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Mary Macgregor

Scipio Sails to Africa

It was not usual to award a triumph to a Roman citizen who had been neither a prætor nor a Consul.

Yet it may be that when Scipio returned to Italy in 206 b.c. he hoped to receive this honour, for he had served the State loyally and successfully.

The people clamoured for the honour to be given to their favourite. So the Senate assembled in the temple of Bellona, which stood outside the walls of the city, to meet Scipio, and hear what he had accomplished in Spain.

If a triumph was to be awarded to him, he must, as was the custom, stay without the city gates until he entered it to celebrate the great occasion.

It was a noble record to which the Senate listened. Scipio had fought with four generals and four armies, and had been victor in every battle and over each general. Nor was a single Carthaginian soldier left in Spain.

In spite of the splendour of his achievements a triumph was not decreed to the young soldier. Partly, perhaps, because among the senators were some who did not care to forsake old customs, while others did not wish to encourage so ambitious a youth as Scipio. They did not know to what his ambitions might lead, and they were afraid.

But although Scipio entered Rome as a private citizen, he did so with all the pomp and splendour that he could muster. And the people flocked around him, and cheered him, it may be, the more lustily that he had been denied the triumph which would have been his had he held the rank of Consul.

Soon after this the election of Consuls for the year 205 b.c. took place.

From far and near the people flocked to Rome, not only to vote, but to see the man who had driven the Carthaginians from Spain.

In spite of the opposition of the Senate, Scipio was one of the Consuls chosen. The Senate feared that he would now persist in his wish to carry on the Carthaginian war in Africa. They had already done their utmost to discourage this, his great ambition.

Still, as the colleague of Scipio had duties which would keep him in Rome, it was plain that if one Consul was sent to a foreign province that one must be Scipio.

Some of the senators hesitated to let the province be Africa. It seemed to them too great a risk to send an army to Africa while Hannibal was still in Italy. At the head of those opposed to Scipio was Fabius the Delayer, who was as cautious as of old.

To those who feared Hannibal's presence in Italy, Scipio explained, that to carry the war to Africa would be the quickest and surest way to get rid of the great general. For he would certainly be recalled to help in the defence of his own country. And in this, as you will hear, Scipio proved correct.

So determined was the new Consul to go to Africa that at length he declared that if the Senate refused to send him, he would appeal to the people in a popular Assembly.

With this threat, for such it really was, the Senate was indignant. It knew too well what the result of an appeal to the people would be.

After violent debates between Scipio's friends and those who were opposed to him, the Senate reluctantly gave the province of Sicily to the young Consul. And with Sicily he was given permission to cross into Africa, should he think "the best interests of the State demanded it."

The permission was shorn of all graciousness, for the Senate refused to allow Scipio to levy troops. Only the soldiers already serving in Sicily were put under his command.

But Scipio was not easily thwarted by difficulties. The Senate could not refuse to let him enrol volunteers. And no sooner was it known that the Consul wished for soldiers, than many flocked to his standard. For to fight under so brave and gallant a captain as Scipio was an adventure all good soldiers welcomed.

A year was spent in Sicily, where Scipio trained his volunteers. In the spring of 204 b.c. his ambition was fulfilled, for he set sail for Africa.

In his fleet the Consul had four hundred transports and forty warships, while his army was said by some to consist of twelve thousand five hundred men, by others, to reach any number within thirty-five thousand.

The fleet had assembled at the seaport town of Lilybæum, and the citizens were full of interest and excitement at the novel sight.

A great crowd gathered in the harbour in the early morning of the day fixed for the departure of the fleet. Then as a herald commanded silence, a sudden hush fell upon the people while the Consul offered a solemn prayer to all the gods and goddesses of Rome, beseeching them to grant him "protection, victory, spoils, and a happy . . . return, after inflicting on the Carthaginian people all those evils with which they had threatened the Commonwealth of Rome."

When the prayer ended, trumpets sounded, and the fleet sailed away amid the cheers of the onlookers.

The Carthaginians knew that Scipio was sailing to their country with an army, yet they sent no fleet to stay his course. Unhindered by the enemy, undelayed by any storm, Scipio landed on the coast of Africa at the Fair Promontory, close to the port of Utica.