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21. P. CORNELIUS SCIPIO AEMILIANUS AFRICANUS MINOR, was the younger son of L. Aemilius Paulus, the conqueror of Macedonia, and was adopted by P. Scipio, the son of the conqueror of Hannibal [No. 14], whose mother was a sister of L. Aemilius Paulus. He was born about B. C. 185. In his seventeenth year he accompanied his father Paulus to Greece, and fought under him at the battle of Pydna, in B. C. 168 (Liv. 44.44 ; Plut. Aemil. Paul. 22). While in Greece he probably became acquainted with the historian Polybius ; and when the latter was sent to Rome, along with the other Achaean exiles, in the following year, B. C. 167, Scipio afforded him the patronage and protection of his powerful family, and formed with him that close and intimate friendship which continued unbroken throughout his life. Scipio appears from his earliest years to have devoted himself with ardour to the study of literature ; and he eagerly availed himself of the superior knowledge of Polybius to direct him in his literary pursuits. He was accompanied by the Greek historian in almost all his campaigns, and in the midst of his most active military duties, lost no opportunity of enlarging his knowledge of Greek literature and philosophy, by constant intercourse with his friend. At a later period he also cultivated the acquaintance of the philosopher Panaetius ; nor did he neglect the literature of his own country, for the poets Lucilius and Terence were, as is well known, admitted to his intimacy. His friendship with Laelins, whose tastes and pursuits were so congenial to his own, was as remarkable as that of the elder Africanus with the elder Laelius, and has been immortalised by Cicero's celebrated treatise entitled " Laelius sive de Amicitia." In his younger years it was feared by Scipio's friends that he would not uphold the honour of his house, an apprehension probably only founded on his literary habits and pursuits; but in him the love of Greek refinement and Greek literature did not emasculate his mind, or incapacitate him for taking a distinguished part in public affairs. On the contrary he is said to have cultivated the virtues which distinguished the older Romans, and to have made Cato the model of his conduct. If we may believe his panegyrists, Polybius and Cicero, he possessed all the simple virtues of an old Roman, mellowed by the refining influences of Greek civilisation.

Scipio first attracted public notice in B. C. 151. The repeated disasters which the Roman arms had sustained in Spain had inspired such dread of that war, that when the consuls attempted to levy troops in B. C. 151, no one was willing to enlist as a soldier, or to take the offices of tribune or legate. Scipio inspired confidence by coming forward, and offering to serve in Spain in any capacity in which the consuls might choose to employ him. He was appointed military tribune, and accompanied the consul L. Lucullus to Spain. Here he distinguished himself by his personal courage. On one occasion he slew, in single combat, a gigantic Spanish chieftain; and at another time he was the first to mount the walls at the storming of the city of Intercatia. Such daring deeds gained for him the admiration of the barbarians, while his integrity and other virtues conciliated their regard and esteem. He quit threw into the shade . his avaricious and cruel commander, and revived among the Spaniards the recollection of his grandfather, the elder Africanus. In the following year, B. C. 150, he was sent by Lucullus to Africa to obtain from Masinissa a supply of elephants. His name secured him a most honourable reception from the aged Numidian monarch. He arrived in the midst of the war between Masinissa and the Carthaginians, and was requested by the latter to act as mediator between them; but he was unable to accomplish any thing, and returned to Spain with the elephants.

