Text #9581"Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio", in .
Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio (ca. 183 BC – 132 BC Pergamum, Asia Minor), the son of Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum and his wife Cornelia Africana Major, was a member of the gens Cornelia and a politician of the ancient Roman Republic. He was consul in 138 BC.
The gens Cornelia was a family of patrician descent. Notable figures from his family line include Scipio Africanus, the first conqueror of Carthage and Scipio Aemilianus, the third conqueror of Carthage and main opponent of Tiberius Gracchus. Gracchus himself was Scipio Nasica’s cousin.
His accomplishments are sparsely recorded or discussed in the scholarly world, though he still played an integral role in the overthrow of Tiberius Gracchus, as well as holding many important offices within the Cursus honorum.
Scipio Nasica Serapio was the third member of his family to bear the agnomen Nasica (pointed nose). He succeeded his father as Pontifex Maximus in 141 BC, possibly because of his illustrious family name and his father’s great reputation.
Not much is known about the early life of Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio. He is the child of Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum and his wife Cornelia Africana Major. Scipio Nasica was born in 183 BC. He was the maternal grandson of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus.
It is likely that his branch of the gens Scipio had drifted away from the majority of the family, on account of politically opposing views towards the Third Punic War. Corculum was opposed to the invasion of Carthage, where Scipio Aemilianus actually led the siege of Carthage.
One important reference to Scipio Nasica’s participation in politics is as a mysterious “Cornelius” by the historian Appian. This “Cornelius” is credited with a great Roman defeat at the hands of the widely feared “Pannonians.” After some deduction, one can identify the leader of the Roman forces to be Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio, who in 141 BC was the praetor of Macedonia. Some debate would classify a more likely candidate for the terrible “Pannonians” to be actually from the region of Illyria, just south of Pannonia proper.
In the same year, Scipio Nasica would be awarded the title of Pontifex Maximus, inheriting it from his father who died in the same year. In 138 BC, Nasica would be elected to the office of consul, part of a series of “strong men” to rectify the recent bouts of unrest and defeats abroad. During his consulship, Scipio Nasica would attempt to avenge his own defeat as praetor; in doing so, he attempted to raise harsh levies on the Romans. Discontent with his demands, opposition would rise against him under the leadership of probably Nasica’s greatest political rival, the tribune Curiatius. Curiatius had Nasica arrested on the grounds of withholding the legal privileges of the tribunes against the levy. While in custody, Nasica was given the name “Serapio” as an insult, referring to the shape of his nose.
Scipio Nasica’s next major political involvement would be that in the murder of Tiberius Gracchus. Gracchus rose to office at a time when the Roman Republic was bloated with the effects of extensive expansion abroad; a huge influx of slave labor and foreign wealth, a change in the function of agriculture and devaluation in the crop market were causing a massive domestic crisis, challenging the fundamental values of Roman culture (there is a debate over whether it was a grain crisis or a manpower crisis). Tiberius Gracchus had taken the office of tribune and was passing laws of reform to help rectify this domestic crisis, though his legislation was empowering the plebs of Roman society. Feeling threatened, the patrician favoring majority of the Senate aligned with Scipio Nasica and his cousin Scipio Aemilianus, who would lead the opposition against Gracchus. Nasica would be the one responsible for gathering senators to assassinate Gracchus during elections in 133 BC. Scipio Nasica had gathered the senators to Gracchus’ bloody death claiming that the tribune desired to become king of Rome. To commit the assassination Scipio Nasica covered his head with the hood of his pontifex maximus robe which possibly denoted the killing as a ritualized sacrifice for the good of Rome. After his assassination, Scipio would lead a witch hunt to eradicate any surviving members of Gracchus’ supporters. Those supporters would demand that Scipio be held responsible for murder, though modern scholars believe that the majority of the Senate supported both of the Scipio men in the controversy.
Eventually the prolonged conflict between political parties caught up with Nasica, and the Senate sent him away to Pergamon on a mission. This was unusual, as a Pontifex Maximus would never normally be sent away from Rome. He later died there in Pergamon, allegedly at the hands of some of Gracchus’ supporters.
Scipio Nasica Serapio was succeeded by his son of the same name, who became consul in 111 BC.
See Appian, Punica, 80 n.c., i.16; Valerius Maximus ix.14; Plutarch, Tiberius Gracchus, 21.
Briscoe, John. “Supporters and Opponents of Tiberius Gracchus.” The Journal of Roman Studies 64, (1974): 125-135.
Morgan, M. Gwyn. “Cornelius and the Pannonians.” Historia: Zeitschrift fur Alte Geschichte 23, (1974): 183-216.
Scullard, H.H. “Scipio Aemilianus and Roman Politics.” The Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies: The Journal of Roman Studies 50, (1960): 59-74.