1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Scipio

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SCIPIO[1] (“staff”), the name of a patrician branch of the Cornelian gens, of which the following are the principal historical representatives:-

1. Publius Cornelius Scipio, father of the elder Africanus. He was consul in 218 B.C., the first year of the Second Punic War, and sailed with an army from Pisa to Massilia, with the view of arresting Hannibal’s advance on Italy. Failing, however, to meet his enemy, he hastened to return by sea to Cisalpine Gaul, having sent back his army to Spain under the command of his brother Gnaeus, with instructions to hold the Carthaginian forces there in check. On his return to Italy he at once advanced to meet Hannibal. In a sharp cavalry engagement in the upper valley of the Po, on the Ticinus, he was defeated and severely wounded. Again, in December of the same year, he witnessed the complete defeat of the Roman army on the Trebia, his colleague T. Sempronius Longus having insisted on fighting contrary to his advice. But he still retained the confidence of the Roman people; his term of command was extended, and we find him with his brother in Spain in the following year, winning victories over the Carthaginians and strengthening Rome’s hold on that country, till 212 (or 211). The details of these campaigns are not accurately known, but it would seem that the ultimate defeat and death of the Scipios were due to the desertion of the Celtiberi, bribed by Hasdrubal, Hannibal’s brother.

See Polybius iii., ’40; Livy xxi.-xxv.; Appian, Hannib. 5-8, Hisp. 14-16.

2. Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, the elder (237[2]–183 B.C.), son of the above. He was present at the disastrous battles of the Ticinus (where, according to one tradition, he saved his father’s life), the Trebia and Cannae. Even after the last of these he resolutely protested against several Roman nobles who advocated giving up the struggle and quitting Italy in despair (see Metellus, 2). The year after his father’s death, he offered himself for the command of the new army which the Romans resolved to send to Spain. In spite of his youth, his noble demeanour and enthusiastic language had made so great an impression that he was unanimously elected. All Spain south of the Ebro in the year of his arrival (210 or 209) was under Carthaginian control, but fortunately for him the three Carthaginian generals, Hasdrubal and Mago (Hannibal’s brothers), and Hasdrubal the son of Gisgo, were not disposed to act in concert and were preoccupied with revolts in Africa. Scipio, on landing at the mouth of the Ebro, was thus enabled to surprise and capture New Carthage, the headquarters of the Carthaginian power in Spain. He thus obtained a rich booty of war stores and supplies, and an excellent harbour. His kindly treatment of the Spanish hostages and prisoners brought many over to his side. In 209 he drove back Hasdrubal, from his position at Baecula, on the upper Guadalquivir, but was unable to hinder his march to Italy. After winning over a number of Spanish chiefs he achieved in 206 a decisive victory over the full Carthaginian levy at Ilipa (near Corduba), which resulted in the evacuation of Spain by the Punic commanders. With the idea of striking a blow at Carthage in Africa, he paid a short visit to the Numidian princes, Syphax and Massinissa, 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 in 206 Scipio himself, having secured the Roman occupation of Spain by the capture of Gades, gave up his command and returned to Rome. In the following year he was unanimously elected to the consulship, the province of Sicily being assigned to him. By this time Hannibal’s movements were restricted to the south-western extremity of Italy, and the war was now to be transferred to Africa. Scipio was himself intent on this, and his great name drew to him a number of volunteers from all parts of Italy, but the old-fashioned aristocracy of Rome, who disliked his luxurious tastes and his Greek culture, and still entertained a wholesome dread of Hannibal, opposed the idea; all Scipio could obtain was permission to cross over from Sicily to Africa, if it appeared to be in the interests of Rome. The introduction (205) of the Phrygian worship of Cybele and the transference of the image of the goddess herself from Pessinus to Rome (see Great Mother of the Gods) to bless the expedition no doubt had its effect on public opinion. A commission of inquiry was sent over to Sicily, and it found that Scipio was at the head of a well-equipped fleet and army. At the commissioners bidding he sailed in 204 and landed near Utica. Carthage meanwhile had secured the friendship of the Numidian 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 destroyed two combined armies of the Carthaginians and Numidians. After the failure of peace negotiations in which Scipio displayed great moderation, he defeated Hannibal in a decisive battle near Zama (Oct. 19, 202; see Punic Wars). In the subsequent settlement with Carthage he upheld with success his comparatively lenient terms against the immoderate demands of many Roman aristocrats. Scipio was welcomed back to Rome with the surname of Africanus, and had the 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, he was one of the commissioners sent to Africa to settle a dispute between Massinissa and the Carthaginians. In 190, when the Romans declared war against Antiochus III. of Syria, Publius was attached as legate to his brother Lucius, to whom the chief command had been entrusted. 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 (187) by two tribunes 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. This created a bad impression; Lucius was brought to trial, condemned and heavily fined. Africanus himself was subsequently (185) accused of having been bribed by Antiochus, but by reminding the people that it was the anniversary of his victory at Zama he caused an outburst of enthusiasm in his favour. The people crowded round him and followed him to the Capitol to offer thanks to the gods and beg them to give Rome more citizens like himself. He then retired to his native country seat at Liternum on the coast of Campania. where he died. By his wife Aemilia, daughter of the Aemilius Paullus who fell at Cannae, he had a daughter Cornelia, who became the mother of the two famous Gracchi.

