SCIPIO AFRICANUS

236-183 B.C.

Roman general

Publius Cornelius Scipio was one of Rome’s most famous and successful generals. During the second of the Punic Wars against Carthage, a powerful city in North Africa, Scipio defeated the famous Carthaginian leader, Hannibal. For his victory, the Romans honored him with the name Africanus. Because of his outstanding military ability, Scipio has been compared to the greatest general of antiquity, Alexander the Great.

Scipio came from a leading military family. His father fought the Carthaginians in Spain during the early years of the Second Punic War. Scipio served under his father at the Battle of Ticinus in 218 B.C., during which he saved his father’s life. Scipio proved his leadership ability in 216 B.C. at the Italian city of Cannae, where he rallied the Roman soldiers after a disastrous defeat at the hands of Hannibal. In 210 B.C., at the age of 25, Scipio was appointed commander of a Roman army in Spain and given imperium, the power to raise and maintain an army. Within four years, Scipio’s brilliant military tactics drove the Carthaginians out of Spain and brought the region under Roman control.

Scipio was elected consul* in 205 B.C. Against the wishes of some leading Romans, he led Roman troops into Africa to confront the Carthaginians. In 202 B.C., commanding a largely volunteer army, Scipio defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama. This victory ended the Second Punic War.

Scipio’s military successes furthered his political career in Rome. In 199 B.C. he was elected censor*, and he became consul for a second time in 194 B.C. Four years later, serving as legate* to his brother Lucius, Scipio commanded Roman troops in Asia against Antiochus III, the ruler of Syria. When the brothers returned to Rome, Cato the Elder accused them of misusing funds and accepting bribes. In 184 B.C. Scipio avoided trial by retiring to his estate south of Rome. He died there the following year. Scipio Africanus was the grandfather of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, who attempted to reform the Roman government in the 130s and 120s B.C. (See also Wars and Warfare, Roman.)

* consul one of two chief governmental officials of Rome, chosen annually and serving for a year

* censor Roman official who conducted the census, assigned state contracts for public projects (such as building roads), and supervised public morality

* legate during the late Roman Republic, a senator who served on the staff of a provincial governor

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