Scipio Aemilianus

Scipio Aemilianus Africanus

Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus (185 - 129 BC), also known as Scipio Aemilianus or Scipio Africanus the Younger, was a leading general and politician of the ancient Roman Republic. As consul he commanded at the final siege and destruction of Carthage in 146 BC, and was a leader of the senators opposed to the Gracchi in 133 BC.


He was born the younger son of Lucius Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus, the conqueror of Macedonia, and fought when he was 17 years old by his father's side at the Battle of Pydna, which decided the fate of Macedonia and made northern Greece subject to Rome. He was adopted (see Adoption in Rome) by Publius Cornelius Scipio, the eldest son of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, and his name was changed to Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus. He therefore was the nephew of Publius Cornelius Scipio's wife, Aemilia Tertia.


In 151 BC, a time of disaster for the Romans in Spain, he voluntarily offered his services in that province and developed an influence over the native tribes similar to that which Scipio Africanus, his grandfather by adoption, had acquired nearly 60 years before. In the next year an appeal was made to him by the Carthaginians to act as mediator between them and the Numidian prince Massinissa, who, supported by a party at Rome, was incessantly encroaching on Carthaginian territory. In 149 BC 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 Aemilianus, though a subordinate officer, distinguished himself repeatedly, and in 147 BC 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 conquered Carthage, and at the Senate's bidding leveled it to the ground. In 146 BC "Scipio the Younger", as he was known, razed Carthage to the ground, ending the Third Punic War. On his return to Rome he celebrated a splendid Triumph, having also established a personal claim to his adoptive agnomen of Africanus.

Political career

In 142 BC, during his censorship, he endeavoured to check the growing luxury and immorality of the period. In 139 BC 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 BC he was again consul, with the province of Spain, where a demoralized Roman army was vainly attempting the conquest of Numantia on the Durius (Duero) and the closing of the Numantine War. 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 Aemilianus received the additional agnomen of "Numantinus".

Struggle against Gracchi

Scipio Aemilianus 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 Gaius Papirius Carbo what he thought of the fate of Gracchus, and replied that he was justly slain. The crowd listening to this comment responded with jeers, to which Scipio quickly replied: "I have never been scared by the shouts of the enemy in arms. Shall I be frightened by your outcries, you stepsons of Italy?" (Ward). This gave dire offence to the popular party, which was now led by his bitterest foes. Soon afterwards, in 129 BC, 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 solved, 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, whom Cicero expressly accused of the crime.
''Scipio looked over the city which had flourished for over seven hundred years since its foundation, which had ruled over such extensive territories, islands, and seas, and been as rich in arms, fleets, elephants, and money as the greatest empires, but which had surpassed them in daring and high courage, since though deprived of all its arms and ships it had yet withstood a great siege and famine for three years, and was now coming to an end in total destruction; and he is said to have wept and openly lamented the fate of his enemy. After meditating a long time on the fact that not only individuals but cities, nations, and empires must all inevitably come to an end, and on fate of Troy, that once glorious city, on the fall of the Assyrian, Median, and Persian empires, and on the more recent destruction of the brilliant empire of the Macedonians, deliberately or subconsciously he quoted the words of Hector from Homer--'The day shall come when sacred Troy shall fall, and King Priam and all his warrior people with him.' And when Polybius, who was with him, asked him what he meant, he turned and took him by the hand, saying: 'This is a glorious moment, Polybius; and yet I am seized with fear and foreboding that some day the same fate will befall my own country.'


Scipio Aemilianus, great general and great man as he was, is forever associated with the destruction of Carthage. Although he dutifully carried out the will of the Senate, the horror he expressed at its fate speaks to his humanity. 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 republica, in which Scipio Aemilianus 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, but as often happens to moderate men in radical times he ended disliked by both parties.

Despite moderation in policy, his oratory was noted for its sharp witticisms, a number of which have been quoted in various sources (Astin). Astin suggests that while his biting comments were doubtless appreciated by the crowds, they could have also had the effect of making enemies out of political opponents.

See also


Primary sources

  • Veillius Pat. i. 12;
  • Florus ii. 15, 17, 18;
  • Cicero, De oral. ii. 40.
  • Polybius xxxv. 4, xxxix.;
  • Appian, Punica, 72, 98, 113-131, IIisp. 48-95, Bell. Civ. i. 19;
  • Plutarch, Aemilius Paullus, 22, Tiberius Gracchus, 21, C. Gracchus, 10; Gellius iv. 20, v. 19;

Secondary sources

  • A. E. Astin, Scipio Aemilianus (Oxford University Press, 1967)
  • Warmington,B.H. Carthage, A History 242 (Barnes & Noble 1993) ISBN 1-56619-210-2
  • Ward, Allen M., Heichelheim, Fritz M., and Yeo, Cedric A., A History of the Roman People, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2003, 158.

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