Ancient History & Civilisation



THE completeness of the victory left no room for a strategic pursuit, but Scipio did not linger in developing the moral exploitation of his victory. “ Concluding that he ought to bring before Carthage everything which could increase the consternation already existing there ... he ordered Gneius Octavius to conduct the legions thither by land; and setting out himself from Utica with the fresh fleet of Lentulus added to his former one, made for the harbour of Carthage ” (Livy). The immediate move achieved its object, a bloodless capitulation, thus crowning his eight years’ fulfilment of the law of economy of force by saving the costly necessity of a siege.

A short distance from the harbour of Carthage he was met by a ship decked with fillets and branches of olive. “ There were ten deputies, the leading men in the State, sent at the instance of Hannibal to solicit peace, to whom, when they had come up to the stern of the general’s ship, holding out the badges of suppliants and entreating the protection and compassion of Scipio, the only answer given was that they must come to Tunis, whither he would move his camp. After taking a view of Carthage, not with any particular object of acquainting himself of it, but to dispirit the enemy, he returned to Tunis, and also recalled Octavius there ” (Livy). The army on its way had received word that Vermina, the son of Syphax, was on his way to the succour of Carthage with a large force. But Octavius, employing a part of the infantry and all the cavalry, intercepted their march and routed them with heavy loss, his cavalry blocking all the routes of escape.

As soon as the camp at Tunis was pitched, thirty envoys arrived from Carthage, and to play on their fears they were kept waiting a day without an answer. At the renewed audience next day Scipio began by stating briefly that the Romans had no call to treat them with leniency, in view not only of their admission that they had begun the war, but of their recent treachery in violating a written agreement they had sworn to observe.

“ But for our own sake and in consideration of the fortune of war and of the common ties of humanity we have decided to be clement and magnanimous. This will be evident to you also, if you estimate the situation rightly. For you should not regard it as strange if we impose hard obligations on you or if we demand sacrifices of you, but rather it should surprise you if we grant you any favours, since Fortune owing to your own misconduct has deprived you of any right to pity or pardon, and placed you at the mercy of your enemies.” Then he stated first the indulgences, and next the conditions of peace —from that day onward the Romans would abstain from devastation or plunder; the Carthaginians were to retain their own laws and customs, and to receive no garrison; Carthage was to be restored all the territory in Africa that had been hers before the war, to keep all her flocks, herds, slaves, and other property. The conditions were—that reparation was to be made to the Romans for the injuries inflicted during the truce; the transports and cargoes then seized were to be given up ; all prisoners and deserters were to be handed over. The Carthaginians were to surrender all their warships except ten triremes, all their elephants, and not to tame any more—Scipio evidently held these in more respect than some modern military historians do. The Carthaginians were not to make war at all on any nation outside Africa, and on no nation in Africa without consulting Rome. They were to restore to Masinissa, within boundaries that should subsequently be settled, all the territory and property that had belonged to him or his forbears. They were to furnish the Roman army with sufficient corn for three months, and pay the troops until the peace mission had returned from Rome. They were to pay an indemnity of ten thousand talents of silver, in equal annual instalments spread over fifty years. Finally, they were to give as surety a hundred hostages, to be chosen by Scipio from their young men between fourteen and thirty years. The restoration of the transports was to be an immediate condition of a truce, “ otherwise they would have no truce, nor any hope of peace.”

202 B.C.—1919 A.D. ! What moderation compared with the conditions of Versailles. Here was true grand strategy—the object a better peace, a peace of security and prosperity. Here were sown no seeds of revenge. The necessary guarantees of security were obtained by the surrender of the Carthaginian fleet, by the hostages, and by placing a strong and loyal watchdog in Masinissa next door to Carthage. But they were kept down to the minimum both of cost to the conqueror and hardship to the conquered. This cheaply afforded security paved the way for the future prosperity of Rome, and at the same time made possible, justly, the revival of Carthage’s prosperity.

