The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 2

Author: Scipio Africanus the Elder  | Date: 203 B.C.

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Scipio Africanus Major

To His Mutinous Troops1(203 B.C.)

I imagined that language would never fail me in which to address my army; not that I have ever accustomed myself to speaking rather than action, but because having been kept in a camp almost from my boyhood, I had become familiar with the dispositions of soldiers. But I am at a loss both for sentiments and expressions with which to address you, whom I know not even by what name I ought to call. Can I call you countrymen, who have revolted from your country? or soldiers, who have rejected the command and authority of your general, and violated the solemn obligation of your oath? Can I call you enemies? I recognize the persons, faces, dress, and mien of fellow countrymen but I perceive the actions, expressions, intentions, and feelings of enemies; for what have you wished and hoped for but what the Ilergetians and Lacetanians did. Yet they followed Mandonius and Indibilis, men of royal rank, who were the leaders of their mad project; you conferred the auspices and command upon the Umbrian, Atrius, and the Calenian, Albius. Deny, soldiers, that you were all concerned in this measure, or that you approved of it when taken. I shall willingly believe, when you disclaim it, that it was the folly and madness of a few. For the acts which have been committed are of such a nature that, if the whole army participated in them, they could not be expiated without atonements of tremendous magnitude. Upon these points, like wounds, I touch with reluctance; but unless touched and handled, they can not be cured. For my own part, I believed that, after the Carthaginians were expelled from Spain, there was not a place in the whole province where, or any persons to whom, my life was obnoxious; such was the manner in which I had conducted myself, not only toward my allies, but even toward my enemies.

But lo, even in my own camp, so much was I deceived in my opinion, the report of my death was not only readily believed, but anxiously waited for. Not that I wish to implicate you all in this enormity; for, be assured, if I supposed that the whole of my army desired my death, I would here immediately expire before your eyes; nor could I take any pleasure in a life which was odious to my countrymen and my soldiers. But every multitude is in its nature like the ocean, which, tho in itself incapable of motion, is excited by storms and winds. So, also, in yourselves there is calm and there are storms; but the cause and origin of your fury are entirely attributable to those who led you on; you have caught your madness by contagion.

Nay, even this day you do not appear to me to be aware to what a pitch of frenzy you have proceeded; what a heinous crime you have dared to commit against myself, your country, your parents, your children; against the gods, the witnesses of your oath; against the auspices under which you serve; against the laws of war, the discipline of your ancestors, and the majesty of the highest authority. With regard to myself, I say nothing. You may have believed the report of my death rather inconsiderately than eagerly. Lastly, suppose me to be such a man that it could not at all be a matter of astonishment that my army should be weary of my command; yet what had your country deserved of you, which you betrayed by making common cause with Mandonius and Indibilis? What the Roman people, when, taking the command from the tribunes appointed by their suffrages, you conferred it on private men? When, not content even with having them for tribunes, you, a Roman army, conferred the fasces of your general upon men who never had a slave under their command? Albius and Atrius had their tents in your general’s pavilion. With them the trumpet sounded, from them the word was taken; they sat upon the tribunal of Scipio, upon whom the lictor attended; for them the crowd was cleared away as they moved along, before them the fasces with the axes were carried. When showers of stones descend, lightnings are darted from the heavens, and animals give birth to monsters, you consider these things as prodigies. This is a prodigy which can be expiated by no victims, by no supplications, without the blood of those men who have dared to commit so great a crime.

Now, tho villainy is never guided by reason, yet, so far as it could exist in so nefarious a transaction, I would fain know what was your design. Formerly, a legion which was sent to garrison Rhegium wickedly put to the sword the principal inhabitants, and kept possession of that opulent city through a space of ten years; on account of which enormity the entire legion, consisting of four thousand men, were beheaded in the Forum at Rome. But they, in the first place, did not put themselves under the direction of Atrius the Umbrian, scarcely superior to a scullion, whose name even was ominous, but of Decius Jubellius, a military tribune; nor did they unite themselves with Pyrrhus, or with the Samnites or Lucanians, the enemies of the Roman people. But you made common cause with Mandonius and Indibilis, and intended also to have united your arms with them. They intended to have held Rhegium as a lasting settlement, as the Campanians held Capua, which they took from its ancient Tuscan inhabitants, and as the Mamertines held Messana in Sicily, without any design of commencing without provocation a war upon the Roman people or their allies. Was it your purpose to hold Sucro as a place of abode? here had I, your general, left you on my departure after the reduction of the province, you would have been justified in imploring the interference of gods and men, because you could not return to your wives and children.

