Battle of Ticinus - The Rescue of The Consul By His Son

The Rescue of The Consul By His Son

It was in this setting that the consul's 18-year-old son, the future Scipio Africanus, evidenced his first aptitude for the res militaris, military matters. Livy says only that he rescued his father, that Coelius Antipater, chronicler of the second Punic war, attributes the rescue to a Ligurian slave, but the general belief and opinion of most historians identifies the rescuer as the young Scipio.

Polybius reports that Gaius Laelius, a close friend of the young Scipio since boyhood, "narrated" (apparently in person) that his friend, "Having, it is likely, his 17th year" (age 16 if one does not count the birth year) and "having entered the field for the first time" (that is, on campaign or on expedition) and "his father having assigned to him a turma of top cavalrymen" (about 30 veterans) performed his first "remarkable exploit" in the "cavalry engagement" against Hannibal "in the vicinity of the Po." Seeing that his father was in danger with only two or three to defend him Scipio the younger "called upon those with him to go to the assistance of his father."

The words for "call upon" are unfortunately not clear; they could mean "to give a military order to" or just "to exhort." The interpretation of this passage to those outside the time and place is problematic. On the one hand it could portray the young Scipio as an honored guest of the consul roaming about the battlefield under the protection of a whole troop with nothing else to do but guard him. This is an unlikely scenario in the Roman Republic, which did not pamper the sons of generals. These sons were looking to get a start by occupying the lowest ranks of the military and the government. The interpretation most in keeping with the culture is that the young Scipio was under military discipline; he was in the army, and this was his first command as a junior officer.

When the troop failed to respond to the order, fearing, Polybius speculates, the large number of enemies around the consul, Scipio drove his horse into the enemy. The others "were forced to charge" and opened a path through the "frightened enemy" to the consul. They escorted him off the field, which would have been to the fort. The younger Scipio was subsequently publicly honored by the consul, which was the beginning of public confidence in him. According to Pliny, he was offered a civic crown before the men in camp at Piacenza but for some reason turned it down (see under Civic crown).

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