Scipio Africanus

Scipio Africanus
Cornelius Scipio
This bust of Scipio Africanus the Elder is at the National Museum in Naples, Italy.
Consul of the Roman Republic
In office
205 - 202 BC, – [?] BC
Preceded by Quintus Caecilius Metellus and Lucius Veturius Philo
Succeeded by Marcus Cornelius Cethegus and Publius Sempronius Tuditanus
Personal details
Born 236 BC
Rome, Roman Republic
Died 183 BC (aged 53)
Spouse(s) Aemilia Paulla
Children Publius Cornelius Scipio, Lucius Cornelius Scipio, Cornelia, Cornelia Scipionis Africana
Military service
Nickname(s) The Roman Hannibal
Allegiance Roman Millitary banner.svg Roman Republic
Rank General
Battles/wars Second Punic War
Battle of Ticinus
Battle of the Trebia
Battle of Cannae
Battle of Cartagena
Battle of Baecula
Battle of Ilipa
Battle of Utica
Battle of the Great Plains
Battle of Zama
Roman-Syrian War
Battle of Magnesia

Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (236–183 BC), also known as Scipio Africanus and Scipio the Elder, was a general in the Second Punic War and statesman of the Roman Republic. He was best known for defeating Hannibal at the final battle of the Second Punic War at Zama, a feat that earned him the agnomen Africanus, the nickname "the Roman Hannibal", as well as recognition as one of the finest commanders in military history. An earlier great display of his tactical abilities had come already at the Battle of Ilipa.



Early years

Publius Cornelius Scipio, later Africanus from his victory at the Battle of Zama, the founder of the Africanus branch of the Cornelii Scipiones, was born by Caesarian section[1] into the Scipio branch of the Cornelia gens. The birth year is calculated from a series of statements made by multiple ancient historians of how old he was when certain events in his life occurred. The statements all seem to agree or be reconcilable: if he was 17 when he led a charge to his father's rescue at the Battle of Ticinus (218 BC), and 24 when he volunteered to take over the army in Hispania when no one else would (211 BC), after the defeat and death there of his uncle and father, the two consuls, and 27 when he led a victorious campaign against the city of New Carthage on the coast of Hispania (209 BC), then he must have been born in 236/5, usually stated as 236 BC.[2] The year was 517 from the foundation of Rome.

The extended family that brought him into the world and raised and educated him was patrician, with a record of successful public service in the highest offices (these entailed per se both military and civilian duties) extending back at least to the early Roman Republic. Before then the historical trail is lost, although the family may have known what it was. Several ancestors had been consuls successively, and his great-grandfather, Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus, had been patrician censor in 280 BC. The Cornelii were counted among the six major patrician families—the others being the Manlii, the Fabii, the Aemilii, the Claudii, and the Valerii—and at the time Scipio Africanus lived, the Scipiones were probably its most prominent branch, at least in the hindsight of the historians, who have only glowing reports of his family and career. He was unquestionably one of the leading characters of Roman history.

Scipio was the second oldest son of Publius Cornelius Scipio, praetor and consul by his wife Pomponia, who was of a prominently knightly and plebeian family. He had an older brother, Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus, and a friend since boyhood, Gaius Laelius, who served with him in the military and whom the historian, Polybius, was able to question concerning the life and character of the great man after his death.[3]

Early military service

Scipio's childhood might be considered to have come to an end with his entry into the army. At an early age, Scipio joined the Roman struggle against Carthage in the Second Punic War. At some point, he is said to have promised his father to continue the struggle against Carthage all his life, showing similar dedication to that of his enemy, Hannibal. The young Scipio survived the disastrous battles at Ticinus, Trebia, and Cannae. According to Polybius, he saved his father's life when he was 18, by "charging the encircling force alone with reckless daring" at the Battle of Ticinus.[4] Scipio's would-be father-in-law Lucius Aemilius Paullus was killed in 216 BC at the third of these battles, the Battle of Cannae. Despite these defeats at the hands of the Carthaginians, Scipio remained focused on securing Roman victory. Scipio was never again to see a Roman force defeated, for once given command at the age of 25 he never lost a battle.[4][5]

On hearing that Lucius Caecilius Metellus and other politicians were at the point of surrender, Scipio gathered with his followers and stormed into the meeting, where at sword-point he forced all present to swear that they would continue in faithful service to Rome. Fortunately, the Roman Senate was of like mind and refused to entertain thoughts of peace despite the great losses Rome had taken in the war—approximately one-fifth of the men of military age had died within a few years.

