THUS in the spring of 204 B.C. Scipio embarked his army at Lilybæum (modern Marsala), and sailed for Africa. His fleet is said to have comprised forty warships and four hundred transports, and on board was carried water and rations for fifty-five days, of which fifteen days’ supply was cooked. Complete dispositions were made for the protection of the convoy by the warships, and each class of vessel was distinguished by lights at night—the transports one, the warships two, and his own flagship three. It is worth notice that he personally supervised the embarkation of the troops.
A huge crowd gathered to witness the departure, not only the inhabitants of Lilybæum, but all the deputies from Sicily—as a compliment to Scipio,—and the troops who were being left behind. At daybreak Scipio delivered a farewell oration and prayer, and then by a trumpet gave the signal to weigh anchor. Favoured by a strong wind the fleet made a quick passage, and next morning when the sun rose they were in sight of land, and could discern the promontory of Mercury (now Cape Bon). Scipio ordered the pilot to make for a landing farther west, but a dense fog coming on later forced the fleet to cast anchor. Next morning, the wind rising, dispelled the fog, and the army disembarked at the Fair promontory (now Cape Farina), a few miles from the important city of Utica. The security of the landing was at once ensured by entrenching a camp on the nearest rising ground.
These two promontories formed the horns, pointing towards Sicily, of the territory of Carthage, that bull’s head of land projecting into the Mediterranean which is to-day known as Tunisia. The horns, some thirty-five miles apart, enclosed a vast semicircular bay in the centre of which stood Carthage, on a small peninsula pointing east. Utica lay just below and inside the tip of the western horn, and a few miles east of the city was the Bagradas river, whose rich and fertile valley was the main source of supplies for Carthage. Another strategic point was Tunis, at the junction of the Carthage peninsula with the mainland—geographically south-west of Carthage but militarily east, because it lay across the landward approaches from that flank.
Although the Carthaginians had long been expecting the blow, and had watch-towers on every cape, the news created feverish excitement and alarm, stimulated by the stream of fugitives from the country districts. At Carthage, emergency defensive measures were taken as if Scipio was already at the gates. The Roman’s first step was clearly to gain a secure base of operations, and with this aim his preliminary move was against Utica. His fleet was despatched there forthwith while the army marched overland, his advanced guard cavalry encountering a body of five hundred Carthaginian horse who had been sent to reconnoitre and interrupt the landing. After a sharp engagement these were put to flight. A still better omen was the arrival of Masinissa, true to his word, to join Scipio. Livy states that the earlier sources from which he compiled his history differed as to the strength of Masinissa’s reinforcement, some saying that he brought two hundred horse, and some two thousand. Livy accepts the smaller estimate, for the very sound reason that Masinissa after his return from Spain had been driven out of his father’s kingdom by the joint efforts of Syphax and the Carthaginians, and for the past year and more had been eluding pursuit by repeated changes of quarter. An exile, who had escaped from the last battle with only sixty horsemen, it is unlikely that he could have raised his band of followers to any large proportions.
Meanwhile, the Carthaginians despatched a further body of four thousand horse, mainly Numidians, to oppose Scipio’s advance and gain time for Syphax and Hasdrubal to come to their aid. To their ally and to their chief general in Africa the most urgent messages had been sent. Hanno with the four thousand cavalry occupied a town, Salæca, about fifteen miles from the Roman camp near Utica, and it is said by Livy that Scipio, on hearing of this, remarked, “ What, cavalry lodging in houses during the summer! Let there be even more in number while they have such a leader.” “Concluding that the more dilatory they were in their operations, the more active he ought to be, he sent Masinissa forward with the cavalry, directing him to ride up to the gates of the enemy and draw them out to battle, and when their whole force had poured out and committed themselves thoroughly to the attack, then to retire by degrees.” Scipio himself waited for what he judged sufficient time for Masinissa’s advanced party to draw out the enemy, and then followed with the Roman cavalry, “proceeding without being seen, under cover of some rising ground.” He took up a position near the so-called Tower of Agathocles, on the northern slope of a saddle between two ridges.