The vindication of Scipio’s generous and foresighted moderation lies in the fifty years of peace, unspotted on the Carthaginian side, which followed Zama. And had the Roman politicians been as wise and dispassionate as Scipio this peace would of a certainty have endured, with Carthage a prosperous and placid satellite of Rome, and the immortal phrase, Delenda est Carthago, instead of being translated into dreadful fact, would have been no more than the transitory hobby-horse of a senile “ die-hard,” a jest for a generation and then forgotten. Moreover, had the execution of the treaty terms been left with Scipio, there would not have been that malignant distortion of its clauses whereby constant complaints, but no more, were wrung from a long-suffering State. Even as it was, despite these constant petty inflictions, Carthage became as prosperous and populous as in the height of its power, and only by deliberate and outrageous provocation—the order to the citizens to destroy their own city—could these patient traders be forced into the revolt that afforded the desired pretext for their obliteration.

Let it be added that the moderation of Scipio called forth the response of Hannibal, and the true peace initiated by the former was being faithfully fulfilled by the latter, until the unrelenting hatred of the Roman Senate drove him into exile from the country whose peaceful prosperity he was rebuilding. Not for the last time in history, the vision and humanity of two great rival soldiers gave a shining example of true policy to revengeful and narrow-minded politicians. Yet for this constructive wisdom Hannibal paid by exile and forced suicide, Scipio by ending his days in voluntary exile from a State that had long since “ dropped the pilot.” His envious and narrow political rivals in the Senate could not refuse to ratify his peace terms in face of his influence over the people, and were for the moment too conscious of relief in this happy ending of a ruinous and prolonged struggle. But as the memory of danger passed, and also of how narrowly they had escaped, these checks on their hatred waned, and they could not forgive “ the man who had disdained to punish more thoroughly the crime of having made Romans tremble.”

When Scipio had announced the terms of peace to the envoys from Carthage, they carried them at once to their Senate. His moderation did not evoke an instant echo in an assembly that was coincidently “ indisposed for peace and unfit for war.” One of the Senators was about to oppose the acceptance of the terms, and had begun his speech when Hannibal came forward and pulled him down from the tribune. The other members became irate at this breach of senatorial usage, whereupon Hannibal rose again, and, admitting that he had been hasty, asked their pardon for this “ unparliamentary ” conduct, saying, that as they knew, he had left at nine years of age, and returned after thirty-six years’ absence on more practical debating. He asked them to dwell rather on his patriotism, for it was due to this that he had offended against senatorial usage. “ It seems to me astounding and quite incomprehensible, that any man who is a citizen of Carthage, and is conscious of the designs that we all individually and as a body have entertained against Rome, does not bless his stars that now he is at the mercy of the Romans he has obtained such lenient terms. If you had been asked but a few days ago what you expected your country to suffer in the event of a Roman victory, you would not have been able even to voice your fears, so extreme were the calamities then in prospect. So now I beg you not to argue the question, but to agree unanimously to the terms, and to pray, all of you, that the Roman people may ratify the treaty.” 8 This dust-dispelling breeze of common-sense so cleared their minds that they voted to accept the terms, and the Senate at once sent envoys with instructions to agree to them.

They had some difficulty in complying with the preliminary conditions for the truce, as although they could find the transports they could not return their cargoes, because much of the property was still in the hands of the irreconcilables. The envoys were forced to ask Scipio to accept a monetary compensation, and as he put no obstacles in the way, a three months’ truce was settled and granted.

The envoys sent to Rome were chosen from the first men in the State—for the Romans had made it a ground of complaint that the former embassy lacked age and authority,—and they were further recommended to the Roman Senate by the inclusion of Hasdrubal Hædus, a consistent peace advocate and longstanding opponent of the Barcine party. This good impression he, as spokesman, developed by a speech that subtly flattered their dispassionate justice, and while tactfully admitting guilt, toned down its blackness.

The majority of the Senate were clearly in favour of peace, but Lentulus, who had succeeded to Claudius’s consulship and also his ambition for cheap glory, protested against the decision of the Senate, as he had been canvassing to be allotted Africa as his province, and hoped that if he could keep alive the dying embers of the war he might attain his ambition. But this was promptly snuffed out, for when the question was put to the assembly of the people, they unanimously voted that the Senate should make peace, that Scipio should be empowered to grant it, and that he alone should conduct the army home. The Senate therefore agreed accordingly, and on the return of the Carthaginian envoys peace was concluded on the terms set forth by Scipio. The terms were punctually fulfilled, and Scipio ordered the warships, five hundred in number, to be towed out to the open sea and there set on fire—the funeral pyre of Carthaginian supremacy.