He is also thought to have consulted with, or at least informed his mother before deciding to run for quaestor, the most junior magistrate who was entitled to enter the Senate. Scipio ran for this office at the age of 24[6] and offered in 211 BC to then take over command in Hispania where he found the enemy west of the Ebro river.[7] Scipio offered himself as a candidate for the quaestorship in the year 213 BC, apparently to assist his less popular cousin, Lucius Cornelius, who was also standing for election. The Tribunes of the Plebs (elected representatives from the Plebeian Assembly) objected to his candidacy, saying that he could not be allowed to stand because he had not yet reached the legal age (curule aediles were automatically entitled to enter the Senate and the legal age for Senate membership was 30). Scipio, already known for his bravery and patriotism, was elected unanimously and the Tribunes abandoned their opposition.

Campaign in Hispania

Nicholas Poussin's painting of the Continence of Scipio, depicting his return of a captured young woman to her fiancé, having refused to accept her from his troops as a prize of war.

In 211 BC, both Scipio's father, Publius Scipio, and uncle, Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus, were killed in battle against Hannibal's brother, Hasdrubal Barca. In the following year, Scipio offered himself for the command of the new army which the Romans resolved to send to Hispania. In spite of his youth, his noble demeanor and enthusiastic language had made so great an impression that he was unanimously elected to be sent there as proconsul. According to Livy, Scipio was the only man brave enough to ask for this position, and no other candidates wanted the responsibility, considering it a death sentence.[8] In the year of Scipio's arrival (210 BC), all of Hispania south of the Ebro river was under Carthaginian control. Hannibal's brothers Hasdrubal and Mago, and Hasdrubal Gisco were the generals of the Carthaginian forces in Hispania, and Rome was aided by the inability of these three figures to act in concert. The Carthaginians were also preoccupied with revolts in Africa.

Scipio landed at the mouth of the Ebro and was able to surprise and capture Carthago Nova (New Carthage), the headquarters of the Carthaginian power in Hispania. He obtained a rich cache of war stores and supplies, and an excellent harbor and base of operations. Scipio's humanitarian conduct toward prisoners and hostages in Hispania helped in portraying the Romans as liberators as opposed to conquerors. Livy tells the story of the capture of a beautiful woman by his troops, who offered her to Scipio as a prize of war. Scipio was astonished by her beauty, but discovered that the woman was betrothed to a Celtiberian chieftain named Allucius. He returned her to her fiancé, along with the money that had been offered by her parents to ransom her. While Scipio was long known for his great chivalry, Scipio doubtless also realized that the Senate's first priority was the war in Italy, and in the midst of the Carthaginian base in Hispania, he was to be outnumbered without much hope of reinforcement. It was paramount therefore that Scipio cooperate with local chieftains to both supply and reinforce his small army. The woman's fiance, who soon married her, naturally brought over his tribe to support the Roman armies.[9]

In 209 BC, Scipio fought his first set piece battle, driving back Hasdrubal Barca from his position at Baecula on the upper Guadalquivir. Scipio feared that the armies of Mago and Gisco would enter the field and surround his small army. Scipio's objective was, therefore, to quickly eliminate one of the armies to give him the luxury of dealing with the other two piecemeal. The battle was decided by a determined Roman infantry charge up the center of the Carthaginian position. Roman losses are uncertain but may have been considerable in light of an effort by the infantry to scale an elevation defended by Carthaginian light infantry. Scipio then orchestrated a frontal attack by the rest of his infantry to draw out the remainder of the Carthaginian forces.

Hasdrubal had not noticed Scipio's hidden reserves of cavalry moving behind enemy lines, and a Roman cavalry charge created a double envelopment on either flank led by cavalry commander Gaius Laelius and Scipio himself. This broke the back of Hasdrubal's army and routed his forces — an impressive feat for the young Roman versus the veteran Carthaginian general. Despite a Roman victory, Scipio was unable to hinder the Carthaginian march to Italy. Much historical criticism has been leveled at his inability to effectively pursue Hasdrubal, who would eventually cross the Alps only to be defeated by Gaius Claudius Nero at the Battle of the Metaurus.

One popular theory for Scipio's failure to pursue Hasdrubal is that Scipio merely wanted the glory of securing Hispania, and an extended mountain campaign would have endangered that. Others cite the Roman soldiers' appetite for plunder as preventing him from rallying in pursuit. The most probable explanation from a strategic standpoint is Scipio's unwillingness to risk being trapped between Hasdrubal's army on one side and one or both of Gisgo's and Mago's armies, both of superior numerical strength. Mere days after Hasdrubal's defeat, Mago and Gisgo were able to converge in front of the Roman positions, bringing into question what would have happened had Scipio pursued Hasdrubal.

After winning over a number of Hispanian chiefs (namely Indibilis and Mandonius), Scipio achieved a decisive victory in 206 BC over the full Carthaginian levy at Ilipa (now the city of Alcalá del Río, near Hispalis, now called Seville), which resulted in the evacuation of Hispania by the Punic commanders.

