Laelius, lee'le-us, (Caius,) surnamed Nepos, an eminent
Roman general. He had a high command under
Scipio Africanus in the expedition against Spain in 210
B.C. In 205 he gained a victory over Syphax in Africa,
for which he received a crown of gold. He was elected
praetor in 197, and consul in 190. His notes furnished
Polybius with materials for his history of Scipio's campaigns
Gaius Laelius, general and statesman, was a friend of Scipio Africanus, whom he accompanied on his Iberian campaign (210 BC - 206 BC;
the Roman Hispania, comprising modern Spain and Portugal). His command of the Roman fleet in the attack on New Carthage and command of
the Roman-Numidian cavalry at Zama contributed to Scipio's victories.
According to some Roman historians, including Polybius (Book 10), Laelius was a friend of Scipio from childhood; however, his family
background is obscure. Livy suggested that he was not from a rich family, since he wanted command of the campaign against Antiochus
the Great in 190 BC to repair his family fortunes.
Polybius suggests that Laelius was a companion of Scipio from their earliest days in the army together, since Laelius was apparently a
witness of Scipio's rescue of his father in a skirmish that was probably the Battle of Ticinus in late 218 BC.
Laelius certainly accompanied Scipio on various expeditions from 210 BC to 201 BC but received no official position from the Senate
until about 202 BC when he was finally made quaestor. This lack of recognition may have been due to his relatively low social status
and/or family's lack of wealth and political influence.
Military career: Laelius in Hispania (210 BC-206 BC) -
In the Iberian campaign lasting from 210 BC to about 206 BC, Laelius was a loyal second-in-command; the only man to whom Scipio
confided his plans to take Iberia. He commanded the fleet of thirty ships in the assault on Cartagena (New Carthage) in 209 BC.
Laelius was in charge of some important hostages after the capture of New Carthage, and he was dispatched, along with those hostages,
by Scipio to Rome in a quinquereme with the news of this important victory. The Senate gave Laelius further orders for Scipio, which
Laelius conveyed back to Scipio while the troops were still in their winter quarters at Tarraco. The time was therefore around early
According to Polybius, Laelius then commanded the left wing of the army, attacking Hasdrubal's right wing, at the Battle of Baecula
(Bailen) in 208 BC, where Scipio inflicted a costly defeat on Hasdrubal who then retreated to northern Iberia and Italy. The next few
years were spent fighting off Mago and the Carthaginian fleet, with the Carthaginians finally withdrawing in 206 BC.
The Romans were also troubled by rebellions among the soldiers and insurrections among the local tribes from about 207 BC when Scipio
fell ill. Laelius's role during these insurrections is not clear as to whether he attempted to put down the rebellions and
insurrections, or was absent. Livy refers to two other Roman commanders Silanus and Lucius Cornelius Scipio (younger brother of
Scipio) defeating insurgents in Hispania. Nor is Laelius's role clear in the decisive Battle of Ilipa (206 BC) is not clear.
Laelius in Africa (204-202 BC) -
In Scipio's consulship year (205 BC), Laelius went with him to his designated province Sicily, whence he conducted an expedition or
raid to Africa while Scipio was readying his troops and supplies for a full-scale invasion. The purpose of this expedition was to
detach two Carthaginian allies - the Berber (or Massaesylian) prince Syphax and the Numidian prince Massinissa - from their
commitments, both believed to be on the verge of revolt against their Carthaginian overlords. Both princes were apparently won over,
but Syphax broke his alliance with Scipio, and joined the Carthaginians when he was offered a marriage alliance with a famous
Carthaginian beauty. Subsequently, Syphax drove his bride's former fiance, Massinissa, who remained loyal to Scipio, out of his own
In about 204 BC, Scipio was ready to invade Africa. After several skirmishes, in which Scipio and Laelius set fire to the Carthaginian
camp  the Romans nevertheless failed to detach Syphax from his marital and political alliance with the Carthaginians; nor, was a
complete victory possible over the Carthaginian army, with Scipio fearing for his fleet.
Finally, in 203 BC, Laelius defeated the Massaesylian prince Syphax, Laelius captured the city of Cirta at this time, and took Syphax
alive. He then conducted to Rome the captured prince and his son Vermina and some other leading men.
At Zama (202), Laelius rendered considerable service in command of the cavalry, which was again placed originally on the left wing
with Massinissa on the right wing; without the cavalry to intervene at a crucial time and falling upon the Carthaginians from the
rear, Scipio may well have been defeated. Laelius was finally made quaestor only after the decisive victory in 202 BC, which was
his first public office.
Political career -
In 197 he was plebeian aedile and in 196 BC praetor of Sicily, both times apparently with the aid of his former commander and old
friend. Scipio's influence however did not serve to win Laelius the consulship in 192 BC. Finally, in 190, he was elected consul
along with Scipio's younger brother Scipio Asiaticus but failed to win the campaign against Antiochus III the Great which would have
enrichened him. One version has Laelius himself nobly offering the Senate the choice instead of the traditional drawing of lots to
decide the allocation of provinces. When his friend Scipio Africanus announced that, if his brother Lucius was chosen to lead the
campaign against Antiochus, he would accompany his brother as a legate, the decision was inevitable - Lucius would be preferred.
Laelius's decision, if this version is correct, was a triumph of friendship, but not for his personal finances.
He was given Gaul as his province, and was employed in organizing the recently conquered territory in Cisalpine Gaul. Placentia and
Cremona were repopulated.
Further history -
Laelius's wife is not known, but circa 188 BC, he fathered a legitimate son who would become consul in 140 BC - Gaius Laelius Sapiens.
Like other superannuated Roman generals, Laelius later served on embassies to King Perseus of Macedon (174-173 BC) and to Transalpine
Gaul (170 BC).
It was also in 160 BC, when the aged Laelius (probably then in his mid-seventies) met the author Polybius in Rome during his last
years, and gave him much first-hand information about Scipio Africanus. Polybius was a client of Scipio's brother-in-law Aemilius
Paullus (who died suddenly in the same year 160 BC), and became a friend to both his sons, notably Scipio Aemilianus (Africanus's
Laelius appears to have died some years after 160 BC, but his year of death is not mentioned by Livy nor by Polybius.