But suppose that you banished from your minds all recollection of these, as you did of your country and myself; I would wish to track the course of a wicked design, but not of one utterly insane. While I was alive, and the rest of the army safe, with which in one day I took Carthage, with which I routed, put to flight, and expelled from Spain four generals and four armies of the Carthaginians; did you, I say, who were only eight thousand men,2 all of course of less worth than Albius and Atrius, to whom you subjected yourselves, hope to wrest the province of Spain out of the hands of the Roman people? I lay no stress upon my own name; I put it out of the question. Let it be supposed that I have not been injured by you in any respect beyond the ready credence of my death. What! if I were dead, was the state to expire with me? Was the empire of the Roman people to fall with me? Jupiter, most good and great, would not have permitted that the existence of the city, built, under the auspices and sanction of the gods, to last forever, should terminate with that of this frail and perishable body.

The Roman people have survived those many and distinguished generals who were all cut off in one war—Flaminius, Paulus, Gracchus, Posthumius, Albinus, Marcus Marcellus, Titus Quinctius Crispinus, Cneius Fulvius, my kinsmen the Scipios—and will survive a thousand others who may perish, some by the sword, others by disease; and would the Roman state have been buried with my single corpse? You yourselves, here in Spain, when your two generals, my father and my uncle, fell, chose Septimus Marcius as your general to oppose the Carthaginians, exulting on account of their recent victory. And thus I speak, on the supposition that Spain would have been without a leader. Would Marcus Silanus, who was sent into the province with the same power and the same command as myself, would Lucius Scipio, my brother, and Caius Llius, lieutenant-generals, have been wanting to avenge the majesty of the empire? Could the armies, the generals themselves, their dignity or their cause, be compared with one another? And even had you got the better of all these, would you bear arms in conjunction with the Carthaginians against your country, against your countrymen? Would you wish that Africa should rule Italy, and Carthage the city of Rome? If so, for what offense on the part of your country?

An unjust sentence of condemnation, and a miserable and undeserved banishment, formerly induced Coriolanus to go and fight against his country; he was restrained, however, by private duty from public parricide. What grief, what resentment instigated you? Was the delay of your pay for a few days, during the illness of your general, a reason of sufficient weight for you to declare war against your country? to revolt from the Roman people and join the Ilergetians? to leave no obligation, divine or human, unviolated? Without doubt, soldiers, you were mad; nor was the disease which seized my frame more violent than that with which your minds were affected. I shrink with horror from the relation of what men believed, what they hoped and wished. Let oblivion cover all these things, if possible; if not, however it be, let them be covered in silence. I must confess my speech must have appeared to you severe and harsh; but how much more harsh, think you, must your actions be than my words! Do you think it reasonable that I should suffer all the acts which you have committed, and that you should not bear with patience even to hear them mentioned? But you shall not be reproached even with these things any further. I could wish that you might as easily forget them as I shall. Therefore, as far as relates to the general body of you, if you repent of the error you have committed, I shall have received sufficient, and more than sufficient, atonement for it. Albius the Calenian, and Atrius the Umbrian, with the rest of the principal movers of this impious mutiny, shall expiate with their blood the crime they have perpetrated. To yourselves, if you have returned to a sound state of mind, the sight of their punishment ought not only to be not unpleasant, but even gratifying; for there are no persons to whom the measures they have taken are more hostile and injurious than to you.

1 Delivered at Sucro, in Spain, in 203 B.C.     Reported by Livy. Spillan and Edmonds translation.

2 This force had been placed on the Iberus (now the Ebro) to guard the settlements on its eastern shore against the Carthaginians.

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Chicago: Scipio Africanus the Elder, The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 2 in The World’s Famous Orations, ed. William Jennings Bryan (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1906), 23–31. Original Sources, accessed July 23, 2024,

MLA: Africanus the Elder, Scipio. The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 2, in The World’s Famous Orations, edited by William Jennings Bryan, Vol. 2, New York, Funk and Wagnalls, 1906, pp. 23–31. Original Sources. 23 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Africanus the Elder, S, The World’s Famous Orations, Vol 2. cited in 1906, The World’s Famous Orations, ed. , Funk and Wagnalls, New York, pp.23–31. Original Sources, retrieved 23 July 2024, from