Text #9543"Scipio Aemilianus", in .
Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus (185–129 BC), also known as Scipio Aemilianus or Scipio Africanus Minor (Scipio Africanus the Younger), was a leading general and politician of the ancient Roman Republic. As consul he commanded at the final siege and destruction of Carthage in 146 BC, and was a leader of the senators opposed to the Gracchi in 133 BC.
He was born the younger son of Lucius Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus, the conqueror of Macedonia, and fought when he was 17 years old by his father’s side at the Battle of Pydna, which decided the fate of Macedonia and made northern Greece subject to Rome. He was adopted by Publius Cornelius Scipio, the eldest son of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, and his name was changed to Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus. Aside from this adoption, Scipio Aemilianus was the first cousin of his adopted father because Publius Cornelius Scipio’s mother, Aemilia Tertia, was his aunt since Aemilia and Lucius Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus were siblings, and their father was the elder Lucius Aemilius Paullus.
In 151 BC, with the Romans suffering repeated disasters in Spain, he volunteered his services in that theatre and gained influence over the native tribes similar to that which Scipio Africanus, his grandfather by adoption, had acquired nearly 60 years before. Though Carthage had been reduced in power following the Second Punic War, there was still lingering resentment in Rome. Cato the Elder ended every speech with, “Also, I think Carthage must be destroyed.” In 150 BC an appeal was made to Scipio by the Carthaginians to act as mediator between them and the Numidian prince Massinissa who, supported by a party at Rome, was incessantly encroaching on Carthaginian territory. In 149 BC war was declared by Rome, and a force sent to besiege Carthage.
In the early operations of the war, which went altogether unfavourably for the Romans, Scipio Aemilianus, though a subordinate officer, distinguished himself repeatedly, and in 147 BC he was elected consul, while still under the minimal age required by law to hold this office. Without the customary procedure of drawing lots, he was assigned to the African theater of war. After a year of desperate fighting and stubborn heroism on the part of the defenders, he took the city of Carthage, taking prisoner about 50,000 survivors (about one tenth of the city’s population.) Complying with the mandate of the Senate, he ordered the city evacuated, burnt, razed to the ground and plowed over, ending the Third Punic War. On his return to Rome he received a Triumph, having also established a personal claim to his adoptive agnomen of Africanus.
In 142 BC, during his censorship, he endeavoured to check the growing luxury and immorality of the period. In 139 BC, he was unsuccessfully accused of high treason by Tiberius Claudius Asellus, whom he had degraded when censor. The speeches he gave on that occasion (now lost) were considered brilliant. In 134 BC he was again consul, with the province of Spain, where a demoralized Roman army was vainly attempting the conquest of Numantia on the Durius (Duero) and the closing of the Numantine War. After devoting several months to restoring the discipline of his troops, he reduced the city by blockade. The fall of Numantia in 133 established the Roman dominion in the province of Hither Spain. For his services Scipio Aemilianus received the additional agnomen of “Numantinus”.
Scipio Aemilianus himself, though not in sympathy with the extreme conservative party, was not present in Italy at the time of Tiberius Gracchus and thus took no sides. Since he had not opposed Gaius Laelius Sapiens’ land reform law, it is likely that he would have supported the concept. Nonetheless, he was decidedly opposed to the practices of the Gracchi (whose sister Sempronia was his wife and whose mother Cornelia was his aunt). When he heard of the death of Tiberius Gracchus, he is said to have quoted the line from the Homer’s Odyssey (i. 47), “So may all who engage in such lawless conspiracies perish”; after his return to Rome he was publicly asked by the tribune Gaius Papirius Carbo what he thought of the fate of Gracchus, and replied that he was justly slain. The crowd listening to this comment responded with jeers, to which Scipio quickly replied: “I have never been scared by the shouts of the enemy in arms. Shall I be frightened by your outcries, you stepsons of Italy?” (Ward). This gave dire offence to the popular party, which was now led by his bitterest foes. He soon became an advocate of the Italians who disapproved of some aspects of the Lex Sempronia Agraria, fearing that their land would be confiscated.** Soon afterwards, in 129 BC, on the morning of the day on which he had intended to make a speech in support of the Italians, he was found dead in bed with marks “allegedly evident” on his body. There have been three scenarios proposed for his death: murder, suicide, or suffocation. The mystery of his death was never solved.**
Scipio Aemilianus will forever be associated with the destruction of Carthage. Although he dutifully carried out the will of the Senate, the horror he expressed at its fate speaks to his humanity. He was a man of culture and refinement; he gathered round him such men as the Greek historian Polybius, the Stoic philosopher Panaetius, and the poets Lucilius and Terence—a group that came to be known as the Scipionic circle. At the same time he had all the virtues of an old-fashioned Roman, according to Polybius and Cicero, the latter of whom gives an appreciation of him in his De re publica, in which Scipio Aemilianus is the chief speaker. As a speaker, he seems to have been no less distinguished than as a soldier. He spoke remarkably good and pure Latin, and he particularly enjoyed serious and intellectual conversation. After the capture of Carthage he gave back to the Greek cities of Sicily the works of art of which Carthage had robbed them. He did not avail himself of the many opportunities he must have had of amassing a fortune. Though politically opposed to the Gracchi, he cannot be said to have been a foe to the interests of the people. He was, in fact, a moderate man, in favor of conciliation, and he was felt by the best men to be a safe political adviser, but as often happens to moderate men in radical times he ended disliked by both parties.
Despite moderation in policy, his oratory was noted for its sharp witticisms, a number of which have been quoted in various sources (Astin). Astin suggests that while his biting comments were doubtless appreciated by the crowds, they could have also had the effect of making enemies out of political opponents.
Marcus Velleius Paterculus i. 12;
Florus ii. 15, 17, 18;
Cicero, De oral. ii. 40.
Polybius xxxv. 4, xxxix.;
Appian, Punica, 72, 98, 113–131, IIisp. 48-95, Bell. Civ. i. 19;
Plutarch, Aemilius Paullus, 22, Tiberius Gracchus, 21, C. Gracchus, 10; Gellius iv. 20, v. 19;
A. E. Astin, Scipio Aemilianus (Oxford University Press, 1967)
Warmington,B.H. Carthage, A History 242 (Barnes & Noble 1993) ISBN 1-56619-210-2
Ward, Allen M., Heichelheim, Fritz M., and Yeo, Cedric A., A History of the Roman People, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2003, 158.
Evelyn Shirley Shuckburgh, A History of Rome (Macmillan & Co., Ltd., London, 1898)