THERE is perhaps no military dictum so universally quoted as Napoleon’s “ Read and reread the campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Cæsar, Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne, Eugène, and Frederick ; take them for your model, that is the only way of becoming a great captain, to obtain the secrets of the art of war.” In another of his maxims he said, “ Knowledge of the great operations of war can only be acquired by experience and by the applied study of all the great captains. Gustavus, Turenne, and Frederick, as well as Alexander, Hannibal, and Cæsar, have all acted on the same principles.”
Here Napoleon appears to single out a list of six, or possibly seven, commanders who stand out as supreme in the history of warfare. Whether consciously or unconsciously, there has been a general tendency among students of war to accept Napoleon’s list as a standard classification of merit—not merely a haphazard mention—when completed by the addition of his own name. True, some have felt the absurdity of counting Eugèneas worthy to the exclusion of Marlborough, and others have dropped Turenne because of a perhaps mistaken idea that greatness is synonymous with vastness of destruction, or for the rather better reason that his record lacked the decisive results gained by his compeers. In this way one finds that not a few commentators have arrived at a list of three ancient commanders—Alexander, Hannibal, and Caesar—and three moden—Gustavus, Frederick, and Napoleon—as the Himalayan peaks of military history. That Frederick, with his gross blunders and most unoriginal “ oblique order,” should receive preference over such consummate artists as Turenne and Marlborough must remain one of the mysteries of military criticism. This is not the place to deal with the fallacy. Here we are concerned with the great captains of the ancient world, and so far as we desire a comparison with the modern, Napoleon himself affords it, since his supremacy is hardly questioned.
Let us therefore compare Scipio with these three ancient great captains, by a threefold study and test—as general, as man, and as statesman. Any such comparison must be based on the conditions these men had to deal with, and on the skill with which they turned these conditions to their advantage.
Alexander, and to a hardly less degree Caesar, enjoyed the immense asset of having autocratic power, complete control over the forces and resources available. Even Hannibal, if poorly supported, was immune from the petty interference with his operations against which Scipio, like Marlborough later, had to contend.
Alexander’s victories were won over Asiatic hordes, whose lack of tactical order and method offset their numerical superiority, and as Napoleon demonstrated in his well-known comment on the Mamelukes, the defects of Asiatic troops increased in ratio with their numbers. No critic places Clive in the first rank of great captains, and but for the clear brilliance of his manoeuvres and the scale of his conquests Alexander would suffer a like discount. Cæsar, also, was hardly more than an able “ sepoy general ” until Ilerda and Pharsalus, and, as he himself is said to have remarked, he went “ to Spain to fight an army without a general, and thence to the East to fight a general without an army.” And even so, Cæsar found himself, owing to an unwise dispersion of force, twice forced to fight under the handicap of inferior strength. In the first, at Dyrrhacium, he suffered defeat, and though he atoned for it at Pharsalus, this single first-class victory is a slender base on which to build a claim to supreme generalship.
But if we are to accept Napoleon’s dictum that “ in war it is not men but the man who counts,” the most significant fact is that both Alexander and Caesar had their path smoothed for them by the feebleness and ignorance of the commanders who opposed them. Only Hannibal, like Scipio, fought consistently against trained generals, and even as between these the advantage of conditions is on Hannibal’s side. For his three decisive victories—the Trebia, Trasimene, and Cannæ—were won over generals not only headstrong and rash, but foolishly disdainful of any tactics which savoured of craft rather than of honest bludgeon work. Hannibal knew this well—witness his remark to the troops who were to lie concealed for the flank attack at the Trebia, “ You have an enemy blind to such arts of war.” Flaminius and Varro were mental Beefeaters, and their names are instinctively bracketed in history with those of Tallard, Daun, Beaulieu, and MacMahon. Hannibal taught the Romans the art, as distinct from the mechanism, of war, and once they had profited by his instruction his successes were limited. Marcellus and Nero were capable of winning tricks off him, and if they could not take a rubber neither could Hannibal. But in surveying Scipio’s record, not only do we find his tactical success unchequered, but that his opponents from the outset were generals trained in the Barcine school, and all the evidence goes to show that Hannibal’s brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago, were no mean commanders. And the apex of Scipio’s career, Zama, is unique in history as the only battle where one acknowledged great captain has, on his own, defeated another decisively.
