Scipio Africanus


[Rather than clutter up the text with explanations of how everything affected Scipio's reputation and built the 'Scipio Myth', I have included them as glosses to explore.]


Scipio's career up to 210bc

a. The Scipios

• Publius Cornelius Scipio was born into the Scipio family. They were one of the six main patrician families (e.g. his father was Consul in 218bc) – but they drew most of their support from the plebs.

b. Ticinus

• Scipio was believed (by Livy) to have saved his father’s life at age 17 at Ticinus (218bc).

c. Scipio's Oath

• After Cannae, when he heard that a group of young men were contemplating leaving Italy, he took a group of followers and forced them to swear an oath on his sword never to abandon Rome.

d. Aedile

• In 213bc he was elected aedile (at least 6 years too young) – supposedly by accident, whilst helping his elder brother Lucius .

e. Commander-in-Chief in Spain

• In 210bc was given command of the army in Spain – Livy (26.18) connected this to a story that he was the only man brave enough to come forward.



Scipio in Spain 

a. Carthago Novo (209bc)

• In a surprise campaign, Scipio captured Qart Hadasht, renaming it Carthago Novo.

b. Battle of Baecula (209bc)

• Scipio defeated Hasdrubal, who was on his way to Italy to reinforce Hannibal
• Scipio made a strong surprise attack of velites in the centre, and then outflanked Hasdrubal with a two-pronged heavy-infantry attack – according to HH Scullard this was ‘a complete break with the traditional movements of a Roman army, and marked a real turning-point in military development'
• although Scipio defeated Hasdrubal, he did not pursue him, and was much criticised for it.

c. Battle of Ilipa (206bc)

• Scipio defeated Mago and Massinissa. For several days Scipio drew up his army with the Romans in the centre, but when he eventually attacked suddenly he put the Romans on the wings; the subterfuge worked, the Carthaginians deployed their forces wrongly, and Scipio destroyed their much-larger army.

d. Alliance with Massinissa

• Scipio released Massinissa’s nephew Massiva, who had been captured, and then recruited Massinissa as an ally – unfortunately, this merely meant that Syphax went over to the Carthaginians.

e. The Carthaginians abandoned Spain (205bc)

• Scipio put down a mutiny in the Roman army and an Iberian revolt, and a Carthaginian attempt to recapture New Carthage
• Mago abandoned Spain and went to try to join Hannibal in Italy
• In 205bc Scipio resigned the command of Spain and returned to Rome.



Scipio invades Africa 

a. Elected Consul (205bc)

• In 205bc, Scipio returned to Italy and was elected Consul by a landslide; he had wanted to be given Africa as his province – i.e. acommission to invade Africa – in the end Fabius defeated him in the Senate, and Scipio was given only Sicily.

b. Scipio in Sicily (205-204bc)

• In Sicily, Scipio took Marcellus’s army and trained them.
• He was forbidden to enlist nbew levies, so he recruited 7,000 extra volunteers.
• He recruited a professional cavalry by allowing 300 Sicilian nobles to avoid conscription by paying for a replacement man and horse.

c. Inasion of Africa (204bc)

• Fabius tried to get Scipio recalled and relieved of his command; Scipio turned the tables on him by so impressing the commission of inquiry with his preparations for invading Italy that in 204bc the Senate approved his invasion.

d. Battle of Utica (203bc)

• Scipio established a beachhead at Utica, but found himself pinned down in camp (the Castra Cornelia) by a large force of 30,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry under Hasdrubal and Syphax.
• In 203bc, Scipio launched a surprise night attack on the enemy camp, burned it, and massacred the fleeing enemy.
• Syphax was captured and sent to Rome; Sophonisba committed suicide.

e. Battle of the Great Plains (203bc)

• Very late in 203bc, Scipio defeated Hadrubal again, at the Battle of the Great Plains ; instead of keeping the hastati-then-principes-then-triarii as a three-deep line, he used the principes and triarii to move outwards lengthen the line and envelop the enemy ... a new battle-tactic and a development of his tactics at Baecula and Ilipa.




The Battle of Zama and the End of the War (202bc) 

a. Armistice (203bc)

The Carthaginians sought peace, and Scipio signed a Treaty with them (ratified by the Roman senate) which stated:
• Carthage could keep its African territory, but would lose its overseas empire
• Massinissa was given land in Africa
• Carthage was to reduce its fleet
• Carthage was to pay a war indemnity.

b. War renewed (203bc)

• The Carthaginian senate recalled Hannibal from Italy in 203 BC; this allowed the war party in Carthage to gain control.
• When a Roman fleet was caught in the Gulf of Tunis, the Carthaginians looted it.
• The Carthaginians now rejected the Peace Treaty they had agreed.
• Hannibal tried to persuade the Carthaginians not to use their new recruits against the battle-hardened Romans, but the Carthaginians insisted on war (Hannibal’s co-general, Hasdrubal Gisco, was forced to commit suicide by a violent mob after he spoke in support of Hannibal).

c. Pre-battle Conference (202bc)

According to Polybius and Livy (some modern historians doubt it ever happened), Hannibal met Scipio before the battle.
• Hannibal warned Scipio that ‘Fortuna’ might turn against him.
• Scipio rehearsed the Carthaginians’ faults and bad faith in a speech which sounded like a victory speech.
Despite the two generals' mutual admiration, negotiations failed.

d. Battle of Zama (October 202bc)