Masinissa, following Scipio’s plan, made repeated advances and retirements. At first he drew out small skirmishing parties, then counter-attacked them so that Hanno was forced to reinforce them, lured them on again by a simulated retreat and repeated the process. At last Hanno, irritated by these tactical tricks—so typical of the Parthians and the Mongols later,—sallied forth with his main body, whereupon Masinissa retired slowly, drawing the Carthaginians along the southern side of the ridges and past the saddle which concealed the Roman cavalry. When the moment was ripe, Scipio’s cavalry emerged and encircled the flank and rear of Hanno’s cavalry, while Masinissa, turning about, attacked them in front. The first line of a thousand were surrounded and slain, and of the remainder two thousand were captured or killed in a vigorous pursuit.
Scipio followed up this success by a seven days’ circuit through the countryside, clearing it of cattle and supplies, and creating a wide devastated zone as a barrier against attack. Security, both in supply and protection, thus effected, he concentrated his efforts on the siege of Utica, which he wanted for his base of operations. Utica, however, was not destined to be a second Cartagena. Although he combined attack from the sea by the marines with the land assault, the fortress defied all his efforts and ruses.
Hasdrubal by this time had collected a force of thirty thousand foot and three thousand horse, but with painful recollections of the maulings he had suffered in Spain, did not venture to move to Utica’s relief until reinforced by Syphax. When the latter at last came, with an army stated to have been fifty thousand foot and ten thousand horse, the menace compelled Scipio to raise the siege—after forty days. Faced with such a concentration of hostile force, Scipio’s situation must have been hazardous, but he extricated himself without mishap and fortified a camp for the winter on a small peninsula, connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. This lay on the eastern, or Carthage, side of Utica, thus lying on the flank of any relieving force, and was later known as Castra Cornelia. The enemy then encamped some seven miles farther east, covering the approaches to the River Bagradas.
If there is a parallel between Scipio’s landing in Africa and Gustavus’s landing in Germany, there is a still more striking parallel between their action during the first season on hostile soil. Both campaigns to the unmilitary critic appear limited in scope compared with the avowed object with which they had set forth. Both generals have been criticised for over-caution, if not hesitation. And both were justified not only by the result, but by the science of war. Scipio and Gustavus alike, unable for reasons’ outside their control to adjust the means to the end, displayed that rare strategical quality—of adjusting the end to the means. Their strategy foreshadowed Napoleon’s maxim that “ the whole art of war consists in a well ordered and prudent defensive, followed by a bold and rapid offensive.” Both sought first to lay the foundations for the offensive which followed by gaining a secure base of operations where they could build up their means to a strength adequate to ensure the attainment of the end.
Gustavus is known to have been a great student of the classics: was his strategy in 1630 perhaps a conscious application of Scipio’s method? Nor is this campaign of Gustavus’s the only military parallel with Scipio’s that history records. For the action of Wellington in fortifying and retiring behind the lines of Torres Vedras in 1810 to checkmate the French superior concentration of force has a vivid reminder, both topographical and strategical, of Scipio’s action in face of the concentration of Syphax and Hasdrubal.
In this secure retreat Scipio devoted the winter to build up his strength and supplies for the next spring’s campaign. Besides the corn he had collected in his preliminary foraging march, he obtained a vast quantity from Sardinia, and also fresh stores of clothing and arms from Sicily. The success of his landing, his sharp punishment of the Carthaginian attempts to meet him in battle, and, above all, the fact that he had dissipated the terrors of the unknown, had falsified all the fears of the wiseacres, by holding his own, small though his force, on the dreaded soil of Africa, almost at the gates of Carthage—all these factors combined to turn the current of opinion and arouse the State to give him adequate support. Reliefs were sent to Sicily so that he could reinforce his strength with the troops at first left behind for local defence.
But, as usual, while seeking to develop his own strength, he did not overlook the value of subtracting from the enemy’s. He reopened negotiations with Syphax, “whose passion for his bride he thought might now perhaps have become satiated from unlimited enjoyment.” In these he was disappointed, for while Syphax went so far as to suggest terms of peace by which the Carthaginians should quit Italy in return for a Roman evacuation of Africa, he did not hold out any hope that he would abandon the Carthaginian cause if the war continued. For such terms Scipio had no use, but he only rejected them in a qualified manner, in order to maintain a pretext for his emissaries to visit the hostile camp. The reason was that he had conceived a plan whereby to weaken the enemy and anticipate the attack that he feared owing to the enemy’s heavy superiority of numbers. Some of his earlier messengers to Syphax had reported that the Carthaginians’ winter huts were built almost entirely of wood, and those of the Numidians of interwoven reeds and matting, disposed without order or proper intervals, and that a number even lay outside the ramparts of the camps. This news suggested to Scipio the idea of setting fire to the enemy’s camp and striking a surprise blow in the confusion.
