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Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus (Numantinus), Publius

The Oxford Classical Dictionary

E. Badian

Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus (Numantinus), Publius, 

(RE 335)

born 185/4 bc as second son of L. Aemilius Paullus (2), adopted as a child by P. Cornelius Scipio (2), son of P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus, as his elder brother was by a Q. Fabius Maximus. In 168 he fought under Paullus at Pydna. Back in Rome, he met Polybius (1), who became his friend and his mentor in preparing him for a public career. (See esp. Polybius 31. 23ff.) In 151, though asked by the Macedonians, as Paullus' son, to settle their problems that soon led to the war with Andriscus, he instead volunteered for arduous service as a military tribune under L. Licinius Lucullus (1) in Spain, thus persuading others to volunteer. In the fighting he won a major decoration, the corona muralis (see crowns and wreaths). When sent to request elephants from Masinissa, he renewed Africanus' patronal relations with him and vainly tried to mediate peace between him and Carthage after a battle he had witnessed. In 149 and 148 he served as a military tribune under M'. Manilius in Africa (see Punic Wars) and again distinguished himself both in the fighting, where he won a rare distinction, the corona graminea (Pliny Naturalis historia 22. 6ff., 13), and in diplomacy, persuading a Carthaginian commander to defect. After Masinissa's death he divided the kingdom among his three legitimate sons according to the king's request. Coming to Rome to stand for an aedileship for 147, he was elected consul, contrary to the rules for the cursus honorum, by a well-organized popular demand that forced the senate to suspend the rules. He was assigned Africa by special legislation and, after restoring discipline and closing off the enemy's harbour, he overcame long and desperate resistance and early in 146 captured Carthage after days of street-fighting. After letting his soldiers collect the booty, he destroyed the city and sold the inhabitants into slavery. Anyone who should resettle the site was solemnly cursed. With the help of the usual senate commission he organized the province of Africa and after giving magnificent games returned to celebrate a splendid triumph, earning the name ‘Africanus’ to which his adoptive descent entitled him. He distributed some captured works of art among cities in Sicily and Italy (Cicero In Verrem passim; Syll.3 677; Inscriptiones Latinae Liberae Rei Republicae 326).

Probably in 144–3 he headed an embassy to the kings and cities of the east, perhaps even as far as the territory contested between Parthians and Seleucids (Lucil. 464 Marx), with Panaetius as his personal companion. After his return he presumably guided senate policy in those areas, especially towards Pergamum, the Seleucids, and the Jews. (We have no evidence on its formulation and little on its execution.) In 142 he was censor with L. Mummius, who mitigated some of his severity. They restored the pons Aemilius (see bridges) and adorned the Capitol.

In 136 he secured the rejection of the peace in Spain negotiated for C. Hostilius Mancinus by his cousin and brother-in-law Ti. Sempronius Gracchus (3). This deeply offended Gracchus, even though Scipio saved him from personal disgrace. In 135, again by special dispensation and without campaigning for the office, he was elected consul 134 and sent to Numantia, with an army consisting chiefly of his own clients (see cliens) because of the shortage of military manpower. He starved Numantia into surrender in just over a year, destroyed it, and sold the survivors into slavery, returning in 132 to celebrate a second triumph and acquire the (unofficial) name ‘Numantinus’. By approving of Gracchus' murder he incurred great unpopularity. It was increased when, in 129, defending the interests of Italian clients holding public land, he was responsible for a senate decree that paralysed the agrarian commission by transferring its judiciary powers to the consuls, usually hostile or absent. When, soon after, he was found dead, various prominent persons, including his wife (Gracchus' sister) and Cornelia (1) (Gracchus' mother), were suspected of responsibility, though the funeral laudation written by his friend C. Laelius (2) specified natural death. (See E. Badian, Journal of Roman Studies 1956, 220.)

His personal morality and civil and military courage made him an unlikely friend of M. Porcius Cato (1). But he was a patron of poets and philosophers, with a genuine interest in literature (he was himself an able orator) and in Greek philosophy, as transmitted by Polybius, which he combined with a traditional aristocratic Roman outlook. He believed in the ‘balanced constitution’, with the people entitled to choose their leaders (Polybius 6. 14. 4 and 8: hence his willingness to accept extraordinary appointments) and to take charge of criminal trials (Polybius 6. 14. 5ff.: hence his support for the ballot law of L. Cassius Longinus Ravilla). But he could foresee the ultimate fall of Rome (Astin 251f.; cf. Polybius 6. 9. 12ff.), which could be delayed by stopping signs of decay, especially the decline in aristocratic morality (see Oratorum Romanorum Fragmenta 4 21, esp. nos. 13, 17, 30, and cf. Polybius 6. 8. 4f.) and the danger of the democratic element, under the tribunes (cf. Polybius 6. 16. 5ff.), leading the state into anarchy and tyranny (cf. Polybius 6. 9. 2ff.—and an aristocratic Roman fear of a leader's excessive popularity producing regnum, ‘monarchy’). Utterly ruthless towards Rome's enemies, he believed in loyal patronage (both for Rome and for himself) over client-friends, whether monarchs like Attalus II and Masinissa or Italian allies. Cicero, in De republica, depicts him as the ideal Roman statesman (cf. also De senectute and De amicitia) and sets him in a group of aristocrats and their cultured clients (esp. De amicitia 69) that modern scholars turned into the Scipionic Circle.


In addition to the sources cited in the text see esp. Polybius 31–9 passim, and Appian ʾΙβηρική 84, 363–98, 427; Λιβυκή 71, 322–72, 330, and 98, 464–135, 642.Find this resource:

A. E. Astin, Scipio Aemilianus;Find this resource:

H. B. Mattingly, Classical Quarterly 1986, 91ff. (dating the embassy);Find this resource:

H. Trofimoff, Revue Internationale des Droits de l'Antiquité 1988, 263ff. (some political ideas).Find this resource:

E. Badian