Scipio’s enemies used in later years to insinuate that the moderation of his terms was due to his fear that harsher conditions might, by prolonging the war, force him to share his glory with a successor. As this vulgar motive has also been hinted at by some historians, it is worth while to stress two facts which utterly demolish the slander. First, the helplessness and passivity of Carthage from that time onward; second, the way the Roman people squashed all attempts to supersede him during this last phase. After Zama, when all Rome was wild with enthusiasm, no usurper, however pushful, would have stood the least chance of success.

Before leaving Africa, he first saw Masinissa established in his kingdom, and presented him with the lands of Syphax, delaying his own triumph in order to ensure the reward of his loyal assistants. Then at last, his task accomplished, he withdrew his army of occupation, and embarked them for Sicily. On arriving there he sent the bulk of his troops on by sea while he proceeded overland through Italy, one long triumphal procession, for not only did the people of every town turn out to do him honour, but the country folk thronged the roads. On arriving in Rome he “ entered the city in a ‘ triumph ’ of unparalleled splendour, and afterwards distributed to each of his soldiers four hundred asses out of the spoils.” At this time, too, was born his surname of Africanus, “ the first general who was distinguished by a name derived from the country which he had conquered.” Whether this was bestowed by his soldiers, by his friends, or as a popular nickname is uncertain.

The enthusiasm of the people was so great that he could have obtained a title far more definite than any nickname, however distin guished. We know from a speech of Tiberius Gracchus, years later in the darkest hour of Scipio’s career, that the people clamoured to make him perpetual consul and dictator, and that he severely rebuked them for striving to exalt him to what would have been, in reality if not in name, regal power. The authenticity of the fact is the more assured because Gracchus was then charging him with disregarding the authority of the tribunes. From this speech we also learn that Scipio “ hindered statues being erected to him in the comitium, in the rostrum, in the Senate house, in the Capitol, in the chapel of Jupiter’s temple, and that he prevented a decree being passed that his image, in a triumphal habit, should be brought in procession out of the temple of Jupiter.... Such particulars as these, which even an enemy acknowledged while censuring him ... would demonstrate an uncommon greatness of mind, in limiting his honours conformably with his position as a citizen ” (Livy).

Is there any other man in all history who has put aside so great a prize when it was not only within his reach but pressed upon him ? The incident of Cincinnatus returning to his farm after accomplishing his mission as dictator is immortal, yet Scipio’s not only paralleled but eclipsed it. Which was the greater test—for a simple tribesman to conform to the traditions of a primitive State, or for a highly cultured and ambitious man of the world to eschew the virtual kingship of a supreme civilised power ? Compare, again, Scipio’s action with the picture of Cæsar reluctantly refusing, in face of the groans of the multitude, the royal diadem which was offered by pre-arrangement with his supporters. In assessing the world’s great figures, other than the definitely religious, we have tended to base our estimate mainly on concrete achievement and mental calibre, overlooking the moral values —the same lack of balance between the three spheres which has been remarked in the conduct of policy in peace and war. Even this test of achievement has been based on quantity rather than quality. That Cæsar’s work is known universally, and Scipio little more than a name to the ordinary educated man, is a curious reflection on our historical standards, for the one inaugurated the world dominion of Roman civilisation, the other paved the way for its decay.

Extraordinary as is the nobility of mind which led Scipio to this self-abnegation, it becomes yet more so in view of his age. It is conceivable that a man in the last lap of life might have gained a philosophical outlook on the prizes of ambition, and spurned them from experience of their meretricious glitter. But that a man who at the early age of thirty-five had scaled the Himalayan peaks of achievement and fame should do so is a miracle of human nature. Little wonder that his countrymen gradually turned from adulation to petty criticism; little wonder that historians have forgotten him, for such loftiness of mind is beyond the comprehension of ordinary men—and ordinary men hate what they cannot understand.


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