The World's Famous Orations/Volume 2/To His Army Before Battle

Reported by Livy.

4098482The World's Famous Orations (Volume 2: Rome) — To His Army Before BattlePublius Cornelius Scipio



(218 B.C.)

Born in — B.C., died in 212; defeated by Hannibal at the Ticino and the Trebia in 218 B.C.; destroyed the fleet of Carthage in 217, thus gaining for Rome the mastery of the sea; afterward gained other victories; finally defeated and slain in battle; father of the elder Scipio Africanus.

If, soldiers, I were leading out that army to battle which I had with me in Gaul, I should have thought it superfluous to address you; for of what use would it be to exhort either those horsemen who so gloriously vanquished the cavalry of the enemy at the river Rhone or those legions with whom, pursuing this very enemy flying before us, I obtained, in lieu of victory, a confession of superiority, shown by his retreat and refusal to fight? Now, because that army, levied for the province of Spain, maintains the war under my auspices, and the command of my brother Cneius Scipio, in the country where the senate and people of Rome wished him to serve; and since I, that you might have a consul for your leader against Hannibal and the Carthaginians, have offered myself voluntarily for this contest, few words are required to be addressed from a new commander to soldiers unacquainted with him. That you may not be ignorant of the nature of the war nor of the enemy, you have to fight, soldiers, with those whom in the former war you conquered both by land and sea; from whom you have exacted tribute for twenty years; from whom you hold Sicily andSardinia, taken as the prizes of victory.

In the present contest, you and they will have those feelings which are wont to belong to the victors and the vanquished. Nor are they now about to fight because they are daring, but because it is unavoidable; except you can believe that they who declined the engagement when their forces were entire should have now gained more confidence when two-thirds of their infantry and cavalry have been lost in the passage of the Alps, and when almost greater numbers have perished than survive. Yes, they are few indeed (some may say), but they are vigorous in mind and body, men whose strength and power scarce any force may withstand. On the contrary, they are but the resemblances—nay, are rather the shadows—of men, being worn out with hunger, cold, dirt, and filth, and bruised and enfeebled among stones and rocks. Besides all this, their joints are frost-bitten, their sinews stiffened with the snow, their limbs withered up by the frost, their armor battered and shivered, their horses lame and powerless. With such cavalry, with such infantry, you have to fight: you will not have enemies in reality, but rather their last remains. And I fear nothing more than that when you have fought Hannibal the Alps may appear to have conquered him. But perhaps it was fitting that the gods themselves should, without any human aid, commence and carry forward a war with a leader and a people that violate the faith of treaties; and that we, who nest to the gods have been injured, should finish the contest thus commenced and nearly completed.

I do not fear lest any one should think that I say this ostentatiously for the sake of encouraging you, while in my own mind I am differently affected. I was at liberty to go with my army into Spain, my own province, for which I had already set out; where I should have had a brother as the sharer of my councils and my dangers, and Hasdrubal instead of Hannibal for my antagonist, and without question a less laborious war: nevertheless, as I sailed along the coast of Gaul, having landed on hearing of this enemy, and having sent forward the cavalry, I moved my camp to the Rhone. In a battle of cavalry, with which part of my forces was afforded the opportunity of engaging, I routed the enemy; and because I could not overtake by land his army of infantry, which was rapidly hurried away, as if in flight, having returned to the ships with all the speed I could, after compassing such an extent of sea and land, I have met him at the foot of the Alps. Whether do I appear, while declining the contest, to have fallen in unexpectedly with this dreaded foe, or to encounter him in his track? to challenge him, and drag him out to decide the contest?

I am anxious to try whether the earth has suddenly, in these twenty years, sent forth a new race of Carthaginians, or whether these are the same who fought at the islands Ægates, and whom you permitted to depart from Eryx, valued at eighteen denarii a head; and whether this Hannibal be, as he himself gives out, the rival of the expeditions of Hercules, or one left by his father the tributary and taxed subject and slave of the Roman people; who, did not his guilt at Saguntum[2] drive him to frenzy, would certainly reflect, if not upon his conquered country, at least on his family, and his father, and the treaties written by the hand of Hamilcar; who, at the command of our consul, withdrew the garrison from Eryx; who, indignant and grieving, submitted to the harsh conditions imposed on the conquered Carthaginians; who agreed to depart from Sicily, and pay tribute to the Roman people.

I would have you fight, not only with that spirit with which you are wont to encounter other enemies, but with a certain indignation and resentment, as if you saw your slaves suddenly taking up arms against you. We might have killed them when shut up in Eryx by hunger, the most dreadful of human tortures; we might have carried over our victorious fleet to Africa, and in a few days have destroyed Carthage without any opposition. We granted pardon to their prayers; we released them from the blockade; we made peace with them when conquered; and we afterward considered them under our protection when they were oppressed by the African war. In return for these benefits, they come under the conduct of a furious youth to attack our country. And I wish that the contest on your side was for glory, and not for safety; it is not about the possession of Sicily and Sardinia, concerning which the dispute was formerly, but for Italy, that you must fight; not is there another army behind, which if we should not conquer, can resist the enemy; nor are there other Alps, during the passage of which fresh forces may be procured: here, soldiers, we must make our stand, as if we fought before the walls of Rome. Let every one consider that he defends with his arms not only his own person, but his wife and young children: nor let him only entertain domestic cares and anxieties, but at the same time let him revolve in his mind that the senate and people of Rome now anxiously regard our efforts; and that according as our strength and valor shall be, such henceforward will be the fortune of that city and of the Roman empire.[3]

  1. Delivered on the eve of Ticino, fought near the present Vercelli in north Italy in 218 B.C. Reported by Livy. Spillan and Edmonds translation.
  2. A city in Spain in alliance with Rome. In violation of a treaty, Hannibal had laid siege to it and, after eight months, captured it.
  3. It was in the battle of Ticino that danger to the life of Scipio, as Livy says, was "warded off by the interposition of his son, then just arriving at the age of puberty"—the youth being "the same to whom the glory of finishing this war belongs, and to whom the name of Africanus was given, on account of his splendid victory over Hannibal and the Carthaginians."