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This article is about Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, Pompey the Great, a Roman statesman. For other Romans named "Gnaeus Pompeius", see Gnaeus Pompeius. For other members of gens Pompeia, see Pompeia (gens). For other uses, see Pompey (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Pompeii (disambiguation).
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus
Pompey the Great in middle age, marble bust in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark
Consul of the Roman Republic
In office
52 BC – 51 BC
Serving with Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Nasica
Preceded by Marcus Valerius Messalla Rufus and Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus
Succeeded by Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Servius Sulpicius Rufus
In office
55 BC – 54 BC
Serving with Marcus Licinius Crassus
Preceded by Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus and Lucius Marcius Philippus
Succeeded by Appius Claudius Pulcher and Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus
Governor of the Hispania Ulterior
In office
58 BC – 55 BC
Consul of the Roman Republic
In office
70 BC – 69 BC
Serving with Marcus Licinius Crassus
Preceded by Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura and Gnaeus Aufidius Orestes
Succeeded by Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus and Quintus Hortensius
Personal details
Born September 29, 106 BC
Picenum (Italy), Roman Republic
Died September 28, 48 BC (aged 58)[1]
Pelusium, Ptolemaic Egypt
Political party Optimates
Spouse(s) Antistia (86 BC – 82 BC)
Aemilia Scaura (82 BC – 79 BC)
Mucia Tertia (79 BC – 61 BC)
Julia (59 BC – 54 BC)
Cornelia Metella (52 BC – 48 BC)
Children Gnaeus Pompeius
Pompeia Magna
Sextus Pompeius
Occupation Politician and military commander
Religion Roman paganism

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus[2] (Classical Latin: [ˈgnae̯.ʊs pɔmˈpɛj.jʊs ˈmaŋ.nʊs]; 29 September 106 BC – 28 September 48 BC),[1] usually known in English as Pompey /ˈpɒmp/ or Pompey the Great,[3] was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic. He came from a wealthy Italian provincial background, and his father had been the first to establish the family among the Roman nobility. Pompey's immense success as a general while still very young enabled him to advance directly to his first consulship without meeting the normal requirements for office. His success as a military commander in Sulla's Second Civil War resulted in Sulla bestowing the nickname Magnus, "the Great", upon him. He was consul three times and celebrated three triumphs.

In mid-60 BC, Pompey joined Marcus Licinius Crassus and Gaius Julius Caesar in the unofficial military-political alliance known as the First Triumvirate, which Pompey's marriage to Caesar's daughter Julia helped secure. After the deaths of Julia and Crassus, Pompey sided with the optimates, the conservative faction of the Roman Senate. Pompey and Caesar then contended for the leadership of the Roman state, leading to a civil war. When Pompey was defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, he sought refuge in Egypt, where he was assassinated. His career and defeat are significant in Rome's subsequent transformation from Republic to Empire.

Early life and political debut[edit]

Pompey's family first gained the position of Consul in 141 BC. Pompey's father, Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo, was a wealthy equestrian from Picenum (in south and north of the modern regions of the Marche and Abruzzo, in central Italy, on the Adriatic coast). He was a novus homo (new man). Pompeius Strabo ascended the traditional cursus honorum, becoming quaestor in 104 BC, praetor in 92 BC and consul in 89 BC He acquired a reputation for greed, political double-dealing and military ruthlessness. He fought Social War (90–88 BC) against Rome's Italian allies. He supported Sulla, who belonged to the optimates, the pro-aristocracy faction, against Marius, who belonged the populares (in favour of the people), in Sulla's first civil war (88-87 BC). He died during the siege of Rome by the Marians (the supporters of Marius) in 87 BC, either as a casualty of an epidemic,[4] or struck by lightning.[5] His twenty-year-old son Pompey inherited his estates, and the loyalty of his legions.

Roman statue of Pompey, at the Villa Arconati a Castellazzo di Bollate (Milan, Italy). It was brought there from Rome in 1627 by Galeazzo Arconati.

Pompey had served two years under his father's command, and had participated in the final part of the Social War. When his father died, Pompey was put on trial due to accusations that his father stole public property. As his father’s heir Pompey could be held to account. He discovered that this was committed by one of his father's freedmen. Following his preliminary bouts with his accuser, the judge took a liking to Pompey and offered his daughter, Antistia in marriage. Pompey was acquitted.[6]

Another civil war broke out between the Marians (the faction of Gaius Marius) and Sulla (Sulla's second civil war, (83-82 BC). The Marians took over Rome while Sulla was fighting the First Mithridatic War (89–85 BC against Mithridates VI of Pontus in Greece.[7] In 83 BC Sulla returned from that war he landed in Brundisium (Bridndisi) in southern Italy. Pompey raised three legions in Picenum to support him against the Marian regime of Gnaeus Papirius Carbo and Gaius Marius the Younger, joined him in his march on Rome and participated in the war to retake Rome. Cassius Dio described Pompey's troop levy as a "small band" [8]

Sulla defeated the Marians and Marius the Younger fled to Africa. Sulla, was appointed as Dictator. He admired Pompey's qualities and thought that he was useful for the administration of his affairs. He and his wife, Metella, persuaded Pompey to divorce Antistia and marry Sulla's stepdaughter Aemilia Scaura. Plutarch commented that the marriage was "characteristic of a tyranny, and benefitted the needs of Sulla rather than the nature and habits of Pompey, Aemilia being given to him in marriage when she was with child by another man." Antistia had recently lost both her parents. Pompey accepted, but "Aemilia had scarcely entered Pompey's house before she succumbed to the pains of childbirth." [9] Pompey later married Mucia Tertia. We have no record of when this took place. The sources only mentioned Pompey divorcing her. Plutarch wrote that Pompey dismissed a report that she had had an affair with contempt while he was fighting in the Third Mithridatic War between and 66 BC and 63 BC. However, on his journey back to Rome he examined this more carefully and filed for divorce.[10] Cicero wrote that the divorce was strongly approved.[11] Cassius Dio wrote that she was the sister of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer and that Metellus Celer was angry because he had divorced her despite of having had children by her.[12] Pompey and Mucia had three children: Gnaeus Pompey (Pompey the Younger) the eldest child, daughter Pompeia Magna, a daughter, and Sextus Pompey, the younger son. Cassius Dio wrote that Marcus Scaurus was Sextus’ half-brother on his mother side. He was condemned to death, but later released for the sake of his mother Mucia.[13]

Sicily, Africa and Lepidus' rebellion[edit]

The survivors of the Marians, those who were exiled after they lost Rome and those who escaped Sulla's persecution of his opponents, were given refuge in Sicily by Marcus Perpenna Vento (a popularis, singular of populares)). Papirius Carbo had a fleet there and Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus had forced an entry into the Roman province of Africa. Sulla sent Pompey to Sicily with a large force. According to Plutarch Perpenna fled and left Sicily in his hands. Pompey recovered its cities. They had been treated harshly by Perpenna and Pompey treated them with kindness. Pompey "treated Carbo in his misfortunes with an unnatural insolence." He had Carbo taken in fetters to a tribunal he presided over and examined closely "to the distress and vexation of the audience." He then sentenced him to death. Pompey also treated Quintus Valerius 'with unnatural cruelty.' [14] His opponents dubbed him adulescens carnifex (adolescent butcher).[15] While Pompey was still in Sicily, Sulla sent him to the province of Africato fight Gnaeus Domitius who had assembled a large force there. When he got there 7,000 of the enemy forces went over to him. Domitius drew up for battle, but he was routed. Some cities surrendered and some were taken by storm. King Iarbas of Numidia, who was an ally of Domitius, was captured. Pompey restored Hiempsal II, invaded Numidia and subdued it in forty days. When he returned to Africa Sulla ordered him to send back the rest of his troops and remain there with one legion to wait for is successor. This turned the soldiers who remained against Sulla. Pompey said that he would kill himself rather than go against Sulla. When Pompey returned to Rome everybody was welcoming him. To outdo them, Sulla saluted him as Magnus (the Great) and ordered the others to give him this surname.[16]

Pompey asked for a triumph, but Sulla refused because the law allowed only a consul or a praetor to celebrate a triumph and said that if Pompey, who was even too young to be a senator, would do so he would make both Sulla's regime and his honour odious. Plutarch commented that Pompey "had scarcely grown a beard as yet." However, Sulla added that he would not oppose him if he refused to listen to him. Pompey replied that more worshiped the rising than the setting sun, implying that his power was on the increase, while Sulla's was on the wane. Sulla said twice: "Let him triumph!" Pompey tried to enter the city on a chariot drawn by four of the many elephants he had captured in Africa, but the city gate was too narrow and he changed over to his horses. His soldiers, who had not received as much of a share of the war booty as they expected threatened a mutiny, but Pompey said that he did not care and that he would rather give up his triumph. Pompey went ahead with his extra-legal triumph.[17] Sulla was annoyed, but did not want to hinder his career and kept quiet. However, in 79 BC when Pompey canvassed for Lepidus and succeed in making him a consul against Sulla's wishes, Sulla warned Pompey to watch out because he had made an adversary stronger than him. He left Pompey out in his will.[18]

Marcus Aemilius Lepidus tried to revive the fortunes of the populares, gathered its remnants and rebelled (Lepidus' Rebellion). In 78 BC He tried to prevent Sulla receiving a state funeral or his body being buried in the Campus Martius. However, Pompey opposed this and ensured Sulla's burial with honours. Pompey besieged a rebel force led by a Brutus at Mutina (Modena) in Gallia Cisalpina (in northern Italy). Lepidus went back to Rome with another force and demanded a second consulship. However, a letter from Pompey announced that he had brought the war to an end without a battle. Bututs surrendered and Plutarch wrote that it was not known whether Brutus had betrayed his army or whether his army had gone over to Pompey. Brutus was given an escort and retired to a town by the River Po. The next day Pompey sent a man to murder him. Pompey was blamed for this because he had written that Brutus had surrendered of his own accord and then wrote a second letter denouncing him after he had him murdered. Lepidus withdrew to Sardinia, where he fell ill and died, allegedly because he found out that his wife had had an affair.[19]

Sertorian War, Third Servile War and first consulship[edit]

Bust of Pompey in the Residenz, Munich

Sertorian War[edit]

Quintus Sertorius, a popularis, waged an effective guerrilla war against the officials of the Sullan regime in Hispania (Spain and Portugal) with the help of local tribes allied with him, particularly the Lusitanians and the Celtiberians in the Sertorian War (80 BC-72 BC). The guerrilla tactics of Sertorius had been wearing down Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, one of Sulla's commanders, for three years. Pompey asked to be sent to reinforce Metellus. He had not disbanded his soldiers as he was supposed to. When the consul Quintus Lutatius Catulus ordered him to disband them he remained under arms near the city with various excuses until he was ordered to do so by the senate on a motion of Lucius Philippus. A senator asked Philippus if he "thought it necessary to send Pompey out as proconsul. "No indeed!" said Philippus, "but as proconsuls," implying that both the consuls of that year were good for nothing." Therefore, Pompey was sent to Hispania.[20] Pompey's proconsular mandate was extra-legal. A proconsulship was the extension of the military command (but not the public office) of a consul. Pompey was not a consul and had never held public office. His career seems to have been driven by desire for military glory and disregard for traditional political constraints.[21]

On his way to Hispania, Pompey opened a new route through the Alps and subdued tribes which had rebelled in Gallia Narbonensis.[22][23] He remained in Hispania from 76 BC to 71 BC. Pompey's arrival gave the men of Caeculius Metellus new hope and led to some local tribes which were not tightly associated with Sertorius changing sides. According to Appian, as soon as Pompey arrived, Sertorius routed one of the legions of Pompey which had been sent out foraging. Pompey went to help the city of Lauron which Sertorius was besieging. He tried to prevent Sertorius from seizing a commanding hill, but the latter got there first. Still, Pompey felt that he was in a strong position and that the enemy was caught between the city and his troops. However, behind him there were 6,000 armed men Sertorius had left at the camp from which he had set out to seize the hill. Pompey realised this too late. He did not want to suffer the shame of withdrawing. However, he could only sit and watch the enemy seizing the city and burning it.[24]