Thus if conditions, and the extent to which they are not only met but turned to advantage, be the test, Scipio’s pre-eminence is clear.
If the quality of a general’s art be the test, universal opinion concedes that Hannibal excelled Alexander and Cæsar. Alexander’s victories were rather triumphs of method, calculations working out with straightforward precision, but unmarked by any subtle variations and traps for the enemy. In Alexander, for all his greatness, still lingered traces of the Homeric hero, the glorification of the physical elements at the expense of the mental. It was this knighterrantry which led him to stake his life so often in the forefront of the battle, needlessly risking thereby the collapse of his plans and the lives of his army. To him might well be applied the rebuke made by Timotheus to Chares, when the former remarked: “ How greatly ashamed I was at the siege of Samos when a bolt fell near me ; I felt I was behaving more like an impetuous youth than like a general in command of so large a force.” This mistaken Bayardism, too, explains the absence of the subtler artistry in his battles—it is epitomised in his rejection of Parmenio’s proposal to attack Darius by night at Arbela, on the ground that he would not “ steal a victory.” Cæsar’s plans were assuredly more difficult to guess, but he did not “ mystify, mislead, and surprise ” to anything like the degree that Hannibal attained. So general is the recognition of Hannibal’s genius in this battle art that he is commonly termed the supreme tactician of history. Yet in ruse and strategem the record of Scipio’s battles is even richer. Recall the unfortified front, the timing of the direct assault, and the lagoon manoeuvre at Cartagena ; the double envelopment and reversal of adverse ground conditions at Bæcula. The change of hour and of dispositions, the refused centre, the double oblique, and the double convergent flank blows at Ilipa. As Colonel Denison notes in his ‘ History of Cavalry,’ Ilipa is “ generally considered to be the highest development of tactical skill in the history of Roman arms.” I would suggest that the student of war, if he considers it as a whole—from the mental opening moves to the physical end of the pursuit,—cannot but regard it as without a peer in all history. Continuing, observe the use of ground first to counter his enemy’s numbers and then to force him to fight separated battles, as well as the wide turning movement, against Andobales. Watch Scipio luring on his enemy into the ambush at Salæca; study his masterpiece in firing the Bagradas camps—the feint at Utica, the sounding of the evening call, the timing of and distinction between the two attacks, and the subtlety with which he gains possession of the main obstacle, the gates of the Carthaginian camp, without a struggle. Note, later, his novel use of his second and third lines as a mobile reserve for envelopment at the Great Plains, and the chameleon-like quickness with which he translates his art into the naval realm when he frustrates the attack on his fleet. Finally, at Zama, where he is confronted with an opponent proof against the more obvious if more brilliant stratagems, we see his transcendent psychological and tactical judgment in his more careful but subtly effective moves—the “lanes” in his formation, and the synchronised trumpet blast to counter the elephants; the deliberate “ calling off ” of the hastati ; the calculated change of dispositions by which he overlaps Hannibal’s third, and main, line ; the pause by which he gains time for the return of his cavalry, and their decisive blow in Hannibal’s rear.
Is there such another collection of gems of military art in all history ? Can even Hannibal show such originality and variety of surprise ? Moreover, if Hannibal’s “ collection ” in open battle is somewhat less full than Scipio’s, in two other essentials it is bare. Even his devoted biographers admit that siegecraft, as with Frederick, was his weakness, and he has nothing to set off against Scipio’s storm of Cartagena, which, weighed by its difficulties, its calculated daring and skill, and its celerity, has no parallel ancient or modern.
The other and more serious void in Hannibal’s record is his failure to complete and exploit his victories by pursuit. Nowhere does he show a strategic pursuit, and the lack of even a tactical pursuit after the Trebia and Cannæ is almost unaccountable. In contrast we have Scipio’s swift and relentless pursuit after Ilipa, and hardly less after the battle on the Great Plains—which alike for range and decisiveness are unapproached until Napoleon, if then. In ancient times Scipio has but one possible rival, Alexander, and in his case there was repeatedly an interregnum between the tactical and the strategic pursuit, which caused a distinct debit against his economy of force. For his turning aside after Issus a strategic argument can be made out, but for his delay after Granicus and Arbela there appears no cogent reason save possibly that of distance—the fact at least remains that his campaigns offer no pursuit so sustained and complete as that down the Bætis, or Guadalquiver. It may be suggested that Scipio did not always pursue as after the two battles cited. But an examination of his other battles show that pursuit was usually either rash or unnecessary—rash after Bæcula, where he had two fresh armies converging on him, and unnecessary after Zama, where there was no enemy left to be a danger.
