Scipio Africanus : Princeps (200 - 190 BCE)
- (It was said that ) the people had once been rebuked by Scipio for wishing tomake him consul for an indefinite period and dictator; that he had forbidden the erection of statues to himself in the Comitium, on the Rostra, in the Curia, on the Capitol, in the shrine of Jupiter; that he had also forbidden a decree that a likeness of himself in in triumphal costume should be represented coming out of the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.
- - Livy, The History of Rome from its Foundation XXVIII.57
The triumph over Carthage naturally marks the high point of Scipio's career and fame. Even so, it is remarkable that so little factual information can be gathered about Scipio's latter career, in which he appears on the stage of history only in a few scattered episodes.
In 199 BCE, Scipio was the natural choice as one of the two Censors; the crown of any Roman political career. As Censor he was responsible for the Census, for punishing irregular conduct, enrolling new members to the Senate, and sub-letting public contracts. This office Scipio performed without any controversies. We are told that Scipio was involved in securing land-grants for the veterans of his army; a just reward for the more than 15 years of faithful service of the soldiers of Cannae.
The next few years are dominated in the history books by the war against Philip V of Macedon, and the rise to fame of Titus Quinctus Flaminius - later surnamed Macedonius. But in 195 BCE, we once again hear of Scipio.
During the years following the peace, Hannibal had been elected to the position of Suffete in Carthage, and from this position had introduced much needed reforms in the Carthaginian political system to restore citizens rights, and control the corruption of magistrates. His political opponents, however, would not easily be cowed, and therefore sent envoys to Rome in order to oust him. This was a welcome opportunity for the majority of the Roman people, who had never forgiven nor forgotten the many grievous tragedies that Hannibal had inflicted upon them. The Roman people wished to see the Carthaginian led in disgrace through the streets of Rome, imprisoned and perhaps ritually strangled or thrown off the Tarpeian rock.
Only one man spoke out against common opinion, and that was Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. Having defeated Hannibal and once and for all eliminated Carthage as a world power, Scipio felt that it was unworthy of the Roman people to continue to pursue the great Carthaginian for base revenge. For a long time, Scipio successfully resisted this movement; though eventually even he could not prevent the Senate from sending the commissioners who would hound Hannibal from Carthage and into exile in Syria.
In 194 BCE, Scipio entered upon his second Consulship, a remarkable honour for a Roman noble in times of relative peace. Little is known about his doings as Consuls; it is said that he joined his colleague Tiberius Sempronius Longus in campaigning in Gaul against the Boii; though it appears the Celts - no doubt wary of Scipio's reputation - refused to meet him in battle. His second consulship thus offered no military glory like his first. Plutarch tells us that he went to Spain at the end of his Consulship; however this seems unlikely given the evidence for his activities later in the year described by Livy. In 193 BCE, we find him a member of the commission sent to Carthage to mediate in a dispute over territory between Massinissa and Carthage.
Competition for the Consular elections of 192 BCE was fierce; with Scipio Africanus championing his cousin Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum as well as his old associate Gaius Laelius, while Titus Quinctus Flaminius - conqueror of Macedonia who had recently celebrated a triumph - championed his brother Lucius Quinctus Flaminius. Despite the strong support of Scipio and the Cornelian gens, the Scipiones suffered defeat at the polls; neither of Scipio's two candidates was chosen.
Compared to the momentous events of the first thirty-five years of his life, the decade following Zama are quiet years for Africanus. What we hear of him in these years is unremarkable, and mostly concerns tales of how his wishes are thwarted. The claims of some historians that he was an ineffective politician, however, seem very unreasonable. Of 22 consuls in the period 200-190 BCE, 7 chosen - one third - can be directly related to Africanus: himself, his brother, his trusted right-hand Laelius, his cousin Cornelius Scipio Nasica (son of his uncle), his cousins of the Cornelii Meruli (one of whom was his colleague as aedile in 210), and Tiberius Sempronius Longus, who partnered in consulship with Africanus, just as his father had shared the consulship in 218 BCE with Scipio's father. To these, some historians would add further consuls who seem to have pursued a "Scipionic" policy, such as Publius Sulpicius Galba, Cornelius Cethegus, the two consuls of the Minucius clan, Marcus Acilius Glabrio and several others.
Whether or not these additional consuls were within Scipio's sphere of influence (and it seems likely that at least some of them were), there can be no doubt that Africanus was a dominant and dominating personality in Roman political life of this decade. It is worth noting that even the Triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus - powerful as it seemed - was quite unable to dominate Roman political life for more than a couple of years. There is no evidence that Scipio in fact wished to dominate the state in the way that the triumvirate did, but even so Roman foreign policy - markedly phil-hellenistic in these years - as well as the high number of Consuls from the his immediate amici indicate that he might in fact have done so. The fact that the sources only recount instances in which he was defeated - all of them circumstances in which he was up against strong public feelings or men of equally great popularity, does not tell us much about Scipio's practical influence on Roman policy. What influence he did exert is likely to have been carried out through conventional means, using his position as Princeps Senatus in the traditions of Roman politics. That he was a dominating personality is obvious from the honours that Livy recounts that the people gave and attempted to give him, as well as the accusations against Scipio in latter years. It is also shines through in Livy's explanation of the electoral defeat in 192 BCE comparing Scipio to Flaminius:
- Scipio's fame was the greater - and for that reason more liable to jealousy;...there was the fact that Scipio had by this time been continually in the public eye for nearly ten years, a circumstance which renders great men less revered, merely because people are surfeited with the sight of them; Scipio had been consul for the second time after the defeat of Hannibal; he had also held the censorship.