After his rapid success in conquering Hispania, and with the idea of striking a blow at Carthage in Africa, Scipio paid a short visit to the Numidian princes Syphax and Massinissa. Numidia was of vital importance to Carthage, supplying both mercenaries and allied forces. In addition to supplying the Numidian cavalry (on which see the Battle of Cannae), Numidia operated as a buffer for vulnerable Carthage. Scipio managed to receive support from both Syphax and Massinissa. Syphax later changed his mind, married the beautiful Carthaginian noblewoman Sophonisba, daughter of Hasdrubal the son of Gisco, and fought alongside his Carthaginian in-laws against Massinissa and Scipio in Africa.

On his return to Hispania, Scipio had to quell a mutiny at Sucro which had broken out among his troops. Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal had meanwhile marched for Italy, and in 206 BC Scipio himself, having secured the Roman occupation of Hispania by the capture of Gades, gave up his command and returned to Rome.

African Campaign

In 205 BC, Scipio was unanimously elected to the consulship at the age of 31. Scipio intended to go to Africa, but some people in the Senate were envious of him and only let him to go to Sicily and did not give him an army. Even so, Scipio started a volunteer army when he was in Sicily.

This profile of a young Scipio Africanus the Elder is from a gold signet ring from Capua (late 3rd or early 2nd century BC) signed by Herakliedes

By this time, Hannibal's movements were restricted to the southwestern toe of Italy. Scipio wanted to make the war in Africa, and his great name drew to him a number of volunteers from all parts of Italy. Interestingly, among these volunteers were the shamed survivors of the fiasco at the Battle of Cannae, eager to once again prove their worth as soldiers. Scipio turned Sicily into a camp for training his army.

Scipio realized that the Carthaginian, and especially Numidian superiority in cavalry would prove decisive against the largely infantry forces of the Roman legions. In addition, a large portion of Rome's cavalry were allies of questionable loyalty, or noble equites exempting themselves from being lowly foot soldiers. One anecdote tells of how Scipio pressed into service several hundred Sicilian nobles to create a cavalry force. The Sicilians were quite opposed to this servitude to a foreign occupier (Sicily being under Roman control only since the First Punic War), and protested vigorously. Scipio assented to their exemption from service providing they pay for a horse, equipment, and a replacement rider for the Roman Army. In this way, Scipio created a trained nucleus of cavalry for his African campaign.

The Roman Senate sent a commission of inquiry to Sicily and found Scipio at the head of a well-equipped and trained fleet and army. Scipio pressed the Senate for permission to cross into Africa. The conservative branch of the Roman Senate, championed by Fabius Maximus, the Cunctator (Delayer), opposed the mission. Fabius still feared Hannibal's power, and viewed any mission to Africa as dangerous and wasteful to the war effort. Scipio was also harmed by some senators' disdain of his Hellenophile tastes in art, luxuries, and philosophies. The introduction (205 BC) of the Phrygian worship of Cybele and the transference of the image of the goddess herself from Pessinus to Rome to bless the expedition may have affected public opinion against Scipio as well. All Scipio could obtain was permission to cross over from Sicily to Africa if it appeared to be in the interests of Rome, but not financial or military support.

At the commissioners' bidding, Scipio sailed in 204 BC and landed near Utica. Carthage, meanwhile, had secured the friendship of the Numidian Syphax, whose advance compelled Scipio to abandon the siege of Utica and dig in on the shore between there and Carthage. In 203 BC, he destroyed the combined armies of the Carthaginians and Numidians by approaching by stealth and setting fire to their camp, where the combined army became panicked and fled, when they were mostly killed by Scipio's army. Though not a "battle," both Polybius and Livy estimate that the death toll in this single attack exceeded 40,000 Carthaginian and Numidian dead, and more captured.

Historians are roughly equal in their praise and condemnation for this act. Polybius said, "of all the brilliant exploits performed by Scipio this seems to me the most brilliant and more adventurous." On the other hand, one of Hannibal's principal biographers, Theodore Ayrault Dodge, goes so far to suggest that this attack was out of cowardice and spares no more than a page upon the event in total, despite the fact that it secured the siege of Utica and effectively put Syphax out of the war. The irony of Dodge's accusations of Scipio's cowardice is that the attack showed traces of Hannibal's penchant for ambush.

Scipio quickly dispatched his two lieutenants, Laelius and Masinissa, to pursue Syphax. They ultimately dethroned Syphax, and ensured Prince Masinissa's coronation as King of the Numidians. Carthage, and especially Hannibal himself, had long relied upon these superb natural horsemen, who would now fight for Rome against Carthage.