Therefore in his later embassies Scipio sent certain expert scouts and picked centurions dressed as officers’ servants. While the conferences were in progress, these rambled through the camps, both that of Syphax and of Hasdrubal, noting their approaches and entrances and studying the general plan of the camps, the distance between them, the times and methods of stationing guards and outposts. With each embassy, too, a different lot of observers were sent, so that as large a number as possible should familiarise themselves with the lie of the enemy camps. As a result of their reports Scipio ascertained that Syphax’s camp was the more inflammable and the easier to attack.
He then sent further envoys to Syphax, who was hoping for peace, with instructions not to return until they received a decisive answer on the proposed terms, saying that it was time that either an agreement was settled or the war vigorously prosecuted. After consultation between Syphax and Hasdrubal, they apparently decided to accept, whereupon Scipio made further stipulations, as a suitable way of terminating the truce, which he did next day, informing Syphax that while he himself desired peace, the rest of his council were opposed to it. By this means he gained freedom to carry out his plan without breaking his faith, though he undoubtedly went as close to the border between strategical ruse and deliberate craft as was possible without overstepping it.
Syphax, much vexed at this breakdown of negotiations, at once conferred with Hasdrubal, and it was decided to take the offensive and challenge Scipio to battle, on level ground if possible. But Scipio was ready to strike, his preparations complete. Even in his final preparations, he sought to mystify and mislead the enemy in order to make his surprise more effective. The orders issued to the troops spoke of the surprise being aimed at Utica ; he launched his ships and mounted on board siege machines as if he was about to assault Utica from the sea, and he despatched two thousand infantry to seize a hill which commanded the town. This move had a dual purpose—to convince the enemy that his plan was directed against Utica, and to occupy the city garrison to prevent them making a sortie against his camp when he marched out to attack the hostile camps. Thus he was able to achieve economy of force, by concentrating the bulk of his troops for the decisive blow, and leaving only a slight force to guard the camp, and thus once more he did not lose sight of the principle of security in carrying out that of surprise. He had fixed the enemy’s attention in the wrong direction.
About mid-day he summoned a conference of his ablest and most trusted tribunes and disclosed his plan. To this conference he summoned the officers who had been to the enemy’s camp. “He questioned them closely and compared the accounts they gave of the approaches and entrances of the camp, letting Masinissa decide, and following his advice owing to his personal knowledge of the ground.” Then he ordered the tribunes to give the troops their evening meal early, and lead the legions out of the camp after “ Retreat ” had been sounded as usual. On this point Polybius adds the interesting note that“ it is the custom among the Romans at supper-time for the trumpeters to sound their instruments outside the general’s tent as a signal that it is time to set the night-watches at their several posts.”
About the first watch the troops were formed up in march order and moved off on their sevenmile march, and about midnight arrived in the vicinity of the hostile camps, which were just over a mile apart. Thereupon Scipio divided his force, placing all the Numidians and half his legionaries under Lælius and Masinissa with orders to attack Syphax’s camp. The two commanders he first took aside and urged on them the need for caution, emphasising that“ the more the darkness in night attacks hinders and impedes the sight, the more must one supply the place of actual vision by skill and care.” He further instructed them that he would wait to launch his attack on Hasdrubal’s camp until Lælius had set fire to the other camp, and with this purpose marched his own men at a slow pace.
Lælius and Masinissa, dividing their force, attacked the camp from two directions simultaneously—a convergent manœuvre,—and Masinissa also posted his Numidians, because of their knowledge of the camp, to cut off the various exits of escape. As had been foreseen, once the leading Romans had set the fire alight, it spread rapidly along the first row of huts, and in a brief while the whole camp was aflame, because of the closeness of the huts and the lack of proper intervals between rows.
