This extraordinary Roman general was born in 185 BC, and was later adopted by Publius Cornelius Scipio. One must be careful to avoid confusion, because both adoptive grandfather Publius and our subject were nicknamed ‘Africanus’ for the same reason! Grandson Aemilianus earned the tribute for destroying Carthage during the 3rd Punic War, and Publius for merely defeating Carthage in the 2nd Punic War. The adoptive grandfather, born in 236 BC, was actually called ‘Africanus Major’.
Aemilianus joined the Roman army young, and quickly established himself as a fine and resourceful officer, rising at high speed towards his generalship. He captured Numantia at the head of his forces and thus earned his first nickname – ‘Numantius’.
By the year 147 at the age of thirty-eight he had total command of the army in Africa, blockading Carthage, an almost hereditary enemy of Rome. He was certainly heading for greater things when he suddenly fell dead in 129. There was a distinct suspicion of murder, and his death at only fifty-six has never been explained. It might have been poison, but the suicide theorists must be sick in the head for Aemilianus Scipio had everything going for him and might, given his position among the patricians, and his leadership both in war, and of an intellectual group called the ‘Scipionic Circle’ have become First Consul.
As a soldier Scipio was a major contributor towards the maintenance and extension of Roman power in the world known then. He was outstanding for twenty years, but all outstanding men have scores of enemies, and Scipio was no exception. The historian Polybius, a member of the Scipionic Circle, put it about that one of two women in Scipio’s life might have used poison on him. They are Sempronia, his wife, and Cornelia, his mother-in-law. There is no proof that either lady put an end to him, but Roman history is packed with proven cases of murder by poison committed by wives, mistresses and mothers-in-law.
As a man Scipio was stern, upright and conservative. He was addicted to Rome’s traditional virtues, which he reminded others were being undermined; so he was a thorough traditionalist with regard to standards of public and private morality – no wonder he had enemies. But he had friends too, including the already mentioned historian Polybius, and another, Laelius, as well as the poet Terence, the satirist Lucillius and the Stoic philosopher Panaetius.
It was Scipio who encouraged advances in Roman literature, and also the blending of Greek and Roman philosophy. Indeed he tried to adapt Stoical ideas to the needs ofRome. Cicerolater described him as the ideal Roman citizen and statesman, who personified the Republic’s most golden days.
Standard volumes for research are Astin’s Scipio Amaelianus (1967), and Scullard’s Scipio Amaelianus and Roman Politics; journal of Roman Studies (1960).