Scipio Africanus: The Defeat of Hannibal (1937)





Director:     Carmine Galleone.

Starring:     Annibale Ninchi (Publius Cornelius Scipio),  Camillo Pilotto (Hannibal),  Fosco Giachetti (Captain Massinissa),  Francesca Braggiotti (Queen Sophonisba),  Marcello Giorda (King Syphace),  Guglielmo Barnabbr (Furius, fat Roman),  Isa Miranda (Velia, a Roman woman),  Memo Benassi (Cato),  Franco Coop (Mezio, Roman soldier),  Ciro Galvani (Quinto Fabio Massimo),  Carlo Lombardi (Lucio),  Marcello Spada (Arunte),  Piero Carnabuci (Il Reduce della Battaglia),  Carlo Ninchi (Lelius),  Lamberto Picasso (Hasdrubal, advisor to Hannibal).

Scipio Africanus defeats the famous Hannibal of Carthage in 202 BC. 


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"Toward the end of the third century, two great powers were struggling for mastery of the Mediterranean:  Rome and Carthage.  From the very beginning, the rivalry between the two nations became a dramatic life and death battle for both peoples concerned.  For decades the two hostile powers fought each other without mercy, in a long series of inconclusive battles, until at last it seemed that Carthage would win the final victory.  In fact, in the year 218 BC, Hannibal invaded the Italian peninsula from the Alps, with a vast army of men and elephants, leaving behind him a trail of death and destruction.  In vain Rome attempted to resist his unrelenting advance.  One by one, Rome's finest armies were destroyed in the Battles of Ticinus, Trebbia and the Lake of Trasimene.  The road to Rome lay open before Hannibal, and he settled in Italy as if he already owned it.  Making one last desperate effort, Rome assembled another army.  But on the second of August in the year 216 BC, fifty thousand Roman soldiers were massacred on the Plain of Cannae."

On the now quiet battlefield a shout goes out:  "Avenge the dead of Cannae!" 

The Roman senate is divided.  Scipio Africanus has just returned from Spain.  Cato says after that victory Scipio's vision is clouded.  It is said that Scipio wants to head on to Africa.  [Carthage was build near Tunis in today's Tunisia.]  Cato says he won't go:  "For Africa is only for those counsels who are entrusted to governing Sicily." 

A big crowd of Romans at the senate gives what is now regarded as the fascist salute with the right arm held at a 45 degree angle.  They are there to witness the arrival of Scipio. 

Scipio arrives at the senate and speaks of Carthage and Hannibal on the Italian peninsula.  He says the way to stop Hannibal on the Italian peninsula is to make an invasion of Africa.  He goes on to say that Carthage needs to be completely destroyed.  An opponent of the idea, Quintus Fabius Maximus, says that the plan is too audacious and it will take out most of the Roman army to invade Carthage.  That would leave them open to Hannibal and his forces.

Scipio says he will make the situation in Carthage so dire that Hannibal will have to return to Carthage. 

Since the senate is so divided, they will have a man draw lots.  The lot has the name of Sicily on it, so Scipio will govern Sicily and this will give him the authority to invade Carthage. 

The crowd outside goes wild for Scipio.  He walks through a sea of people giving the fascist salute. 

At home Scipio's wife takes off all her jewelry and puts it in a small box to donate to the cause of the invasion of Carthage.  She takes her baby in her arms and shows her to her husband.  She prays to the gods to  bring him back victorious and unharmed.   Scipio joins a group of men heading for the meeting area. 

When the baby girl is now about three years old, Carthaginian cavalry descends on Scipio's house.  They get off their horses and rush into the house.  They start pushing the Romans around.  Supplies are taken from the estate to feed the soldiers of Carthage.  They grab his wife and family to keep them as hostages.  The wife and her little girl are held in a fenced area.  A Carthaginian soldier looks over the women in the enclosure and grabs Velia, perhaps because of her fine earrings. 

On Sicily, the Roman army under Scipio marches out headed for the ships.  The peasants stop to watch them march by. 

In Italy Hannibal has his huge army, complete with elephants, ready to fight.  General Maharbale asks Hannibal what if Scipio lands in Africa and tries to take Carthage?  Hannibal says the man is too busy in Sicily trying to recruit men.    The general urges him to go back to Carthage because it is not equipped to stop a Roman army.  Hannibal refuses to return because he says he has to finish up his job of conquering all of Italy.  He says it's his destiny and he simply has to follow it. 

Hannibal asks a soldier what he is doing.  He says he was counting the years they have been in Italy and the number is 15.   Hannibal says those years were the best years of his life. 

Velia is taken in to see Hannibal.  She is very defiant and Hannibal says she is very bold to speak to him that way.  Velia says she is not afraid of him.  Hannibal is attracted to Velia and suddenly he grabs her, bends her down to the side and kisses her passionately.

