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NIHIL NOVUM SUB SOLE

1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

The accounts of the great Publius Cornelius Scipio African Major

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Known and frequent is the expression "the accounts of the Great Captain " to refer to a lack of justification or outrageously ridiculous justification of expenditures .

It is based on the apocryphal story , perhaps real, perhaps possible and probably false , happened to Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba (Spanish Grand Capitán) when after the campaign of Naples that put  Italy practically available to the king of Aragon, Ferdinand the  Catholic asked accounts of the enormous expenses.  Some  verses ran soon  glossing  the proud  attitude  of the noble lord , because it was consistent with the Spanish character. The most famous verse of  a long litany of ironic or cocky explanations is :

in picks, shovels and hoes , one hundred million ...

en picos, palas y azadones, cien millones…

Well, in the war it thinks that  the important thing is to win , regardless of expense . There in the ancient world a story referred to the great Scipio Africanus, victorious  of Hannibal, not exactly coincident but with some resemblance .

Aulus Gellius tells us in his Noctes Atticae , lib . IV , 18.7 :

There is also another celebrated act of his. Certain Petilii, tribunes of the commons, influenced they say by Marcus Cato, Scipio's personal enemy, and instigated to appear against him, insisted most vigorously in the senate 2 on his rendering an account of the money of Antiochus and of the booty taken in that war; for he had been deputy to his brother Lucius Scipio Asiaticus, the commander in that campaign. Thereupon Scipio arose, and taking a roll from the fold of his toga, said that it contained an account of all the money and all the booty; that he had brought it to be publicly read and deposited in the treasury. “But that,” said he, “I shall not do now, nor will I so degrade myself.” And at once, before them all, he tore the roll across with his own hands and rent it into bits, indignant that an account of money taken in war should be required of him, to whose account the salvation of the Roman State and its power ought to be credited.  (An English Translation. John C. Rolfe. Cambridge. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann, Ltd. 1927.)

Item aliud est factum eius praeclarum. Petilii quidam tribuni plebis a M., ut aiunt, Catone, inimico Scipionis, comparati in eum atque inmissi, desiderabant in senatu instantissime ut pecuniae Antiochinae praedaeque in eo bello captae rationem redderet;  fuerat enim L. Scipioni Asiatico, fratri suo, imperatori in ea provincia legatus.  Ibi Scipio exsurgit et, prolato e sinu togae libro, rationes in eo scriptas esse dixit omnis pecuniae omnisque praedae;  illatum, ut palam recitaretur et ad aerarium deferretur.  “Sed enim id iam non faciam,” inquit, “nec me ipse afficiam contumelia,” eumque librum statim coram discidit suis manibus et concerpsit, aegre passus quod cui salus imperii ac reipublicae accepta ferri deberet rationem pecuniae praedatae posceretur.

Earlier, this Scipio showed his respect for the clear accounts. Around the year 204 BCE Africa was accompanied by Cato the Elder, Cato the Censor. The sumptuousness and cockiness of Scipio married wrong with frugality and rigidity of censor. Cato  asked to Scipio for accounts and he replied, as Plutarch says in  “Life of Cato the Elder, 3:

"Scipio answered (...) I did not need as severe quaestor, because of what he had to account to the town for their actions and not the money."

Cato returned to Rome and he favored an action in the Senate to send a delegation to investigate the costs of Scipio. The "investigation committee" found no evidence of waste general Scipio, who won battles.

Says the text of Plutarch

In the same spirit he did not hesitate to oppose the great Scipio, a youthful rival of Fabius, and thought to be envious of him. When he was sent out with Scipio as quaestor for the war in Africa,1 he saw that the man indulged in his wonted extravagance, and lavished money without stint upon his soldiery. He therefore made bold to tell him that the matter of expense was not the greatest evil to be complained of, but the fact that he was corrupting the native simplicity of his soldiers, who resorted to wanton pleasures when their pay exceeded their actual needs. Scipio replied that he had no use for a parsimonious quaestor when the winds were bearing him under full sail to the war; he owed the city an account of his achievements, not of its moneys. Cato therefore left Sicily, and joined Fabius in denouncing before the Senate Scipio's waste of enormous moneys, and his boyish addiction to palaestras and theatres, as though he were not commander of an army, but master of a festival. As a result of these attacks, tribunes were sent to bring Scipio back to Rome, if the charges against him should turn out to be true. Well then, Scipio convinced the tribunes that victory in war depended on the preparations made for it; showed that he could be agreeable in his intercourse with his friends when he had leisure for it, but was never led by his sociability to neglect matters of large and serious import; and sailed off for his war in Africa. Translation by. Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1914. 2.

Ratio et numeri cedant  armis” , "the (clear) accounts yield to arms" seems to be the behavior yesterday and today, judging by darkness and lack of transparency with which usually occur the "war exploits". This famous Scipio lived only 2220 years ago.

   
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