In 75 BC Caecilius Metellus and Pompey advanced from the Pyrenees and Sertorius and Perpenna (another rebel commander) form Lusitania. Metellus defeated Perpenna. Pompey and Sertorius then hastily engaged in an indecisive battle by the River Sucro in order to fight before the arrival of Caecilius Metellus. Pompey wanted to fight alone and Sertorius wanted only one opponent. Sertorius defeated Afrianius, Pompey’s lieutenant, on the left wing. Pompey was having the better on the other wing. Sertorius intervened there, rallied his men, stopped their retreat and routed the other enemy wing. Pompey was seriously wounded in the thigh. However, while Sertorius left his right wing Afrianius routed this wing. The next day the two sides prepared for the continuation of the battle. However, Metellus approached and Sertorius withdrew as he often did as part of his guerrilla tactics. Soon after this Sertorius defeated Pompey near Seguntia. Pompey lost nearly 6,000 men and Sertorius half of that. Memmius, the most capable of Pompey's commanders, also fell. Metellus defeated Perpenna, who lost 5,000 men. According to Appian the next day Sertorius attacked his camp unexpectedly, but he withdrew because Pompey was approaching.[25] According to Plutarch, instead, there was a battle and Metellus was struck by a spear. His men rallied and pushed the enemy back. Sertorius withdrew to a mountain stronghold and repaired its walls to lure the Romans into a siege and sent officers to collect troops from other towns. He then made a sortie, passed through the enemy lines and joined his new force. He resumed his guerrilla tactics and cut off the enemy's supplies with widespread raids. Pirate tactics at sea disrupted maritime supplies. This forced the two Roman commanders to separate. Metellus went to Gaul. Pompey wintered among the Vaccaei and suffered shortages of supplies. When Pompey spent most of his private resources on the war he asked the senate for money, threatening to go back to Italy with his army if this was refused. The consuls Lucius Licinius Lucullus was canvassing for the command of the Third Mithridatic War. He feared that Pompey would leave the Sertorian War to take on the Mithridatic one. It was thought that this war would bring glory with little difficulty. Thus, he ensured that the money was sent to ensure that Pompey remained in Hispania.[26]

In 73 BC Rome sent two more legions to Hispania. Metellus and Pompey descended from the Pyrenees to the River Ebro. Sertorius and Perpenna advanced from Lusitania again. According to Plutarch many of the senators and other high ranking men who had joined Sertorius were jealous of their leader. This was encouraged by Perpenna who aspired to the chief command. They secretly sabotaged him and meted out severe punishments on the Hispanic allies, pretending that this was ordered by Sertorius. There were revolts in the towns which were further stirred up by these men. Sertorius killed some allies and sold other into slavery.[27] Appian wrote that many of Sertorius Roman soldiers defected to Metellus. Sertorius reacted with severe punishments and started using a bodyguard of Celtiberians instead of Romans. Moreover, the reproached his Roman soldiers for treachery. This aggrieved the soldiers because they felt that they were blamed for the desertion of other soldiers and because this was happening while they were serving under an enemy of the regime in Rome and therefore in a sense the were betraying their country through him. Moreover, the Celtiberians treated them with contempt as men under suspicion. These facts made Sertorius unpopular. They did not break with him because of he was the best commander. This situation gave an advantage to Metellus, who bought many towns allied to Sertorius under subjection. Pompey besieged to Palantia. Sertorius showed up and broke off the siege. Pompey set fire to the city walls and retreated to Metellus. Sertorius rebuilt the wall and then attacked his enemies who were encamped around the castle of Calagurris. They lost 3000 men. of them. In 72 BC there were only skirmishes. However, Metellus and Pompey advanced on several towns. Some of them defected and some were attacked. Appian wrote that Sertorius fell unto ‘habits of luxury,’ drinking and consorting with women. He was defeated continually. He became hot-tempered, suspicious and cruel in punishment. Perpenna begun to fear for his safety and conspired to murder Sertorius.[28] Plutarch, instead, thought that Perpenna was motivated by ambition. He had gone to Hispania with the remnants of the army of Lepidus in Sardinia and had wanted to fight this war independently to gain glory. He had joined Sertorius reluctantly because his troops wanted to do so when they heard that Pompey was coming to Hispania. He wanted to take over the supreme command.[29]

When Sertorius was murdered the formerly disaffected soldiers now grieved for the loss of their commander whose bravery had been their salvation and were angry with Perpenna. The native troops, especially the Lusitianians, who had given Sertorius the greatest support were angry, too. Perpenna responded with the carrot and the stick. He gave gifts, made promises and released some of the men Sertorius had imprisoned. He made threats to others and killed some men to strike terror. He secured the obedience of his troops, but not their true loyalty. Metellus left the fight against Perpenna to Pompey. The two skirmished for nine days. Then, as Perpenna did not think that his men would remain loyal for long, the two men fought a decisive battle. Pompey won against a poor commander and a disaffected army. Perpenna hid in a thicket and feared his troops more than the enemy. He was captured. Perpenna offered to produce letters which were sent to Sertorius by leading men in Rome who had invited Sertorius to Italy for seditious purposes. Pompey, fearing that this might lead to an even greater war, had Perpenna executed and burned the letters without even reading them.[30] Pompey remained in Hispania to quell the last disorders and settle affairs. He showed a talent for efficient organisation and fair administration in the conquered province. This extended his patronage throughout Hispania and into southern Gaul.[31] In 71 BC Pompey returned to Italy with his army.

Third Servile War[edit]

While Pompey was in Hispania the rebellion of the slaves led by Spartacus (the Third Servile War, 73–71 BC) broke out. Crassus was given eight legions and led the final phase of the war. He asked the senate to summon Lucullus and Pompey back from the Third Mithridatic War and Hispania respectively to provide reinforcements, "but he was sorry now that he had done so, and was eager to bring the war to an end before those generals came. He knew that the success would be ascribed to the one who came up with assistance, and not to himself." [32] The senate decided to send Pompey who had just returned from Hispania. On hearing this, Crassus hurried to engage in the decisive battle. He routed the rebels. On his arrival, Pompey cut to pieces 6,000 fugitives from the battle. Pompey wrote to the senate that Crassus had conquered the rebels in a pitched battle, but that he himself had extirpated the war entirely.[33]

First consulship[edit]

Pompey was granted a second triumph for his victory in Hispania which, again, was extra-legal. He was asked to stand for the consulship, even though he was only 35 and thus below the age of eligibility to the consulship, had not held any public office and had not climbed the cursus honorum (the progression from lower to higher offices). Livy noted that Pompey was made consul after a special senatorial decree, because he had not occupied the quaestorship and was an [equestrian] and did not have senatorial rank.[34] Plutarch wrote that "Crassus, the richest statesman of his time, the ablest speaker, and the greatest man, who looked down on Pompey and everybody else, had not the courage to sue for the consulship until he had asked the support of Pompey." Pompey accepted gladly. In the Life of Pompey Plutarch wrote that Pompey "had long wanted an opportunity of doing him some service and kindness ..." [35] In the Life of Crassus he wrote that Pompey "was desirous of having Crassus, in some way or other, always in debt to him for some favour." [36] Pompey promoted his candidature and said in a speech that he should be no less grateful to them for the colleague than for the office which he desired." [37]

Plutarch wrote that in Rome Pompey was looked at with both fear and great expectations. About half of people feared that he would not disband his army and that he would seize absolute power by arms and hand power to the Sullans. Pompey, instead, declared that he would disband his army after his triumph and then "there remained but one accusation for envious tongues to make, namely, that he devoted himself more to the people than to the senate..." [38] When Pompey and Crassus assumed office they did not remain friendly. In the Life of Crassus Plutarch wrote that the two men differed on almost every measure, and by their contentiousness rendered their consulship "barren politically and without achievement, except that Crassus made a great sacrifice in honour of Hercules and gave the people a great feast and an allowance of grain for three months".[39] Towards the end of their term of office, when the differences between the two men were increasing, a man declared that Jupiter told him, to "declare in public that you should not suffer your consuls to lay down their office until they become friends." The people called for a reconciliation. Pompey did not react, but Crassus "clasped him by the hand" and said that it was not humiliating for him to take the first step of goodwill.[40]

Neither Plutarch nor Suetonius [41] wrote that the acrimony between Pompey and Crassus stemmed for a contention for honours due to Pompey's claim about the defeat of Spartacus. Plutarch wrote that "Crassus, for all his self-approval, did not venture to ask for the major triumph, and it was thought ignoble and mean in him to celebrate even the minor triumph on foot, called the ovation (a minor victory celebration), for a servile war.[42] According to Appian, however, there was a contention for honours between the two men. This was a reference to the fact that Pompey claimed that he had ended the slave rebellion led by Spartacus, whereas in actual fact it was achieved by Crassus. In Appian's account there was no disbanding of armies. The two commanders refused to disband their armies and kept them stationed near the city. Neither wanted to be the first to do so. Each one offered an excuse. Pompey said that he was waiting the return of Metellus for his Spanish triumph; Crassus said that Pompey ought to dismiss his army first. Initially pleas from the people were of no avail, but eventually Crassus yielded and offered Pompey to shake hands.[43]

In the life of Pompey Plutarch stated that Pompey could be accused of devoting himself to the people than the senate. This was related to a measure regarding the plebeian tribunes, the representatives of the plebeians. In the constitutional reforms Sulla carried out after his second civil war he curbed the power of the plebeian tribunes. He revoked their power to veto the senatus consulta (the written advice of the senate on bills which was usually followed to the letter). He prohibited ex-tribunes from ever holding any other office. Ambitious young plebeians had sought election to this tribunate as a stepping stone for election to other offices and to climb up the cursus honorum. Therefore, the plebeian tribunate became a dead end for one's political career. Sulla was an optimate and thus a supporter of the aristocracy and the senate, the body which represented it. His reform strengthened the power of the senate and weakened the power of the plebeian tribunate, which had often challenged the power of the former in favour of the plebeians. He also limited the ability of the plebeian council (the assembly of the plebeians) to enact bills by reintroducing the senatus auctoritas, a pronouncement of the senate on bills which, if negative could invalidate it. Sulla hated the plebeian tribunate and saw it as a source of subversion which roused the "rabble" (the plebeians) against the aristocracy. These measures were unpopular among the plebeians, the majority of the population. Plutarch wrote that Pompey "had determined to restore the authority of the tribunate, which Sulla had overthrown, and to court the favour of the many and commented that "there was nothing on which the Roman people had more frantically set their affections, or for which they had a greater yearning, than to behold that office again." [44] Through the repeal of Sulla's measures against the plebeian tribunate Pompey gained the favour of the people.

In 'The Life of Crassus', Plutarch did not mention this repeal and, as mentioned above, he only wrote that Pompey and Crassus disagreed on everything and that as a result their consulship did not achieve anything. Yet, the restoration of tribunician powers was a highly significant measure and a turning point in the politics of the late Republic. This measure must have been opposed by the aristocracy and it would have been unlikely that it would have been passed if the two consuls had opposed each other. Crassus does not feature much in the writings of the ancient sources. Unfortunately, the books of Livy, which are the most detailed of the source, which cover this period have been lost. However, the Periochae, a short summary of Livy's work, records that "Marcus Crassus and Gnaeus Pompey were made consuls ... and reconstituted the tribunician powers." [45] Suetonius wrote that when Julius Caesar was a military tribune "he ardently supported the leaders in the attempt to re-establish the authority of the tribunes of the commons [the plebeians], the extent of which Sulla had curtailed.[46] The two leaders must obviously have been the two consuls, Crassus and Pompey.