The Romans start boarding their ships.  Cato comes to pay a visit to Scipio.  Standing above his army and navy Scipio asks for the blessings of the gods.

In Carthage there are rumors in the crowd about Rome attacking Carthage.  The Carthaginian council meets.  The senators want to summon Hannibal back from Italy.  Scipio is moving towards Utica.  They must go to the attack against Scipio very soon. 

A beautiful woman lounges on a couch.  Her husband the king of Numidia comes over to her and she tells him that all the other of Carthage's allies are siding with Carthage and she wants to know why he doesn't express his love for Carthage.

Scipio is warned that Carthage's allies are gathering together in one huge army.  The commander says that's all for the better.  This way they can all be defeated all at once. 

Scipio sends an envoy to King Syphace.  They inform the king that Scipio wants Syphace to be the mediator between Rome and Carthage.   Queen Sophonisba comes in to find out what the Romans want.  The king tells the Romans that he must consult with Hasdrubal before he can give the Romans an answer.  He asks the Roman envoys to wait. 

Scipio decides to march his men to the enemy camp of Syphace to arrive there around midnight.  The attack is a complete surprise.   Numidian Captain Massinissa battles against King Syphace.  The captain gets the better of the king and is going to kill the king, except another man stops this by saying that Scipio wants to see the king brought back alive. 

King Syphace is brought back in chains by the troops.  Scipio asks him what madness caused him to abandon their alliance with Rome to fight for Carthage?  The king points the finger at his queen saying that his decisions have been mad ones since he came under the influence of Queen Sophonisba.  Scipio says that nothing can stop the queen from meeting with her own end.  She begs Massinissa not to turn her over to the Romans.  She falls at his feet and then grabs a leg to hang on to.  She says for the love they once shared, she wants him to kill her himself and to be gentle about it. 

The Romans arrive and tell Massinissa that it will be the Romans who decide the fate of the queen.  He says he will give the woman over to the Romans but he wants to go with her to see Scipio.  The Roman commander says the decision of what to do will have to come from Scipio himself.  After the Romans leave, the queen asks what is he going to do?  He says he will take Sophonisba for his bride and Scipio will then certainly not kill her.  They hug and kiss. 

The Carthage council members start calling for a peace settlement with Rome.  Others want to summon Hannibal again and then decide what to do.  They will wait for Hannibal.  

The queen is brought to Scipio.  The Romans are impressed by her beauty.  Scipio learns that Massinissa took the queen and married her. 

Scipio speaks with Massinissa.  He tells the captain that he has fallen under the spell of the same woman as King Syphace fell under.  She doesn't care about either of the men, but only about her hatred for the Romans.  He asks Massinissa to renounce her. 

Massinissa sends poison to the queen.  The queen drinks the poison to avoid being handed over to the Romans. 

Hannibal wants to know if his brother Margo defeated the Romans in Spain?  Some soldiers are sent to Hannibal to tell him of the Roman victory.  Margo was killed.  Hannibal becomes despondent and says he will return to Carthage.  He adds:  "What else is there for me to do now?"

Velia goes to Hannibal's tent with a long knife.  She hears Hannibal saying that one's homeland is where the land is that a person had to fight for and cherish.  He says his homeland is really Italy.  This softens Velia's heart, she drops her knife on the floor and leaves. 

Hannibal and his men arrive back in Carthage.  His is greeted by some members of the council, but Hannibal tells them that it is they themselves who were the cause of their and his own misfortunes.  So he will attack when he wants to.  He adds that he will attack when and if it pleases him. 

Some Carthaginian spies are discovered by the Romans.  They tie them up and then plan to put them on the catapult to be thrown back to Hannibal.  But the men are stopped from doing this by an officer who tells them that all prisoners are to be sent to the council.  Scipio talks to the men and decides to let them go.  But first they will be given a tour of the Roman encampment, so that they can tell Hannibal about the strength of Scipio's army.  And, he adds, the Numidians will be joining forces with them this very day. 

The spies go back and tell Hannibal what happened.  Hannibal decides he wants to speak with Scipio directly.  So he sends an envoy to set up a place and time to meet. 

One of the Roman captives related to Velia tells her that they are planning an escape tonight.  And the small group of men do escape and make it to the Roman encampment.  Velia is still in Hannibal's encampment. 

Hannibal's envoy delivers the message to Scipio.  The two men meet on an open plain.  Each man has some men as back up.  Hannibal asks Scipio for peace.  He says Carthage will abandon all its colonies and lands in Europe and only keep the land and colonies that are on African soil.   Scipio says he doesn't owe the Carthaginians nor Hannibal himself anything.    Hannibal only left Rome to return to Carthage and fight.  He did this because he had to.  He goes on to tell Hannibal to prepare himself for war. 

Scipio gives his men a rousing talk before heading into battle.  It will be for them:  "Victory or Death!"  Hannibal does the same for his soldiers. 