Fully imagining that it was an accidental conflagration, Syphax’s men rushed out of their huts unarmed, and in a disorderly flight. Many perished in their huts while half asleep, many were trampled to death in the frenzied rush for the exits, while those who escaped the flames were cut down unawares by the Numidians posted at the gates of the camp.
Meanwhile in the Carthaginian camp the soldiers, aroused by the sentries’ report of the fire in the other camp, and seeing how vast was the volume of flame, rushed out of their own camp to assist in extinguishing the fire, they also imagining it an accident and Scipio seven miles distant. This was as Scipio had hoped and anticipated, and he at once fell on the rabble, giving orders not to let a man escape to give warning to the troops still in the camp. Instantly he followed up this by launching his attack on the gates of the camp, which were unguarded as a result of the confusion.
By the cleverness of his plan in attacking Syphax’s camp first, he had turned to advantage the fact that a number of the latter’s huts were outside the ramparts and so easily accessible, and had created the opportunity to force the gates of the better protected Carthaginian camp.
The first troops inside set fire to the nearest huts, and soon the whole camp was aflame, the same scenes of confusion and destruction being here repeated, and those who escaped through the gates meeting their fate at the hands of Roman parties posted for the purpose. “ Hasdrubal at once desisted from any attempt to extinguish the fire, as he knew now from what had befallen him that the calamity which had overtaken the Numidians also was not, as they had supposed, the result of chance, but was due to the initiative and daring of the enemy.” He therefore forced his way out and escaped, along with only two thousand foot and five hundred horsemen, half-armed and many wounded or scorched. With this small force he took refuge in a near-by town, but when Scipio’s pursuing troops came up, and seeing that the inhabitants were disaffected, he resumed his flight to Carthage. Syphax who had also escaped, probably with a larger proportion, retired to a fortified position at Abba, a town quite close.
The armies of Sennacherib had not suffered a swifter, more unexpected, or more complete fate than those of Hasdrubal and Syphax. According to Livy forty thousand men were either slain or destroyed by the flames, and about five thousand were captured, including many Carthaginian nobles. As a spectacle of disaster it surpasses any in history. Polybius, who presumably got his information from Lælius and other eye-witnesses, thus describes it: “The whole place was filled with wailing and confused cries, panic, fear, strange noises, and above all raging fire and flames that overbore all resistance, things any one of which would be sufficient to strike terror into a human heart, and how much more this extraordinary combination of them all. It is not possible to find any other disaster which however magnified could be compared with this, so much did it exceed in horror all previous events. Therefore of all the brilliant exploits performed by Scipio this seems to me the most brilliant and most adventurous....”
In Carthage the news caused great alarm and anxiety—Hasdrubal’s purpose in retreating there had been to allay the panic and forestall any capitulation. His presence and his resolute spirit was needed. The Carthaginians had expected with the spring campaign to find their armies shutting in Scipio on the cape near Utica, cutting him off by land and sea. Finding the tables so dramatically turned, they swung from confidence to extreme despondency. At an emergency debate in the Senate three different opinions were put forward: to send envoys to Scipio to treat for peace; to recall Hannibal; to raise fresh levies and urge Syphax to renew the struggle in co-operation with them. The influence of Hasdrubal, combined with that of all the Barcine party, carried the day, and the last policy was adopted. It is worth a passing note, in view of the charge of ultra-Roman prejudice often made against Livy, that he speaks with obvious admiration of this third motion which“ breathed the spirit of Roman constancy and adversity.”
Syphax and his Numidians had at first decided to continue their retreat and, abandoning the war, retire to their own country, but three influences caused them to change their minds. These were the pleadings of Sophonisba to Syphax not to desert her father and his people, the prompt arrival of the envoys from Carthage, and the arrival of a body of over four thousand Celtiberian mercenaries from Spain—whose numbers were exaggerated by popular rumour, doubtless inspired by the war party, to ten thousand. Accordingly Syphax gave the envoys a message that he would co-operate with Hasdrubal, and showed them the first reinforcement of fresh Numidian levies who had arrived. By energetic recruiting Hasdrubal and Syphax were able to take the field again within thirty days, joining forces, and entrenched a camp on the Great Plain. Their strength is put as between thirty and thirty-five thousand fighting men.
