by Jefferson P. Webb
When engaged in a discussion of great military leaders of the ancient world, one cannot help but bring up the figure of Roman Consul Scipio Africanus (236 – 183 BCE).1 Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus proved to be exactly what Rome needed to break an ever increasing series of horrifying defeats at the hands of Carthaginian general, Hannibal Barca, during the Second Punic War, also known as the Hannibalic War. Until the war against Hannibal’s invasion of Roman Italy and Spain, the Roman army had been the masters of the battlefield.
But facing what can only be described as tactical genius in the form of the leadership of Hannibal, Rome was losing tens of thousands of men in single battles like the battles of Lake Trasimine, and Trebia, among others. What was it about the leadership of Scipio that set him apart from his Roman peers, and earned him the honor of being the first Roman titled with a place-name, Africanus, relating to the location of his masterful victory over Hannibal?
Scipio was of one of the most powerful and well respected families in Rome, the Cornelii family. This family had been very influential in Roman politics and military affairs for generations having members of its family serve as consuls and magistrates.2 The first record of Scipio’s military career was while he was in service under his father’s command in Northern Italy, engaged in combat actions against the invading Carthaginian army under Hannibal’s command.3 This action may or may not have been Scipio’s first taste of combat as seventeen year old, but he is recorded and celebrated for his heroic actions. During the battle his father’s position was encircled and his force in grave danger. Scipio’s father, also named Scipio had been wounded and was in danger of being killed or captured by the Carthaginians. Without hesitation Scipio charged the Carthaginians, for a moment alone as the soldiers with him hesitated to attack, and rescued his father.4 Scipio was held in great esteem by the Romans for his act of heroism. (more…)