The battle begins.  The Romans start throwing spear into the hides of the elephants and some of them are killed.  Other elephants are allowed to come through the lines of the enemy.   There they receive even more spears and sword thrusts.  Many of them are killed.  (A little difficult to watch these scenes.)

The Roman First Cavalry now charges.  They crash into the Carthaginian cavalry and fight it out.   The Roman swordsmen and lancers then go to the attack.  The Carthaginian cavalry retreats.  And now the two infantries meet in battle. 

Scipio sounds a retreat to be able to reorganize the units.  He also wants to attack the enemy from behind.  Velia is discovered by a relative Roman on the battlefield.  She passes out in his arms. 

The attacks begin anew.  Then the Roman cavalry hits the Carthaginians infantry from behind.  The end of the battle is a Roman victory.  Hannibal is defeated!

The news goes out:  Hannibal is defeated!  Carthage is destroyed!  Rome is saved.

Scipio is reunited with his family. 



For a fascist film in fascist Italy, the film seems to be pretty regular.  The subject of the film, a famous Roman victory over Carthage, was enough to arouse the patriotic and nationalistic pride of the Italian fascists and other sections of Italy too.  The only really outstanding scene was when the immense crowds were shown and all the people were giving what later became the fascist salute.  These scenes reminded me of some of the receptions of Hitler in Nazi Germany. Totally fanatic followers all mindlessly giving the fascist salute. 

This really was an epic movie as far as the size of the crowds and the battle scenes are concerned.  There were thousands of people in the crowds and thousands of soldiers in the battle scenes.  And none of them were computer-drawn. 

As for the rest of the movie, it was alright.  Nothing really special, but nothing really bad either.  So it's a film one can watch without too much of a guilty conscience. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



Historical Background:


235 B.C.  --  Scipio Africanus was born in Rome in the future Italy into the highly connected Cornelii family.

Scipio was present at the Battle of Ticinus (where it is said he saved his father's life). 

He was present at the Battle of Trebia.

He was present at the battle of Cannae. 

212 BC  --  Scipio was elected unanimously as a candidate for the Curule Aedileship.

211 BC   --  his father and uncle were both killed in battle against Hasdrubal Barca, the brother of Hannibal Barca.

210 BC  --   Scipio was unanimously elected to be commander of the new army to be sent to Hispania, then under Carthaginian control. 

210 BC  --  since the three Carthaginian generals did not or were not able to coordinate their efforts, Scipio was able to capture Carthage Nova (the center of Carthaginian power in Hispania).

209 BC  --  he won a battle against Hasdrubal at Baecula on the upper Guadalquivir.

206 BC  --  Scipio won a decisive victory over the Carthaginians at Ilipa (now Alcal del Ro, near Seville).  Hispania was then evacuated by the Punic commanders.

206   --  Scipio secured the Roman occupation of Hispania by the capture of Gades.  He then gave up his command and returned to Rome.

205  --  he was unanimously elected to the consulship and assigned the province of Sicily.  Scipio received many army volunteers and they trained in Sicily.  Hannibal was in the southwest toe of Italy.  Scipio received permission from Rome to undertake the expedition.

204  --  Scipio landed near Utica.  Forced to abandon the siege of Utica, he dug in on the shore between Utica and Carthage.

203  --  Scipio destroyed two combined armies of Carthaginians and Numidians (under Syphax). This enabled him to secure the siege of Utica. His two lieutenants, Laelius and Masinissa, pursued and ultimately dethroned Syphax.  Masinissa was crowned King of the Numidians.

Hannibal returned to Carthage to negotiate with Scipio, but suddenly Carthage prepared for war. Hannibal had 58,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry, to Scipio's 34,000 infantry and 8,700 cavalry.

202 (October 19)  --  Hannibal and Scipio fought each other on a plain between Carthage and Utica known as Zama.  The Romans were able strike fear into the elephants in Carthaginian charge in the center of their line and the Roman/Numidian cavalry was able to chase their Carthaginian counterpart from the field.  The two infantries were fighting to a stalemate, when the Roman/Numidian cavalry returned to the field in back of the Carthaginian infantry, and act which led to a Roman victory.  

Scipio was very generous to Hannibal and because of this Hannibal was allowed to become the civic leader of Carthage. Scipio was welcomed back to Rome with the new name of Scipio Africanus.  (He rejected any honors which may have even included Dictator for life.)

199 BC  --  Scipio was elected Censor and lived a quiet life for a while. 

193  --  he was one of the commissioners sent to Africa in an unsuccessful attempt to settle a dispute between Massinissa and the Carthaginians.

185  --  Africanus was accused of having been bribed by Antiochus III of Syria.  But he reminded the people that it was the anniversary of his victory at Zama and the public went wild with enthusiasm over him.  Scipio then retired to his country seat at Liternum on the coast of Campania.

183 BC  --  death of Scipio Africanus at Liternum.  




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