War with Hannibal, the Battle of Zama

With Carthage now deserted by her allies, and surrounded by a veteran and undefeated Roman army which Dodge states was the best ever fielded,[citation needed] Carthage began opening diplomatic channels for negotiation. At the same time, Hannibal Barca and his army were recalled to Carthage, and despite the moderate terms offered to Carthage by Scipio, Carthage suddenly suspended negotiations and again prepared for war. The army that Hannibal returned with is a subject of much debate. Advocates for Hannibal often claim that his army was mostly Italians pressed into service from southern Italy, and that most of his elite veterans (and certainly cavalry) were spent. Scipio's advocates tend to be far more suspicious, and believe the number of veteran forces to remain significant.

Meeting of Hannibal and Scipio at Zama.

Hannibal did have a trained pool of soldiers who had fought in Italy, as well as eighty war elephants. Hannibal could boast a strength of 58,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry, compared to Scipio's 34,000 infantry and 8,700 cavalry. The two generals met on a plain between Carthage and Utica on October 19, 202 BC, at the Battle of Zama. Despite mutual admiration, negotiations foundered due largely to Roman distrust of the Carthaginians as a result of the Carthaginian attack on Saguntum, the breach of protocols which ended the First Punic War (known as Punic Faith), and a perceived breach in contemporary military etiquette, due to Hannibal's numerous ambushes.

Hannibal arranged his infantry in three phalangial lines designed to overlap the Roman lines. His strategy, so oft reliant upon subtle stratagems, was simple: a massive forward attack by the war elephants would create gaps in the Roman lines, which would be exploited by the infantry, supported by the cavalry.

Rather than arranging his forces in the traditional manipular lines, which put the hastati, principes, and triarii in succeeding lines parallel to the enemy's line, Scipio instead put the maniples in lines perpendicular to the enemy, a stratagem designed to counter the war elephants. When the Carthaginian elephants charged, they found well laid traps before the Roman position, and were greeted by Roman trumpeters which drove many back out of confusion and fear. In addition, many elephants were goaded harmlessly through the loose ranks by the velites and other skirmishers. Roman javelins were used to good effect, and the sharp traps caused further disorder among the elephants. Many of them were so distraught that they charged back into their own lines. The Roman infantry was greatly rattled by the elephants, but Massinissa's Numidian and Laelius' Roman cavalry began to drive the opposing cavalry off the field. Both cavalry commanders pursued their routing Carthaginian counterparts, leaving the Carthaginian and Roman infantries to engage one another. The resulting infantry clash was fierce and bloody, with neither side achieving local superiority. The Roman infantry had driven off the two front lines of the Carthaginian army and in the respite, took an opportunity to drink water. The Roman army was then drawn up in one long line (as opposed to the traditional three lines) in order to match the length of Hannibal's line. Scipio's army then marched towards Hannibal's veterans, who had not yet taken part in the battle. The final struggle was bitter, and only won when the allied cavalry rallied and returned to the battle field. Charging the rear of Hannibal's army, they caused what many historians have called the "Roman Cannae".

Many Roman aristocrats, especially Cato, expected Scipio to raze that city to the ground after his victory. However, Scipio dictated extremely moderate terms in contrast to an immoderate Roman Senate. While the security of Rome was guaranteed by demands such as the surrender of the fleet, and a lasting tribute was to be paid, the strictures were sufficiently light for Carthage to regain its full prosperity.[4] With Scipio's consent, Hannibal was allowed to become the civic leader of Carthage, which the Cato family did not forget. In contrast to his moderation towards the Carthaginians, he was cruel towards Roman and Latin deserters: the Latins were beheaded and the Romans crucified.

Return to Rome

Scipio was welcomed back to Rome in triumph with the agnomen of Africanus. He refused the many further honours which the people would have thrust upon him such as Consul for life and Dictator. In the year 199 BC, Scipio was elected Censor and for some years afterwards he lived quietly and took no part in politics.

In 193 BC, Scipio was one of the commissioners sent to Africa to settle a dispute between Massinissa and the Carthaginians, which the commission did not achieve. This may have been because Hannibal, in the service of Antiochus III of Syria, might have come to Carthage to gather support for a new attack on Italy. In 190 BC, when the Romans declared war against Antiochus III, Publius offered to join his brother Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus if the Senate entrusted the chief command to him. The two brothers brought the war to a conclusion by a decisive victory at Magnesia in the same year.


Scipio's political enemies, led by Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder, gained ground. When the Scipiones returned to Rome, two tribunes prosecuted (187 BC) Lucius on the grounds of misappropriation of money 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. Scipio then allegedly asked the courts why they were concerned about how 3,000 Talents had been spent and apparently unconcerned about how 15,000 Talents were entering the state coffers (the tribute that Antiochus was paying Rome after his defeat by Lucius). This high-handed act shamed the prosecution, and it appears that the case against Lucius was dismissed, though Lucius would again be prosecuted, and this time convicted, after the death of Scipio.

