Did Hannibal and Scipio Ever Meet?

According to Livy, Scipio and Hannibal met to negotiate just before the battle of Zama. Hannibal had sent spies to the Roman camp, and they were caught snooping around. Much to the shock of his underlings, Scipio told his tribune to release them and show them around the camp and answer any questions to their satisfaction. He then sent them back to Hannibal. Hannibal, curious to know what sort of general would do this sort of thing asked for a meeting.

They met a few days later, each general accompanied only by an interpreter. According to Livy’s account the dialogue went something like this:

Hannibal spoke first: “How ironic it is that I first fought the Romans in a pitched battle with your father, and now fortune decrees that I supplicate for peace with his son. The gods have a disposition to sport with events.”

Scipio replied “This war has gone on for many years. Both my father and my uncle and many others on both sides have perished.”

Hannibal: “And I have lost both of my brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago, men of consummate bravery and ability. Perhaps it would have been better if we Carthaginians had been content with our empire in Africa and you Romans with yours in Italia. But events are more easily censured than retrieved.”

Scipio “In both of the wars that your country and mine have fought, you, yourselves, were the aggressors. In the first war it was the danger that threatened our allies, the Mamertines, and in this war the destruction of Saguntum that girded us with just and pious arms. The gods are witnesses who determined the issue of the former war and will determine the issue of this present war according to right and justice.”

Hannibal: “You, Scipio, appear to be a general of the highest order, like myself. What I was at Trasimene, you are today. But you would do well to arrange a peace with us here and now. I suspect that your mind may be more disposed to conquest than to peace, but you should consider not only those things that have happened, but also those that may yet occur. You cannot depend upon Fortuna; she’s a fickle goddess. You could lose everything you’ve gained over the course of years in a single hour. In nothing less than war do events correspond to men’s calculation. Everything is at your disposal when adjusting a peace, but in battle you must be content with the fortune the gods shall impose. Rarely does a man consider the uncertainty of events whom fortune has never deceived. You would do well to remember the example of your own general in our last war, Consul Marcus Atilius Regulus. He would have achieved utmost success and renown if, when victorious, he had granted a peace to our fathers when they requested it, but by not checking his good fortune which was elating him, he fell with an ignominy proportioned to his elevation.

“It is indeed the right of him who grants, and not the one who solicits it to dictate the terms of peace, but perhaps we may not be unworthy to impose upon ourselves the fine. We do not refuse that all those possessions on account of which the war was begun should be yours: Sicily, Sardinia, Spain, with all the islands lying in any part of the sea between Africa and Italy. Let us Carthaginians, confined within our shores of Africa behold you, since such is the pleasure of the gods, extending your empire over foreign nations both by sea and land.

“I cannot deny that you have reason to suspect the Carthaginian faith, in consequence of their insincerity lately in soliciting peace while awaiting the decision. The sincerity with which a peace will be observed depends much, Scipio, on the person by whom it is sought. Your Senate, as I hear, refused to grant a peace in some measure because the deputies were deficient in respectability. It is I, Hannibal, who now solicits peace, who would not ask for it unless I believed it to be expedient, nor will I fail to observe it for the same reason of expedience on account of which I have solicited it. I will exert myself so that no one may regret the peace procured by my means.”

Scipio: “I am well aware of the instability of human affairs, Hannibal. I consider the influence of fortune and know very well that all of our measures are liable to a thousand casualties. If you had come to me to solicit peace before I set out for Africa, my conduct would have savored of arrogance and oppression if I rejected you, but now, when I have dragged you into Africa by manual force, despite your resistance and evasion, I am not obligated to treat you with respect.

“You have offered us nothing that we have not already gained by our victories in this war. Indeed, we must insist upon a compensation for the ships of Sextus Octavius, together with their stores that Carthage seized and plundered during a time of truce when they were washed upon your shores by a storm. If you agree to such terms, I may have matter to lay before my counsel. But if these things appear oppressive, prepare for war, since you could not brook the terms of peace.”

Hannibal did not accept the terms, either because he did not approve of them or he believed that Carthage would reject them, and it became clear that there would be a battle in the following day or so.

There is also a story that Scipio encountered Hannibal during a diplomatic mission to Antiochus III during the run-up to the war between Rome and the Seleucid Kingdom. Spooked by his political enemies and perceived Roman intervention, Hannibal had fled Carthage and offered his services to Antiochus III. Scipio asked Hannibal who he thought were the greatest generals of all time.
“I would give first place to Alexander,” said Hannibal. “With a small force he defeated armies whose numbers were beyond reckoning. He overran the remotest areas, as far away as India, places where most men would not even dream of visiting.”

“And who would be second in your estimation.”

“I would give second place to Pyrrhus of Epirus. He was the first to master the art of military encampment, and no one other general showed such exquisite judgement in choosing his battle ground and disposing his troops. He was also skilled at conciliating people to such a degree that the natives of Italy preferred his rule to that of Rome.”

“And who would be third?”

He smiled. “Myself, of course.”

“But what would you have said if you had defeated me at Zama?”

“Then I would have placed myself not only before Alexander and Pyrrhus, but before all other commanders,” It was a sort of back-handed compliment to Scipio.

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