of Pydna in 168 B.C.), and became the father of Cornelia, mother of the Gracchus brothers.

As a youth of about 18, Scipio was credited with having saved his father's life at the Battle of the Ticinus (Ticino) in 218, and as military tribune in 216, he rallied the survivors after the disastrous defeat of Cannae. The young Scipio held the office of curule aedile in 213. When, in 211, Lucius and Gnaeus Scipio, his father and uncle, fell in Spain, he was appointed by vote of the Roman people to their proconsular command, the first privatus (private citizen) in Roman history to obtain this privilege.

Punic Wars

In Spain, Scipio seized New Carthage, the enemy's headquarters, but won great sympathy by his humane treatment of his Spanish captives. In 208 he defeated Hasdrubal Barca at Baecula but was unable to prevent the enemy's escape and march across the Pyrenees. After defeating two other enemy armies at Ilipa, he captured Gades (Cadiz), the last stronghold of the Carthaginians in Spain. In 206 he left for Rome to stand for the consulship.

As consul in 205, Scipio was assigned the province of Sicily and, after strong senatorial opposition, also the province of Africa. In 204 he crossed to Africa with 35,000 men. He besieged Utica for 40 days until the beginning of winter forced him to encamp on a nearby headland. Early in the following year he defeated the Carthaginians at Campi Magni, overran their territory, and captured Tunis. Scipio granted the enemy an armistice to seek peace terms in Rome, but late in 203 Hannibal returned to Africa to renew the war. Landing his troops at Leptis, Scipio headed for Zama, a 5 days' march west of Carthage. Here the decisive battle took place, ending in a complete victory for Scipio and King Masinissa, his Numidian ally. Scipio concluded the peace and returned to Rome, where he celebrated his triumph. Henceforth he carried the honorary cognomen Africanus.

Elected censor in 199, Scipio became princeps senatus (leader of the Senate) till the end of his life. Consul for the second time in 194, he was thwarted by the Senate in his desire to obtain the province of Macedonia, where he hoped to pursue his pro-Hellenic policy against the threat of the Syrian king Antiochus III. In the following year he was sent to Africa to arbitrate in a border conflict between Carthage and King Masinissa. In 190 Scipio was instrumental in obtaining for his brother Lucius, consul of the year, the command against Antiochus by offering to accompany him as legate on his campaign.

Seriously ill in Asia Minor, Scipio Africanus took no part in the decisive victory of Magnesia in 189 but was active again during the peace negotiations at Sardis. When the two brothers returned to Rome, they were immediately attacked by the party of Cato the Elder, a vigorous opponent of the pro-Hellenic policy of the Scipios.

Lucius was accused of embezzling the money paid by Antiochus as a war indemnity to the Roman people. Asked to produce the account books, Scipio Africanus tore them up before the eyes of the senators. When, according to one tradition, he was himself accused of accepting bribery from Antiochus, he invited the people to follow him up to the Capitol in order to give thanks to Jupiter for the victory of Zama. His power broken, Scipio left Rome as a private citizen, disillusioned and ill, to retire on his estate at Liternum in Campania.

Further Reading

The definitive biography is Howard Hayes Scullard, Scipio Africanus: Soldier and Politician (1970). Extremely valuable are Scullard's Scipio Africanus in the Second Punic War (1930) and Richard M. Haywood, Studies on Scipio Africanus (1933). Designed for the general reader are Basil Henry Liddell Hart, A "Greater than Napoleon": Scipio Africanus (1926), and the fictional account by Friedrich Donauer, Swords against Carthage, translated by F. T. Cooper (1932). Recommended for general historical background are J. B. Bury and others, eds., The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 8 (1930), and Howard H. Scullard, A History of the Roman World from 753-146 B.C. (1935; rev. ed. 1951) and Roman Politics 220-150 B.C. (1951). □

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