Scipio himself was subsequently (185 BC) accused of having been bribed by Antiochus. By reminding the people that it was the anniversary of his victory at Zama, he caused an outburst of enthusiasm in his favor. The people crowded round him and followed him to the Capitol, where they offered thanks to the gods and begged them to give Rome more citizens like Scipio Africanus. Despite the popular support that Scipio commanded, there were renewed attempts to bring him to trial, but these appear to have been deflected by his future son-in-law, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, the Elder.[10] It is supposedly in gratitude for this act that Scipio betrothed his youngest daughter Cornelia Africana Minor (then aged about 5) to Gracchus, several decades her senior. (However, no contemporaneous references to this event exist; what is known is that Gracchus did marry Cornelia, aged about 18, in 172 BC.)

Scipio retired to his country seat at Liternum on the coast of Campania. He lived there for the rest of his life, revealing his great magnanimity by attempting to prevent the ruin of the exiled Hannibal by Rome. He died probably in 183 BC (the actual year and date of his death is unknown) aged about 53. His death is said to have taken place under suspicious circumstances, and it is possible that he either died of the lingering effects of the fever contracted while on campaign in 190 BC, or that he took his own life for causes unknown. He is said to have demanded that his body be buried away from his ungrateful city, and the Emperor Augustus is said to have visited his tomb in Liternum more than 150 years later. However, it is not certain that he was actually buried at Liternum, and no contemporary accounts of his death or funeral exist. It is said that he ordered an inscription on his tomb: "Ingrata patria, ne ossa quidem habebis"—ungrateful fatherland, you will not even have my bones.

Coincidentally, his great rival Hannibal died in Bithynia in the same year or shortly thereafter, also an exile (albeit far from his native city and not by his own decision), pursued and harassed to the end by Romans such as Titus Quinctius Flamininus.

Marriage and issue

With his wife Aemilia Paulla (also called Aemilia Tertia), daughter of the consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus who fell at Cannae and sister of another consul Lucius Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus, he had a happy and fruitful marriage. Aemilia Paulla had unusual freedom and wealth for a patrician married woman, and she was an important role model for many younger Roman woman,[citation needed] just as her youngest daughter Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi, would be an important role model for many Late Republican Roman noblewomen, including allegedly, the mother of Julius Caesar.

At his death, Scipio Africanus had two living sons. Both rose to become praetors in 174 BC,[citation needed] but took no further part in public life; both died unmarried, relatively young. Publius, the elder son and heir, adopted his first cousin — Aemilius Paullus (b. 185 BC) as Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus (also known as Scipio Aemilianus Africanus) well before the Battle of Pydna in 168 BC.

Scipio and Aemilia Paulla also had two surviving daughters. The elder, Cornelia, married her second cousin Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum (son of the consul of 191 BC who was himself son of Scipio's elder paternal uncle Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus). This son-in-law was a distinguished Roman in his own right. He became consul (abdicating or resigning in 162 BC for religious reasons, then being re-elected in 155 BC), censor in 159 BC, Princeps Senatus, and died as Pontifex Maximus in 141 BC. Scipio Nasica rose to many of the dignities enjoyed by his late father-in-law, and was noted for his staunch (if ultimately futile) opposition to Cato the Censor over the fate of Carthage from about 157 to 149 BC. They had at least one surviving son (of whom more below).

The younger daughter was more famous in history; Cornelia Africana, the young wife of the elderly Tiberius Gracchus Major or Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, tribune of the plebs, praetor, then consul 177 (then censor and consul again), became the mother of 12 children, the only surviving sons being the famous Tiberius Gracchus and Gaius Gracchus. All three surviving children of this union were ill-fated; the brothers Gracchi died relatively young, murdered or forced to commit suicide by more conservative relatives. The eldest child and only surviving daughter, Sempronia, was married to her mother's first cousin (and her own cousin by adoption) Scipio Aemilianus Africanus. The couple had no children, and Sempronia grew to hate her husband after he condoned the murder of her brother Tiberius in 132 BC. Scipio's mysterious death in 129 BC, at the age of 56, was blamed by some on his wife, and by others on his political rivals.[citation needed]

Scipio's only descendants living through the late Republican period were the descendants of his two daughters, his sons having died without legitimate surviving issue. His younger daughter's last surviving child Sempronia, wife and then widow of Scipio Aemilianus, was alive as late as 102 BC. Another descendant was his great-great-granddaughter, Fulvia Flacca Bambula, the only grandchild of Gaius Gracchus, best known as the wealthy third wife of Roman Triumvir Mark Antony who abandoned her for Cleopatra. Fulvia left several children, of whom at least one, Iullus Antonius, is known to have left issue surviving into the first century AD.

His other known grandson Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio was far more conservative than his Gracchi cousins. He and his descendants all became increasingly conservative, in stark contrast to the father and grandfathers. Scipio Africanus's eldest grandson Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio became consul in 138, murdered his own cousin Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (163–132 BC) in 132. Scipio Nasica Serapio, although Pontifex Maximus was sent to Asia Minor by the Senate to escape the wrath of the Gracchi supporters, and died mysteriously there in Pergamum, and is believed to have been poisoned by an agent of the Gracchi.

