Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Destroys Carthage.

When the Roman Senate made the decision to destroy Carthage in 149 B.C. the elected Consuls were Lucius Marcius Censorius and Marcus Manilius. They brought an army of 80,000 Roman legionaries. They demanded that the Carthaginians abandon their city and move at least ten miles from the coast. The Carthaginians, who had previously given in to all Roman demands, refused.

Despite having recently lost 50,000 soldiers in the battle with the Numidians, and despite having disarmed themselves in compliance with Roman demands, the Carthaginians were able to assemble an army and manufacture weapons for their defense. The Consul of that year were unsuccessful at defeating Carthage. The Consuls of the following year, Spurius Postumius Albinus Magnus and Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus were equally unsuccessful.

Although only 37 years old, Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, the adoptive grandson of Scipio Africanus and natural son of Lucius Aemilius Paullus had made a name for himself in the war. He had saved the Romans from complete disaster time after time. When the Consul Manius Manilius took an expedition to Nepheris against the Carthaginian general Hasdrubal, counter to the advice of Scipio, the affair ended in a rout of the Romans due to the difficulties of the mountainous territory and the fact that the Carthaginians held the high ground. Four cohorts of Roman soldiers were cut off by the Carthaginians and took refuge on a hill. The Romans had given these men up for lost but Scipio took three hundred horsemen and found a way to secure a position above the enemy. He drove them off, rescuing the men who had been trapped.

Scipio had also persuaded the Carthaginian general Himilco Phameas, a formidable foe, to abandon the fight and come over to the Roman side with 2,200 of his horsemen.

The Roman elected Scipio Aemilianus consul in 147 B.C. and assigned him to the task of destroying Carthage. He came well recommended by the Roman Statesman Cato the Elder. When asked about the conduct of the war Cato said “Only he (Scipio) has wisdom. The rest are but fluttering shadows.”

When Scipio arrived in Africa as Consul he found the army in disarray and out of discipline. He immediately sought to set things straight. He announce to his soldiers: “Soldiers, when I served with you under the command of Manilius, I gave you an example of obedience, as you can testify. I ask the same of you, now that I am in command; for while I have ample powers to punish the disobedient, I think it best to give you warning beforehand. You know what you have been doing. Therefore why should I tell you what I am ashamed to speak of ? You are more like robbers than soldiers. You are runaways instead of guardians of the camp. You are more like hucksters than conquerors. You are in quest of luxuries in the midst of war and before the victory is won.

“For this reason the enemy, from the hopeless weakness in which I left him, has risen to such strength, and your labor has been made harder by your laziness. If I considered you to be to blame for this I should punish you now, but since I ascribe it to another, I shall overlook the past. I have come here not to rob but to conquer, not to exact money before victory, but to overcome the enemy first.

“Now all of you who are not soldiers must leave the camp today, except those who have my permission to remain.

“For you soldiers, I have one order adapted to all occasions, and that is, that you follow the example of my habits and my industry. If you observe this rule you will not be wanting in your duty and you will not fail of your reward. We must toil while the danger lasts; spoils and luxury must be postponed until their proper time. This I command and this the law commands. Those who obey shall reap large rewards; those who do not will repent it.” (The history of Rome by Appian of Alexandria, The Punic wars Book 17, #116)

Having re-established discipline, Scipio laid siege to the city allowing nothing and no one to enter or leave. He was assisted by his mentor, the Greek Historian Polybius who was an expert in sieges and other military matters. Eventually his siege engines broke down the walls of Carthage on the harbor side, and the Roman legionaries poured into the city. There was resistance for about six days. The Romans destroyed all of the buildings, one by one, and killed anyone they found. About fifty thousand civilians took refuge in the temples of the Bursa. A delegation of the priests of Eshmoun went forth with olive branches and begged Scipio to spare their lives. Scipio consented, and the survivors were sold into slavery.

When it was over, Scipio began to weep and publicly lament the misfortune of the enemy. Polybius asked him why he was weeping and he compared the fate of Carthage to that of Troy. He spoke the words of Homer:

“The day shall come in which our sacred Troy

And Priam and the people whom

Spear-bearing Priam rules, shall perish all.”

Polybius asked him what he meant by this and he said “When I consider the mutability of human affairs,, I fear that someday this may also be the fate of Rome.” (The Histories of Polybius Book XXXIX.)


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