What Did Scipio Do to Oppose Hannibal after He Invaded Italy?

When Hannibal invaded Italy Scipio was only seventeen, so he served in the legions, first under his father, Publius Cornelius Scipio the elder, who was Consul at the time. At the Battle of Ticinus he was in charge of a Turma, a group of 30 cavalry, and he led the charge of the turma to rescue his father who was unhorsed and wounded.
Two years later, he serve in the legions as a military tribune under the Consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus. He managed to survive the Battle of Cannae in which Paullus and 55,000 other Roman and allied soldiers perished. There is a story that when the survivors of the battle gathered at Canusium, he and the Aedile Appius Claudius were elected leaders. A faction, led by Lucius Caecilius Metellus were in favor of deserting Rome and seeking service with one of the eastern Kings. Scipio assembled his friends and went to their lodgings. He drew his sword and vowed “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 I knowingly 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. Even at the age of nineteen, Scipio was a leader whose words were heeded.
We know nothing of Scipio’s military career during the next six years, but we do know that at the age of twenty-three, Scipio successfully ran for Aedile. When the Tribunes complained that he was too young, the told them “If the Roman people think I am old enough, then I am old enough.
In 211 B.C. both Scipio’s father Publius and his uncle Gneius perished in the Battles of the Upper Baetis in Spain. The were briefly replaced by Marcus Claudius Nero, but he soon returned to Rome. Determined to avenge the deaths of his father and uncle, Scipio, aged 25, volunteered to command the legions in Spain. He was elected by all of the centuries. The first thing he did when he got there was to capture the Carthaginian stronghold of New Carthage. Within four years, winning battle after battle, he had driven the Carthaginians from the peninsula.
In 206 B.C. Scipio returned to Rome and ran for Consul. Despite being only 29, he was again elected by all the centuries. He formulated a plan to invade Africa, lay waste to the Carthaginian territories and eventually conquer Carthage. He believed that under threat from his legions, Carthage would call Hannibal back to Africa. He was strongly opposed in this plan by the most prominent Roman politician of the time, Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator who wanted him to attack Hannibal at his base in Bruttium. Scipio persisted, however, and a compromise was worked out in the Senate which would enable him to invade Africa. He was only allowed to recruit volunteers but was given the use of the Fifth and Sixth legions of men who had survived Cannae.
To implement this plan, he built ships and took his legions to Sicily for a year of training. He meticulously planned the logistics of the invasion. In 203 B.C. Scipio took his legions to African and began laying waste to Carthaginian territory. He was opposed by the Carthaginian General Hasdrubal Son of Gisco and by his ally and son-in-law, Syphax the ruler of Numidia. Syphax wanted to play peace maker and Scipio found it advantageous to enter into negotiations. He used these negotiations to spy upon the Carthaginian and Numidian camps. At the end of the winter he informed Syphax that the negotiations had failed and advised him to remain neutral. Syphax, however, enamored of his wife, remained loyal to his father-in-law. That night Scipio sent his forces to both camps and set them on fire. Of some 80,000 men in the two camps, 40,000 were slain or perished in the fires. Some five thousand were captured. Only some 35,000 successfully escaped, including both Hasdrubal Son of Gisco and Syphax.
Hasdrubal and Syphax assembled their forces and gave Scipio battle at the Great Plains. It was a complete disaster for the Carthaginians. The Carthaginians sued for peace, but at the same time, they called Hannibal and his brother Mago home. After Carthaginian citizens plundered Roman ships that had beached near Carthage during a storm, Scipio ended the truce.
Hannibal arrived at Hadrumetum and assembled his veterans, Mago’s men (Mago had been wounded in battle and died in transit) and whatever recruits he could muster. He also had 80 elephants.
After a brief attempt at negotiation, Hannibal gave Scipio battle at Zama. While Hannibal was superior in infantry, with around 45,000 soldiers, some of his soldiers were raw and untrained. Scipio’s 35,000 legionaries were experienced and well trained. Scipio was also superior in cavalry with some 9000 as compared to Hannibal’s 6000. After neutralizing the elephants, the two sides fell to combat, and it appeared to be a draw, but the return of Scipio Italian and Masinissa’s Numidian cavalry, after routing the Carthaginian and their allied Numidian cavalry, carried the day for the Romans. Carthage was forced into a treaty on Romans terms.
If you want to know more details about the Second Punic War, read my book, The Death of Carthage, In the Wake of Hannibal, and Maximus, Warts and All. They are available on Amazon and Kindle.

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