Scipio, after his dispersion of the enemy’s field forces in the recent surprise, had turned his attention to the siege of Utica, in order to gain the secure base which he wanted as a prelude to further operations. It is evident that he intentionally refrained from pressing the retreat of Syphax, for such pressure by forcing the latter to fight would tend to pour fresh fuel on a fire that was flickering out of itself. The ground for such a hope we have already shown, as also the factors which caused its disappointment. Polybius gives us a valuable sidelight at this juncture on Scipio’s care and forethought for his troops—“ He also at the same time distributed the booty, but expelled the merchants who were making too good an affair of it; for as their recent success had made them form a rosy picture of the future, the soldiers attached no value to their actual booty, and were very ready to dispose of it for a song to the merchants.”
When the news reached Scipio of the junction of the Carthaginian and Numidian forces and of their approach, he acted promptly. Leaving only a small detachment to keep up the appearance of a siege by land and sea, he set out to meet the enemy, his whole force being in light marching order—he evidently judged that rapidity was the key to this fresh menace, to strike before they could weld their new force into a strong weapon. On the fifth day he reached the Great Plain, and fortified a camp on a hill some three and a half miles distant from the enemy’s camp. The two following days he advanced his forces, harassing the enemy’s outposts, in order to tempt them out to battle. The bait succeeded on the third day, and the enemy’s combined army came out of their camp and drew up in order of battle. They placed the Celtiberians, their picked troops, in the centre, the Numidians on the left, and the Carthaginians on the right. “ Scipio simply followed the usual Roman practice of placing the maniples of hastati in front, behind them the principes,and hindmost of all the triarii.” He disposed his Italian cavalry on his right, facing Syphax’s Numidians, and Masinissa’s Numidians on his left, facing the Carthaginian horse. At the first encounter the enemy’s wings were broken by the Italian and Masinissa’s cavalry. Scipio’s rapidity of march and foresight in striking before Hasdrubal and Syphax had consolidated their raw levies was abundantly justified. Moreover, on one side moral was heightened by recent success, and on the other lowered by recent disaster.
In the centre the Celtiberians fought staunchly, knowing that flight was useless, because of their ignorance of the country, and that surrender was futile, because of their treason in coming from Spain to take service against the Romans. It would appear that Scipio used his second and third lines—the principes and triarii—as a mobile reserve to attack the Celtiberians’ flanks, instead of to reinforce the hastati directly, as was the normal custom. Thus surrounded on all sides the Celtiberians were cut to pieces where they stood, though only after an obstinate resistance, which enabled the commanders, Hasdrubal and Syphax, as well as a good number of the fugitives, to make their escape. Hasdrubal with his Carthaginian survivors found shelter in Carthage, and Syphax with his cavalry retreated home to his own capital, Cirta.
Night had put a stop to the scene of carnage, and next day Scipio sent Masinissa and Lælius in pursuit of Syphax, while he himself cleared the surrounding country, and occupied its strong places, as a preliminary to a move on Carthage. Here fresh alarm had been caused, but the people were more staunch in the hour of trial than is the tendency to regard them. Few voices were raised in favour of peace, and energetic measures were taken for resistance. The city was provisioned for a long siege, and the work of strengthening and enlarging the fortifications was pushed on. At the same time the Senate decided to send the fleet to attack the Roman ships at Utica and attempt to raise the siege, and as a further step the recall of Hannibal was decided on.
Scipio, lightening his transport by the despatch of the booty to his camp near Utica, had already reached and occupied Tunis, with little opposition despite the strength of the place. Tunis was only some fifteen miles from Carthage and could be clearly seen, and as Polybius tells us of Scipio, “ this he thought would be a most effective means of striking the Carthaginians with terror and dismay ”—the moral objective again.
Hardly had he completed this“ bound,” however, before his sentries sighted the Carthaginian fleet sailing past the place. He realised what their plan was and also the danger, knowing that his own ships, burdened with siege machines or converted into transports, were unprepared for a naval battle. Unhesitatingly, he made his decision to stave off the threat, and made a forced march back to Utica. There was no time to clear his ships for action, and so he hit on the plan of anchoring the warships close inshore, and protecting them by a four-deep row of transports lashed together as a floating wall. He also laid planks from one to the other, to enable the free movement of troops, leaving narrow intervals for small patrol-boats to pass in and out under these bridges. He then put on board the transports a thousand picked men with a very high proportion of weapons, particularly missiles—an interesting point in foreshadowing the modern doctrine of using increased fire-power in defence to replace man-power.
