Quora Question: Who do You Think is the Most Under Rated Historical Figure.

Mine is Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. He was a pivotal figure in the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage, 218–201 B.C.

His father, Publius Cornelius Scipio the elder was one of the two Roman Consuls when the Second Punic War broke out in 218 B.C. He assembled several legions and took them to Massilia in Southern Gaul. But then he was told that Hannibal and his army had already passed through the area and was on his way to the Alps. He sent his legions to Spain with his brother Gneius and returned to Italy by ship to prepare to meet Hannibal and his army.

The elder Scipio first encountered Hannibal at the Battle of Ticinus in November of 218 B.C. The encounter went very badly for the Consul and his foot soldiers were practically annihilated while the Consul himself was wounded and thrown from his horse. He would have been captured or killed if his son, Publius, aged 17, had not heroically led a charge of the turma (30 cavalry) he was in charge of and rescued him. This established young Scipio as an heroic figure in the eyes of the Romans.

We next encounter young Scipio, aged 19, at the Battle of Cannae nearly two years later where he served as a military tribune. Again the battle has gone disastrously for the Romans, with some 55,000 Romans and allies dead on the field. The survivors assembled in the walled city of Canusium. Scipio and the highest ranked survivor, Appius Claudius are elected leaders of the group. Among this assembly are a number of nobles, led by Lucius Caecilius Metellus, who are planning to desert the cause of Rome and offer themselves as mercenaries to foreign kings. When Scipio finds out about this he is incensed. He assembles his friends and goes to their lodgings and draws his sword, saying “With sincerity of soul I swear that neither will I, myself, desert the cause of the Roman Republic, nor will I suffer any other citizen of Rome to desert it. If knowingly I violate my oath, then, O Jupiter, supremely great and good, mayest thou visit my house, my family and my fortune with perdition the most horrible! I require you, Lucius Caecilius Metellus, and the rest of you who are present to take this oath, and let the man who shall not take it be assured, that this sword is drawn against him!” Everyone present took the oath.

Scipio ran for Aedile at the age of 23 and won. When the Tribunes objected that he was too young, he said “If the people of Rome say that I am old enough, then I am old enough.”

Two years later, Scipio’s father Publius, and his Uncle Gneius were killed at the Battles of the Upper Baetis in Spain. Scipio was devastated. Legions were sent to Spain under Marcus Claudius Nero, but Nero was not up to the task and soon returned to Rome. No one wanted command of the legions in Spain and Scipio, as young as he was offered to do it. He was 25. He was so highly regarded in Rome that he was elected to the position by all of the centuries.
When he got to Spain the first thing he did was to bring 25,000 legionaries and south and capture the Carthaginian’s vital port city of New Carthage. None of the three Carthaginian generals in Spain, Hasdrubal Barca and Mago Barca the brothers of Hannibal, and Hasdrubal Son of Gisco anticipated that Scipio would do this and the city was only lightly defended. It was a move that was critical to stymying the Carthaginian efforts in Spain. Within four years, winning the Battles of Baecula and Ilipa, Scipio had cleared all Carthaginian forces from Spain.

Having accomplished this, Scipio returned to Rome and ran successfully for Consul at age 29. He then planned an invasion of Africa with the intention of bringing Carthage to its knees. He largely destroyed the armies of Hasdrubal Son of Gisco and his ally, the Numidian King Syphax by setting their camps on fire at night. When the survivors reassembled, he defeated them at the Battle of the Great Plains. He ravaged the countryside and the Carthaginians, alarmed, called Hannibal home. The two armies met at the Battle of Zama and it was a decisive victory for Rome. Carthage was forced into a treaty on Roman terms.

Scipio africanus never lost a battle an was clearly one of the most brilliant military geniuses of all time. If you want to know more of his story I recommend reading Scipio, Greater than Napoleon by B.F. Liddle Hart, or my historical novel The Death of Carthage which is available on Amazon and Kindle.

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