From tactics we pass to strategy, and here a preliminary demarcation and definition may simplify the task of forming a judgment. Strategy is too often considered to comprise merely military factors, to the overshadowing of the political and economic, with which it is interwoven. The fallacy has been responsible for incalculable damage to the fabric of warring nations. When such critics speak of strategy, they are thinking almost solely of logistical strategy—the combination in time, space, and force of the military pieces on the chessboard of war. Between logistical strategy and chess there is a distinct analogy. But on a higher plane, and with a far wider scope, is grand strategy, which has been defined as “ the transmission of power in all its forms in order to maintain policy.” “ While strategy is more particularly concerned with the movement of armed masses, grand strategy, including these movements, embraces the motive forces which lie behind them, material and psychological. ... The grand strategist we see is, consequently, also a politician and a diplomatist.” 10
As a logistical strategist Napoleon is unrivalled in history—save possibly by the Mongol, Subutai, from what we can piece together of the scanty records of his campaigns. The ancients suffer, in common with the modern precursors of Napoleon, the handicap that the organisation of armies in their day did not permit of the manifold combinations that he effected, a handicap which persisted until the divisional system was born in the late eighteenth century, beginning with De Broglie. Previously we find detachments, or occasionally, as in Nero’s classic move to the Metaurus against Hasdrubal, a two-army combination, but the scope and variation of such combination were inevitably narrow until armies came to be organised in self-contained and independent strategic parts—the modern division or army corps—just in time for the genius of Napoleon to exploit these new possibilities. But within the inherent limitations of pre-Napoleonic times, Scipio develops a range of strategical moves which, it may be fairly claimed, is unequalled in the ancient world. The hawk-like swoop on Cartagena, so calculated that none of the three Carthaginian armies could succour their base in time. The hardly less bold and calculated blow at Hasdrubal Barca before either Hasdrubal Gisco or Mago could effect a junction—how closely the margin of time worked out we know from Polybius. Nor is there any doubt whether these strategic moves were deliberate, as in many ascribed to ancient commanders on supposition by military critics who view old theatres of war through modern spectacles. Polybius and Livy both tell us that these calculations were in Scipio’s mind. Again, the way in which Scipio stood guard over Hasdrubal Gisco while his detachment under Silanus moved and fell on Hanno and Mago before they had word of his approach. Swift as the march, as thorough was the defeat.
Next, the master move leading to Ilipa, whereby his direction of advance cut Hasdrubal and Mago off from their line of communication with Gades, which in the event of their defeat meant that retreat to their fortified base was barred by the river Bætis (Guadalquiver). The upshot showed both the truth of his calculation and the proof of the fact—the result was the annihilation of the Carthaginian armies. This seems the first clear example in history of a blow against the strategic flank. Here is born the truth which Napoleon was to crystallise in his cardinal maxim that “ the important secret of war is to make oneself master of the communications.” Its initiation is sometimes claimed for Issus, but at best Alexander’s manoeuvre was on the battlefield, not in strategic approach, while the simple explanation is that the sea prevented a move on the other flank and that the bend in the river Pinarus dictated the direction of it.
Admittedly Scipio’s strategic intention at Ilipa is a hypothesis, and not definitely stated in Livy or Polybius; but the established facts of the advance, and still more of its sequel, form a chain of indirect evidence that could not be firmer. Even Dodge, one of Scipio’s consistent detractors, emphasises this threat to the strategic flank.
Before passing on to his African campaigns, we may note Scipio’s anticipation of, and trap for Hannibal at Locri. Then note how, on landing in Africa, his first care is to gain a secure base of operations, fulfilling the principle of security before he passes to the offensive. See him baulk the enemy’s superior concentration of strength by the “ Torres Vedras ” lines near Utica. Note the rapidity with which he strikes at Hasdrubal and Syphax at the Great Plain, before their new levies can be organised and consolidated, and how in the sequel he once more stands guard, this time over Carthage, while his detachment under Lælius and Masinissa knocks Syphax out of the war. Finally, there is his move up the Bagradas Valley by which he simultaneously compels Hannibal to follow, and facilitates his own junction with Masinissa’s reinforcement from Numidia. So complete is his mastery on the strategical chessboard that he even selects the battlefield most favourable to the qualities of his own tactical instrument Then, Zama decided, he pounces on Carthage before the citizens can rally from the moral shock.