Campaign against the pirates[edit]


Piracy in the Mediterranean became a large scale problem. A large network of pirates had joined together and coordinated operations over wide areas with large fleets. According to Cassius Dio, many years of war contributed to this. Many war fugitives joined them. Pirates were more difficult to catch or brake up than bandits. The pirates pillaged coastal fields and towns. Rome was affected through shortages of imports and in the supply of corn, but the Romans did not pay proper attention to the problem. They sent out fleets when ‘they were stirred by individual reports’ and these did not achieve anything. Cassius Dio wrote that these operations caused greater distress for Rome’s allies. It was thought that a war against the pirates would be big and expensive and that it was impossible to attack all the pirates at once or to drive them back everywhere. As not much was done against them, some towns were turned into pirate winter quarters and raids further inland were carried out. Many pirates settled on land in various places and relied on an informal networks of mutual assistance. Towns in Italy were also attacked, including Ostia, the port of Rome: ships were burnt and there was pillaging. The pirates seized important Romans and demanded large ransoms.[47]

Plutarch also linked the worsening of the piracy problem to war and did so in more specific terms. The Third Mithridatic War (73–63 BC) against king Mithridates VI of Pontus (in modern northern Turkey) played a part in giving the pirates boldness because piracy lent itself to Mithridates’ service. This suggested that Mithridates fostered piracy as a means to weaken the Romans. Plutarch also thought that with the civil wars in Rome the Romans left the sea unguarded, which gave the pirates the confidence to lay waste islands and coastal cities in addition to attacking ships at sea. Piracy spread from its original base in Cilicia (on the southern coast of modern Turkey). The pirates also seized and ransomed some towns. Men of distinction also got involved in piracy. Plutarch claimed that pirates had more than 1,000 ships, that they captured 400 towns and plundered temples in Greece and sanctuaries which were sacred and inviolable, listing fourteen of them. He cited the praetors Sextilius and Bellinus and the daughter of Antonius among the important Romans who were seized for a ransom. The pirates also mocked their captives if they were Romans. Piracy spread over the whole of the Mediterranean, making it unnavigable and closed to trade. This caused scarcity of provisions.[48]

Appian attributed the escalation of piracy to Mithridates plundering the Roman province of Asia extensively in 88 BC and the rest of the First Mithridatic War (89-85 BC). The destitute people who lost their livelihood became pirates. At first they scoured the sea with a few small boats. As the war dragged on they became more numerous and used larger ships. When the war ended piracy continued. They sailed in squadrons. The besieged towns or took them by storm and plundered them. The kidnapped rich people for a ransom. The ragged part of the Cilician coast became their main area for anchorage and encampment and the Crags of Cilicia (the promontory of Coracesium) became their main base. It also attracted men form Pamphylia, Pontus, Cyprus, Syria and elsewhere in the east. There quickly were tens of thousands of pirates and they dominated the whole Mediterranean. They defeated some Roman naval commanders. The sea became unsafe. This disrupted trade and some lands remained untilled. This led to food shortages and hunger in Rome. Eliminating such a scattered and large force with from no particular country and of an ‘intangible and lawless nature’ seemed a difficult task. In Appian’s opinion Lucius Licinius Murena and his successor Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus (78-74 BC) did not accomplish anything against them.[49]

Cilicia had been a haven for pirates for a long time. It was divided into two parts, Cilicia Trachaea (Rugged Cilicia), a mountain area in the west and Cilicia Pedias (flat Cilicia, in the east) by the Limonlu River. The first Roman campaign against the pirates was led by Marcus Antonius Orator in 102 BC. Parts of Cilicia Pedias became Roman territory. Only a small part of that area became a Roman province. Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus was given the command of to fight piracy in Cilicia in 78-74 BC. He won several naval victories off Cilicia and occupied the coasts of nearby Lycia and Pamphylia. He received his agnomen of Isaurus because he defeated the Isauri who lived in the core of the Taurus Mountains which bordered on Cilicia. He incorporated Isauria into the province of Cilicia Pedias. However, much of Cilicia Paedia belonged to the kingdom of Armenia. Cilicia Trachea was still under the control of the pirates.[50]

In 67 BC, three years after Pompey’s consulship, the plebeian tribune Aulus Gabinius proposed a law (Lex Gabinia) which provided for choosing "from among the ex-consuls a commander with full power against all the pirates." [51] He was to have dominion over the waters of entire Mediterranean and up to fifty miles inland for three years. He was to be empowered to pick fifteen lieutenants form the senate and assign specific areas to them. He was allowed to have 200 ships, levy as many soldiers and oarsmen as he needed and collect as much money from the tax collectors and the public treasuries as he wished. The use of treasury in the plural might suggest power to raise funds from treasures of the allied Mediterranean states as well.[52] Such sweeping powers were not a problem because Marcus Antonius Creticus had been given extraordinary powers to fight piracy in Crete in 74 BC which were comparable to those of the lex Gabinia and provided a precedent.[53] The optimates in the Senate remained suspicious and wary of Pompey. This seemed yet another extraordinary appointment.[54] Cassius Dio claimed that Gabinius "had either been prompted by Pompey or wished in any case to do him a favour … and … He did not directly utter Pompey's name, but it was easy to see that if once the populace should hear of any such proposition, they would choose him." [55] Plutarch described Gabinius as one of Pompey's intimates and claimed that he "drew up a law which gave him, not an admiralty, but an out-and‑out monarchy and irresponsible power over all men." [52] Cassius Dio wrote that Gabinius’ bill was supported by everybody except the senate, which preferred the ravages of pirates rather than giving Pompey such great powers. The senators nearly killed Pompey. This outraged the people who set upon the senators. They all run away, except for the consul Gaius Piso, who was arrested. Gabinius had him freed. The optimates tried to persuade the other nine plebeian tribunes to oppose the bill. Only two, Trebellius and Roscius, agreed, but they were unable to do so. Pompey tried to appear as he was forced to accept the command because of the jealousy that would be caused if he would lay claim to the post and the glory which came with it. Cassius Dio commented that Pompey was "always in the habit of pretending as far as possible not to desire the things he really wished." [56] Trebellius tried to speak against the bill, but was not allowed to speak. Gabinius postponed the vote and introduced a motion to remove him from the tribunate, which was passed. Roscius did not dare to speak, but suggested with a gesture that two commanders should be chosen. The people booed him loudly. The law was passed and the senate ratified it reluctantly.[57]

Plutarch did not mention Pompey being nearly killed. He gave details of the acrimony of the speeches against Pompey. One of the senators proposed that Pompey should be given a colleague. Only Caesar supported the law and in Plutarch’s view he did so not because he cared in the least for Pompey, but because from the outset he sought to ingratiate himself with the people and win their support." In his account the people did not attack the senators. Instead they shouted loudly. The assembly was dissolved. On the day of the vote Pompey withdrew to the countryside. The Lex Gabinia was passed. Pompey extracted further concessions and received 500 ships, 120,000 infantry, 5,00 cavalry and twenty-four lieutenants. With the prospect of a campaign against the pirates the prices of provisions fell. Pompey divided the sea and the coast into thirteen districts, each with a commander with his own forces.[58]

Appian gave the same number of infantry and cavalry, but the number of ships was 270. The lieutenants were twenty-five. He listed them and their areas of command as follows: Tiberius Nero and Manlius Torquatus: in command of Hispania and the Straits of Hercules (the Strait of Gibraltar; Marcus Pomponius: Gaul and Liguria; Africa, Sardinia, Corsica: Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus and Publius Atilius; Lucius Gellius Publicola and Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus: Italy; Plotius Varus and Terentius Varro: Sicily and the Adriatic Sea as far as Acarnania; Lucius Sisenna: the Peloponnese, Attica, Euboea, Thessaly, Macedon, and Boeotia (mainland Greece); Lucius Lollius: the Greek islands, the Aegean sea, and the Hellespont; Publius Piso: Bithynia (the west of the northern coast of modern Turkey), Thrace (eastern Bulgaria), the Propontis (the Sea of Marmara) and the mouth of the Euxine (the Black Sea); Quintus Caecilius Metellus Nepos Iunior: Lycia, Pamphylia (both on the south coast of modern Turkey), Cyprus, and Phoenicia (Lebanon). Pompey made a tour of the whole. He cleared the western Mediterranean in forty days, proceeded to Brundisium (Brindisi) and cleared the eastern Mediterranean in the same amount of time.[59]

In Plutarch's account, Pompey's scattered forces encompassed pirate fleet they came across and brought them to port. The pirates escaped to Cilicia. Pompey attacked Cilicia with his sixty best ships after that cleared the Tyrrhenian Sea, Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and the Libyan Sea in forty days with the help of his lieutenants. Meanwhile, the consul Piso sabotaged Pompey's equipment and discharged his crews. Pompey went to Rome. The markets in Rome now were well stocked with provisions again and the people acclaimed Pompey. Piso was nearly stripped of his consulship, but Pompey prevented Aulus Gabinius from proposing a bill to this effect. He set sail again and reached Athens. He then defeated the Cilician pirates off the promontory of Coracesium. He then besieged them and they surrendered together with the islands and towns they controlled. The latter were fortified and difficult to take by storm. Pompey seized many ships. He speared the lives of 20,000 pirates. He resettled some of them in the city of Soli, which had recently been devastated by Tigranes the Great, the king of Armenia. Most were resettled in Dyme in Achaea, Greece, which was underpopulated and had plenty of good land. Some pirates were received by the half-deserted cities of Cilicia. Pompey thought that they would abandon their old ways and be softened by a change of place and life, new customs and a gentler way of life. According to Plutarch, Pompey brought to an end all piracy in less than three months.[60] Cassius Dio’s account is brief and less detailed. He wrote that Pompey and his lieutenants patrolled ‘the whole stretch of sea that the pirates were troubling’ and that both his fleet and hid troops were irresistible both on sea and land. The leniency with which he treated the pirates was equally great and won over many pirates who went over to his side. Pompey also gave them land which was empty in underpopulated towns so that they would not resort to crime due to poverty. He mentioned that Soli was renamed Pompeiopolis.[61]

Metellus, a relative of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, with whom Pompey had fought in Hispania, had been sent to Crete which was the second source of piracy before Pompey assumed command. He hemmed in and killed many pirates and besieged the remnants. The Cretans called on Pompey to come to Crete claiming that it was under his jurisdiction. Pompey wrote to Metellus to urge him to stop the war and sent one of his lieutenants, Lucius Octavius. The latter entered the besieged strongholds and fought with the pirates. Metellus persisted, captured and punished the pirates, and sent Octavius away after insulting him in front of the army.

Pompey in the East: Third Mithridatic War, Syria and Judea[edit]

Pompey in the Temple of Jerusalem, by Jean Fouquet.

Third Mithridatic War[edit]

Main article: Third Mithridatic War

Lucius Licinius Lucullus was conducting the Third Mithridatic War (73–63 BC) against Mithridates VI the king of Pontus (on the eastern and central part of the north coast of Anatolia) and Tigranes the Great, the king of Armenia (in eastern Anatolia). He was successful in battle. However, the war was dragging on and he opened a new front. In Rome he was accused of protracting the war for ‘the love of power and wealth’ and of plundering royal palaces as if he had been sent, 'not to subdue the kings, but to strip them.’ Some of the soldiers were disgruntled and were incited by Publius Clodius Pulcher not to follow their commander. Commissioners were sent to investigate and the soldiers mocked Lucullus in front of the commission.[62] In 68 BC, the consul Quintus Marcius Rex was assigned Cilicia. He refused a request for his for aid from Lucullus because his soldiers refused to follow him to the front. According to Cassius Dio this was a pretext.[63] One of the consuls for 67 BC, Manius Acilius Glabrio, was appointed to succeed Lucullus. However, when Mithridates won back almost all his kingdom and caused havoc in Cappadocia, which was allied with Rome and which had been left undefended, he did not go to the front and delayed in Bithynia,[64]

Another plebeian tribune, Gaius Manilius, proposed the lex Manilia. It gave Pompey command of the forces and the areas of operation of Licinius Lucullus and in addition to this, Bithynia, which was held by Acilius Glabrio. It commissioned him to wage war on Mithridates and Tigranes. It allowed him to retain his naval force and his dominion over the sea granted by the lex Gabinia. Therefore, Phrygia, Lycaonia, Galatia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Upper Colchis, Pontus and Armenia as well as the forces of Lucullus were added to his command. Plutarch noted that this meant the placing of Roman supremacy entirely in the hands of one man. The optimates were unhappy about so much power being given to Pompey and saw this as the establishment of a tyranny. They agreed to oppose the law, but they were fearful of the mood of the people. Only Catullus spoke up. The law was passed.[65] The law was supported by Julius Caesar and justified by Cicero in Pro Lege Manilia [66] Former consuls also supported the law. Cicero mentioned Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus (consul in 72 BC), Gaius Cassius Longinus Varus (73 BC), Gaius Scribonius Curio (76 BC) and Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus (79 BC).[67] According to Cassius Dio, while this was happening, Pompey was preparing to sail to Crete to face Metellus Creticus (see campaign against the pirates).[68] Lucullus was incensed at the prospect of his replacement by Pompey. The outgoing commander and his replacement traded insults. Lucullus called Pompey a "vulture" who fed from the work of others. Lucullus was referring not merely to Pompey's new command against Mithridates, but also his claim to have finished the war against Spartacus.[69]

According to Cassius Dio, Pompey made friendly proposals to Mithridates to test this disposition. Mithridates tried to establish friendly relations with Phraates III, the king of Parthia. Pompey foresaw this, established a friendship with Phraates and persuaded him to invade the part of Armenia under Tigranes. Mithridates sent envoys to conclude a truce, but Pompey demanded that he lay down his arms and hand over the deserters. There was unrest among the scared deserters. They were joined by some of Mithridates' men who feared having to fight without them. The king held them in check with difficulty and had to pretend that he was testing Pompey. Pompey, who was in Galatia, prepared for war. Lucullus met him and claimed that the war was over and that there was no need for an expedition. He failed to dissuade Pompey and verbally abused him. Pompey ignored him, forbade the soldiers to obey Lucullus and marched to the front.[70]

