Polybius and Scipio Aemilianus

Polybius and Scipio Aemilianus

1797 engraving representing Scipio Aemilianus (left) before the ruins of Carthage in 146 BC in the company of his friend, Greek historian Polybius

The engraving from 1797 depicts Scipio Aemilianus, the Roman general who conquered Carthage in the Third Punic War, standing before the ruins of the city in 146 BC. He is accompanied by his friend and historian, Polybius, who is seen writing or taking notes in a book. The scene is meant to symbolize the triumph of Roman power over their archrival, Carthage, which had been a dominant force in the Western Mediterranean for centuries.

The image captures the close relationship between Scipio and Polybius, who was a trusted advisor to the general and wrote extensively about his military campaigns and political achievements.

Polybius’ only known surviving work, The Histories, is famed for documenting the rise of the Roman Republic from around 260 BC to 146 BC. Those historical events included Rome’s conquest of large parts of the Mediterranean, including Greece, Macedonia, Italy, Carthage (in North Africa), and Iberia.

Specifically, the work contains eyewitness accounts of the sack of Carthage in 146 BC and the subsequent annexation of its territories by Rome, which marked a turning point in the balance of power in the Mediterranean world.

The engraving reflects the profound impact of these events on Roman culture and identity, as well as the role of historical memory in shaping political and military narratives. It also highlights the significance of friendship and intellectual exchange in the life of Scipio and his circle of advisors, who helped to shape the course of Roman history during a critical period of transformation and expansion.