On the breaking out of the third Punic war in B. C. 149, Scipio again went to Africa, but still only with the rank of military tribune. Here Scipio gained still more renown. By his personal bravery and military skill he repaired, to a great extent, the mistakes, and made up for the incapacity of the consul Manilius, whose army on one occasion he saved from destruction. His abilities gained him the complete confidence of Masinissa and the Roman troops, while his integrity and fidelity to his word were so highly prized by the enemy, that to his promise only would they trust. Accordingly, the commissioners, who had been sent by the senate to inspect the state of affairs in the Roman camp, made the most favourable report of his abilities and conduct. When L. Calpurnius Piso took the command of the army in the following year, B. C. 148, Scipio left Africa, and returned to Rome, accompanied by the wishes of the soldiers that he would soon return to be their commander. Many of them wrote to their friends at Rome, saying that Scipio alone could conquer Carthage, and the opinion became general at Rome that the conduct of the war ought to be entrusted to him. Even the aged Cato, who was always more ready to blame than to praise, praised Scipio in the Homeric words (Od. 10.495), " He alone has wisdom, the rest are empty shadows" (Plut. Cat. Maj. 27). The prepossession in favour of Scipio was still further increased by the want of success which attended the operations of Piso ; and, accordingly, when he became a candidate for the aedileship for B. C. 147 he was elected consul, although he was only thirty-seven, and had not therefore attained the legal age. The senate, of course, assigned to him Africa as his province, to which he forthwith sailed, accompanied by his friends Polybius and Laelius. The details of the war, which ended in the capture of Carthage, are given by Appian (Pun. 113-131) and would take up too much space to be repeated here. The Carthaginians defended themselves with the courage of despair. They were able to maintain possession of their city till the spring of the following lowing year, B. C. 146, when the Roman legions at length forced their way into the devoted town. The inhabitants fought from street to street, and from house to house, and the work of destruction and butchery went on for days. The fate of this once magnificent city moved Scipio to tears, and anticipating that a similar catastrophe might one day befall Rome, he is said to have repeated the lines of the Iliad (6.448) over the flames of Carthage,

ἔσσεται ἦμαρ, ὅτ᾽ ἄν ποτ᾽ ὀλώλῃ Ἴλιος ῾ιρή,
καὶ Πρίαμος καὶ λαὸς ἐϋμμελίω Πριάμοιο.

After completing the arrangements for reducing Africa to the form of a Roman province, he returned to Rome in the same year, and celebrated a splendid triumph on account of his victory. The surname of Africanus, which he had inherited by adoption from the conqueror of Hannibal, had been now acquired by him by his own exploits.

In B. C. 142 Scipio was censor with L. Mummius. Scipio, in the administration of the duties of his office, followed in the footsteps of Cato, and attempted by severity to repress the growing luxury and immorality of his contemporaries. He exhorted the people to uphold and maintain the customs of their ancestors in a speech which was preserved in later times. His efforts, however, to preserve the old Roman habits were thwarted by his colleague Mummius, who had himself acquired a love for Greek and Asiatic luxuries, and was disposed to be more indulgent to the people (Gel. 4.20, 5.19; V. Max. 6.4.2). In the solemn prayer offered at the conclusion of the lustrum, Scipio changed the supplication for the extension of the commonwealth into one for the preservation of its actual possessions (V. Max. 4.1.10 1 He vainly wished to check the appetite for foreign conquests, which had been still further excited by the capture of Carthage.

In B. C. 139 Scipio was brought to trial before the people by Ti. Claudius Asellus, the tribune of the plebs. He seems to have been accused of majestas; but Asellus attacked him out of private animosity, because he had been deprived of his horse, and reduced to the condition of an aerarian by Scipio in his censorship. Scipio was acquitted, and the speeches which he delivered on the occasion obtained great celebrity, and were held in high esteem in a later age (Gel. 2.20, 3.4, 7.11; Cic. de Orat. 2.64, 66; for further particulars see Vol. I. p. 385a.). It appears to have been after this event that Scipio was sent on an embassy to Egypt and Asia to attend to the Roman interests in those countries (Cic. de Rep. 6.11). To show his contempt of the pomp and luxury in which his contemporaries indulged, he took with him only five slaves on this mission. (Athen. 6.273.)