What, if any, mistakes can be set down on the debit side of his strategy ? A study of military commentaries shows that his critics advance but three—that Hasdrubal Barca and Mago in turn escaped from Spain, and that Scipio did not lay siege to Carthage immediately on landing in Africa. The obvious reply is to ask how many times did Darius, a far more vital personal factor, escape Alexander, why Cæsar let slip Pompey after Pharsalus, or Hannibal fail to move on Rome after Trasimene or Cannæ—there were far less adequate reasons. But apart from the extreme difficulty of catching an individual without an army, it is hoped that the earlier chapters may have disposed of these empty criticisms. Even after Bæcula, Scipio was still markedly inferior in strength to the Carthaginian forces in Spain, and further, Hasdrubal was only able to elude Scipio’s watch and cross the Pyrenees with so weak a contingent that he was forced to recruit in Gaul for two years before he could advance on Italy. Mago’s escape was still more an individualistic effort. As for the question of an immediate advance on Carthage, Scipio would have been an impetuous fool, not a general, if he had laid siege to so vast a fortified city as Carthage with the small original force that he carried into Africa. The clearest proof of his wisdom in first seeking a secure base of operations lies in the overwhelming enemy concentration from which he only escaped by his foresight in forming his “ Torres Vedras ” lines.
In Alexander’s record even his modern biographers do not suggest any notable examples of logistical strategy, apart from certain swift marches such as that from Pelium on Thebes. There are no combinations or checks to enemy combination. His strength lies in his grand strategy, of which we shall speak later.
With Hannibal, too, his logistical strategy is mainly a matter of direct marches and of admirable care to secure his communications, apart from the very disputable purpose of his move on the line of the Po which, in effect, separated the elder Scipio from Sempronius, his fellowconsul ; and secondly, his feint at Rome in the attempt to relieve the pressure on his allies at Capua, which, though clearly intended, was abortive. Against these must be set, first, the fact that the advantage of his hazardous march over the Alps was foiled of its purpose by the elder Scipio’s quicker return from the Rhone by the Riviera route; second, the fact that he failed to prevent the junction of Sempronius with Scipio on the Trebia. Later, there are, among other indisputable failures, the neglect to exploit Cannæ even by the seizure of Canusium, let alone a thrust at Rome ; the times his moves were parried by Fabius and Marcellus ; Nero’s brilliant deception by which Hannibal remained stationary and in the dark, while his brother was being crushed on the Metaurus. Finally, we see him outmanoeuvred by Scipio in the preliminary moves before Zama. Outstandingly great as a tactician, Hannibal is not impressive as a strategist ; less so, indeed, than several of Scipio’s forerunners among the Roman generals.
Cæsar, in contrast, stands out more in logistical strategy than in tactics. But classic as are many of his moves in Gaul one has to remember that they were made against barbarians, not trained generals such as those with whom Scipio, Hannibal, Nero, and Marcellus had to contend. Against Pompey’s lieutenants in Spain he extricated himself with surpassing skill from a critical position, into which perhaps he should not have got. Then in Greece he threw away his superiority of force by dispersion, and suffered a severe defeat at Dyrrhacium, nearly disastrous as he confessed when he said: “ To-day the victory had been the enemy’s, had there been any one among them to gain it.” His retreat was a masterly feat, if we overlook the quality of his opponents, but later he failed in his attempt to prevent the junction of Pompey and Scipio Nasica, and had to fight at Pharsalus without his detachments against a concentrated force. That his tactics turned the balance does not affect the reflection on his strategy.
If Scipio, then, may be given the palm for logistical strategy among the ancients, how does he compare with Napoleon ? We could adopt the historical argument that a man must be judged by the conditions and tools of his time, pointing out not only the indivisible organisation with which Scipio had to work, but that he was a pioneer where Napoleon had the experience of ages to build on. But we prefer rather to abandon this sound and normal test, which inevitably negatives true comparison, and admit frankly Napoleon’s supremacy in this sphere. The scales are amply balanced by Scipio’s superiority as a tactician. By wellnigh universal opinion Napoleon’s tactics were below his strategical level, and it is this compensating factor which has led military criticism to bracket Hannibal with Napoleon among the great captains—a factor which we suggest applies still more in Scipio’s favour compared with Napoleon.
