Scipio Africanus


Roman General
236-183 B.C.

Scipio Africanus Notes

Until the rise of Julius Caesar, Scipio Africanus was Rome's greatest general. His resume is impressive:

216 B.C.- Tribune at Battle of Cannae

213 B.C.- Aedile

210-206 B.C.- Commander of Roman forces in Spain

206 B.C.- Defeated Cathaginians at Battle of Ilipa

205 B.C.- Consul

202 B.C.- Defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama (ending the 2nd Punic War)

201 B.C.- Senate confers on him the name "Africanus" in Honor of his conquering of Africa

199 B.C.- Titular head of the Roman sensate and censor

190 B.C.- With brother Lucius Cornelius, victorious at Battle of Magnesia

Utilizing strict discipline and constant training, Scipio molded the Roman army into a finely tuned instrument capable of extending Rome's influence. Scipio himself, thrust into leadership in his mid-twenties is considered a master tactician and strategist who implemented bold and innovative military techniques.

The Battle of Zama in which he faced and defeated the great Carthaginian Hannibal is probably Scipio's greatest battlefield accomplishment. Hannibal amassed some 45,000 infantry soldiers and 3,000 cavalry and Scipio fielded an estimated 34,000 infantry soldiers and 9,000 cavalry. The following account of the battle is from the Encyclopedia of Military History by the Dupuy Brothers:

With the two armies drawn up in battle formation, Hannibal met Scipio in an indecisive parley; then the battle began. Scipio's army was in the usual three lines, but with the distances between lines increased, and the maniples in column, rather than in the usual checkerboard formation. This was to create lanes through which the Carthaginian elephants could be herded. Hannibal's infantry was also in three lines-- as early as Cannae he had begun to adopt much of the Roman formations and tactical system. But more than half of his infantry were raw recruits, the remainder being his Italian veterans and a few Ligurians and Gauls...[Hannibal] was particularly weak in cavalry, the arm on which he had depended in so many of his great victories. Consequently he was unable to employ his favorite maneuvers.

The Carthaginian elephants attacked the legions, but were handled as Scipio had planned. At the same time the Roman and Numidian cavalry were driving Hannibal's horsemen off the field. The main infantry lines then clashed, and the Romans quickly disposed of the first two lines of Carthaginian infantry. The triari then advanced against Hannibal's reserve, but under his inspiring leadership the veterans stood fast. Just as the remainder of the Roman infantry joined the attack, Massinissa and the Numidians returned from their pursuit of the Carthaginian cavalry and struck the rear of Hannibal's line. This ended the battle. Hannibal and a few survivors fled to Carthage. Left on the field were 20,000 Carthaginian dead and 15,000 prisoners. The Romans lost about 1,500 soldiers with another 4,000 wounded.

The Battle of Zama marked the end of the Second Punic War. Scipio returned to Rome a hero. As fate would have it, Scipio and his family later fell into some disfavor and he retired to his home in Liternum outside of Rome.

In ranking him 35th on the list of 100 most influential military leaders Michael Lanning writes:

Scipio was a bold, dynamic leader who demanded the respect and discipline of his men and earned their devotion and loyalty. In a time of fairly straightforward warfare, Scipio elevated the concept of maneuver warfare in organizing and deploying Roman cavalry to conduct flanking attacks and assaults into the enemy's rear area.


R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History. New York: Harper & Row. 1970.

Michael Lee Lanning, The Military 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Military Leaders of All Time. Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group. 1996.


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Scipio Africanus 1998 Cosmic Player Plate
Published: November 25, 1997
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