Cassius Dio wrote that Mithridates kept withdrawing because his forces were inferior. Pompey entered Lesser Armenia, which was not under Tigranes' rule. Mithridates did the same. Mithridates encamped on a mountain which was difficult to attack. He sent down the cavalry for skirmishes, which caused a large number of desertions. Pompey moved his camp to a wooded area for protection. He set up a successful ambush. When Pompey was joined by more Roman forces Mithridates fled to the 'Armenia of Tigranes.' In Plutarch's version the location of the mountain is unspecified and Mithridates abandoned it because he thought that it had no water. Pompey took the mountain and had wells sunk. He then besieged Mithridates' camp for 45 days. However, Mithridates managed to escape with his best men. Pompey caught up with him by the River Euphrates, lined up for battle to prevent him from crossing the river and advanced at midnight. He wanted to just surround the enemy camp to prevent an escape in the darkness, but his officers convinced him it to charge. The Romans attacked with the moon at their back. This confused the enemy who, because of the shadows, thought that they were nearer. It gave the Roman charge an advantage. The enemy fled in panic and was cut down.[71][72]

In Cassius Dio this battle occurred when Mithridates entered a defile. The Romans hurled stones, arrows and javelins on the enemy, which was not in battle formation, from a height. When they run out of missiles they charged those on the outside and those in the centre were crushed together. Most were horsemen and archers and they could not respond in the darkness. When the moon rose it was behind the Romans and this created shadows, causing confusion for the enemy. Many were killed, but many, including Mithridates, fled. He tried to go to Tigranes. Plutarch wrote that Tigranes forbade him from coming and put reward on him. Cassius Dio did not mention a reward. He wrote that Tigranes arrested his envoys because he thought that Mithridates was responsible for a rebellion by his son. In both Plutarch and Cassius Dio Mithridates went to Colchis on the south-eastern shore of the Black Sea). Cassius Dio added that Pompey had sent a detachment to pursue him, but he outstripped them by crossing the River Phasis. He reached the Maeotis (the Sea of Azov which is connected to the north shore of the Black Sea) and stayed in the Cimmerian Bosporus. He had his son Machares, who ruled it and gone over to the Romans, killed and recovered that country. Meanwhile, Pompey set up a colony (settlement) for his soldiers at Nicopolitans in Cappadocia.[73][74]

In Plutarch's account Pompey was invited to invade Armenia by Tigranes’ son (also named Tigranes), who rebelled against his father. The two men received the submission of several towns. When they got close Artaxata (the capital) Tigranes, knowing Pompey’s leniency, surrendered and allowed a Roman garrison in his palace. He went to Pompey's camp. Pompey offered the restitution of the Armenian territories in Syria, Phoenicia, Cilicia, Galatia, and Sophene which Lucullus had taken. He demanded an indemnity and ruled that the son should be king of Sophene. Tigranes accepted. His son was not happy with the deal and remonstrated. He was put in chains and reserved for Pompey's triumph. Soon after this Phraates asked to be given the son in exchange for an agreement to set the River Euphrates as the boundary between Parthia and Rome. Pompey refused.[75] In the version of Cassius Dio the son of Tigranes fled to Phraates. He persuaded the latter, who had a treaty with Pompey, to invade Armenia and fight his father. They reached Artaxata. Tigranes fled to the mountains. Phraates went back to his land. Tigranes hit back and defeated his son. The younger Tigranes fled and at first wanted to go to Mithridates. However, since Mithridates had been defeated, he went over to the Romans and Pompey used him as a guide to advance into Armenia. When they reached Artaxata Tigranes (the father) surrendered the city and went voluntarily to Pompey’s camp. The next day Pompey heard the claims of father and son. He restored the hereditary domains of the father, but took the land he had invaded later (parts of Cappadocia, and Syria, as well as Phoenicia and Sophene) and demanded an indemnity. He assigned the son only Sophene. This was the area where the treasures were, and the son begun a dispute over them. He did not obtain satisfaction and planned to escape. Pompey put him in chains. The treasures went to the old king, who received far more money than had been agreed.[76]

Pompey then turned north. Plutarch and Cassius Dio provided different accounts of Pompey’s operations in the territories on the Caucasus Mountains and Colchis (on the southern shore of the Black Sea). He fought in Caucasian Iberia (inland and to the south of Colchis) and Caucasian Albania (or Arran, roughly corresponding with modern Azerbaijan). (See Pompey's Georgian campaign).

In Plutarch the Albanians at first granted Pompey free passage, but in the winter they advanced on the Romans who were celebrating the festival of the Saturnalia with 40,000 men. Pompey let them cross the river Cyrnus and then attacked them and routed them. Their king begged for mercy and Pompey pardoned him. He then marched on the Iberians, who were allies of Mithridates. He routed them, killing 9,000 of them and taking 10,000 prisoners. Then he invaded Colchis and reached Phasis on the Black Sea, where he was met by Servilius, the admiral of his Euxine (Black Sea) fleet. However, he encountered difficulties there and the Albanians revolted again. Pompey turned back. He had to cross a river whose banks had been fenced off, made a long march through a waterless area and defeated a force of 60,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry led by the king's brother which was badly armed. He pushed north again, but turned back south because he encountered a great number of snakes.[77]

In Cassius Dio, Pompey wintered near the River Cyrnus. Oroeses, the king of the Albanians, who lived beyond this river, attacked the Romans during the winter, partly to favour the younger Tigranes, who was a friend, and partly because he feared an invasion. He was defeated and Pompey agreed to his request for a truce even though he wanted to invade their country. He wanted to postpone the war until after the winter. In 65 BC Artoces, the king of the Iberians, who also feared an invasion, prepared to attack the Romans. Pompey learnt of this and invaded his territory, catching him unawares. He seized an impregnable frontier pass and got close to a fortress in the narrowest point of the River Cyrnus. Artoces had no chance to array his forces. He withdrew, crossed the river and burned the bridge. The fortress surrendered. When Pompey was about to cross the river Artoces sued for peace. However, he then fled to the river. Pompey pursued him, routed his forces and hunted down the fugitives. Artoces fled across the River Pelorus and made overtures, but Pompey would agree to terms only if he sent his children as hostages. Artoces delayed, but when the Romans crossed the Pelorus in the summer he handed over his children and concluded a treaty. Pompey moved on to Colchis and wanted to march to the Cimmerian Bosporus against Mithridates. However, he realised that he would have to confront unknown hostile tribes and that a sea journey would be difficult because of a lack of harbours. Therefore, he ordered his fleet to blockade Mithridates and turned on the Albanians. He went to Armenia first to catch them off guard and then crossed the River Cyrnus. He heard that Oroeses coming close and wanted to lead him into a conflict. He hid his infantry and got the cavalry to go ahead. When the cavalry was attacked by Oroeses it withdrew towards the infantry, which then engaged. It let the cavalry through its ranks. Some of the enemy forces, which were in hot pursuit, also ended up through their ranks and were killed. The rest was surrounded and routed. Pompey then overrun the country. Then he granted peace to the Albanians and concluded truces with other tribes on the northern side of the Caucasus.[78]

Pompey withdrew to Lesser Armenia. He sent a force under Afrianius against Phraates, who was plundering the subjects of Tigranes in Gordyene. Afrianius drove him out and pursued him as far as the area of Arbela, in northern Mesopotamia.[79] Cassius Dio gave more details. Phraates renewed the treaty with Pompey because of his success and because of the progress of his lieutenants. They were subduing Armenia and the adjacent part of Pontus and in the south Afrianius was advancing to the River Tigris; that is, towards Parthia. Pompey demanded the cession of Corduene, which Phraates was disputing with Tigranes and sent Afrianius there, who occupied it unopposed and handed it to Tigranes before receiving a reply from Phraates. Afrianius also returned to Syria through Mesopotamia (a Parthian area) contrary to the Roman-Parthian agreements. Pompey treated Phraates with contempt. Phraates sent envoys to complain about the suffered wrongs. In 64 BC, when he did not receive a conciliatory reply, Phraates attacked Tigranes, accompanied by the son of the latter. He lost a first battle, but won another. Tigranes asked Pompey for help. Phraates brought many charges against Tigranes and many insinuations against the Romans. Pompey did not help Tigranes, stopped being hostile to Phraates and sent three envoys to arbitrate the border dispute. Tigranes was angry about not receiving help. He and Phraates reconciled in order not to strengthen the position of the Romans.[80]

Stratonice, the fourth wife of Mithridates, surrendered Caenum, one of the most important fortresses of the king. Pompey also received gifts from the king of the Iberians. He then moved from Caenum to Amisus (modern Samsun, on the north coast of Anatolia). Pompey then decided to move south because it was too difficult to try to reach Mithridates in the Cimmerian Bosporus and thus he did not want to ‘wear out his own strength in a vain pursuit.’ He was content with preventing merchant ships reaching the Cimmerian Bosporus through his blockade and preferred other pursuits. He sent Afrianius to subdue the Arabs around the Amanus Mountains (in what was then on the coast of northern Syria). He went to Syria with his army. He annexed Syria because it had no legitimate kings. He spent most of his time settling disputes between cities and kings or sending envoys to do so. He gained prestige as much for his clemency as for his power. By being helpful to those who had dealings with him, he made them willing to put up with the rapacity of his friends and was thus able to hide this. The king of the Arabians at Petra (Aretas III of Nabataea) wanted to become a friend of Rome. Pompey marched towards Petra to confirm him. Pompey was criticised because this was seen as an evasion of the pursuit of Mithridates and was urged to turn against him. There were reports that Mithridates was preparing to march on Italy via the River Danube. Pompey was lucky because while he was encamped near Petra a messenger brought the news that Mithridates was dead. Pompey left Arabia and went to Amisus (Samsun), on the north coast of Anatolia.[81] Cassius Dio wrote that 'Pompey arbitrated disputes and managed other business for kings and potentates who came to him. He confirmed some in possession of their kingdoms, added to the principalities of others, and curtailed and humbled the excessive powers of a few.' He united Coele-Syria and Phoenicia (Lebanon), which had been ravaged by the Arabians and Tigranes.[82] Antiochus XIII Philadelphus (one of the last rulers of Syria) asked for them back to no avail. Pompey put them under Roman jurisdiction.[83]

Cassius Dio also mentioned that Mithridates planned to reach the River Danube and invade Italy. However, he was ageing and becoming weaker. As his position became weaker and that of the Romans stronger some of his associates became estranged. A massive earthquake destroyed many towns. There was a mutiny by the soldiers. Some of his sons were kidnapped and taken to Pompey. He became unpopular. Mithridates was mistrustful and had his wives and some of his remaining children killed. One of them, Pharnaces II, plotted against him. He won over both the men who were sent to arrest him and then the soldiers who were sent against him. in 64 BC he obtained the voluntary submission of Panticapaeum the city where Mithridates was staying. Mithridates tried to poison himself, but failed because he was immune due to taking ‘precautionary antidotes in large doses every day.’ He was killed by the rebels. Pharnaces embalmed his body and sent it to Pompey as proof of his surrender. He was granted the kingdom of Bosporus and listed as an ally.[84]


Syria had once been the heart of the vast Seleucid Empire run by the Seleucid dynasty. This empire became increasingly unstable after the death of Antiochus IV in 164 BC. There were continuous civil wars which made central authority weak. By 163 BC the Maccabean Revolt established the independence of Judea. The Parthians of Persia gained control of the Iranian Plateau. In 139 BC they defeated the Seleucid king Demetrius II, and took Babylon from the Seleucids. The following year they captured the king. His brother Antiochus VII gained the support of the Maccabees, regained the submission of the once vassal kingdoms of Cappadocia and Armenia, drove back the Parthians and retook Mesopotamia, Babylon, and Media. However, he was killed in battle and the Seleucids lost all of these gains. By 100 BC the Seleucid Empire was reduced to a few cites in western Syria. It was still riddled with king makers and civil wars. It survived only because none of its neighbours took it over. In 83 BC Tigranes the Great of Armenia invaded Syria invited by a civil war faction and virtually ended Seleucid rule. When Lucius Licinius Lucullus defeated Tigranes in the Third Mithridatic War in 69 BC a rump Seleucid kingdom was restored. However, civil war continued.