From logistical strategy we come to grand strategy. This lies in the domain of peace as much as in war, and hence for simplicity it may be well to deal with the grand strategy which contributed to the winning of wars, and reserve for our study of Scipio as statesman that part of his grand strategy which had its goal in the subsequent peace.
If our examination of the years 210-190 B.C. has achieved its historical purpose, it should be clear that Scipio showed an understanding of war in its three spheres—mental, moral, and physical, and of their interplay, such as is just dawning on the most progressive politico-military thought of to-day. Further, he translated this understanding into effective action in a way that we may possibly achieve in the next great war—more probably, we shall be fortunate to get out of the physical rut by 2000 A.D.
For proof of this claim look at the progressive and co-ordinated steps by which, starting from the valley in Rome’s darkest hour, he climbs steadily and surely upwards to the summit of his aims, and plants Rome’s flag on the sunlit peaks of earthly power. Scipio is a mountaineer, not a mere athlete of war. The vision that selects his line of approach, and the diplomatic gifts which enable him to surmount obstacles, are for him what rock-craft is to a climber. His realisation of the importance of securing his base for each fresh advance is his snow-craft, and his employment of military force his ice-axe.
Watch him, on arrival in Spain, make wide inquiries about the position of the Carthaginian forces, and the importance and topography of Cartagena. His genius tells him that here is the base and pivot of the Carthaginian power in Spain, and shows him the feasibility, the way, and the effect of such a stroke—at the moral and economic rather than the purely military objective.
Cartagena gained, note the wisdom which by conciliating the citizens secures his acquisition against internal treachery, and further enables him to economise the garrison by converting the citizens into active partners in the defence. What a diplomatic coup is the prompt release and care of the Spanish hostages. If Napoleon’s presence was worth an army corps, Scipio’s diplomacy was literally worth two. It converted allies of the enemy into allies of his own.
There was grand strategy, too, in his wise restraint from a further advance, in order to allow the moral and political effect of Cartagena and its sequel to develop. Thus Hasdrubal Barca, seeing the Spanish sand trickling fast from his end of the hour-glass to Scipio’s, was drawn into the offensive move which enabled Scipio to beat him before the other Carthaginian armies came up. Once more victory paves the way for diplomacy, as that in turn will pave the way for further victories. He sends home the Spanish captives without ransom, and, still more shrewdly, returns Masinissa’s nephew loaded with presents—surely never in history has the money invested in presents brought a greater ultimate dividend.
Next, note the rapidity with which Scipio nips in the bud the incipient threat from Hanno, and in contrast the constraint by which he avoids wasting his force on a number of petty sieges which could bring no commensurate profit. The wider effect of Scipio’s action in Spain also deserves notice, for Livy tells us that this year Hannibal in Italy was for the first time reduced to inaction, because he received no supplies from home owing to Carthage being more anxious about the retention of Spain.
Scipio’s grand strategy was from now onwards to lift the pressure off Rome in ever-increasing degree. His success in Spain compelled the Carthaginians to invest there the forces that might have been decisive in Italy, and at Ilipa he wipes them off the military balance-sheet.
The instant that victory in Spain is sure, and before turning to the mere clearing operations, his grand strategical eye focusses itself on Africa. His daring visit to Syphax, his meeting with and despatch of Masinissa to Numidia—here are two strings to a bow which shall soon loose a shaft at the heart of Carthage. For an object-lesson in the selection of the true objective, and its unswerving maintenance in face of all obstacles and perils, the next few years are a beacon light for all time. He schemes, he prepares, he works unceasingly towards the goal. The military interference of the enemy is almost the least of his difficulties. Sexual passion frustrates one of his shrewdest diplomatic moves, but his plan is too flexible, too well conceived, for even this blow to have more than a transient effect. Jealous rivals, short-sighted politicians, military “ diehards” do their best, or worst, to block his plan, and failing in this, to obstruct him and curtail his strength. He builds and trains a fresh army out of adventurers and disgraced troops. Yet he never makes a rash or a false move, mindful always of the principle of security. By diplomacy again he creates in Sicily a sure source of supply. He sends a reconnoitring expedition to clear up the African situation, and appreciating Masinissa’s material weakness, refuses to be rushed into a move before his own weapon is forged. When he lands, his first efforts are directed to gain a secure base of operations. And gauging exactly the strength and weakness of Carthage and of his own position, he adapts consummately his immediate end to his existing means. Each successive move is so directed as to subtract from the military and political credit of Carthage and transfer the balance to his own account. His restraint when this ultimate goal is so close in mileage, though not in reality, is almost miraculous in a commander so youthful and so early successful. But he has long realised that Syphax and Masinissa are the two props of the Carthaginian power in Africa, and before he attempts to turn this power out of its seat his first aim is to upset its stability, by taking away one prop and knocking away the other. Just as he has gained this end, passion once more intervenes to threaten his military achievement as it previously thwarted his diplomacy, but the psychological master-move by which he foils Sophonisba’s wiles averts the danger.