- - Livy, The History of Rome from its Foundation, XXXV.10
The Last Campaign
The year 191 BCE saw Nasica succeed on his second attempt in the polls. In Asia, Antiochus Megas had invaded Greece on the instigation of the Aetolians, and thus provoked war with the Romans. Marcus Acilius Glabrio - the other consul - had received Greece as his province in the lots, and it was he who crossed to Greece and defeated the Seleucid King at Thermopylai. Giving up Greece for lost, Antiochus returned to Asia Minor, where he prepared himself for the inevitable Roman invasion.
After being driven from Carthage, Hannibal had gone into the service of the Seleucid King, and this - as well as the greatness of the Seleucid Kingdom - undoubtedly contributed to the election of both Lucius Cornelius Scipio and Gaius Laelius as Consuls. But this left a burning question in the air: who would get the command of the war against Antiochus, and what would be the role of Africanus?
In this state of indecision; Gaius Laelius displayed the nobility of his character and his enduring friendship for Africanus, by suggesting that the Senate decide, rather than the random draw of lots. Once Africanus announced that, if chosen, he would accompany his brother as a Legate, the decision was inevitable.
the Senate was delighted to put to the test the question which would be the most powerful support; the help given to Antiochus by the vanquished Hannibal, or that given to the Consul and the Roman legions by his conqueror, Africanus. Livy, The History of Rome from its Foundation, XXXVII.3 The Scipio brothers arrived in Greece in early 190 BCE. Despite Glabrio's victory the year before, the Aetolians and Athenians were still in arms against the Romans. However, knowing their cause was lost, the Greeks sought peace with the Romans -- encouraged by Africanus, who wished to avoid entanglements in Greece so that they could concentrate against the primary danger, Antiochus. Although Lucius acted bull-headed, Africanus eventually succeeded in brokering an armistice acceptable to both parties.
Having secured the armistice, Africanus then proceeded to charm King Philip V of Macedonia, whose goodwill they would require to secure their safe passage to Asia Minor. At the same time, the victory of the Roman fleet over the Seleucid fleet - led by Hannibal, the last time he participated in the war in a military capacity - cleared the Hellespontine crossing. The road to Asia was open.
Roman operations were delayed for a while, however, as Publius Cornelius - for religious reasons - was forbidden from changing his domicile shortly after the army had crossed the Hellespont. Despairing of his chances, however, Antiochus had already resolved to seek terms of peace. He therefore sent an envoy to Africanus, offering to return his son (the young Publius Cornelius - eldest son of Africanus - had been captured by the Seleucids early in the war) and to endow him with unimaginable riches, if only Africanus would broker a peace. Scipio's reply is a testament to his greatness:
- Of the king's munificient offers I shall accept the greatest, namely my son. As for the rest, I pray heaven that my fortune will never need them; my soul, at any rate, will never need them. In return for so great a gift to me he will find me grateful to him, if he desires private gratitude in return for private service: in my public character I shall receive nothing from him and I shall give nothing. One thing I can give him at the present moment, and that is my sincere counsel. Go and tell him this from me; tell him to stop the war and not to reject any offer of peace.
- - Livy, The History of Rome from its Foundation, XXXVII.37
The Roman terms, however, were too harsh for King Antiochus, and he resolved to try his fortune in battle. As the Roman army marched south to confront him, Africanus allegedly fell ill. Hearing this, Antiochus sent the young Publius Cornelius back to his father as a gift. In return, he received the cryptic advice not to come out to battle until Africanus had returned to the Roman camp.
In the event, Lucius Cornelius Scipio pressed the King's army hard, and at Magnesia, the two armies deployed for battle. The Seleucid army of 60,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry were defeated by the 30,000 man Roman army when King Antiochus pursued the defeated left wing of the Roman army too far and left his infantry exposed. By the time Antiochus had returned from his pursuit, the Seleucid infantry was in flight and the battle lost.
There can be no doubt that the war against Antiochus was as much Africanus' campaign as any of his earlier campaigns. Every message that we know of issued from the Roman army during the war carry the address of both Lucius and Africanus - quite unnecesarry, since Africanus had no formal powers. We also find that every known envoy sent to the Romans during this time also took the precaution of addressing him in private; sometimes even prior to addressing the main Roman command council. And finally, when the terms of peace after Magnesia are to be dictated to the Seleucids, it is Africanus who is the spokesman for the Romans once again.
Even in Livy's time, the accounts of the war seem to have been muddled; no one knowing, for instance, exactly when Scipio's son had been captured. Scipio's mysterious illness conveniently occuring so that Lucius could receive the glory of victory out of his brothers shadow, Scipio's rapid recovery in time to head the peace negotiations, and Scipio's cryptic messages to the Seleucid King all raise questions. In the Strategematae of Frontinus, there is a passage indicating that some historians at least believed that Africanus was present at Magnesia, and suggested the time and place for the attack. But whether or not the course of events were planned and prepared by Africanus (as might be suggested by the illness episode and Frontinus), is impossible to know.
Regardless, the Scipio brothers had been triumphant, and Antiochus and the Seleucid Kingdom were evicted from all their possessions in Asia Minor, confining them to the (still huge) eastern parts of their Empire. In addition, a huge indemnity of 15,000 talents was laid on the Seleucids - a burden that, indirectly, was to lead to the death of Antiochus III and his successor, Antiochus IV (both were killed while "plundering" temples to raise money for the Roman tribute).