Pompey was concerned about political instability to the south of Armenia, both in Syria and in Judea. In Syria the Seleucid state was disintegrating. In Judea there was a civil war. We know about Pompey's actions in Syria and Judea through the work of Josephus, the ancient Jewish-Roman historian. In 65 BC Pompey sent two of his lieutenants, Metellus and Lollius, to Syria to take possession of Damascus. In 63 BC Pompey went to Damascus. He was met by ambassadors from Syria, Egypt and Judea. He undertook an expedition during which he destroyed Apameia and took over the country of Ptolemy Mennaeus. Ptolemy Mennaeus was the ruler of Calchis (Qinnasrin, in northern Syria) and Iturea (a region north of Galilee). He had extended his domain by war, took over areas of the coast of Phoenicia and threatened Damascus. The Itureans had seized Galilee from Judea in 103 BC.[85] He was hated in Syria, Phoenicia and Judea. However, Pompey let him off punishment in exchange for a large sum of money which he used to pay his soldiers. He then took Lysias (which was under a Jewish tyrant) Heliopolis (Baalbek, in eastern Lebanon) and Chalcis, crossed Anti-Lebanon Mountains, took Pella (in the River Jordan Rift Valley) and reached Damascus. This completed the takeover of Syria.[86]


A conflict between the brothers Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II over the succession to the Hasmonean throne begun in Judea in 69 BC. Aristobulus deposed Hyrcanus. Then Antipater the Idumaean became the adviser of weak-willed Hyrcanus and persuaded him to contend for the throne. He advised him to escape to Aretas III, the king of the Arabian Nabataean Kingdom. Hyrcanius promised Aretas that if he restored him to the throne he would give him back twelve cities his father had taken from him. Aretas besieged Aristobulus in the Temple in Jerusalem for eight months (66-65 BC). The people supported Hyrcanus and only the priests supported Aristobulus. Meanwhile, Pompey, who was fighting Tigranes the Great in Armenia, sent Marcus Aemilius Scaurus (who was a quaestor) to Syria. Since two of Pompey lieutenants, Metellus and Lollius, had already taken Damascus, Scaurus proceeded to Judea. The ambassadors of Aristobulus and Hyrcanus asked for his help. Both offered Scaurus bribes and promises. He sided with Aristobulus because he was rich and because it was easier to expel the Nabateans, who were not very warlike, than to capture Jerusalem. He ordered Aretas to leave and said that if he did not he would be an enemy of Rome. Aretas withdrew. Aristobulus gathered an army, pursued him and defeated him. Scaurus returned to Syria.[87]

When Pompey went to Syria he was visited by ambassadors from Syria and Egypt. Aristobulus sent him a very expensive golden vine. A little later, ambassadors from Hycranius and Aristobulus went to see him. The former claimed that first Aulus Gabinius and then Scaurus had taken bribes. Pompey decided to arbitrate the dispute later, at the beginning of spring, and marched to Damascus. There he heard the cases of Hyrcanius, Aristobulus and those who did not want a monarchy and wanted to return to the tradition of being under the high priest. Hyrcanius claimed that he was the rightful king as the elder brother and that he had been usurped. He accused Aristobulus of making incursions in nearby countries and being responsible for piracy at sea and that this caused a revolt. Aristobulus claimed that it was Hyrcanius’ indolence which caused him to be deposed and that he took power least others would seize it. Pompey reproached Aristobulus for his violence and told the men to wait for him. He would settle the matter after he had dealt with the Nabataeans. However, Aristobulus went to Judea. This angered Pompey who marched on Judea and went to the fortress of Alexandreium, where Aristobulus fled to.[88]

Aristobulus went to talk to Pompey and returned to the fortress three times to pretend he was complying to him. He intended to wear him down and prepare for war should he rule against him. When Pompey ordered him to surrender the fortress, Aristubulus did give it up, but he withdrew to Jerusalem and prepared for war. While Pompey was marching on Jerusalem he was informed about the death of Mithridates. Pompey encamped at Jericho. Aristobulus went to see him, promised to give him money and received him into Jerusalem. Pompey forgave him and sent Aulus Gabinius with soldiers to receive the money and the city. The soldiers of Aristobulus did not let them in. Pompey arrested Aristobulus and entered Jerusalem. The pro-Aristobulus faction went to the Temple and prepared for a siege. The rest of the inhabitants opened the city gates. Pompey sent in an army led by Piso and placed garrisons in the city and at the palace. The enemy refused to negotiate. Pompey built a wall around the area of the Temple and encamped inside this wall. However, the temple was well fortified and there was a deep valley around it. The Romans built a ramp and brought siege engines and battering rams from Tyre.[89]

Pompey took advantage of the enemy celebrating the Sabbath to deploy his battering rams. Jewish law did not allow the Jews to meddle with the enemy if they were not attacking them on the day of the Sabbath. Therefore, the defenders of the Temple did not counter the deployment of the battering rams by the Romans, which on the other days of the week they had successfully prevented. The next day the wall of the Temple was broken through and the soldiers went on the rampage.[90] According to Josephus 12,000 Jews fell. Josephus wrote: "no small enormities were committed about the temple itself, which, in former ages, had been inaccessible, and seen by none; for Pompey went into it, and not a few of those that were with him also, and saw all that which it was unlawful for any other men to see but only for the high priests. There were in that temple the golden table, the holy candlestick, and the pouring vessels, and a great quantity of spices; and besides these there were among the treasures two thousand talents of sacred money: yet did Pompey touch nothing of all this, on account of his regard to religion; and in this point also he acted in a manner that was worthy of his virtue." The next day he ordered the men in charge of the Tempe purify it and to bring offerings to god as Jewish law required. Pompey restored Hyrcanius to the high priesthood "both because he had been useful to him in other respects, and because he hindered the Jews in the country from giving Aristobulus any assistance in his war against him." [91]

Pompey returned the Syrian cities which had been conquered by the Jews to the jurisdiction of Syria, thus bringing Judea back to its original territory. He rebuilt the city of Garara and restored seven inland cities and four coastal ones to its inhabitants. He made Jerusalem a tributary of Rome and made Judea a satellite of Syria. He put Marcus Aemilius Scaurus in charge of Syria "as far as the river Euphrates and Egypt" with two Roman legions. According to Josephus Pompey then went to Cilicia, taking Aristobulus and his children with him, and after this he returned to Rome.[92] This contrasts with the account of Plutarch. The latter did not mention any action in Judea. He wrote that Pompey marched on Petra (the capital of the Kingdom of Nabataea) to confirm Aretas, who wanted to become a friend of Rome. It was while he was encamped near Petra that he was told that Mithridates was dead. He then left Arabia and went to Amisus (Samsun), in Pontus, on the north coast of Anatolia (see above).[93] Josephus did write that Pompey marched on Nabataea, but did not mention the reason for this. However, he also marched to Judea to deal with Aristubulus. He did not mention whether he actually reached Petra before turning to Judea. He learnt about the death of Mithridates when he was marching towards Jerusalem. When he competed matters in Judea he went to Cilicia instead of Amisus. Cassius Dio gave a brief account of Pompey's campaign in Judea and wrote that after this he went to Pontus, which fits with Plutarch writing that he went to Amisus.[94]

Josephus wrote that after his siege of the Temple in Jerusalem, Pompey gave the governorship of Syria (for 62 BC) as far as the River Euphrates and Egypt to Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, giving him two legions. Scaurus made an expedition against Petra, in Arabian Nabataea. He burned the settlements around it because it was difficult to gain access to it. His army suffered hunger. Hyrcanius ordered Antipater to supply corn and other provisions from Judea.[95] Josephus did not give an explanation of the actions of Scaurus. It probably had to do with the security of the Decapolis (see below). Josephus also wrote:

"Now the occasions of this misery which came upon Jerusalem were Hyrcanius and Aristobulus, by raising a sedition one against the other; for now we lost our liberty, and became subject to the Romans, and were deprived of that country which we had gained by our arms from the Syrians, and were compelled to restore it to the Syrians. Moreover, the Romans exacted of us, in a little time, above ten thousand talents; and the royal authority, which was a dignity formerly bestowed on those that were high priests, by the right of their family, became the property of private men." (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 14.4.77-78)

Pompey in the East[edit]

Pompey's settlements in the East[edit]

Pompey set out to liberate a number of Hellenised towns from their rulers. He joined seven towns east of the River Jordan which had been under the Hasmoneans of Judea, plus Damascus into a league. Philadelphia (today's Amman), which had been under Nabataea, also joined the league, which was called the Decapolis (Ten Cities). They were mostly in Transjordan (now part of Jordan) and around the east of the Sea of Galilee, part of which extended into Syria. It seems that Pompey joined the city-states to reinforce their status as liberated cities and as a means of preserving their sovereignty. He put them under the protection of the Roman province of Syria. Each city-state was autonomous. It is thought that it was not organised as a political unit and that the cities cooperated on economic and security matters. Josephus mentioned five of these cities as being taken away from the Hasmoneans and restored to its inhabitants (i.e., they were given self-government). He also mentioned cities in Judea and Samaria, Azotus (Ashdod), Jamneia (Yavne), Joppa (Jaffa), Dora (Tel Dor, now an archaeological site), Marissa (or Tel Maresha) and Samaria (now an archaeological site). He also mentioned Strato’s Tower (later called Caesarea Maritima), Arethusa (now replaced by Al-Rastan) in Syria, and the city of Gaza as being restored to its peoples. Two other towns near Gaza, Anthedon (now an archaeological site) and Raphia (Rafah) and another inland town Adora (Dura, near Hebron) were also restored.[96]

The liberation of the cities was symbolised by the adoption of the Pompeian era, which made it comparable to a new foundation. This calendar counted the years from 63 BC, the year when self-government started. Damascus continued to use the Seleucid era. A number of the cities in Judea and Galilee also adopted the Pompeian area. Several of the towns had been damaged during Hasmonean rule, but the damage was not extensive and reconstruction was completed by the time of the governorship in Syria of Aulus Gabinius in 57 BC. Gaza and Raphia adopted the Pompeian era when reconstruction was completed, in 61 BC and in 57 BC respectively. The town of Samaria adopted the appellation of Gabinian, presumably because reconstruction there was finished under the governorship of Gabinius. The towns also experienced repopulation. Some of the exiles returned home and probably new settlers for the nearby areas and Hellenized Syrians were sometimes brought in. A distinction between citizens of the polis and natives was restored. Jews were not counted as citizens because of religion. Jews were probably deported or saw their property confiscated in revenge and some Jews probably became tenants of Hellenized landowners. Such development increased the long-standing hostility between Jews and Hellenized people.[97]

Besides annexing Syria and turning Judea into a client kingdom and a satellite of Syria, Pompey annexed the coastal strip in the western part of the Kingdom of Pontus and merged it with Bithynia, turning both into the Roman province of Bithynia et Pontius. The kingdom of Bithynia had been bequeathed to Rome by its last king, Nicomedes IV in 74 BC. This had been the trigger of the outbreak of the Third Mithridatic War. During this war it was not formally annexed. The territories which had been conquered by Mithridates, apart for Lesser Armenia, became client states. The eastern coast and the interior of Pontus plus the Bosporan Kingdom became client kingdoms under Pharnaces II of Pontus, the son of Mithridates who had rebelled against his father and gone over to the Romans. Pompey installed Aristarchus as a dynast in the client kingdom of Colchis. He gave Lesser Armenia to Galatia under the Roman client king Deiotarus as a reward for his loyalty to Rome.

Pompey greatly expanded the province of Cilicia along the coast (adding Pamphylia to its west) and inland. He reorganized it into six parts: Cilicia Aspera, Cilicia Campestris, Pamphylia, Pisidia (north of Pamphylia), Isauria (east of Pisidia), Lycaconia (north of Cilicia Trachea) and the greater part of Phrygia (north of Pisidia and Isauria). He left Tarcondimotus I in control of Anazarbos and Mount Amanus, to the east of Cilicia Campestris. Tarcondimotus and is son and successor (Tarcondimotus II) were loyal allies of Rome.

Ancient Cilicia was divided into Cilicia Trachea (Rugged Cilicia, a rugged mountainous area along the Taurus Mountains in the west) and Cilicia Pedias (Flat Cilicia, in the east) by the River Limonlu. Cilicia had been made the military operational area of Marcus Antonius Orator for his 102 BC campaign against the pirates. A small part of Cilicia Pedias became Roman territory. It was made the military operational area for 78-74 BC the campaign of Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus. However, Cilicia was not actually part of this and he campaigned in eastern Lycia and Pamphylia. He incorporated the territories he subdued in those two areas in the province of Cilicia. Hoverer, Cilicia Trachea was still held by the Pirates and most of Cilicia Pedias belonged to Tigranes the Great of Armenia. This area of Anatolia came truly under Roman control after Pompey’s victories.