Now assured of security he aims at Carthage itself, and characteristically pauses in sight of Carthage to achieve, if possible, the supreme economy of force of a moral victory instead of the drain of a physical siege. The move succeeds, and Carthage capitulates with Hannibal still across the seas, helpless to aid. And when by a gross breach of faith the treaty is violated, Scipio is not caught off his guard. By a fresh and rapid series of moves, a perfect combination of military, economic, and psychological pieces, he achieves the checkmate in a brief span of time. Is there anything in history which for continuity of policy, combination of forces—material and moral,—and completeness of attainment can compare with it ? ? Scipio is the embodiment of grand strategy, as his campaigns are the supreme example in history of its meaning.
Alexander certainly preceded Scipio as the first grand strategist, but without arguing the question how far his moral and economic action was fortuitous rather than marked by the exquisite calculation of Scipio’s, his task was much simpler, and as a despot he had none of Scipio’s internal obstacles to surmount. It is, above all, because of the close parallel with modern conditions, political and organic, that Scipio’s grand strategy is so living a study for us to-day.
Alexander’s achievements may have excelled Scipio’s in scale—not really so much, for if Alexander established for himself an empire from the Danube to the Indus, which collapsed on his death, Scipio built for Rome an empire which stretched from the Atlantic to the Black Sea and the Taurus mountains—an empire which endured and increased. And whereas Alexander built on the foundations laid by Philip, Scipio came on the scene at a moment when the very foundations of Roman power in Italy were shaken by a foreign foe. There are grave blemishes, too, on Alexander’s strategy—while he was consolidating his offensive base in Asia Minor, he was in acute danger of losing his home base in Europe. By the disbandment of his fleet he exposed the European coasts to the superior Persian fleet, and Darius’s one able commander, Memnon, seized the chance to raise Greece, where the embers of discontent smouldered in Alexander’s rear. Only Memnon’s death saved Alexander from disaster, and gained time for him to carry out his plan of crippling Persian sea power by land attack on their naval bases. Again, by lack of strategical reconnaissance, Alexander blundered past the army of Darius, lying in wait in northern Syria, which moved down and cut his communications, a danger from which he only saved himself, facing about, by tactical victory at Issus. It is well to contrast this with Scipio’s thorough strategical reconnaissance and search for information before every move. If Alexander’s grand strategy has a narrow advantage by the test of quantity, Scipio’s is clearly superior in quality.
In the comparison of Scipio with Napoleon, if the latter’s superiority in logistical strategy is recognised, we have to set against this both his tactical and his grand strategical inferiority. As a grand strategist Napoleon’s claims are marred not only by his failure to realise the aim of grand strategy—a prosperous and secure peace,—but by his several blunders over the psychology of his opponents, over the political and economic effects of his actions, and in the extravagant later use of his forces and resources.
Finally, let us point out that while Alexander had the military foundations laid by Philip to build on, while Hannibal built on Hamilcar, Cæsar on Marius, Napoleon on Carnot—Scipio had to rebuild on disaster.
From the comparison of generalship we pass to the comparison of character. Here, to enumerate at length the qualities which distinguished Scipio as a man would be wearisome. His moderation, his self-control, his human sympathy, his charm of manner, his magnetic influence over troops—shared by all the greatest captains,—his exaltation of spirit, these have shone through his deeds and speeches. Of his private life we know little save by inference. He married Æmilia, daughter of the consul Æmilius Paullus who fell at Cannæ, the marriage apparently taking place after his return from Spain and before his departure for Africa.