Scipio was one of Rome’s greatest generals. Skilful alike in strategy and in tactics, he had also theffaculty 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. He was a man of great intellectual culture and could speak and write Greek perfectly. He wrote his own memoirs in Greek. He also enjoyed the reputation of being a graceful orator. There was a belief that he was a special favourite of heaven and held actual communication with the gods. It is quite possible that he himself honestly shared this belief; to his political opponents he was often harsh and arrogant, but towards others singularly gracious and sympathetic. According to Gellius, his life was written by Oppius and Hyginus, and also, it was said, by Plutarch.

See Livy xxi.-xxxviii. and Polybius; Aulus Gellius iv. 18; Val. Max. iii. 7; biography by F. D. Gerlach (1868); E. Berwick (1817), with notes and illustrations; also Punic Wars.

3. Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus, the younger (185–129 B.C.), was the younger son of L. Aemilius Paullus, the conqueror of Macedonia. He fought when a youth of seventeen by his father’s side at the battle of Pydna (168), which decided the fate of Macedonia and made northern Greece subject to Rome. He was adopted by P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus, the eldest son of Scipio Africanus the elder, and from him took the name Scipio with the surname Africanus. In 151, a time of defeat and disaster for the Romans in Spain, he voluntarily offered his services in that country and obtained an influence over the native tribes similar to that which the elder Scipio, his grandfather by adoption, had acquired nearly sixty years before. In the next year an appeal was made to him by the Carthaginians to act as arbiter between them and the Numidian prince Massinissa, who, backed up by a party at Rome, was incessantly encroaching on Carthaginian territory. In 149 war was declared by Rome, and a force sent to besiege Carthage. In the early operations of the war, which went altogether against the Romans, Scipio, though a subordinate officer, distinguished himself repeatedly, and in 147 he was elected consul, while yet under the legal age, in order that he might hold the supreme command. After a year of desperate fighting and splendid heroism on the part of the defenders he carried the fortress, and at the senate’s bidding levelled it to the ground. On his return to Rome he celebrated a splendid triumph, having also established a personal claim to his adoptive surname of Africanus. In 142, during his censorship, he endeavoured to check the growing luxury and immorality of the period. In 139 he was unsuccessfully accused of high treason by Tiberius Claudius Asellus, whom he had degraded when censor. The speeches delivered by him on that occasion, (now lost) were considered brilliant. In 134 he was again consul, with the province of Spain, where a demoralized Roman army was vainly attempting the conquest of Numantia on the Durius (Douro). After devoting several months to restoring the discipline of his troops, he reduced the city by blockade. The fall of Numantia in 133 established the Roman dominion in the province of Hither Spain. For his services Scipio received the additional surname of Numantinus.

Scipio himself, though not in sympathy with the extreme conservative party, was decidedly opposed to the schemes of the Gracchi (whose sister Sempronia was his wife). When he heard of the death of Tiberius Gracchus, he is said to have quoted the line from the Odyssey (i. 47), “So perish all who do the like again”; after his return to Rome he was publicly asked by the tribune C. Papirius Carbo what he thought of the fate of Gracchus, and replied that he was justly slain. This gave dire offence to the popular party, which was now led by his bitterest foes. Soon afterwards, in 129, on the morning of the day on which he had intended to make a speech in reference to the agrarian proposals of the Gracchi, he was found dead in bed. The mystery of his death was never cleared up, and there were political reasons for letting the matter drop, but there is little doubt that he was assassinated by one of the supporters of the Gracchi, probably Carbo, whose guilt is expressly stated by Cicero (see Gracchus).

The younger Scipio, great general and great man as he was, is for ever associated with the destruction of Carthage. The horror he expressed at its fate was a tardy repentance. Yet he was a man of culture and refinement; he gathered round him such men as the Greek historian Polybius, the philosopher Panaetius, and the poets Lucilius and Terence. At the same time he had all the virtues of an old-fashioned Roman, according to Polybius and Cicero, the latter of whom gives an appreciation of him in his De republic, in which Scipio is the chief speaker. As a speaker he seems to have been no less distinguished than as a soldier. He spoke remarkably good and pure Latin, and he particularly enjoyed serious and intellectual conversation. After the capture of Carthage he gave back to the Greek cities of Sicily the works of art of which Carthage had robbed them. He did not avail himself of the many opportunities he must have had of amassing a fortune. Though politically opposed to the Gracchi, he cannot be said to have been a foe to the interests of the people. He was, in fact, a moderate man, in favor of conciliation, and he was felt by the best men to be a safe political adviser, while he unfortunately contrived to offend both parties.

See Polybius xxxv. 4, xxxix.; Vell. Pat. i. 12; Florus ii. 15, 17, 18; Appian, Punica, 72, 98, 113-131, Hisp. 48-95, Bell. Civ. 1. 19; Plutarch, Aemelius Paullus, 22, Tib. Gracchus, 21, C. Gracchus, 10; Gellius iv. 20, v. 19; Cicero, De orat. ii. 40; exhaustive life by E. Person (Paris, 1877); monograph by Lincke (Dresden, 1898).

4. Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio, consul 138 B.C., took a prominent part in the murder of Tiberius Gracchus. To save him from the vengeance of the people, he was sent by the senate on a pretended mission to Asia, where he died. The nickname Serapio was given him by the tribune C. Curiatius from his likeness to one Serapio, a dealer in sacrificial victims.

See Appian, Punica, 80 B.C., i. 16; Val. Max. ix. 14; Plutarch, Tib. Gracchus, 21.

  1. The first i is long—Scīpio.
  2. So Polybius: 235 according to Livy.