In 66 BC, following his 69-67 BC campaigns in Crete of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus Crete was annexed as a Roman province. Livy wrote: "Having subdued the Cretans, Quintus Metellus gave laws to their island, which had until then been independent." [98]

Return to Rome and third triumph[edit]

Pompey went back to Amisus (Samsun). Here he found many gifts from Pharnaces and many dead bodies of the royal family, including that of Mithridates. Pompey could not look at it and sent it to Sinope. He then travelled in greater pomp. On his way to Italy he went to Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. He decided to build a theatre in Rome modelled on that of this city. In Rhodes he listened to the sophist philosophers and gave them money. He also gave rewards to philosophers in Athens and gave the city money towards its restoration (it had been damaged by Lucius Cornelius Sulla during the First Mithridatic War). In Rome there were rumours that Pompey would march his army against the city and establish a monarchy. Crassus secretly left with his children and money. Plutarch thought that it was more likely he did this because he wanted to give credibility to the rumours rather than through genuine fear. However, Pompey disbanded his army when he landed in Italy. He was cheered by the inhabitants of the cities he passed on his way to Rome and many people joined him. Plutarch remarked that he arrived in Rome with such a large crowd that he would not have needed an army for a revolution.[99]

In the Senate Pompey was probably equally admired and feared. On the streets he was as popular as ever. His eastern victories earned him his third triumph. He celebrated it on his 45th birthday in 61 BC.[100] He waited for seven months after his return to Italy. Plutarch wrote that it surpassed all previous triumphs. It took place over an unprecedented two days. Much of what had been prepared would not find a place and would have been enough for another procession. Inscriptions were carried in front of the procession which indicated the nations he defeated (the Kingdom of Pontus, Armenia, Cappadocia, Paphlagonia, Media, Colchis, Caucasian Iberia, Caucasian Albania, Syria, Cilicia, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia, Judaea and Nabataea) and claimed that 900 cities, 1,000 strongholds. 800 pirate ships and 1,000 pirates were captured and that 39 cities were founded. Some also claimed that his conquests were adding 85 million drachmas to the 30 million drachmas of the public revenues from taxes [101] and that he brought 20,000 drachmas in silver and gold. The captives led in the triumph were the leaders of the pirates, the son of Tigranes the Great with his wife and daughter, a wife of Tigranes the Great, a sister and five children of Mithridates VI, Aristobulus II, the king of Commagene[verification needed] and Albanian and Iberian hostages.[102] Appian related that "Pompey himself was borne in a chariot studded with gems, wearing, it is said, the cloak of Alexander the Great, if anyone can believe that. It seems to have been found among the possessions of Mithridates that the inhabitants of Kos had received from Cleopatra VII of Egypt." [103] Pliny the Elder wrote that Pompey displayed "a chess-board made of two precious stones, three feet in width by two in length ... and remarked that his displays were ... more the triumph of luxury than the triumph of conquest" [104] Plutarch wrote: " that which most enhanced his glory and had never been the lot of any Roman before, was that he celebrated his third triumph over the third continent." [105] His triumphs were for victories in Africa, Hispania and Asia. Only Scipio Aemilianus had celebrated triumphs for victories in two continents (in Africa and Hispania). Cassius Dio wrote that Pompey displayed his "trophies beautifully decked out to represent each of his achievements, even the smallest; and after them all came one huge one, decked out in costly fashion and bearing an inscription stating that it was a trophy of the inhabited world." He also noted that he did not add any title to his name as he was happy with is appellation as Magnus (The Great) and that he did not contrive to receive any other honour.[106]

First Triumvirate[edit]

Main article: First Triumvirate

When Pompey returned to Rome for the Third Mithridatic War, he asked the Roman senate to ratify the acts of his settlements with the cities, kings and princes in the east en bloc. This was opposed by the senators, particularly the optimates, a conservative political faction which favoured the interests of the patricians (the aristocracy). They were suspicious of the power Pompey had acquired with the lex Gabinia and the lex Manilia and the popularity he gained with his military successes. They saw him as a threat to the supremacy of the senate and as a potential tyrant. In 60 BC the optimates also defeated a bill which provided for the distribution of land to farm to Pompey’s veterans and to the landless urban poor of Rome who relied on a grain dole distributed by the state to survive. The optimates obstructed the passage of this bill as that had done with previous bills of this kind. The consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer opposed the bill very effectively. The other consul, Afrianius, whose election had been sponsored by Pompey, was of no assistance. According to Cassius Dio he "understood how to dance better than to transact any business." [107] In the end, lacking the support of this Afrianius to counterbalance Metellus Celer, Pompey let the matter drop. [28] Thus, the Pompeian camp proved to be inadequate to respond the obstructionism of the optimates.[108]

When Julius Caesar returned to Rome form his governorship in Hispania towards the end of 60 BC Pompey and Caesar made an informal political alliance. Julius Caesar was a prominent popularis (plural of populares) politician who favoured land redistributions and a was a resolute man. He stood for election for one of the two consulships for 59 BC and could provide the kind of support needed for the land bill to be passed. Caesar also pursued a policy of conciliating Marcus Licinius Crassus and Pompey, who had been at variance politically.

Thus, Caesar brought into being this alliance between these three men, which historians call the First Triumvirate. Together these three men could break the resistance of the senate. Pompey’s political clout was based on his popularity as a military commander, the political patronage and the purchase of votes for his supporters or himself which his wealth could afford, and the support of his war veterans: "prestige, wealth, clients, and loyal, grateful veterans who could be readily mobilised - these were the opes which could guarantee [Pompey's] brand of [power]." [109] Crassus was a property speculator and the richest man in Rome. He had extensive patronage networks.

Caesar was elected. His colleague as consul was Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, whose electoral canvasing was funded by the optimate patricians because he was opposed to Caesar and his agrarian bill and they saw him as a check on Caesar. Caesar proposed an agrarian bill to the vote of the plebeian council and Pompey and Crassus publicly supported it. The bill was passed. Calpurnius Bibulus retired fom politics and Caesar had the acts of Pompey’s settlements in the east passed.[110][111][112][113] A law which made Caesar the governor of Gallia Cisalpina and Illyricum was also passed. When the governor of Gallia Transalpina died, Caesar was given that province as well. Caesar tied Pompey to himself by marrying him to his daughter Julia even though she was betrothed to another man.[114][115][116] He then left Rome to take on this governorships and got involved in his Gallic Wars, which lasted from 58 BC to 50 BC. Pompey and Caesar set Publius Clodius Pulcher against Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was an opponent of the triumvirate. Clodius managed to have Cicero exiled, but soon Pompey decided to have Cicero recalled to Rome because Clodius turned against him. A grateful Cicero stopped opposing Pompey.[117][118][119][120]

In 58 BC there were food shortages in Rome which caused popular unrest. Cicero persuaded the people to appoint Pompey as praefectus annonae (prefect of the provisions) in Italy and beyond for five years. This was a post which was instituted at times of severe grain shortages to supervise the grain supply. Clodius alleged that the scarcity of grain had been engineered to propose a law which boosted Pompey’s power, which had been decreasing. Both Plutarch and Cassius Dio thought that the law made Pompey ‘the master of all the land and sea under Roman possession’. Pompey sent agents and fiends to various places and sailed to Sardinia, Sicily and the Roman province of Africa (the breadbaskets of the Roman empire) to collect grain. He collected it in such abundance that the markets were filled and there was also enough to supply foreign peoples. Appian wrote that this success gave Pompey great reputation and power. Cassius Dio also wrote that Pompey faced some delays in the distribution of grain because many slaves had been freed prior to the distribution and Pompey wanted to take a census to ensure they received it in an orderly way.[121][122][123]

In 56 BC Caesar, who was fighting the Gallic Wars, crossed the Alps into Italy and wintered in Luca (Lucca, Tuscany). In the Life of Crassus, Plutarch wrote that Caesar met Pompey and Crassus and agreed that the two of them would stand for the consulship and that he would support them by sending soldiers to Rome to vote for them. They were then to secure the command of provinces and armies for themselves and confirm his provinces for a further five years. In the Life of Pompey, Plutarch added that Caesar also wrote letters to his friends and that the three men were aiming at making themselves the masters of the state.[124][125][126] Cassius Dio, who wrote the most detailed account of the period, did not mention the Luca conference. In his version, instead, Pompey and Crassus agreed to stand for the consulship between themselves as a counterpoise to Caesar. Pompey was annoyed about the increasing admiration of Caesar due to his success in the Gallic Wars. He felt that this was overshadowing his own exploits. He tried to persuade the consuls not to read his reports from Gaul and to send someone to relieve his command. He was unable to achieve anything through the consuls and felt that Caesar no longer needed him. He thought that he was in a precarious situation. He began to arm himself against Caesar and got closer to Crassus because he thought he could not challenge Caesar on his own. The two men decided to stand for the consulship so that they could be more than a match for Caesar. Once elected consuls, Pompey and Crassus got Gaius Trebonius, a plebeian tribune, to propose a measure which gave the province of Syria and the nearby lands to one of the consuls and the provinces of Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior to the other. They would hold the command there for five years. They could levy as many troops as they wanted and ‘make peace and war with whomsoever they pleased’. The supporters of Caesar were unhappy and therefore Crassus and Pompey extended Caesar's command in Gaul. According to Cassius Dio, this was for three years, not five.[127] In The Life of Pompey, Plutarch wrote the laws proposed by Trebonius were in accordance with the agreement made at Luca. They gave Caesar's command a second five-year term, assigned the Roman province of Syria and an expedition against Parthia to Crassus and gave Pompey the two provinces in Hispania (where there had recently been disturbances), the whole of Africa (presumably Plutarch meant Cyrenaica as well as the Roman province of Africa) and four legions. Pompey lent two of these legions to Caesar for his wars in Gaul at his request.[128] According to Appian Pompey lent Caesar only one legion. This was when two of Caesar's lieutenants, were defeated in Gaul by Ambiorix in 54 BC.[129]

From confrontation to civil war[edit]

In 54 BC Pompey was the only member of the triumvirate who was in Rome. Caesar continued his campaigns in Gaul and Crassus undertook his campaign against the Parthians. In September 54 BC, Julia, the daughter of Caesar and wife of Pompey, died while giving birth to a girl, who also died a few days later.[130][131] Plutarch wrote that Caesar felt that this was the end of his good relationship with Pompey. The news created factional discord and unrest in Rome as it was thought that the death brought the end of the ties between Caesar and Pompey. The campaign of Crassus against Parthia was disastrous. Shortly after the death of Julia Crassus died at the Battle of Carrhae (May 53 BC). This brought the first triumvirate to an end. Plutarch thought that fear of Crassus had led to Pompey and Caesar to be decent to each other and his death paved the way for the subsequent friction between these two men and the events which eventually led to civil war.[132] Florus wrote: "Caesar's power now inspired the envy of Pompey, while Pompey's eminence was offensive to Caesar; Pompey could not brook an equal or Caesar a superior." [133] Seneca wrote that with regard to Caesar, Pompey "would ill endure that anyone besides himself should become a great power in the state, and one who was likely to place a check upon his advancement, which he had regarded as onerous even when each gained by the other's rise: yet within three days' time he resumed his duties as general, and conquered his grief [for the death of his wife] as quickly as he was wont to conquer everything else." [134]

There was unrest and factional discord in Rome. Corruption was rampant. Everything was achieved through bribery. In the Life of Pompey Plutarch wrote that the plebeian tribune Lucilius proposed to elect Pompey dictator. Cato the Younger, who had been the fiercest opponent of the triumvirate opposed this. Lucilius came close to losing his tribunate. Despite all this, two consuls for the next year (53 BC) were elected as usual. In 53 BC three candidates stood for the consulship for 52 BC. Besides resorting to bribery, they promoted factional violence, which Plutarch saw as a civil war. There were renewed and stronger calls for a dictator. However, in the Live of Cato, Plutarch did not mention any calls for a dictator and instead he wrote that there were calls for Pompey to preside over the elections. Cato the Younger opposed this. In both versions the violence between the three factions continued and the elections could not be held. The optimates favoured entrusting Pompey with restoring order. Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, the former enemy of the triumvirate, proposed in the senate that Pompey should be elected as sole consul. Cato changed his mind and supported this on the ground that any government was better than no government. Pompey asked him to become his adviser and associate in governance. Cato replied that he would do so in a private capacity.[135]