These emergency measures were completed before the enemy’s attack came, thanks first to the slow sailing of the Carthaginian fleet, and their further delay in offering battle in the open sea. Thus they were forced to sail in against the Romans’ unexpected type of formation, like ships attacking a wall. Their weight of numbers, too, was partly discounted by the fact of the transports being higher out of the water, so that the Carthaginians had to throw their weapons upwards, and the Romans, conversely, gained additional impetus and better aim through casting their missiles from a superior height. But the device of sending patrol-boats and light craft out through the intervals to harass the Carthaginian ships—a device obviously adapted by Scipio from military tactics—failed of its effect, and proved an actual handicap to the defence. For when they went out to harass the approaching warships they were run down by the mere momentum and bulk of the latter, and in the later stages became so intermingled with the Carthaginian ships as to mask the fire of the troops on the transports.
Beaten off in their direct assaults, the Carthaginians tried a new measure, throwing long beams with iron hooks at the end on to the Roman transports, these beams being secured by chains to their own vessels. By this means the fastenings were broken, and a number of transports dragged away, the troops manning them having barely time to leap on to the second line of ships. Only one line had been broken, and the opposition had been so severe that the Carthaginians contented themselves with this limited success, and sailed back to Carthage. They towed away six captured transports, though doubtless more were broken adrift and lost by the Romans.
Baulked in this quarter, the Carthaginians’ hopes were shattered in another, for the pursuing force sent by Scipio after Syphax had fulfilled its object and finally cut away this prop of Carthaginian power in Africa. The success went still further, as it gained for Scipio that Numidian source of man-power which he had so long schemed for, and which he needed to build up his forces to an adequate strength for his decisive blow.
Following up Syphax, Lælius and Masinissa arrived in Massylia (Masinissa’s hereditary kingdom from which he had been driven) after a fifteen days’ march, and there expelled the garrisons left by Syphax. The latter had fallen back farther east to his own dominions, Massæsylia—modern Algeria,—and there, spurred on by his wife, raised a fresh force from the abundant resources of his kingdom. He proceeded to organise them on the Roman model, imagining, like so many military copyists in history, that imitation of externals gave him the secret of the Roman success. His force was large enough—as large, in fact, as his original strength,—but it was utterly raw and undisciplined. With this he advanced to meet Lælius and Masinissa. At the first encounter between the opposing cavalry, numerical superiority told, but the advantage was lost when the Roman infantry reinforced the intervals of their cavalry, and before long the raw troops broke and fled. The victory was essentially one due to superior training and discipline, and not to any subtle manoeuvre such as appears in all Scipio’s battles. This is worth note in view of the fact that some historians lose no opportunity of hinting that Scipio’s success was due more to his able lieutenants than to himself.
Syphax, seeing his force crumbling, sought to shame his men into resistance by riding forward and exposing himself to danger. In this gallant attempt he was unhorsed, made prisoner, and dragged into the presence of Lælius. As Livy remarks, this was“ a spectacle calculated to afford peculiar satisfaction to Masinissa.” The latter showed fine military spirit as well as judgment after the battle, when he declared to Lælius that, much as he would like to visit his regained kingdom, “it was not proper in prosperity any more than in adversity to lose time.” He therefore asked permission to push on with the cavalry to Cirta, Syphax’s capital, while Lælius followed with the infantry. Having won Lælius’s assent, Masinissa advanced, taking Syphax with him. On arrival in front of Cirta, he summoned the principal inhabitants to appear, but they refused until he showed them Syphax in chains, whereupon the faint-hearted threw open the gates. Masinissa, posting guards, galloped off to seize the palace, and was met by Sophonisba. This woman, almost as famous as Helen or Cleopatra for her beauty and for her disastrous influence, made such a clever appeal to his pride, his pity, and his passion, that she not only won his pledge not to hand her over to the Romans, but“ as the Numidians are an excessively amorous race, he became the slave of his captive.” When she had withdrawn, and he had to face the problem of how to reconcile his duty with his pledge, his passion suggested to him a loophole—to marry her himself that very day. When Lælius came up he was so annoyed that at first he was on the point of having her dragged from the marriage-bed and sent with the other captives to the Utica camp, but afterwards relented, agreeing to leave the decision to Scipio. The two then set to work on the reduction of the remaining towns in Numidia, which were still garrisoned by the troops of Syphax.
