Publius Cornelius Aemilianus Scipio Africanus Minor

Publius Cornelius Aemilianus Scipio Africanus Minor (c. 185-129 B.C.) was a Roman official and general in Africa and Spain. He was also the brilliant leader of the so-called Scipionic Circle, a group of pro-Hellenic philosophers, poets, and politicians.

The second son of Lucius Aemilius Paullus, Scipio was adopted by Publius Cornelius Scipio, son of Scipio Africanus Major, and married Sempronia, sister of the Gracchus brothers. As a youth of 18 years, Scipio accompanied his father to Greece in 168 B.C., fought in the Battle of Pydna, and participated in his father's triumph. Among the Achaean hostages was the historian Polybios, who remained in the house of Paullus and won the friendship of young Scipio. In 151, although assigned to the province of Macedonia, Scipio volunteered to serve as military tribune with Lucullus in Spain. Scipio distinguished himself in single combat with a Spanish horseman, won the mural crown, and negotiated the surrender of the city of Intercatia.


War against Carthage

Sent by Lucullus to Africa to procure elephants for the Celtiberian War, Scipio mediated peace between the Carthaginians and the Numidian king, Masinissa. Back in Rome he aided in the release of Polybios and the other Achaean hostages. In 149 Scipio served as military tribune under Manilius in Africa, where he won the crown of siege by saving a beleaguered force against the attack of Hasdrubal.

After the death of King Masinissa in 148, Scipio settled the succession to the Numidian kingdom by dividing it among the King's sons. Returning to Rome to stand for the aedileship, Scipio was elected consul instead. The vote of the people exempted him from the laws on legal age and granted him the command against Carthage without the lot.

Crossing over to Utica, Scipio blockaded Carthage and in 146 captured and destroyed the city. Tradition reports that Scipio, while gazing at the city in flames and meditating on the uncertainties of human events, feared for his own city and wept. At any rate, he cursed the site, sold the remaining population into slavery, organized the new province of Africa, and returned to Rome to celebrate a brilliant triumph, accepting his inherited cognomen, Africanus, for his own merits.

During his censorship in 142, which gained him a reputation for severity, Scipio completed the building of the Aemilian Bridge. As head of an embassy to the East in 140, he observed and settled Roman relations with the Eastern allies. In 134 a special dispensation exempted him from the law on reelection to the consulship, and, again, he was granted a military command by popular vote, this time in Hither Spain (Tarraconensis). After restoring discipline in the army, he blockaded and destroyed the Spanish stronghold of Numantia in 133.


Civil War in Rome

While still in Spain, Scipio received the news of the stormy tribunate and death of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and expressed his undisguised hostility to Gracchus's agrarian program and unconstitutionality. After celebrating his second triumph Scipio continued to oppose the pro-Gracchan party by rejecting the proposal of the tribune Carbo to legalize repetition of the tribunate and by sponsoring a measure which deprived the Gracchan land commission of its judicial function.

Tension rose to a climax during the Latin Festival of 129, when Scipio faced the populace in a public address which ended in hostile altercations. Escorted home by an impressive throng, he withdrew to his bedroom to compose another speech for the next day. In the morning he was found dead. Carbo, Gaius Gracchus, Scipio's wife Sempronia, and his mother-in-law Cornelia were all suspected of responsibility for his death. However, the eulogy written by his friend Gaius Laelius made no mention of a violent death.

Scipio, though liberal in culture and a great admirer of Greek literature and learning, was basically a political conservative who vigorously supported senatorial control of the constitution and Roman dominion in the provinces. Emerging as the ideal statesman during the century of revolution, Cicero chose Scipio as the central figure for his dialogue On the Commonwealth and celebrated Scipio's lifelong friendship with Laelius in his essay On Friendship.


Further Reading on Publius Cornelius Aemilianus Scipio Africanus Minor

Ancient sources on Scipio's life are Livy, Polybios, and Cicero. The definitive modern biography is A. E. Astin, Scipio Aemilianus (1967). For an understanding of Scipio and his friends see Ruth M. Brown, A Study of the Scipionic Circle (1934). Recommended for general historical background are Tenney Frank, Roman Imperialism (1914); J. B. Bury and others, eds., The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 8 (1930); and Howard H. Scullard, Roman Politics 220-150 B.C. (1951).