1902 Encyclopedia > Scipio Africanus

Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus
(also known as: Scipio Africanus, Scipio the Elder, Africanus the Elder)
Roman soldier and conqueror of Carthage

(236-183 BC)

PUBLIUS CORNELIUS SCIPIO AFRICANUS THE ELDER.— After having been present at the disastrous battles of the Ticinus, the Trebia, and Cannae, and having after that last crushing defeat had the spirit to remonstrate with several Roman nobles who advocated giving up the struggle and quitting Italy in despair, Scipio, at the age of twenty-four, offered to take the command of the Roman army in Spain the year after his father's death. The people already had an intense belief in him, and he was unanimously elected. All Spain west of the Ebro was in the year of his arrival (210) under Carthaginian control, but fortunately for him the three Carthaginian generals, Hasdrubal (Hannibal's brother), Hasdrubal the son of Gisgo, and Mago (also Hannibal's brother), were not disposed to act in concert. Scipio was thus enabled to surprise and capture New Carthage, the headquarters of the Carthaginian power in Spain, from which he obtained a rich booty of war stores and supplies, with a particularly good harbour. The native Spanish tribes now became friendly, and Scipio found useful allies among them. In the following year he fought Hasdrubal somewhere in the upper valley of the Guadalquivir, but the action could hardly have been a decisive one, as soon afterwards the Carthaginian crossed the Pyrenees at the head of a considerable army on his way to Italy. Next year another battle was fought in the same neighbourhood, and Scipio's success appears to have been sufficiently decided to compel the Carthaginian commanders to fall back on Gades, in the south-western corner of Spain. The country was now for the most part under Roman influence, a result due even more to the statesmanlike tact of Scipio than to his military ability. With the idea of striking a blow at Carthage in Africa, the Roman general paid a short visit to the Numidian princes, Syphax and Masinissa, but at the court of Syphax he was foiled by the presence of Hasdrubal, the son of Gisgo, whose daughter Sophonisba was married to the Numidian chief. On his return to Spain Scipio had to quell a mutiny which had broken out among his troops. Hannibal's brother Mago had meanwhile sailed for Italy, and Scipio himself in 206, after having established the Roman ascendency in Spain, gave up his command and returned to Rome to stand for the consulship, to which he was unanimously elected the following year, the province of Sicily being assigned to him. By this time Hasdrubal with his army had perished on the Metaurus, and Hannibal's movements were restricted to the south-western extremity of Italy. For Borne the worst part of the struggle was over. The war was now to be transferred by Scipio from Italy to Africa. He was himself eagerly intent on this, and his great name drew to him a number of volunteers from all parts of Italy. There was but one obstacle: the old-fashioned aristocracy of Rome did not like him, as his taste for splendid living and Greek culture was particularly offensive to them. A party in the senate would have recalled him, but the popular enthusiasm was too strong for them. A commission of inquiry was sent over to Sicily, and it found that he was at the head of a well-equipped fleet and army. At the commissioners' bidding he sailed in 201 from Lilybasum (Marsala) and landed on the coast of Africa near Utica. Carthage meanwhile had secured the friendship of the powerful Numidian chief Syphax, whose advance compelled Scipio to raise the siege of Utica and to entrench himself on the shore between that place and Carthage. Next year he surprised and utterly defeated Syphax and drove the Carthaginian army out of the field. There was an attempt at negotiation, but the war party prevailed and Hannibal was recalled from Italy. The decisive battle was fought near the Numidian town of Zama in 202 and ended in Hannibal's complete defeat. Peace was concluded with the Carthaginians in the following year on terms which strictly confined their dominion to a comparatively small territory in Africa, almost annihilated their fleet, and exacted a heavy war contribution. In fact, the independence of Carthage was destroyed, and it became simply a rich commercial city. The old-fashioned and narrow-minded aristocrats who were in sympathy with the " delenda est Carthago " policy subsequently announced by Cato thought these terms too lenient; but Scipio was too great and too generous a man to lend himself to the base work of utterly extinguishing an ancient and noble centre of civilization. Rome was now perfectly safe from attack. It was a great Mediterranean power: Spain and Sicily were Roman provinces, and the north of Africa was under a Roman protectorate. Such was the end, after seventeen years, of the Second Punic War. Scipio was welcomed back to Rome with the surname of Africanus, and he had the moderation and good sense to refuse the many honours which the people would have thrust upon him. For some years he lived quietly and took no part in politics. In 190 his brother Lucius Scipio was consul and, on the understanding that he should have the benefit of the military skill and experience of Africanus, he was entrusted with the war in Asia against Antiochus. The two brothers brought the war to a conclusion by a decisive victory at Magnesia in the same year. Meanwhile Scipio's political enemies had gained ground, and on their return to Rome a prosecution was started against Lucius on the ground of misappropriation of moneys received from Antiochus. As Lucius was in the act of producing his account-books his brother wrested them from his hands, tore them in pieces, and flung them on the floor of the senate-house. He was then himself accused of having been bribed by Antiochus, but he reminded his accusers that the day was ill chosen, as it happened to be the anniversary of his great victory over Hannibal at Zama. There was an outburst of enthusiasm, and Scipio was once again the hero and the darling of the Roman people, who, it is said, crowded round him and followed him to the Capitol. After all, however, he ended his days, as a voluntary exile in all probability, at Liternum on the coast of Campania, dying, it would seem, in 183, the year of Hannibal's death, when a little above fifty years of age. Scipio's wife was iEmilia, daughter of the iEmilius Paullus who fell at Cannae and who was the father of the conqueror of Macedonia. By her he had a daughter, Cornelia, who became the mother of the two famous Gracchi.

Spain, Northern Africa, the so-called province of Asia, were added to Rome's dominion during his life. Scipio lived to see Rome develop from a merely Italian power to be in fact the mistress of the world, and he himself greatly contributed to this result. Among Rome's great generals we must rank him after Caesar. He knew how to plan a campaign as well as how to fight a battle, and he had the faculty of inspiring his soldiers with confidence and enthusiasm. He never had. to make head against such tremendous difficulties as his great antagonist, and his achievements, great as they were, must be distinctly ranked beneath the marvellous successes of Hannibal. Still the story was told that, in a conversation between the two generals at the court of Antiochus, Hannibal, who had named Alexander as the first and Pyrrhus as the second among military commanders, confessed that had he beaten Scipio he should have put himself before either of them. It seems to be at any rate certain that the two great men respected and admired each other, and it is much to Scipio's credit that he withstood the mean persecution with which the Roman senate followed up the Carthaginian. It may be that he had rather too much aristocratic hauteur for a statesman in time of peace, but against this we must set the pleasing fact that he was a man of great intellectual culture and could speak and write Greek just as well as his native Latin. He wrote his 468 own memoirs in Greek. There must indeed have been a wonderful charm about the man, and there was a belief that he was a special favourite of heaven and held actual communication with the gods. It is quite possible too that he himself honestly shared this belief ; and so it was that to his political opponents he could be harsh and arrogant and towards others singularly gracious and sympathetic. For a time he enjoyed a popularity at Rome which no one but Caesar ever attained. (W. J. B.)

The above article was written by: Rev. W. J. Brodribb.

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