Why Did Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Refuse to be Buried in Rome?

“Ingrata Patria, ne osse quidem habebis”- Ungrateful fatherland, you won’t even have my bones.

Scipio Africanus was by far the most effective Roman military figure of the Second Punic War. After his father and uncle were killed in the Battles of the Upper Baetis in 211 B.C., he somehow got himself elected to take their place in Spain at age 25. He snatched the Carthaginian capital, New Carthage, right out from under their noses, then proceeded, with some 32,000 troops, to defeat one Carthaginian army after another, winning major battles at Baecula and Ilipa. In four years he entirely cleared Spain of Carthaginian forces.

After returning to Rome, he was elected Consul and he was grudgingly granted the right to take the war to Africa “if he deemed that it would be beneficial to the state.” He was not allowed to levy troops, but he raised a volunteer force of 7,000, and he was granted the use of two legions of troops who had survived the disaster at Cannae, who had been punished by continuous service and were stationed in Sicily. He destroyed most of the combined Carthaginian and Numidian army by setting their camps on fire, and then he defeated them in battle at the Campi Magni. The Carthaginians called Hannibal home from Italy and Scipio defeated him at the battle of Zama in 202 B.C. and brought an end to the sixteen year long war.

After the war, Scipio was honored in Rome for some time. He was elected Censor in 199 B.C., and was appointed Princeps Senatus. He was elected Consul in 195 B.C.

But Rome had another rising star in Marcus Porcius Cato, and Cato bitterly detested and envied Scipio. Cato was rigidly conservative and disapproved of Scipio’s Graecophilia-the admiration and adoption of Greek philosophy and cultural practices. He also probably believed that Scipio had gone too easy on Carthage and Hannibal.

In 190 B.C. Rome went to war with King Antiochus III of the Seleucid empire (One of the three successor empires to Alexander the Great.) Scipio used his influence to get his brother Lucius elected Consul and volunteered to go with him as ligate. Scipio became ill on campaign, but his brother’s forces defeated Antiochus at the battle of Magnesia.

Marcus Porcius Cato was now a powerful figure in Rome, and he accused Lucius Scipio of embezzlement of some of the booty acquired from this campaign. Lucius brought his financial records to the Senate in order to respond to these charges, and Scipio, in a rage of indignation tore them to pieces on the floor of the Senate, saying “Why are you so concerned about a missing four million sesterces, when Lucius Scipio has enriched the Roman Treasury by two hundred million?”

The charges against Lucius were dropped for the time being, but then Cato got the Tribunes to accuse Scipio of bribery, alleging that he had gone easy on Antiochus due to having been bribed by him. Rather than submit to the indignity of a public trial, Scipio went into exile at his estate in Liternum. There were attempts to force him to come back to Rome to stand trial, but these were derailed by his future son-in-law, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus.

Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus died the following year, and, bitter about his treatment at the hands of the powers that be in Rome, he refused to be buried there, saying “Patria ingrata, ne ossa quidem habebis.”

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