Famous Men of Rome - John Haaren

Scipio Africanus


But peace did not last long between Rome and Carthage. Some years after the end of the first Punic War the Carthaginians attacked and took possession of a town in Spain, the people of which were friends and allies of Rome. This caused the second Punic War, which began B.C. 218.

One of the great soldiers of this war was Publius Cornelius Scipio. In the latter part of his life he was called Scipio Africanus, on account of the great victories which he won in Africa.

Scipio was a brave soldier from his youth. When only seventeen years old he fought in a battle and saved his father's life. He was always gallant and heroic in war, so he soon became noted in the Roman army and rose to high rank. And although he was a member of a noble family, he was well liked by the plebeians and they elected him "ædile."

The ædiles were magistrates or judges. They were also superintendents of public buildings and of the games and shows of which the Roman people were so fond.

When Scipio was about twenty-seven years of age, he was appointed to command the Roman army that was fighting the Carthaginians in Spain. Carthage had conquered some parts of Spain, and Rome had conquered other parts, and the two nations were often at war about places in that country.

When Scipio went to Spain many of the people there were against him, but they soon became his friends. Whenever he took a city he allowed the chiefs who were captured to go free, and he gave presents to many of them. He always showed great respect to women and children who were taken prisoners. In those times it was the cruel custom to make slaves of women who were found in towns that had been taken in war. But Scipio never did this in Spain. He always let the women go free.

One day a beautiful Spanish girl who had been taken prisoner was brought before him. She seemed very much frightened, but Scipio spoke kindly to her and told her that no one should harm her. While speaking with her he learned that a young man who was her lover had also been taken prisoner by the Roman soldiers. He sent for the young man and said to him:

"Take your sweetheart and go. I set you both free. Go and be happy and in future be friends of Rome."

And so by many acts of kindness Scipio gained the friendship of the Spaniards. After a while they began to join the Romans and gave them great help in their war against the Carthaginians.


When his services were no longer needed in Spain, Scipio returned to Rome. He got a great reception in the city. There was a grand parade in his honor. He brought home an immense quantity of silver, which he obtained from the rich Spanish mines and from the cities he had taken. The silver was put into the Roman treasury to pay the expenses of the war.

Soon after he returned from Spain Scipio was elected consul. The Carthaginian general, Hannibal, was then in Italy with a large army. This Hannibal was one of the greatest generals of ancient times. When he was but nine years old his father, who was also a great general, made him take an oath that he would hate Rome and the Romans forever. Then he took the boy with him to Spain and gave him a thorough training as a soldier.

When his father died Hannibal became commander of the Carthaginian army in Spain. He was then little more than twenty-one years old. He fought well in Spain for some time and was well liked by his soldiers. Suddenly he resolved to make war on the Romans in their own country and to go by land to Italy. So he got ready an immense army and set out on his march. In passing through France he had to cross the broad River Rhone. This was not easy to do, for there was no bridge. He got his men over in boats, but he had a number of elephants in his army and they were too big and heavy to be taken across in that way. The boats were small and the elephants were afraid to go into them. Hannibal therefore got rafts or floats, made of trunks of trees tied together, and in these the elephants were carried over.

After crossing the Rhone Hannibal marched over the Alps into Italy. He and his army suffered many hardships in making their way over those snow-covered mountains. He had often to fight fierce tribes that came to oppose him, but he defeated them all, and after being defeated many of them joined his army and brought him provisions for his soldiers.

Very soon Roman armies were sent against Hannibal, but he defeated them in many battles. Once his army got into a place near high hills where he could not march further except through one narrow pass between the hills. The Roman general, Quintus Fabius, sent four thousand of his troops to take possession of this pass, and he posted the rest of his army on the hills close by.

Hannibal in Alps


Hannibal saw that he was in a trap, but he found a way of escaping. He caused vine branches to be tied to the horns of a large number of the oxen that were with his army. Then he ordered his men to set the branches on fire in the middle of the night and to drive the oxen up the hills.

As soon as the animals felt the pain they rushed madly about and set fire to the shrubs and bushes they met on the way. The Romans at the pass thought that the Carthaginians were escaping by torchlight. So they hastily quit their posts and hurried towards the hills to help their comrades. Then Hannibal, seeing the pass free, marched his army out and so escaped from the trap.

Hannibal escaping Fabius


Quintus Fabius was very slow and cautious in his movements. The Romans had been defeated so often that he thought the best plan was to harass Hannibal in every possible way, but not to venture to fight him in a great battle until he should be sure of winning. For this reason the Romans gave Fabius the name of Cunctator, which means delayer, and so the plan of extreme delay or caution in any undertaking is often called a Fabian  policy.

But in spite of the caution of Fabius Hannibal gained many great victories. His greatest victory was at the battle of Cannæ, in the south of Italy. Here he defeated and destroyed a Roman army of seventy thousand men. And for several years after this battle Hannibal remained in Italy doing the Romans all the harm he could.

At last Scipio thought it was time to follow the plan of Regulus. So he said to the Senate:

"We have acted too long as if we were afraid of Hannibal and Carthage. We defend ourselves bravely when we are attacked, and so far we have saved Rome from destruction; but we do not make any attacks on our enemies. We certainly ought to do this, for our armies are strong and fully ready to meet the Carthaginians."

Scipio then proposed that an army led by himself should go to Africa and carry on war there. He believed that if this were done Hannibal would have to go to Africa to defend Carthage.