Pompey married Cornelia, a daughter of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Nasica. Some people disliked this because Cornelia was much younger and she would have been a better match for his sons. There were also people who thought that Pompey gave priority to his wedding over dealing with the crisis in the city. Pompey was also seen as being partial in the conduct of some trials. He succeeded in restoring order and chose his father-in‑law as his colleague for the last five months of the year. Pompey was granted an extension of his command in his provinces in Hispania and was given an annual sum for the maintenance of his troops. Cato warned Pompey about Caesar’s manoeuvres to increase his power by using the money he made from the spoils of war to extend is patronage in Rome and urged him to counter Caesar. Pompey hesitated and Cato stood for the consulship in order to deprive Caesar of his military command and have him tried. However, he was not elected. The supporters of Caesar argued that Caesar deserved an extension of his command so that the fruit of his success would not be lost. There was a debate on this. Pompey showed goodwill towards Caesar. He claimed that he had letters from Caesar in which he said he wanted to be relieved of his command, but he said that he thought that he should be allowed to stand for the consulship in absentia. Cato opposed this and said that if Caesar wanted this he had to lay down his arms and become a private citizen. Pompey did not contest Cato's view. This gave rise to suspicions about his real feelings towards Caesar.[136]

Pompey was moving towards a power confrontation with Caesar and towards relying on the support of the senate and the optimates. The object of contention between the two men was the issue of the troops they both commanded. According to Plutarch the rift between Pompey and Cato became accentuated when Pompey fell seriously ill in Naples in 50 BC. When he recovered the people of Naples offered thanksgiving sacrifices. This celebration spread throughout Italy. He was feted in towns he travelled to on his way back to Rome. Plutarch wrote that this was said ‘to have done more than anything else to bring about [the subsequent civil] war. For while the public rejoicing was great, a spirit of arrogance came upon Pompey, which went beyond the calculations based upon facts, and, throwing to the winds [ ] caution ... he indulged himself in unlimited confidence and contempt for Caesar's power, feeling that he would need neither an armed force to oppose him nor any irksome labour of preparation, but that he would pull him down much more easily than he had raised him up".[137] This assessment is a bit exaggerated, especially with regard to the feeling of not needing an army. However, it is likely that the display of popular support made Pompey overconfident.

In 51 BC the consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus proposed to send a successor to take command of Caesar's provinces before his term of office had expired. Pompey said that Caesar’s command should come to an end on its expiration. In Appian’s opinion this was a pretence of fairness and good-will. Two bitter enemies of Caesar, Lucius Aemilius Lepidus Paulus and Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor (a cousin of the previous consul) were chosen as consuls for 50 BC. Curio, who was also a bitter enemy of Caesar, became one of the new plebeian tribunes. Caesar obtained the neutrality of Aemilius Paulus with a large sum of money and the help of Curio by paying off his debts. Claudius Marcellus Minor proposed sending a successor of Caesar. Paulus remained silent. Curio seconded the motion, but added that Pompey should also give up his provinces and armies to remove fear of conflict. This was opposed. Curio maintained his stance that both men should lay down their command because they were suspicious of each other and there would not be peace. The people praised him as the only politician who was willing to incur the enmity of both men for the good of Rome. Pompey promised to give up his governorship and armies and claimed that Caesar would do the same. According to Appian the aim of this was to create prejudice against Caesar, who did not seem likely to give up his command, and to have a successor for Caesar’s command appointed immediately, thus forcing his disbandment of his armies, while his laying down of his arms would remain just a promise. Curio exposed this and said that promises were not enough and that Pompey should lay down his command immediately and that Caesar should disarm after this because if Caesar would do so first, Pompey, was aiming at supreme power, would have no incentive to disarms. He also proposed that unless both obeyed, both should be declared public enemies and troops should be levied against them. The senate was suspicious of both men, but deemed Pompey to be less of a threat and hated Caesar because he had disregard the senate when he was consul. Some senators proposed that Caesar should disarm first. Curio maintained that Caesar was a counterbalance to Pompey’s power and that either Pompey should disarm first or both should to the same at the same time. The senate disagreed and he dismissed it without coming to a resolution.[138]

Despite this impasse, the senate did pass a decree that Caesar and Pompey should send a legion to Syria to defend it against the Parthians who had defeated Crassus. Pompey took advantage of this to recall the soldiers he had lent Caesar, Caesar gave them 250 drachmas and sent to Rome, together with a legion of his own. According to Appian Pompey had lent him one legion. According to Caesar it was two legions.[139] However, the Parthian threat to Syria did not materialise and the legions were sent to Capua. Pompey’s soldiers said that Caesar’s troops were worn out and longed to return home and would defect to Pompey as soon and they had crossed the Alps. Whether through ignorance or corruption, this information was wrong. Caesar’s soldiers were very loyal to him. Pompey believed the reports and did not levy troops to counter Caesar’s forces.[140]

Caesar crossed the Alps with a legion and arrived at Ravenna, close to the border with Italy. Curio advised him to assemble his whole army and march on Rome, but Caesar decided to negotiate. He proposed to give up his governorships and troops, but retain two legions and Illyricum and Gallia Cisalpina until he should be elected consul. Pompey agreed, but the consuls refused. Curio went to Rome with a letter Caesar wrote to the senate and gave it to the two newly elected consuls, Gaius Claudius Marcellus Maior and Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Crus. Caesar proposed that both he and Pompey lay down their arms at the same time and said that if Pompey retained his he would not expose himself to his enemies. Claudius Marcellus put forward the questions of sending a successor to Caesar and disarming Pompey separately. No senator voted for Pompey to give up his arms because his troops were in the suburbs. All but two voted for Caesar to disband his army. There was a false rumour that Caesar was marching on Rome. Claudius proposed that Caesar be declared public enemy and that the army at Capua be sent against him. Curio opposed this on the ground that it was a false rumour. Two of the new plebeian tribunes Mark Antony and Quintus Cassius Longinus, did not allow the motions to be ratified The angered senators who debated a punishment for them. The consul Cornelius Lentulus advised them to leave the senate for their safety. There were detachments of Pompey standing around the senate house. They and Curio secretly went to Caesar.[141][142] In Plutarch's version Curio's demands were very popular. Pompey should be required to give up his troops, and if not, Caesar should retain his. In the latter case the two men would remain a match for each other and would not cause trouble. However, weakening one of them would double the power of the other. Claudius Marcellus called Caesar a robber and urged for him to be voted a public enemy unless he should lay down his arms. Curio, helped by Antony and Piso, prevailed. He then moved for a vote about Caesar laying down his arms and Pompey retaining his command. It was approved. Then he moved for a vote about that both men laying down their arms and relinquishing their command. Only twenty-two favoured Pompey. Curio felt that he had won the day and rushed before the people. He was applauded and 'pelted him with garlands and flowers'. However, Claudius Marcellus declared that "since he saw ten legions already looming up in their march over the Alps, he himself also would send forth a man who would oppose them in defence of his country".[143]

According to Cassius Dio the senators went to Pompey and gave him both funds and troops. According to Appian, Lucius Domitius was appointed as Caesar’s successor and he took to the field with 4,000 men from the active list. The senate thought that the arrival of Caesar’s army from Gaul would take time and that Caesar would not rush with a small force. It directed Pompey to levy 130,000 Italian soldiers mainly from the veterans and to recruit as many men as possible from the neighbouring provinces. Money from the public treasury and, if needed, from the private wealth of the senators was to be used to pay for the soldiers. Contributions were also to be levied from the allied cities as quickly as possible. Caesar decided to advance with his one legion to anticipate the enemy and seize strategic positions in Italy.[144][145]

Civil war and assassination[edit]

Main article: Caesar's civil war
The Flight of Pompey after Pharsalus, by Jean Fouquet

The Senate, believing that Caesar's army would be slow to arrive from Gaul and that he would not rush with a small force, directed Pompey to assemble 130,000 Italian soldiers, (chiefly veterans), and to recruit as many men as possible from the neighbouring provinces. It voted to give Pompey all the money in the public treasury and, if needed, the private wealth of the senators for the pay of the soldiers. Additional contributions from the allied cities were also hastily collected. Caesar, accustomed to celerity and audacity, decided to advance with just the one legion, anticipating his enemy and seizing advantageous positions in Italy. He sent a detachment to Ariminum (Rimini), the first town in Italy, and took it by surprise. He then advanced towards Rome, having crossed the River Rubicon at the boundary of Italy. On hearing of this, the consuls directed Pompey to quickly recruit more troops. The Senate, still unprepared, was panicked at Caesar's unexpected speed. Cicero proposed sending messengers to Caesar to negotiate their safety, but the frantic consuls rejected this path.[146] So Caesar marched on to Rome, winning over all the cities on the way without a fight, (either because their garrisons were too weak or they preferred his cause.) Pompey, after learning of this from a defector and having had no time to prepare a large enough force, sent Roman envoys to Caesar to ask for negotiations.

Caesar agreed to negotiate. He promised the envoys that no one would suffer harm at his hands and that he would call for the immediate disbandment of the troops. But the people of Rome feared war and were already calling for both men to disarm at the same time.

Pompey knew that any negotiations would soon leave him inferior to Caesar rather than an equal partner. So, before his envoys could return, he planned his flight to Campania to pursue the war from there. He ordered the senators and officials to go with him and to seize the public treasury to pay for the troops they needed to recruit. However, after hearing exaggerated reports about Caesar not being conciliatory, the senators disobeyed and hurriedly left Rome to their own estates without touching the money. The flight from Rome was disorderly. As Pompeii rushed away, he hastily levied troops from the Italian cities on the road, setting up garrisons as he went.[147]

Caesar stopped his march on Rome and claimed that he was fighting against his opponents and in defence of Rome. He sent letters which challenged Pompey throughout Italy. He then set out against Corfinium, in central Italy, which was occupied by Lucius Domitius. According to Cassius Dio he defeated a small force and then besieged the city. According to Appian, Lucius Domitius, who had been sent to succeed Caesar's command, did not have all of the 4,000 men assigned to him. The inhabitants of the city seized him as he was trying to escape and took him to Caesar. His soldiers went over to Caesar, who let Lucius Domitius go and take his money with him. Pompey hastened to Nuceria (Nocera) and then to Brundisium (Brindisi, in southern Italy), the port for crossing the Adriatic Sea to Greece. He wanted to compete his war preparations in Greece. He wrote to the governors of the provinces in the east and the kings and cities he had won over in the Third Mithridatic War asking to send aid. Pompey felt that he had no hope in Italy. He could not reach his troops in Hispania because Caesar controlled Gaul, which was on the way. Caesar would not be able to pursue him to Greece because there were few ships and the winter, which made the Mediterranean difficult to sail, was approaching. Pompey wanted to raise money and levy troops during the winter. According to Cassius Dio Pompey ordered Lucius Domitius to join him. The latter prepared to leave Corfinium, but many of his associates did not want to go abroad and went over to Caesar. Caesar headed for Brundisium while Pompey was sending his men, starting from the senators and the consuls, to Greece in batches in the few available ships. The city was difficult to seize and Caesar tried to negotiate peace and resume his friendship with Pompey. Pompey merely said that he would relay that to the consuls. Caesar attacked the city. Pompey repelled him until the ships returned and set sail at night. After this Caesar seized the city and captured two ships full of men.[148][149]

Caesar went to Rome and after that he embarked on an astonishing 27-week forced march to Hispania to confront the troops Pompey had there. He defeated them. He then crossed the Adriatic Sea and landed in what is now southern Albania even though the fleet Pompey recruited from the maritime cities in the east controlled this sea.[150] He advanced on Oricum. The commander of the garrison handed him the city. Two lieutenants of Pompey who were guarding merchant ships loaded with corn for Pompey's troops sank them with their warships to prevent them from falling in Caesar's hands. Caesar marched on Apollonia and the inhabitants handed him the city. Straberius, the commander of the garrison, abandoned the city. Caesar then headed for Dyrrachium (Durrës, Albania), where Pompey had an arsenal. Pompey hurried to defend Dyrrachium and arrived there first. The opposing forces fought the Battle of Dyrrachium. Pompey's troops heavily outnumbered the enemy. He built a fortified camp south of the city. Caesar started to build a circumvallation to besiege it. At the same time Pompey extended his own fortifications to force Caesar to stretch out his. Six attempts to break through by Pompey were repulsed. Caesar's troops suffered food shortages while Pompey's was supplied by ships as his camp was near the sea. However, Pompey was held a limited amount of land and this created shortages of fodder for his animals. Water was also scarce because Caesar had cut off the local streams. When harvest time came close Caesar's troops were going to have plenty of grain. Pompey needed to break the siege. Two deserters form Caesar's camp told him about a weak point in Caesar's fortifications where two palisades near the sea had not been joined together and there was a gap. Pompey's troops attacked it and broke through. However, Mark Antony and Caesar brought in reinforcements and pushed them back. Pompey entrenched a camp near this spot to gain land for fodder. He also occupied a small camp Caesar had left and had added an entrenchment so that the two camps were joined and gained access to a stream.[151]

