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Scipio Africanus Major

Scipio Africanus Major

Scipio Africanus Major (Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus), 236-183 B.C., Roman general, the conqueror of Hannibal in the Punic Wars. He was the son of Publius Cornelius Scipio, and from a very early age he considered himself to have divine inspiration. He was with his father at the Ticino (218), and he survived Cannae (216). The young Scipio was elected (c.211) to the proconsulship in Spain. He conquered New Carthage (Cartagena) almost at once (209) and used the city as his own base; within several years he had conquered Spain. As consul in 205, Scipio wanted to invade Africa, but his jealous enemies in the senate granted him permission to go only as far as Sicily and gave him no army. He trained a volunteer army in Sicily. In 204 he received permission to go to Africa, where he joined his allies the Numidians and fought with success against the Carthaginians. In 202, Hannibal crossed to Africa and tried to make peace, but Scipio's demands were so extreme that war resulted; Scipio defeated Hannibal at Zama (202), returned home in triumph, and retired from public life. He was named Africanus after the country he conquered. His pride aggravated the hatred of his enemies, especially Cato the Elder, who accused the Scipio family of receiving bribes in the campaign against Antiochus III in which Scipio had accompanied (190) his brother. It was only through the influence of his son-in-law, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, that Scipio was saved from ruin. He retired into the country and ordered that his body might not be buried in his ungrateful city. Later he revealed his great magnanimity by his attempt to prevent the ruin of the exiled Hannibal by Rome.
Scipio Africanus (1702 – 21 December 1720) was a slave born to unknown parents from West Africa. He was named for Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Major, the third century BCE Roman general, famous for defeating the Carthaginian military leader Hannibal.

Life

Very little is known of his life. He was the servant of Charles William Howard, 7th Earl of Suffolk, who in 1715 married Arabella Morse and lived in the "Great House" in Henbury, Gloucestershire near Bristol. It is not known how he was acquired, but he died there aged, according to his headstone, eighteen. His master and mistress would die two years later.

Grave

He is remembered because of the elaborate grave, consisting of painted headstone and footstone, in the churchyard of St Mary’s in Henbury, which is a grade II listed building. Both stones feature black cherubs and the footstone bears the unusual epitaph:

I who was Born a PAGAN and a SLAVE
Now sweetly sleep a CHRISTIAN in my Grave
What tho' my hue was dark my SAVIOR'S sight
Shall Change this darkness into radiant Light
Such grace to me my Lord on earth has given
To recommend me to my Lord in heaven
Whose glorious second coming here I wait
With saints and Angels him to celebrate

It is thought that 10,000 black slaves and servants were in Britain in the early 18th century, but this is one of the very few memorials to them. Curiously, there is no record of his burial in the church registers.

Cultural references

The author Eugene Byrne featured Scipio Africanus in his alternate history novel, "Things Unborn". In this novel people who had suffered an untimely death were 'reincarnated' in an England recovering from an atomic war; Scipio Africanus was a famous war hero and a Detective Inspector in the Metropolitan Police. During the course of the novel he twice saves the life of the King, the reincarnated Richard III of England.

Sources

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

References

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