The long continuance of the war in Spain, and the repeated disasters which the Roman arms experienced in that country, again called Scipio to the consulship. He was appointed consul in is absence, along with C. Fulvius Flaccus, and had the province of Spain assigned to him, B. C. 134. His first efforts were directed to the restoration of discipline in the army, which had become almost disorganised by sensual indulgences. After bringing the troops into an efficient condition by his severe and energetic measures, he laid siege to Numantia, which wa s defended by its inhabitants with the same courage and perseverance which has pre-eminently distinguished the Spaniards in all ages in defence of their walled towns. It was not till they had suffered the most dreadful extremities of famine that they surrendered the place in the following year, B. C. 133. Fifty of the principal inhabitants were selected to adorn Scipio's triumph, the rest were sold as slaves, and the town was levelled to the ground. He now received the surname of Numantinus in addition to that of Africanus. While Scipio was employed in the reduction of Numantia, Rome was convulsed by the disturbances consequent upon the measures proposed by Tib. Gracchus in his tribunate, and which ended in the murder of the latter. Although Scipio was married to Sempronia, the sister of the fallen tribune, he had no sympathy with his reforms, and no sorrow for his fate; and upon receiving intelligence of his death at Numantia, he is said to have exclaimed in the verse of Homer. (Od. 1.47) : --

" So perish all who do the like again."

Upon his return to Rome in B. C. 132, he did not disguise his sentiments, and when asked in the assembly of the tribes by C. Papirius Carbo, the tribune, who entered upon his office at the end of this year, what he thought of the death of Tib. Gracchus, he boldly replied that he was justly slain (jure eaesum) The people, who had probably expected a different answer from their favourite general and from the brother-in-law of their martyred defender, loudly expressed their disapprobation; whereupon Scipio, with true aristocratic contempt for the mob, exclaimed " Taceant quibus Italia noverca est." (V. Max. 6.2.3 ; Aurel. Vict. de Vir. Ill. 58 ; Plut. Tib. Gracch. 21 ; Cic. Lael. 25.) The people did not forget this insult, and from this time Scipio lost much of his influence over them. Still there was a prestige attaching to his name which the people could not divest themselves of, and it was mainly owing to his influence and authority that the aristocratical party were able to defeat the bill of the tribune Carbo, by which the same persons were to be allowed to be elected tribunes as often as the people pleased (Liv. Epit. 59 ; Cic. Lad. 25). Scipio was now regarded as the acknowledged leader of the aristocracy, and the latter resolved to avail themselves of his powerful aid to prevent the agrarian law of Tib. Gracchus from being carried into effect. The socii had become already alarmed at the prospect of losing some of their lands, and Scipio skilfully availed himself of the circumstance to propose in the senate, in B. C. 129, that all disputes respecting the lands of the allies should be taken out of the hands of the commissioners, who were appointed under the agrarian law of Tib. Gracchus, and that the decision respecting them should be committed to other persons. This would have been, in effect, equivalent to an abrogation of the law; and accordingly Fulvius Flaccus, Papirius Carbo and C. Gracchus, the three commissioners, offered the most vehement opposition to his proposal. In the forum he was accused by Carbo with the bitterest invectives as the enemy of the people, and upon his again expressing his approval of the death of Tib. Gracchus, the people shouted out " Down with the tyrant." In the evening he went home accompanied by the senate and a great number of the allies, and then retired quietly to his sleeping-room with the intention of composing a speech for the following day. In the following morning Rome was thrown into consternation by the news that Scipio was found dead in his room. The most contradictory rumours were circulated respecting his death, but it was the general opinion that he was murdered. Some thought that he died a natural death, and others that he put an end to his own life, despairing of being able to carry his proposal through the assembly on the following day; but the fact, which is admitted by all writers, that there was no inquiry into the cause of his death, corroborates the popular opinion that he was murdered. Suspicion fell upon various persons; his wife Sempronia and her mother Cornelia were suspected by some; Carbo, Fulvius, and C. Gracchus by others (Appian, App. BC 1.19, 20; Vell. 2.4 Plut. C. Gracch. 10 ; Schol. Bob. in Mil. p. 283, ed. Orelli). Of all these Papirius Carbo was most generally believed to have been guilty, and is expressly mentioned as the murderer by Cicero. (Cic. de Or. 2.40, ad Fam. 9.21.3, ad Q. Fr. 2.3.3.)