When the captives arrived at Scipio’s camp, Syphax himself in chains at their head, the troops poured out to see the spectacle. What a contrast with a few years back! Now, a captive in chains; then, a powerful ruler who held the balance of power, for whose friendship Scipio and Hasdrubal vied on their simultaneous visits, both placing themselves in his power, so highly did they assess the prize at stake.
This thought evidently passed through Scipio’s mind, the recollection, too, of their quondam friendship, and moved him to sympathy. He questioned Syphax as to the motives that had led him to break his pledge of alliance with the Romans and make war on them unprovoked. Syphax, gaining confidence from Scipio’s manner, replied that he had been mad to do so, but that taking up arms was only the consummation of his frenzy, and not its beginning, which dated from his marriage to Sophonisba. “That fury and pest” had fascinated and blinded him to his undoing. But ruined and fallen as he was, he declared that he gained some consolation from seeing her fatal lures transferred to his greatest enemy.
These words caused Scipio great anxiety, for he appreciated both her influence and the menace to the Roman plans from Masinissa’s hasty wedding. She had detached one passionate Numidian; she might well lead astray another. When Lælius and Masinissa arrived shortly after, Scipio showed no signs of his feelings in his public greeting, praising both in the highest terms for their work. But as soon as possible he took Masinissa aside privately. His talk with the delinquent was a masterpiece of tact and psychological appeal. “ I suppose, Masinissa, that it was because you saw in me some good qualities that you first came to me when in Spain for the purpose of forming a friendship with me, and that afterwards in Africa you committed yourself and all your hopes to my protection. But of all those virtues, which made me seem worthy of your regard, there is none of which I am so proud as temperance and control of my passions.” Then pointing out the dangers caused by want of self-control, he continued: “I have mentioned with delight, and I remember with pleasure, the instances of fortitude and courage you displayed in my absence. As to other matters, I would rather that you should reflect on them in private, than that I should cause you to blush by reciting them.” Then, with a final call to Masinissa’s sense of duty, he dismissed him. Where reproaches might have stiffened Masinissa, such a friendly appeal broke him down, and bursting into tears, he retired to his own tent. Here, after a prolonged inward struggle, he sent for a confidential servant, and ordered him to mix some poison in a cup and carry it to Sophonisba, with the message that “ Masinissa would gladly have fulfilled the first obligation which as a husband he owed to her, his wife; but as those who had the power had deprived him of the exercise of those rights, he now performed his second promise—that she should not come alive into the power of the Romans.” When the servant came to Sophonisba she said, “I accept this nuptial present; nor is it an unwelcome one, if my husband can render me no better service. Tell him, however, that I should have died with greater satisfaction had I not married so near on my death.” Then, calmly and without a quiver, she took and drained the cup.
As soon as Scipio heard the news, fearing that the high-spirited young man, when so distraught, might take some desperate step, “he immediately sent for him, and at one time endeavoured to solace him, at another gently rebuked him for trying to expiate one rash act with another, and making the affair more tragical than was necessary.”
Next day Scipio sought to erase this grief from Masinissa’s mind by a well-calculated appeal to his ambition and pride. Summoning an assembly, he first saluted Masinissa by the title of king, speaking in the highest terms of his achievements, and then presented him with a golden goblet, an ivory sceptre, a curule chair, and other symbols of honour. “He increased the honour by observing that among the Romans there was nothing more magnificent than a ‘triumph,’ and that those who received the reward of a ‘ triumph ’ were not invested with more splendid ornaments than those of which the Roman people considered Masinissa alone, of all foreigners, worthy.” This action, and the encouragement to his dreams of becoming master of all Numidia, had the desired effect, and Masinissa speedily forgot his private sorrows in his public distinction. Lælius, whom Scipio had been careful to praise similarly and reward, was then sent with Syphax and the other captives back to Rome.