Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio (182/181–132 BC) was an important politician of the Roman Republic. A member of the great patrician gens Cornelia, he was the son of Scipio Nasica Corculum, the pontifex maximus and princeps senatus. As with many other Cornelii Scipiones, Serapio obtained several prominent offices; he notably succeeded his father as pontifex maximus in 141 BC, and became consul in 138 BC. A firm conservative, like his father and his cousin Scipio Aemilianus, he led the opposition to the tribune of the plebs Tiberius Gracchus, whom he finally murdered in 133 BC. However, he was sent to Asia by the senate to avoid his prosecution by Gracchus' supporters, and died in Pergamum soon after.
Not much is known about the early life of Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio. He was a member of the gens Cornelia and the son of Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum and his wife Cornelia Africana Major, daughter of Scipio Africanus. Scipio Nasica was born in 182 or 181 BC. Scipio Nasica Serapio was the third member of his family to bear the agnomen Nasica (pointed nose). He succeeded his father as Pontifex Maximus in 141 BC, possibly because of his illustrious family name and his father's great reputation.
It is likely that his branch of the gens Scipio had drifted away from the majority of the family, on account of politically opposing views towards the Third Punic War. Corculum was opposed to the invasion of Carthage, whereas Scipio Aemilianus actually led the siege of Carthage.
One important reference to Scipio Nasica’s participation in politics is as a mysterious “Cornelius” by the historian Appian. This “Cornelius” is credited with a great Roman defeat at the hands of the widely feared “Pannonians.” After some deduction, one can identify the leader of the Roman forces to be Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio, who in 141 BC was the praetor of Macedonia. Some debate would classify a more likely candidate for the terrible “Pannonians” to be actually from the region of Illyria, just south of Pannonia proper.
In the same year, Scipio Nasica would be awarded the title of Pontifex Maximus, inheriting it from his father who had just died. In 138 BC, Nasica would be elected to the office of consul, part of a series of “strong men” to rectify the recent bouts of unrest and defeats abroad. During his consulship, Scipio Nasica would attempt to avenge his own defeat as praetor; in doing so, he attempted to raise harsh levies on the Romans. Discontent with his demands, opposition would rise against him under the leadership of probably Nasica’s greatest political rival, the tribune Curiatius. Curiatius had Nasica arrested on the grounds of withholding the legal privileges of the tribunes against the levy. While in custody, Nasica was given the name “Serapio” as an insult, referring to the shape of his nose.
Scipio Nasica’s next major political involvement would be that in the murder of Tiberius Gracchus. Gracchus rose to office at a time when the Roman Republic was bloated with the effects of extensive expansion abroad; a huge influx of slave labor and foreign wealth, a change in the function of agriculture and devaluation in the crop market were causing a massive domestic crisis, challenging the fundamental values of Roman culture (there is a debate over whether it was a grain crisis or a manpower crisis). Gracchus had taken the office of tribune and was passing laws of reform to help rectify this domestic crisis, though his legislation was empowering the plebs of Roman society. The majority of the Senate, who favored the patricians, felt threatened and aligned with Scipio Nasica and his cousin Scipio Aemilianus, who would lead the opposition against Gracchus. Nasica eventually became responsible for the assassination of Gracchus during elections in 133 BC. Scipio Nasica had gathered the senators to Gracchus’ bloody death claiming that the tribune desired to become king of Rome. To commit the assassination Scipio Nasica covered his head with the hood of his pontifex maximus robe, which possibly denoted the killing as a ritualized sacrifice for the good of Rome. After his assassination, Scipio led a witch hunt to eradicate any surviving supporters of Gracchus. Those who escaped the purge afterwards demanded that Scipio be held responsible for murder.
Eventually the prolonged conflict between political parties caught up with Nasica, and the Senate sent him away to Pergamon on a mission. This was unusual, as a Pontifex Maximus would never normally be sent away from Rome. He later died there, allegedly at the hands of some of Gracchus’ supporters.
Scipio Nasica Serapio was succeeded by his son of the same name, who became consul in 111 BC.
- Sumner, p. 60.
- Briscoe, John: 134.
- Morgan, M. Gwyn.: 183
- Scullard, H.H.: 62-63.
- Briscoe, John. "Supporters and Opponents of Tiberius Gracchus", The Journal of Roman Studies, 64 (1974): 125-135.
- Morgan, M. Gwyn. “Cornelius and the Pannonians”, Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 23 (1974): 183-216.
- Scullard, H.H. "Scipio Aemilianus and Roman Politics", Journal of Roman Studies, 50 (1960): 59-74.
- Sumner, G.V. (1973). The Orators in Cicero's Brutus: Prosopography and Chronology. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-5281-9.
Gn. Calpurnius Piso
M. Popillius Laenas
| Consul of Rome
With: D. Junius Brutus Callaicus
M. Aemilius Lepidus Porcina
G. Hostilius Mancinus
Scipio Nasica Corculum
| Pontifex maximus of Rome
Crassus Dives Mucianus