Mutiny of Scipio's troops in Spain (206 BC)

The brief mutiny of Roman forces at the garrison on the Sucro River in 206 was one of the few negative incidents from Scipio’s Spanish campaigns. Scipio fell ill, and command devolved to Marcius.

The mutiny had broken out following Scipio’s victory at Ilipa, when rumours spread that he had fallen ill, or, indeed, had died. The soldiers complained of having been deprived of plunder, and were also suffering from arrears of pay. Polybius treats the episode as a clinical example of how to deal with a mutiny, concluding with the statement (11.30.5) that “Scipio, by successfully eliminating a potentially great danger, restored his forces to their original discipline.” The emphasis of Polybius’ account is upon the fear which Scipio instilled in the mutineers, who are described as “smitten” by the commander’s authority. Livy’s account, though the same in substance, is quite different in spirit. Scipio’s speech (28.27-29) to the mutineers appeals, with warm personal feelings, to the soldiers’ loyalty to Rome, their sympathy for their general newly recovered from illness, and their gratitude for the forgiveness which he promises.

Both Dio and Appian reflect the negative appraisal of Scipio’s handling of the mutiny. From Dio we have a brief fragment (57.14) from Scipio’s speech to the mutineers, in which he harshly declares, “You all deserve to die. . .!” Though Polybius and Livy insist that only five ringleaders of the mutiny were actually executed, Dio (Zon. 9.10.8) describes an indignant reaction and disturbance among some of the rank and file and says that these, too, were promptly punished — according to Appian (Hisp. 36), actually executed. Furthermore, Dio (Zon. 9.10.5) suggests that Scipio used deceit in quelling the mutiny by sending a letter to the mutinous legion, “praising those who had accepted the leadership over them,” the very men who were subsequently scourged and beheaded. Dio’s criticisms of Scipio are of a similar nature as those proclaimed by Fabius during the investigation of Pleminius. Fabius alleged (Liv. 29.29.5) that in Spain Scipio had acted in the manner of a tyrant (regio more); that he was “by nature accustomed to corrupt his soldiers’ discipline and that almost more soldiers had been lost in the mutiny than by war.” Fabius’ criticism of Scipio’s handling of the mutiny is made almost in the same breath as his demand for the recall of Scipio from Sicily, and even though Dio’s account of the Pleminius affair makes mention (fr. 57.62) of this proposed recall, a similar recall appears to have been retrojected into his description of Scipio’s departure from Spain.