From the solitary anecdote or two which survive, the marriage seems to have been a happy one, and Scipio to have shown more deference to his wife’s opinion than was common at the time. That she had tastes too expensive for Cato’s liking seems assured; she was probably one of those leaders of Roman female society against whom he directed his complaints—that by wearing “ a garment of various colours, or riding in a carriage drawn by horses ” in the towns, they would undermine the social fabric and create discontent. The indulgence shown by Scipio to his wife, and his breach with tradition in treating her better than his slave, was certainly one of the factors which rankled in Cato’s mind. Of the moral influence distilled in the Scipio family life, the best proof is an indirect one. Their daughter Cornelia was given in marriage to Tiberius Gracchus, apparently after he had so generously defended Scipio’s s reputation, and was the mother of the Gracchi. The way in which she carried out their education, and the principles with which she inspired these future reformers, make one of history’s noblest pages.
Outside the domestic sphere, Scipio’s influence on social history rests on his love for and introduction of Greek literature and philosophy. “ A man of great intellectual culture,” he could speak and write Greek as well as he could Latin—he is said to have written his own memoirs in Greek. To his Greek studies he clearly owed that philosophy of life which permeates all his recorded acts and sayings. He seems to have taken the best elements from Greece and Rome, and to have blended them—renning the crudeness and narrowness of early republican Rome without diminishing its virility. So marked was his influence that he may, with some justice, be termed the founder of Roman civilisation. “ To him is attributed the rise of manners, the origin of their taste for propriety, and of their love of letters.” A rather touching instance of his own love of letters is enshrined in his friendship and admiration for the poet Ennius, a regard so profound that he left orders that after his death a bust of the poet should be placed with his in the tomb of the Scipios. Yet it was this very influence as an apostle of civilisation and of the humanities that earned him the bitter animosity, as it stimulated the fear, of Romans of the old school. Cato and his kind might have forgiven his military success and his self-confidence, but nothing but his downfall could atone for his crime in introducing Greek customs, philosophy, and literature. It is not unlikely that this damaged him, and undermined his influence even more than his contempt for pettier minds and his moderation to conquered foes. These are the only charges which his enemies could bring against his character, and in this fact lies perhaps the strongest proof of his superior moral nobility. For the malice of an enemy will fasten on any conceivable weakness, and thus the charges levied against a great man form a standard of moral measure which is one of the best of comparisons.
From this test Scipio alone of the great captains of antiquity emerges scatheless of any charge that suggests a definite moral blemish. It is true that we can discount most of the charges brought against Hannibal—impiety, avarice, perfidy, and cruelty beyond the customs of his day. But Alexander, whatever allowance we make in other accusations, stands convicted of want of self-control, violent outbursts of temper and prejudice, cruel injustice as to Parmenio, ambitious egotism verging on megalomania, and ruffianism in his cups. Alexander was tarred with the brush of Achilles.
Similarly, Cæsar’s many great qualities cannot disguise his sexual license, his political corruption and intrigue, and the predominantly selfish motives which inspired his work and achievements. There are interesting parallels between the careers of Caesar and Scipio. Compare Caesar gaining the province of Gaul by intrigue and threat, Scipio the province of Spain at the call of his country in the hour of adversity. Compare Caesar forming and training an army for the conquest of Rome, Scipio for the salvation of Rome from her foreign foes. Compare Caesar crossing the Rubicon, Scipio the Bagradas —and their objects. Compare Cæsar receiving the honour of a triumph over fellow-Romans, Scipio over Syphax and Hannibal. Lastly, if it be true that “ a man can be known by the friends he keeps,” compare Catiline with Lælius and Ennius. Napoleon’s saying that “ Laurels are no longer so when covered with the blood of citizens,” comes curiously from his lips. For Napoleon’s ambition drained the blood of France as surely as Caesar’s spilt the blood of Rome. It would suffice to strip the laurels from the brows of both, and enhance the contrast with Scipio, the supreme economist of blood and of force in the selfless service of his country. It is not difficult to guess why Napoleon should ignore Scipio in his list of military models !
By any moral test Scipio is unique among the greater captains, possessing a greatness and purity of soul which we might anticipate, not necessarily find, among the leaders of philosophy or religion, but hardly among the world’s supreme men of action. The clergyman who, a century ago, was Scipio’s one English biographer, and whose work suffers by its brevity, its historical slips and the omission of all study of Scipio as a soldier, had yet one flash of rare insight and epigrammatic genius when he said that Scipio was “ greater than the greatest of bad men, and better than the reputed best of good ones.”
