Childhood & Early Life
Scipio Africanus was born Publius Cornelius Scipio, in 236 BC, in Rome, Italia, in the Roman Republic. His parents, Publius Cornelius Scipio and Pomponia, were Roman aristocrats and descendants of Etruscan Elites.
He was born through a surgery. His was an esteemed family. Thus, he led an extremely comfortable childhood. He was raised as a statesman and was properly educated in many aspects of politics and military.
Rome faced great danger from Hannibal Barca, the Carthaginian military general, who was a powerful military commander. Scipio Sr. was made a member of the Roman consul in 218 BC. Thus, it became his responsibility to deal with Hannibal’s powerful forces. Scipio led one of the first war parties against the mighty Hannibal and faced a bad defeat. He had underestimated his prowess and was surrounded by Hannibal’s forces.
His son, Scipio, then joined the battle and rescued his father. Inspired by this, Scipio Sr. took his son with him to the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC. It was there that Scipio Jr. came face to face with the powerful military strategies that Hannibal had formed to ensure the defeat of the Romans. The Romans lost 44,000 men in the battle and were badly defeated.
However, Scipio’s father and uncle were killed in the Battle of the Upper Baetis. Following this, Scipio Jr. went back home. He had a strong analytical mind, apt for military strategy. In the short time that he faced Hannibal, he was able to decode many of his tactics and learned a lot from them.
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Spain had been held by Hasdrubal without any resistance. His brother, Hannibal, had attacked the city of Saguntum, which was a Roman ally. The action was heavily debated in the Roman senate, and a strict action was demanded against Hasdrubal.
However, in the absence of an able military commander such as Scipio Sr., it was an extremely difficult task, and there was nobody who was willing to embark on a military expedition that was similar to a death sentence. Scipio Jr. was 25 years old at that time and still too young to command the army. However, he still volunteered and was allowed to leave Rome with a force of 11,000 men, who were supposed to face 40,000 men of Hasdrubal’s army.
Scipio reached Ebro River in Spain and targeted the city of Carthago Nova. The city was surrounded by a strong fortress and was considered to be impregnable. However, Scipio had done his homework. He conquered the city successfully through intelligent tactics.
In 208 BC, he faced Hasdrubal at the Battle of Baecula. Hasdrubal had much more superior forces than the Romans, and even then, through the tactics he had learned from fighting Hannibal, Scipio successfully managed to defeat Hasdrubal. However, he failed to stop Hasdrubal's march to Italy and was criticized by the Roman senate. Scipio did not exploit his victory at Baecula to drive out the Carthaginians from Spain, instead choosing to withdraw to his base in Tarraco.
Defeated, Hasdrubal moved his forces to join Hannibal across the Alps, where they planned to take over Italy together. However, before he even reached his brother, his forces were tackled by Roman commander Claudius Nero’s forces, and he was defeated. Hasdrubal was killed in the Battle of Metaurus. Some credit for this went to Scipio, as he had weakened Hasdrubal’s forces.
Using his sharp tactical mind, Scipio planned to attack Carthage (Africa) to grab Hannibal’s attention. Hannibal was planning an attack on Italy. However, due to the envy of the others in the senate, Scipio was not given any additional troops beyond the Sicilian garrison.
Scipio came back and threatened the senate that he would use people’s help to become stronger. His rising popularity among the Romans threatened the empire. Scipio managed to gather a highly motivated and experienced force for his African invasion. He was given the command of Sicily and used it to train his army.
Rather than facing Hannibal directly in the battlefield in Carthage, Hannibal's home ground, Scipio devised a plan to invade the African allies of Hannibal. In 204 BC, through a calculated move, Scipio moved his forces to North Africa and took over the city of Utica. The stage was being set for a direct confrontation between the two invincible war commanders, Scipio and Hannibal, and the location was Zama, 50 miles away from Carthage.
Known as the Battle of Zama, the war took place in 202 BC. Hannibal had never lost in a battle and had acquired the status of an undefeatable military commander.
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On the other hand, Scipio’s forces were significantly weaker, but he had learned a great deal about Hannibal’s tactics over the years and had made full use of them in the battle.
Hannibal eventually lost, with casualties in his army reaching the 20,000 mark. Meanwhile, Scipio lost just 4,000–5,000 men. Hannibal retreated to Carthage and issued a request for surrender. Thus, this brought an end to the Second Punic War. This iconic victory became a shining jewel in the crown of the Roman Empire, and it was all due to Scipio.
He returned to Rome, where he was welcomed in a grand style. He was also offered the position of a life-long consul in the senate and that of a dictator (which he denied). He was then given the title “Africanus.”
In the year 199 BC, Scipio was elected censor, and for some years afterward, he lived quietly and avoided politics.
Marriages & Later Life
Scipio Africanus married Aemilia Tertia in 215 BC and had four children with her: two sons and two daughters.
Scipio had gained enemies in the senate, and many officials tried to destroy his reputation by accusing his brother, Lucius, of accepting bribes. Scipio became enraged and tore up the account books and indictment letter in front of the senators. He claimed that unnecessary fuss was being created over a small amount of money while Lucius had brought great fortune to Rome.
Scipio himself was accused of accepting bribe from Antiochus. Hurt by the ungratefulness, he left Rome and settled in his mansion in Liternum in 185 BC. He retired from politics and spent his last few years peacefully in his mansion. He died in 183 BC, the same year his arch enemy, Hannibal, too, died.
He is remembered as an honorable man. He never lost a battle while he was in command and behaved kindly toward his rivals, such as Hannibal, whose life he had spared. Scipio also faced a lot of criticism from the elite Romans for being too kind, but he did not care.
He is known as one of the greatest military commanders of all time, along with Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.