Publius Cornelius Scipio

Publius Cornelius Scipio

(c. 233-183 B.c.)

Born in Rome, Scipio (SHEEP-ee-oh) came from one of the city’s most distin¬ guished noble families. Elis father, who had the same name, was a Roman consul who fought against Hannibal (see no. 7) in north¬ ern Italy at the start of the Second Punic War. Scipio saved his father’s life at the Battle of Ticinus River (218 B.C.) and rallied the remnants of the Roman army after the Battle of Cannae (216 B.C.).

Scipio admired Hannibal’s success in bat¬ tle. Studying the Carthaginian leader’s battle tactics, he realized that the deployment of fast, light cavalry was the key to Hannibal’s victories. Scipio persuaded the Roman Senate to let him open a second front, in Carthaginian Spain. He went to Spain as pro- consul in 210 B.C. and captured Cartagena (New Carthage).

Scipio revised traditional Roman tactics; he lightened the equipment of his men and trained them to maneuver quick¬ ly in a manner similar to that of the Carthaginians. Using this new style of war, Scipio consistently defeated the Carthaginians in Spain. By 206 B.C. he had won control of nearly the entire peninsula.

Scipio returned to Rome in 205 B.C. After long debate, he obtained the Senate’s permis¬ sion to take the war to Hannibal’s homeland in North Africa.

He took a Roman army across the Mediterranean in 204 B.C. and swiftly defeated two Carthaginian armies brought against him. He also earned the good will and alliance of Masinissa, a Numidian prince who brought additional cavalry to the Roman camp.

In 202 B.C., Scipio met Hannibal on the plains of Zama. The battle was hard-fought, but Scipio defused the power of the Carthaginian lines by stampeding their ele¬ phants and catching them in a vise with Masinissa’s cavalry behind them. The student had met the master and won.

Scipio dictated harsh terms of peace to Carthage, then returned to Rome. He was honored with a triumphal march through Rome and received the surname “Africanus.

” Many years later, he would be called Scipio Aificanus Major to distinguish him from his grandson, who destroyed Carthage in the Third Punic War (149—146 B.C.) and was named Scipio Africanus Minor.

In 190 B.C., he served as legate to his brother Lucius Scipio who won a crushing victory over Antiochus III of Syria in the Roman-Syrian War. Returning to Rome, Scipio found himself and his brother accused of accepting bribes from Antiochus. The brothers were acquitted in a memorable trial, and Scipio retired to his villa at Liternum in Campania.

Bitter over the trial and angry that his name had come under suspicion, he ordered that his remains be interred at Liternum, not conveyed to Rome. Rome’s greatest soldier felt dishonored by an ungrateful public.