S,A,4T,3Bar,2B; chorus; children's chorus
The prologue is set in the Roman camp outside Numancia, in ancient Spain. The Roman leader Scipio upbraids his soldiers for their weakness: they have laid siege to the city unsuccessfully for ten years. Two emissaries from Numancia, Theogenes and Morander, come to offer the Romans an honourable peace, but are refused. The main scene takes place in the city square of Numancia, where the male citizens learn of the refusal with grim fortitude. The body of a dead warrior is brought in. They begin an offering to Jupiter but the omens are not propitious. A sacrifice is prepared, but at the sound of thunder it disappears, and instead the dead warrior rises to warn the city of its doom. All its menfolk, he tells them, will kill their wives and children before turning their swords upon themselves. Morander's plea for one last concerted attack upon the Romans is countered by the pleas of the women, who call upon the men to save them from servitude and shame by taking their lives. A pyre is built and lit upon which the city's wealth is burned. War, Famine and Pestilence dance as the fire rages and the city's self-immolation begins. Among the last survivors, Theogenes and his family prepare to die. The cowardly Viriato, however, hides in a tower. The scene changes to the Roman camp, where speculation is rife as to the fate of the Numancians. Caius Marius climbs the city wall and shouts back the news that all are dead: Viriato, appearing at the top of his tower, is offered his life, but refuses, and hurls himself down.