What Became of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus after the Second Punic War?

When he returned from the Battle of Zama, Scipio was granted a splendid triumph. He was also repeatedly elected Senatus Primus and was elected Censor and later re-elected to Consul.

But Scipio had an implacable enemy in Marcus Porcius Cato the Elder, a rigid and authoritarian person, insanely jealous of Scipio and possessed of considerable powers of persuasion. Cato had two major goals in life, the first was to destroy Scipio, and the second was to destroy Carthage. Eventually he was successful at both.

Around 190 B.C. with the threat of Antiochus III looming, Scipio’s brother Lucius was elected Consul. Lucius was not the military genius that his brother Publius was, so Publius Scipio offered to go with him to fight Antiochus and give him advice. Unfortunately, Scipio fell ill on the journey and could not be there when the Battle of Magnesia took place. Lucius would have lost the battle but for the skill of Marcus Aemilius, one of his lieutenants, but as it happened the Romans won the battle and forced Antiochus into a treaty on Roman terms. By then, Scipio was well enough to take part in the treaty negotiation.

While the Scipio brothers were in the East, Cato was at work. He persuaded the brothers Petilii, who were Tribunes of the Plebes, to work for him. When the Scipios returned he accused Lucius Scipio of misappropriating funds. The charge was bogus as Lucius had used these funds to give his soldiers a reward (praeda). When the charges were brought up in the Roman Senate Lucius offered to present his ledgers for inspection. He went home to retrieve the ledgers. Publius Scipio was enraged that he and his brother’s dignity was insulted, and their honesty questioned. He tore up his brother’s ledgers and said, “You may find the answers you seek in these fragments.” Then he said, “how could this body ask for the records of the expenditure of these four million sesterces and yet no longer ask for an account of how, and by whose agency, the fifteen thousand talents which you received from Antiochus came into the treasury, nor how it was that you have become masters of Asia, Libya, and Iberia?” With that, the Senate dropped the matter.

But Cato wasn’t finished. He asserted that the treaty imposed upon Antiochus was too mild and that was because Publius Scipio had taken a bribe. He got his henchmen the brothers Petilii to bring charges. On the day that the matter was to be brought up in the forum, a large number of Roman citizens flocked to see the spectacle. Rather than address the charges, Scipio addressed the crowd saying “Tribunes of the people, and you Romans, on the anniversary of this day I fought a pitched battle in Africa against Hannibal and the Carthaginians, with good fortune and success. As, therefore, it is but decent that a stop be put for this day to litigation and wrangling, I am going straightway to the Capitol, there to return my acknowledgments to Jupiter, the supremely great and good, to Juno, Minerva and the other deities presiding over the Capitol and citadel and will give them thanks for having on this day and many other times, endowed me with the will and ability to perform extraordinary services to the commonwealth. Such of you also, Romans, who choose, come with me and beseech the gods that you may have commanders like myself, since from my seventeenth year until old age, you have always anticipated my years with honor, and I your honors with services.”

All of the citizens followed Scipio to the temple leaving the Petilii alone in the empty forum.

But Scipio was disgusted with the politics of Rome and promptly went into self-exile at his estate in Liternum, a colony that he had founded. His health rapidly declined, and he died a year or two later. When asked if he wanted to be buried in Rome he replied “Ingrata patria, ne ossa quidem habebes,”-” Ungrateful fatherland, you won’t even have my bones.”

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