Perhaps on account of what had happened to Regulus, the Senate did not like Scipio's plan. Nevertheless, it gave him permission to go to Africa, but would not give him an army. Scipio then raised a splendid army of volunteers and sailed across the Mediterranean Sea to Africa.


Scipio tried for some time to obtain the aid of Syphax, a powerful king of Numidia, in Africa. But Syphax decided to join the Carthaginians. So Scipio found two great armies ready to fight him. One was the army of Carthage, with thirty-three thousand men, commanded by Hasdrubal Gisco, and the other was the army of Numidia, with sixty thousand men, commanded by King Syphax.

But Scipio found in Africa one strong friend, and that was a Numidian prince named Masinissa. This prince had a host of supporters among his countrymen and was therefore able to bring a large force of good soldiers to the aid of the Romans. He was of great service to Scipio in many ways.

When everything was ready the Roman army, with Masinissa's force, encamped about six miles from the camps of the enemy. Scipio sent spies among the Carthaginians and the soldiers of King Syphax, and from them he learned that both armies were lodged in huts made of stakes and covered with reeds and dried leaves. He resolved to set those huts on fire.

So one very dark night the Roman army left its camp and marched silently to the plain occupied by the enemy. Then a division of the Romans went to the encampment of the Numidians and a soldier crept cautiously from the Roman lines and set one of the huts on fire. The fire spread rapidly, and in a few minutes the whole camp was in flames.

The Numidian soldiers, suddenly awakened by the fire, fled from the burning huts without their weapons and made frantic efforts to escape from the camp. Hundreds of them were knocked down and trampled to death in the rush and confusion; hundreds more lost their lives in the fire. Those who got to the open country were attacked by the Romans and killed. The ground was covered with the bodies of the slain. King Syphax and a few horsemen managed to escape, but the rest of the vast Numidian army was destroyed.

In the meantime the Carthaginians had been aroused by the noise in the camp of the Numidians. They thought that the fire had been caused by an accident, and some of them ran forward to assist the Numidians. But the greater number stood in a confused throng, without their arms, outside their camp, looking at the fire with terror.

While they were in this helpless state the Carthaginians were suddenly attacked by the Romans with Scipio at their head. Many were killed, and the others were driven back into their camp, which was immediately set on fire in a number of places. Then there was a frightful scene. Thousands of Carthaginians, struggling to escape the fire, were slain by the Romans, while thousands more perished in the flames. Hasdrubal Gisco, the commander, and some of his officers escaped, but only a few of the others. In less than an hour there was little left of the Carthaginian army.


Scipio now began to march towards the great, rich city of Carthage. He captured a number of towns and a great deal of treasure. In a few weeks, however, the Carthaginians were able to form another army of thirty thousand men, and then they came boldly forth to meet Scipio.

A fierce battle followed. The Romans were driven back for a time, but with wonderful courage they charged the Carthaginians again and again and at last totally defeated them.

The Carthaginians now sent a message to Italy requesting Hannibal to come to the relief of his country. The renowned general did not want to leave Italy, for he hoped to be able to take Rome; but he thought it best to obey the call of Carthage, so he sailed for Africa with his army.

After arriving in Africa Hannibal led his army to a wide plain near Zama, a town not far from Carthage. Here he awaited the Romans.

Hannibal had great admiration for Scipio, and he desired to see him before engaging in battle. So he sent a messenger to Scipio requesting an interview. The request was granted, and the two generals met.

They greeted each other cordially, and each complimented the other on his victories and greatness as a soldier. Then Hannibal proposed terms of peace to Scipio.

"We will give Spain and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia to Rome. Then we will divide the sea with you. What more would you have? Rome and Carthage would then be the two great nations of the world."

Scipio thought it was too late to make terms.

"We must fight it out," said he, "until one side or the other is vanquished."

The generals then parted, and the next day the two armies were drawn up in battle array. On each side there were about thirty thousand men, but Hannibal had a herd of fighting elephants.

The battle was long and severe. Both armies fought heroically, and there was terrible slaughter. But Hannibal's elephants were of little use to him, as the Romans frightened them by blowing trumpets and hurling balls of fire at them. At a moment when the lines of the Carthaginians were breaking, a strong force of Roman horsemen came up suddenly in the rear and overpowered all before it. This won the battle for the Romans. When Hannibal saw that the battle was lost he fled from the field with a few friends (202 B.C.).

Scipio was now master of Carthage. He compelled the Carthaginians to pay him a vast amount in gold and silver and to give up some of their towns and lands. He also compelled them to destroy their great fleet of warships and to promise not to make war in future upon any people without the permission of the Romans.

When Scipio returned to Rome he entered the city at the head of a grand procession. The greatest honors were paid to him, and he was called Scipio Africanus.

Some years afterwards Scipio met Hannibal at the court of the king of Syria. The two generals had a friendly conversation and Scipio asked Hannibal who he thought was the greatest general that ever lived. Hannibal answered:

"Alexander the Great."

"Who was the second?" asked Scipio.

"Pyrrhus," replied Hannibal.

"Who the third?"

"Myself," answered Hannibal.

"But what would you have said," asked Scipio, "if you had conquered me?"

"I should then have said," replied Hannibal, "that I was greater than Alexander, greater than Pyrrhus, and greater than all other generals."