It is a widely acknowledged fact that the Roman Empire has had fantastic influences on our modern everyday lives, from plumbing, to civil law, to the Corinthian columns which embellish and support our stately edifices. Less appreciated is the little-known Roman war general, Scipio Africanus, without whom we would not be heirs to the magnificent Greek and Roman legacies as we know them today.
During his lifetime, Scipio was widely known for his militaristic excellence, which reached its peak when he defeated Hannibal in the Second Punic War and thereby saved the Roman Empire from the invading Carthaginians. Born Publius Cornelius Scipio in 236 BC, he was honored with the title “Africanus” for his victory in Africa. It is hard to overemphasize his role in saving Rome, as the outcome of the Second Punic War decided not only the fate of the Roman Empire but that of Europe as well. Without Scipio prevailing over Hannibal’s elephants at the Battle of Zama, Carthage would have wiped out Rome and become the main power of the Mediterranean. Though his troops and the general public piously adored him, during his consulship, Africanus was unable to avoid making a handful of political enemies as every powerful Roman was apt to do. The Latin Library comments on his twilight years,
He withdrew from Rome to Liternum in Campania, where he lived simply, cultivating the fields with his own hands and living on a villa (country farm) of modest size: Seneca later contrasted its small and cold bathroom with the luxurious baths of his own day. He had not long to live, however; embittered and ill, he died in 184 or 183, a virtual exile from his country.
Following his passing, he achieved kleos apthiton as his memory burned on. Given Scipio’s redemptive military victories, many Romans believed he had been specially favored by the gods. Yet another reason that his popularity abounded was that he viewed his mission as a Roman general to protect and preserve the rich Greek culture. There remained sustained interest in his life, even through the early Renaissance.
The Gryphon Editions consultation has placed Scipio on our list of the 100 Most Influential People in the history of the world because he is singlehandedly responsible for preserving the Roman Empire and Greek culture. Even the historian Polybius referred to Scipio as, “almost the most famous man of all time.” This long forgotten war hero will have his song immortalized once again in our leather-bound biography, part of our 100 Most Influential People Library.