The character of Scipio is thus described by Niebuhr: -- " Scipio is one of those characters who have a great reputation in history, which, however, in my opinion, is not altogether well deserved. He was, it is true, a very eminent general, and a great man; he did many a just and praise-worthy thing; but he made a show of his great qualities, and Polybius, his friend and instructor in military matters, who in other respects loves him very much, shows in his narrative quite clearly that the virtues of Scipio were ostentatious. Things which every other good and honest man does quietly, Scipio boasts of, because they are not common among his own countrymen. What distinguishes him is an unflinching political character : he belonged to those who wished by all means to maintain the state of things such as it actually was. Every thing which existed had in his eyes an indisputable right to exist, and he never asked whether it was right or wrong in its origin, or how detrimental its injustice was to the republic itself." (Lectures on Roman History, vol. i. p. 293, ed. Schmitz.) Some deductions, however, should be made from this estimate of his political character. It is true that after his return from Numantia, he opposed with the utmost energy the measures of the popular party; but previous to that time he had recognised the necessity of some concessions to the popular feeling, and had incurred the serious displeasure of his own party by supporting in B. C. 139 the Lex Tabellaria of the tribune L. Cassius Longinus (Cic. Brut. 25, de Leg. 3.16). Some even went so far as to class him among the men of the people (Cic. Ac. 2.5).


Literary Attainments

With respect to the literary attainments of Scipio, there was but one opinion in antiquity. He was better acquainted with Greek literature and philosophy than any of his contemporaries, unless it were his friend Laelius. He spoke his own language with purity and elegance (omnium aetatis suae purissime locutum, Gel. 2.20), of which we have a striking confirmation in the report, whether true or false, of his having assisted Terence in the composition of his comedies.


He was one of the most distinguished orators of his day (Cic. Brtt. 21, de Orat. 1.49; Vell. 2.9; Quint. Inst. 12.10.10); and his speeches were admired, as we have seen above, down to a late period.


The few fragments of them, which have been preserved by A. Gellius and others, are given by Meyer (Orat. Roman. Fragm. pp. 176-193, 2d ed).


The general opinion entertained by the Romans of a subsequent age respecting Scipio is given in the most pleasing colours by Cicero in his work on the Republic, in which Scipio is introduced as the principal speaker.

Further Information

The life and character of Scipio are delineated with ability by Nitzsch, in his treatise Polybius Kiel, 1842, and also in his work Die Gracchen und ihre nächsten Vorgänger, Berlin, 1847; on the death of Scipio, see Scheu, De Morte Africani minoris ejusque auctoribus, in Beier's edition of Cicero's Laelius, Leipzig, 1828 ; Gerlach, Der Tod des P. Cornelius Scipio Aemiilianus, in his Historische Studien, p. 254, &c., Hamburgh, 1841; Zimmermann, Zeitschrft für die Altertkumswissenschaft, 1841, No. 52.

1 * Valerius Maximus, however, appears to be mistaken in stating that Scipio held the lustrum, since Cicero says (de Orat. 2.66, that it was held by his colleague Mummius.).

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hide References (18 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (18):
    • Homer, Iliad, 6.448
    • Homer, Odyssey, 10.495
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.47
    • null, 1.3.20
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.3.19
    • Cicero, On Oratory, 2.64
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 44, 44
    • Cicero, Lucullus, 13
    • Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, Book 12, 10.10
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 3.4
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 7.11
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 2.20
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 4.20
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 5.19
    • Cicero, Brutus, 25
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 4.1.10
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 6.2.3
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 6.4.2
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