Last of all we turn to Scipio as statesman—that part of his grand strategy which lies definitely in the state of peace. The Abbé Seran de la Tour, who compiled a life of Scipio in 1739, dedicated it to Louis XV., and in his dedication wrote: “ A king has only to take for his model the greatest man by far in the whole of Roman history, Scipio Africanus. Heaven itself seems to have formed this particular hero to mark out to the rulers of this world the art of governing with justice.” The lesson, we are afraid, was lost on Louis XV., a man who at the council table “ opened his mouth, said little, and thought not at all,” whose life is as full of vulgar vice as it is bare of higher aims. We suspect the Abbé of a capacity for subtle sarcasm.
When Scipio came on the stage of history, Rome’s power did not even extend over the whole of Italy and Sicily, and this narrow territorial sway was gravely menaced by the encroachments, and still more the presence, of Hannibal. At Scipio’s death Rome was the unchallenged mistress of the whole Mediterranean world, without a single possible rival on the horizon. This period saw by far the greatest expansion in the whole of Roman history, and it was due either directly to Scipio’s action, or made possible by him. But if territorially he stands out as the founder of the Roman Empire, politically his aim was not the absorption but the control of other Mediterranean races. He followed, but enlarged, the old Roman policy, his purpose not to establish a centralised, a despotic empire, but a confederation with a head, in which Rome should have the political and commercial supremacy, and over which her will should be paramount. Here lies the close parallel with modern conditions, which gives to the study of his policy a peculiar and vital interest. Caesar’s work paved the way for the decline and fall of Roman power. Scipio’s work made possible a world community of virile States, acknowledging the overlordship of Rome, but retaining the independent internal organs necessary for the nourishment and continued life of the body politic. Had his successors possessed but a tithe of the wisdom and vision of Scipio, the Roman Empire might have taken a course analogous to that of the modern British Empire, and by the creation of a ring of semi - independent and healthy buffer States around the heart of Roman power, the barbarian invasions might have been thwarted, the course of history changed, and the progress of civilisation have escaped a thousand years of coma and nearly as much of convalescence.
His peace terms alone would place Scipio on a pinnacle among the world’s great conquerors—his entire absence of vindictiveness, his masterly insurance of military security with a minimum of hardship to the conquered, his strict avoidance of annexation of any civilised State. They left no festering sores of revenge or injury, and so prepared the way for the conversion of enemies into real allies, effective props of the Roman power. In the meaning of Scipio’s name—a. “ staff ”—was epitomised his grand strategy in war and peace.
The character of his policy was in tune with his character as a man, disdaining the tinsel glory of annexation as of kingship, for the solid gold of beneficent leadership. Scipio laboured for the good and greatness of Rome, but he was no narrow patriot, instead a true world statesman. The distinction between Scipio and Caesar has been crystallised in the phrase, “ Zama gave the world to Rome, Pharsalus gave it to Cæsar,” but even this does not render Scipio full justice, for he could look beyond the greatness of Rome’s glory to the greatness of her services to humanity. Not an internationalist, he was a supra-nationalist in the widest and best sense.
Attila was called the “ scourge of the world,” and with a difference only in degree most of the great captains, from Hannibal to Napoleon, have had no higher objective conception than to thrash their enemies, or at best their country’s enemies, into submission. Thus this fallacy paved the way for a reaction equally short-sighted, which led Green, in his ‘ History of the English People,’ to write : “ It is a reproach of historians that they have turned history into a mere history of the butchery of men by their fellow-men,” and to follow this up by the absurd declaration that “ war plays a small part in the real story of European nations.” So arose a very large modern school of historians who sought, irrationally, to write history without mentioning, let alone studying, war. To ignore the influence of war as a world-force is to divorce history from science, and to turn it into a fairy tale. The grand strategy of Scipio is a signpost pointing the true path of historical study. Scipio could administer military beatings at least as effectively and brilliantly as any other of the greater captains, but he saw beyond the beating to its object. His genius revealed to him that peace and war are the two wheels on which the world runs, and he supplied a pole or axle which should link and control the two to ensure an onward and co-ordinated progress. Scipio’s claim to eternal fame is that he was the staff, not the whip, of Rome and of the world.