• Before the battle, Hannibal gave no speech to his new troops, only to his veterans,whom he placed at the rear of his army (as a Roman army).
• The Romans had superiority in cavalry and the Carthaginians had superiority in infantry; the Roman army was better armed and stronger.
• Hannibal started with an elephant charge, which Scipio turned back – disrupting Hannibal’s cavalry, who were then chased from the field by the Roman cavalry (Hannibal may have intended this to try to take the cavalry out of the battle).
• Scipio used his lengthening the line strategy; Hannibal forced his centre outwards by refusing to allow them to retreat. • Meanwhile, Hannibal’s infantry gained the advantage over the Roman infantry … until the Roman cavalry returned and outflanked the Carthaginians.
• 20,000 Carthaginians were killed and 20,000 taken prisoner; the battle marked the utter defeat of the Carthaginians and the end of the war.

e. Peace (201bc)

• Polybius and Livy give the impression that peace was signed almost immediately; Cornelius Nepos states that Hannibal fought on.
• Peace was signed in 201bc.



Scipio’s Relationship with the Roman Government 

a. During the War

• For many years Scipio was opposed/blocked by Fabius and his supporters; according to Livy Scipio only got the command in Spain because no one else wanted to do it.
• His victories in Spain made him so popular that he was elected Consul by a landslide in 205bc – but Fabius was able in the Senate to prevent him being given Africa as his province.
• He won the political battle in the Senate in 204bc by impressing the Commissioners sent to investigate him … as a result of which he was given permission to invade.

b. Political Influence after the War

• Returning to Rome, Scipio had to pursue a political career as leader of the Scipio Family.
• At first this was easy because of his popularity. In 199bc he was granted a triumph, elected Censor, and named princeps senatus; he was offered the posts of Consul for Life and Dictator but refused them.
• Scipio served as Consul again (194bc), but for the whole of the 190s, with the exception of one year Scipio family members or friends were elected as Consuls.
• Scipio’s policies were 'philhellenism' (i.e. he welcomed Greek influence and sought to bring Greece into the Roman Empire). He supported the rights of freedmen, and of women. He was a ‘modernist’.
• In 188bc, as his political influence was waning, the Scipios tried to increase their political power – they organised a law which gave full voting rights to the sons of freedmen.

c. Military Influence

• He was Commander-on-Chief of the Army in Spain 210-205bc, where he developed radical new battle-tactics.
• As Consul in Sicily in 205bc, he radically reformed the Army there, including the recruitment of a professional cavalry.
• As commander in Africa in 204bc, he won the war and made the Peace with Carthage; this made him so incredibly popular that he dominated Roman politics for more than a decade.
• In 190bc, when his brother Lucius was Consul, Scipio went with him to Syria to fight Antiochus and Hannibal, winning complete victory at the Battle of Magnesia.

d. Religious Influence

• Scipio was rumoured to be the son of Jupiter, who had come to his mother in form of a huge snake.
• He was overtly religious, meditating often in the temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill.
• Polybius said that he only did this to get the support of the superstitious poor and soldiers.

e. Opposition and Fall

• After the 190s, opposition to Scipio grew steadily, led by Cato and traditionalists who wanted to return to the old Roman ways.
• At first they attacked Scipio's friends and allies by accusing them of misappropriation of loot and war crimes – in 187bc, Scipio’s brother Lucius was prosecuted for the misappropriation of 3000 talents, though the case was dropped.
• Elections became bitter and violent; in 189bc Vulso and Fulvius (NOT Scipio allies) were elected consuls.
• In 185bc, Scipio lost control of the Senate. Scipio enemies were elected consuls.
• In 184bc Scipio himself was accused of bribery, though he used the memory of the Battle of Zama to get the case dismissed. However, he retired bitterly from politics before his death in 183bc.






The following web pages will help you complete the task:

This document contains the relevant sections of the set
OCR Textbook.



  1. Scipio was one of a few generals in history who never lost a battle.  Make a list of the battles he won, and makes notes on how he won.

2. The 'Scipio Myth' grew up around Scipio - according to Polybius, as intentional propaganda by Scipio himself.  Search the glosses and make notes on all the ways Roman writers used and enhanced Scipio's achievements to create the Myth.  How justified was it?

3. Read the following passage from Polybius, and write answers to the questions which follow:

Polybius, Book 10, Chapter 2
Now that I am about to recount Scipio's exploits in Spain, and in short everything that he achieved in his life, I think it necessary to convey to my readers, in the first place, a notion of his character and natural parts.  For the fact that he was almost the most famous man of all time makes everyone desirous to know what sort of man he was, and were the natural gifts and the training which enabled him to accomplish so many great actions...
As for all other writers, they represent him as a man favoured by fortune, who always owed the most part of his success to the unexpected and to mere chance, such men being, in their opinion, more divine and more worthy of admiration than those who always act by calculation.
They are not aware that ... Scipio made the men under his command more sanguine and more ready to face perilous enterprises by instilling into them the belief that his projects were divinely inspired.  But everything he did was done with calculation and foresight, and all his enterprises fell out as he had reckoned...  It is generally agreed that Scipio was beneficent and magnanimous, but that he was also shrewd and discreet with a mind always concentrated on the object he had in view.

Briefly describe Scipio's military successes    [4]

Explain why Scipio never lost a battle    [4]

Do you accept that Polybius's description of Scipio Africanus is accurate?  Explain your opinion.  You must refer both to this passage, and to your knowledge of Polybius as a writer.     [5]