Serapio's son, the fourth Scipio Nasica, was even more conservative, and rose to be consul in 111 BC. This Scipio Nasica's sons became praetors only shortly before the Marsic or Social War (starting 91 BC). However, a grandson (adopted into the plebeian-noble Caecilii Metelli) became the Metellus Scipio who allied himself with Pompey the Great and Cato the Younger, and who opposed Julius Caesar. Metellus Scipio was the last Scipio to distinguish himself militarily or politically.

None of Scipio's descendants, apart from Scipio Aemilianus—his wife's nephew who became his adoptive grandson—came close to matching his political career or his military successes.

It is not clear how the consul Publius Cornelius Scipio Salvito (a former husband of Scribonia, second wife of Octavian aka Augustus Caesar, and mother of his only legitimate child Julia the Elder) was related to Scipio Africanus.

Resting place of Scipio Africanus

Archaeology has not yet determined the resting place of Scipio Africanus. The Tomb of the Scipios has been discovered and is open to the public, but it is not believed that Scipio Africanus was interred there. The possibility exists that he was returned to Rome and laid to rest there in a still undiscovered crypt. Livy says in his "History of Rome" that statues of Scipio Africanus, Lucius Scipio and the Roman poet Ennius (a friend of the family) were present at the Tomb of the Scipios when he visited it.

Lost sources

Scipio is said to have written his memoirs in Greek, but those are lost (perhaps destroyed) along with the history written by his elder son and namesake (adoptive father of Scipio Aemilianus) and his Life by Plutarch. As a result, contemporary accounts of his life, particularly his childhood and youth, are virtually non-existent. Even Plutarch's account of Scipio's life, written much later, has been lost. What remains are accounts of his doings in Polybius, Livy's Histories (which say little about his private life), supplemented with the surviving histories of Appian and Cassius Dio, and the odd anecdote in Valerius Maximus. Of these, Polybius was the closest to Scipio Africanus in age and in connections, but his narrative may be biased by his friendship with Scipio's close relatives.

Roman opinions of Scipio

Scipio was a man of great intellectual culture who could speak and read Greek, wrote his own memoirs in Greek and became also noted for his introduction of the clean shaven face fashion among the Romans according to the example of Alexander the Great. This men´s fashion lasted until the time of emperor Hadrian and then was revived again by Constantine the Great.[11] He also enjoyed the reputation of being a graceful orator, the secret of his sway being his deep self confidence and radiant sense of fairness.[4]

To his political opponents, he was often harsh and arrogant, but towards others singularly gracious and sympathetic. According to Gellmus, his life was written by Oppius and Hyginus, and also, it was said, by Plutarch.

His Graecophile lifestyle, and his unconventional way of wearing the Roman toga, raised much opposition among the conservatives of Rome, led by Cato the Elder who felt that Greek influence was destroying old Roman culture and making the Roman men effeminate. Cato, as a loyalist of Fabius Maximus, had been sent out as quaestor to Scipio in Sicily circa 204 BC to investigate charges of military indiscipline, corruption, and other offense against Scipio; none of those charges were found true by the tribunes of the plebs accompanying Cato. (It may or may not be significant that years later, as censor, Cato degraded Scipio's brother Scipio Asiaticus from the Senate. It is certainly true that some Romans of the day viewed Cato as a representative of the old Romans, and Scipio and his like as Graecophiles.)[4]

He often visited the temple of Jupiter and made offerings there. There was a belief that he was a special favourite of heaven and actually communicated with the gods. It is quite possible that he himself honestly shared this belief. However, the strength of this belief is evident, even a generation later when his adopted grandson, Publius Aemilianus Scipio was elected to the consulship from the office of tribune. His rise was spectacular and letters survive from soldiers under his command in Hispania show that they believed that he possessed the same abilities as his grandfather. The elder Scipio was a spiritual man as well as a soldier and statesman, and was a priest of Mars. The ability which he is supposed to have been possessed of, is called by the old name, "second sight", and he is supposed to have had prescient dreams in which he saw the future. Livy describes this belief as it was perceived then, without offering his opinion as to its veracity. Polybius made a case that Scipio's successes resulted from good planning, rational thinking and intelligence, which he said was a higher sign of the Gods favour than prophetic dreams. Polybius suggested people had only suggested Scipio had supernatural powers as they had not appreciated the natural mental gifts which facilitated Scipio's achievements.[4]

