Many years after their last battles had been fought, Hannibal Barca and Publius Cornelius Scipio came face to face in the neutral city of Ephesus, on the then Greek shore of what is today Turkey. The generals had long since proven too colossal for the mundane, day to day politics of their respective home towns – Carthage and Rome. The two greatest cities in the west were too small, even too human, for the near divine status of men that had decided the fates of entire nations and peoples during the Second Punic War.
At their meeting, the first since the decisive Battle of Zama a decade before, the old adversaries found that they got along very well, and there was much reminiscing and sharing of hitherto unknown information from both sides.
Near the close of the conversation, as they prepared to depart, Scipio asked Hannibal whom he thought the greatest general in history to be. Hannibal replied that he would name Alexander of Macedon as the greatest, with Pyrrhus of Epirus second. Intrigued, Scipio asked who would come third. Hannibal replied that he would put himself in that position.
Now bemused at being left out of the ranking, having defeated Hannibal himself, Scipio asked Hannibal where he would rank if he had won the day at Zama. Hannibal replied decisively that had he defeated Scipio that day, he would then put himself in the first place, above either Alexander or Pyrrhus. Scipio took this as the compliment it was intended to be and they parted ways as friends.
In the understated and subtle way of the Carthaginians, much as he fought his battles and campaigns, Hannibal had paid Scipio the ultimate tribute, for he had made it clear that he held Scipio outside the normal run of military commanders and in another league entirely, even above Alexander the Great.
Throughout their lives, Hannibal and Scipio shared other similarities in addition to their youth, daring, and early prominence. Both of their fathers had made them swear a holy oath that they would never abandon the cause of their homeland to the advantage of its mortal enemy – Hannibal after the Carthaginian defeat in the First Punic War, and following the catastrophic defeats that Hannibal subsequently inflicted on the Romans at battles like Trebia, Lake Trasimene, and Cannae in the Second Punic War, Scipio swore a similar oath to his own father, who was then mortally wounded in battle with Carthaginian forces in Spain.
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