Scipio's promiscuity as related by Roman historians

Continence of Scipio, Nicolas-Guy Brenet

The Roman historian Valerius Maximus, writing in the first century AD, alleged that Scipio Africanus had a weakness for beautiful women,[12] and knowing this, some of his soldiers presented him with a beautiful young woman captured in New Carthage. The woman turned out to be the fiancée of an important Iberian chieftain, and Scipio chose to act as a general and not an ordinary soldier in restoring her, virtue and ransom intact, to her fiancé.[13]

According to Valerius Maximus, Scipio had a dalliance circa 191 BC with one of his own serving girls, which his wife magnanimously overlooked.[14] The affair, if it lasted from circa 191 BC to Scipio's death 183 BC, might have resulted in issue (not mentioned); what is mentioned is that the girl was freed by Aemilia Paulla after Scipio's death and married to one of his freedmen. This account is only found in Valerius Maximus (Memorable Deeds and Sayings 6.7.1-3. L) writing in the 1st century AD, some decades after Livy. If this is correct, clearly Scipio did not hesitate to sleep with his female slaves, like so many other Roman masters. It should be noted however that Valerius Maximus is hostile to Scipio Africanus in other matters such as his frequent visits to the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, which Maximus saw as "fake religion."[15] Plutarch, a Greek historian writing about Roman morality, saw similar conduct not as an example of a husband's immorality, but rather of a husband seeking to spare his wife his debauchery.

Scipio's legacy


Scipio is considered by many to be one of Rome's greatest generals; he never lost a battle. Skillful alike in strategy and in tactics, he had also the faculty of inspiring his soldiers with confidence. According to the story, Hannibal, who regarded 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—though this particular story was probably fabricated by Livy at a later date.

Metellus Scipio, a descendant of Scipio, commanded legions against Julius Caesar in Africa until his defeat at the battle of Thapsus in 49 BC. Popular superstition was that only a Scipio could win a battle in Africa, so Julius Caesar assigned a distant relative of Metellus to his staff in order to say that he too had a Scipio fighting for him.


Scipio was the first Roman general to expand Roman territories outside Italy and islands around the Italian mainland. He conquered the Carthaginian territory of Iberia for Rome, although the two Iberian provinces were not fully pacified for a couple of centuries. His defeat of Hannibal at Zama paved the way for Carthage's eventual destruction in 146 BC. His interest in a Graecophile lifestyle had tremendous influence on the Roman elite; more than a century later, even the conservative Cato Uticensis (great-grandson of the elder Cato) espoused Greek philosophy. Scipio did not introduce Greek ideas or art to the Romans, but his ardent support for the Greek way of life coupled with his own charisma had its inevitable impact. Less beneficially, the Scipios may have led the way in the inevitable chasm that grew up between the Roman elite and the Roman masses, in terms of the way the elite was educated and lived and in the amount of wealth they possessed.

Scipio supported land distribution for his veterans in a tradition harking back to the earliest days of the Republic; yet, his actions were seen as somewhat radical by conservatives. In being a successful general who demanded lands for his soldiers, Scipio may have led the way for later generals such as Gaius Marius and Julius Caesar. Yet, Scipio was no Marius nor Caesar. While he did not always respect the mos maiorum or the decisions of the Senate or certain elected magistrates,[16] he did not seek to use his charisma and reputation to weaken the Republic. (To be fair, the Middle Republic was not as weak as the Late Republic which suffered from massive corruption among the elite, major military threats from the Germans as well as the Gauls and to a lesser extent, Jugurtha, as well as widening social and economic inequities.) The true measure of Scipio's character in this regard can perhap been seen by his behaviour shortly after returning in triumph from Africa to a grateful Rome. Scipio refused to accept demands for him to become perpetual consul and dictator. For his self restraint in putting the good of the republic ahead of his own gain, Scipio was praised by Livy for showing uncommon greatness of mind - an example conspicuously not emulated by Marius, Sulla or Caesar.[4]

Classical literature

Scipio appears or is mentioned in passing in Cicero's De Republica and De Amicitia, and in Silius Italicus' Punica. Cicero was mentored by prominent Romans whose ancestors had been associated with Scipio. As a Roman hero, Scipio appeared in Book VI of the Aeneid where he is shown to Aeneas in a vision in the underworld. Scipio figures prominently in Livy's "Ab Urbe Condita".

Medieval literature

Scipio is mentioned four times in Dante's Divine Comedy: in "Inferno" - Canto XXXI, in "Purgatorio" - Canto XXIX, and in "Paradiso" - Cantos VI and XXVII.

Renaissance literature and art

Scipio is the hero of Petrarch's Latin epic Africa. 'The Continence [i.e. moderation] of Scipio' was a stock motif in exemplary literature and art,[17] as was the 'Dream of Scipio', portraying his allegorical choice between Virtue and Luxury.[18] The Continence of Scipio, depicting his clemency and sexual restraint after the fall of Carthago Nova, was an even more popular subject. Versions of the subject were painted by many artists from the Renaissance through to the 19th century, including Andrea Mantegna and Nicholas Poussin. Scipio is also mentioned in Machiavelli's work The Prince (Chapter XVII "Concerning Cruelty And Clemency, And Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared"). Milton mentions Scipio in Book 9 of Paradise Lost and in Book 3 of Paradise Regained.


Publius Cornelius Scipio was the title character of a number of Italian operas composed during the baroque period of music, including settings by George Frideric Handel, Leonardo Vinci, and Carlo Francesco Pollarolo. The march from Handel's setting, entitled Scipione, remains the regimental slow march of the British Grenadier Guards. Scipio is also referenced in the Italian national anthem.


Shortly before Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, Benito Mussolini commissioned an epic film depicting the exploits of Scipio. Scipione l'africano, written by Carmine Gallone, won the Mussolini Cup for the greatest Italian film at the 1937 Venice Film Festival.

In 1971 Luigi Magni scripted and directed the movie "Scipione, detto anche l'Africano" (Scipio, aka "the African"), starring Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Silvana Mangano and Woody Strode, in which the historical events are portrayed in a light and satirical mode, with some intentional references to the political events of the time in which the movie was made.

Jim Thalman wrote and starred in the 2006 film The Secret Under the Rose about the Second Punic War.


  1. ^ Pliny. "Book VII Chapter 7 (or 9)". Natural History. 
  2. ^ Scullard, Howard Hayes (1930). Scipio Africanus in the Second Punic War. Cambridge: University Press. pp. 37–38. 
  3. ^ Polybius. "Book X, Chapter 3". Histories. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Liddell Hart, Basil (1926, reprint 1992). Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon. pp. 2–10, 24, 25 , 200–207. ISBN 1853671320. 
  5. ^ Nigel Rodgers, Hazel Dodge (2005). Rome: The Greatest Empire. Southwater. p. 40. ISBN 1844761509. 
  6. ^ Livy, Book XXVI, Chapter 18 .....suddenly Publius Cornelius, son of Publius who had fallen in Hispania, who was about twenty-four years of age...
  7. ^ Ancient Rome from the earlies times down to 476 AD.
  8. ^ Livy, Book XXVI, Chapter 18 ...declaring himself a candidate, took his station on an eminence from which he could be seen by all.
  9. ^ Livy, Ab Urbe condita xxvi. 50
  10. ^ Livy, History of Rome, XXXVIII , 53
  11. ^
  12. ^ Scipio Africanus : Final Act (187 - 184 BCE) History of the Hellenistic and Roman World
  13. ^ Livy, Roman History, XXVI, 50 (extract)
  14. ^ Womanly virtue. 1st cent. A.D. (Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings 6.7.1-3. L Women's Life in Greece & Rome
  15. ^ Cicero - Encyclopedia of Religion
  16. ^ For example, when refused command in Iberia initially in 210 BC Scipio went to the Popular Assembly which gave him proconsular imperium in Hispania. In 205 BC, as consul, he threatened to do the same in a debate in the Senate, when he wanted to lead an army into Africa and the Senate refused to support him. This time, the Popular Assembly did not support him, believing that the consul should follow the wishes of the Senate. For details, see Livy's narration of the debate between the elder Senators and Scipio.
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ [2]

See also


Primary sources

  • Livy, Ab urbe condita libri xxvi, xxxviii
  • Orosius, Historiae adversus paganos libri iv
  • Valerius Maximus, Factorum et dictorum memorabilium libri iii, iv, vii, viii

Secondary sources

  • Theodore Ayrault Dodge, Hannibal, Da Capo Press; Reissue edition, 2004. ISBN 0-306-81362-9
  • H. H. Scullard, Scipio Africanus: Soldier and Politician, Thames and Hudson, London, 1970. ISBN 0-500-40012-1
  • H. H. Scullard, Scipio Africanus in the Second Punic War Thirlwall Prize Essay (University Press, Cambridge, 1930)
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • B.H. Liddell Hart, Scipio Africanus: Greater Than Napoleon, W Blackwood and Sons, London, 1926; Biblio and Tannen, New York, 1976. ISBN 0-306-80583-9.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Quintus Caecilius Metellus and Lucius Veturius Philo
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Publius Licinius Crassus Dives
205 BC
Succeeded by
Marcus Cornelius Cethegus and Publius Sempronius Tuditanus
Preceded by
Marcus Porcius Cato and Lucius Valerius Flaccus
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Tiberius Sempronius Longus
194 BC
Succeeded by
Lucius Cornelius Merula and Aulus Minucius Thermus
Preceded by
Gaius Claudius Nero
Marcus Livius Salinator
Censor of the Roman Republic
with Publius Aelius Paetus
199 BC
Succeeded by
Gaius Cornelius Cethegus
Sextus Aelius Paetus Catus

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