Caesar attacked these new fortifications. However, he was outnumbered and Pompey sent a large cavalry force to outflank his troops. Caesar withdrew and gave up the siege. Pompey could have destroyed Caesar's retreating army by pursuing it. Instead, he did not. Caesar thought that victory was unexpected for Pompey because a little earlier his troops were fleeing form their camp and that Pompey suspected an ambush. Moreover, his cavalry was hindered by the narrow passages of the fortifications, many of which were occupied by Caesar's troops. Plutarch wrote that Caesar said to his friends: Today victory would have been with the enemy if they had had a victor in command." [152]

Caesar went to Apollonia to leave his wounded men there, pay his army, encourage his allies, and leave garrisons in the towns. He sent off the baggage-train at night and during the day he left for Asparagum (also in Illyria). Pompey pursued him and encamped nearby. The next day Caesar marched on, sending the baggage-train off at night again and then eluding Pompey. After four days Pompey gave up a fruitless pursuit. Caesar marched speedily. He was in a hurry to join his lieutenant, Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus in case he would be caught unawares by the arrival of Pompey. He considered four contingencies: 1) to draw Pompey away from the coast and from his stores at Dyrrachium and fright him in equal conditions; 2) to go to Italy with his army and that of Gnaeus Domitius via Illyria, should Pompey cross back to Italy; 3) to blockade Metellus Scipio, one of Pompey's Lieutenants, to force Pompey to move to his aid, should Pomey try to besiege Apollonia and Oricum to cut Caesar off the coast. Caesar informed Gnaeus Domitius about his plans and left garrisons at Apollonia, Lissus and Oricum. He begun a march through Epirus and Athamania. Pompey decided to hurry to Metellus Scipio to back him up or, should Caesar decide not to leave the coast, to attack Gnaeus Domitius himself. Both men marched quickly with light equipment. Pompey was marching towards Candavia, a mountain district in Illyria. Gnaeus Domitius and Metellus Scipio had been encamped close to each other. The former left to forage and moved towards Candavia, thus exposing himself to an attack by Pompey. Caesar was not aware of this. However, some Gallic scouts who had defected from Caesar to Pompey spotted some Gallic scouts of Domitius and informed them about the situation after Dyrrachium. Domitius, who was only a four-hour march away, avoided the danger and joined Caesar who was on his way to Aeginuim, a town just past the border of Thessaly. He arrived to Gomphi, the first town in Thessaly. Envoys from this town had offered their resources to Caesar and asked him for a garrison. However, Pompey had spread exaggerated rumours about Caesar's defeat and the governor of Thessaly cast his lot with Pompey. He ordered the gates of the city to be closed and asked Pompey to come to help because the town could not withstand a long siege. Metellus Scipio had already brought his troops to Lasissa, the capital of Thessaly. Pompey was not yet near Thessaly. Caesar besieged this opulent city to gain its resources and to frighten the neighbouring areas. He took it by storm in one day and quickly went to Metropolis. This town also closed its gates, but surrendered when they heard about the fall of Gomphi. All the towns in Thessaly which were not held check by the troops of Metellus Scipio submitted to Caesar.[153]

The two forces fought the Battle of Pharsalus. They were encamped near each other. With the joining of the large armies of Pompey and Metellus Scipio the supporters of Pompey were confident of victory. Caesar lined up his men close to Pompey's camp to test him. In the next few days he pushed his lines closer to the hill where Pompey's camp was. He got lightly armed young foot soldiers to intermix with the cavalry to get used to this kind of fighting and to prepare for confronting a cavalry force seven times larger. Pompey always lined up on the lower spurs of the hill, on uneven ground which was unfavourable for Caesar. He would not be drawn into battle. Caesar kept moving his camp and was always on the march so that he could get supplies from various places and wear out Pompey's army. One day Pompey drew up his men further from the rampant of his camp. For Caesar this looked like a chance to fight on ground which was not disadvantageous. He prepared for battle. Pompey deployed 45,000 troops and Caesar 25,000. Pompey was going to have his superior cavalry outflank Caesar's left wing and rout his army. However, Caesar placed six select cohorts at the rear to stop this cavalry. It worked and Caesar's men defeated the enemy. Pompey left the field and went to his camp. When his men were driven within the rampant Caesar attacked the camp. The camp guards fought hard, but the men who had fled from the battlefield without arms were more keen on escaping than fighting. The men posted on the rampant could not withstand the shower of javelins and left their positions. Pompey rode off the camp and went to Larissa. From there, he reached the coast with a retinue of thirty cavalry and boarded a corn ship.[154]

Caesar pursued Pompey to prevent him from gathering other forces to renew the war. He had stopped at Amphipolis where he held a meeting with friends to collect money. An edict was issued in his name that all the youth of the province of Macedonia (i.e. Greece), whether Greeks or Romans were to take an oath. It was not clear whether he wanted new levies to fight or whether this was for concealing a planned escape. When he heard that Caesar was approaching he left and went to Mitylene on the island of Lesbos to take on board his wife Cornelia and his son. Pompey then set sail and stopped over only when he needed to get food or water. He reached Attaleia (Antalya) in Pamphylia where some warships from Cilicia had been assembled for him. There he heard that Cato the Younger was sailing to Africa. He blamed himself for not having used his superior navy and not having stationed at a place where he could have had naval back up if he had been defeated on land instead of fighting far from the coast. He asked the cities in the area for money to man his ships and looked for a temporary refuge in case the enemy caught up with him. According to Plutarch Pompey considered going to Parthia, but was advised their king, Arsaces, was untrustworthy and the place unsafe for his wife. This last point put Pompey off. He was advised to go to Egypt, which was only three days' sail away, and whose king, Ptolemy XIII (who was only a boy), was indebted to the friendship and the help Pompey had given to his father.[155] According to Caesar Pompey went from Mitylene, Cilicia and Cyprus. There he learnt that the inhabitants of Antioch and the Romans resident there had taken up arms to prevent him from going there. The same action had been taken in Rhodes against Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Crus, the consul of the previous year, and Publius Lentulus, an ex-consul, who were also escaping. They reached the island and were barred from the port. The islanders had been informed that Caesar was approaching. Pompey gave up on going to Syria. He took the funds which belonged to the tax collectors, borrowed money to hire soldiers and armed 2,000 men. He boarded a ship with many bronze coins.[156]

Pompey set sail from Cyprus with warships and merchant ships. He heard that Ptolemy was in Pelusium with an army and that he was at war with his sister Cleopatra VII, whom he had deposed. The camps of the opposing forces were quite close. Pompey sent a messenger to announce his arrival to the king and to ask his aid. Potheinus the eunuch, who was the regent of the boy king, held a council with Theodotus of Chios, the tutor of the king, Achillas the head of the army and others. According to Plutarch, some advised to drive Pompey away, and others to welcome him. Theodotus argued that neither option was safe. Welcoming him would make Pompey a master and Caesar an enemy. If turned away, Pompey would blame the Egyptians for rejecting him and Caesar for making him continue his pursuit. Assassinating Pompey would eliminate fear of him and gratify Caesar.[157] Caesar thought that this was decided because the forces of Ptolemy included many of Pompey’s soldiers who had been taken to Alexandria from Syria by Aulus Gabinius to restore Ptolemy XII, the king’s father, who had been deposed. The soldiers had remained with Ptolemy XII. The king’s advisors decided to murder Pompey in case he would manipulate the Romans in the Egyptian forces to seize power.[158]

On September 28, Achillas went to Pompey’s ship together with Septimius, who had once been one of Pompey’s officers, on a fishing boat. Pompey’s associates saw this lack of pomp with suspicion and advised Pompey to put his ship back in open sea out of reach of missiles of the Egyptians. Achillas claimed that the sea’s sandy bottom and shallows had not allowed him to approach with a ship. However, the royal ships were seen taking crews on board and there were soldiers on the shore. Cornelia thought that Pompey was going to be killed, but he boarded the boat. The lack of friendliness on the boat prompted Pompey to say to Septimius what he was an old comrade. The latter merely nodded. He thrust a sword into him and then Achillas and Savius stabbed him with daggers. The people on Pompey’s ship could see this and, horrified, fled. The wind was favourable and because of this the Egyptians did not pursue them. Pompey’s head was severed and his unclothed body was thrown in the sea. Philip, one of Pompey’s freedmen who had boarded the boat, wrapped it with his tunic and made a funeral pyre on the shore. Pompey died the day after his sixtieth birthday.[159] When Caesar arrived in Egypt a few days later he was appalled. He turned away with loathing the man who brought Pompey’s head. When Caesar was given Pompey's seal-ring he cried. Theodotus left Egypt and escaped Caesar’s revenge. The remains of Pompey were taken to Cornelia, who gave them burial at his Alban villa.[159][1]

Theodatus shows Caesar the head of Pompey; etching, 1820


Pompey's military glory was second to none for a few decades. Yet, his skills were occasionally criticized by some of his contemporaries. Sertorius or Lucullus, for instance, were especially critical.[160] Pompey's tactics were usually efficient, albeit not particularly innovative or imaginative. They could prove insufficient against greater tacticians. However, Pharsalus was his only decisive defeat.[161] At times, he was reluctant to risk an open battle. While not hugely charismatic, Pompey could display tremendous bravery and fighting skills on the battlefield, something which provided inspiration to his men.[162] While being a superb commander, Pompey also earned a reputation for stealing other generals' victories.[163]

On the other hand, Pompey is usually considered an outstanding strategist and organizer, who could win campaigns without displaying genius on the battlefield, but simply by constantly outmaneuvering his opponents and gradually pushing them into a desperate situation.[164] Pompey was a great forward planner, and had tremendous organizational skill, which allowed him to devise grand strategies and operate effectively with large armies.[165] During his campaigns in the east, he acted like a sledgehammer, relentlessly pursuing his enemies, and choosing the ground for his battles.

Above all, he was often able to adapt to his enemies. On many occasions, he acted very swiftly and decisively, as he did during his campaigns in Sicily and Africa, or against the Cilician pirates. During the Sertorian war, on the other hand, Pompey was beaten several times by Sertorius. Therefore, he decided to resort to a war of attrition, in which he would avoid open battles against his chief opponent but instead try to gradually regain the strategic advantage by capturing his fortresses and cities and defeating his junior officers.[162] In some instances, Sertorius showed up and forced Pompey to abandon a siege, only to see him strike somewhere else.[166] This strategy was not spectacular but it led to constant territorial gains and did much to demoralize the Sertorian forces. By 72 BC, the year of his assassination, Sertorius was already in a desperate situation and his troops were deserting. Against Perpenna, a tactician far inferior to his former commander in chief, Pompey decided to revert to a more aggressive strategy and he scored a decisive victory that effectively ended the war.

Against Caesar too, his strategy was sound. During the campaign of Greece, he managed to regain the initiative, join his forces to that of Metellus Scipio (something that Caesar wanted to avoid) and trap his enemy. His strategic position was hence much better than that of Caesar and could have starved his army to death.[citation needed] However, he was finally compelled to fight an open battle by his allies and his conventional tactics proved no match to that of Caesar and his better-trained troops.

Later portrayals and reputation[edit]

For the historians of his own and later Roman periods, Pompey fit the trope of the great man who achieved extraordinary triumphs through his own efforts, yet fell from power and was, in the end, murdered through treachery.

He was a hero of the Republic, who seemed once to hold the Roman world in his palm, only to be brought low by Caesar. Pompey was idealized as a tragic hero almost immediately after Pharsalus and his murder. Plutarch portrayed him as a Roman Alexander the Great, pure of heart and mind, destroyed by the cynical ambitions of those around him. This portrayal of him survived into the Renaissance and Baroque periods, for example in Corneille's play The Death of Pompey (1642). In spite of his war against Caesar, Pompey was still widely celebrated during the imperial period, as the conqueror of the orient. At Augustus' funeral procession, pictures of him were carried as he was still widely considered as the great conqueror of the Orient. As a triumphator, he also had numerous statues in Rome, one of which was on the forum of Augustus. Though the imperial power did not honor him as much as his archenemy, who was considered a god, his reputation among many aristocrats and historians was equal or even superior to that of Caesar.[167]

Pompey has appeared as a character in several modern novels, plays, motion pictures, and other media.

Theater, film and television[edit]


  • In Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series of historical novels, Pompey's youthful exploits are depicted in Fortune's Favorites, the formation of the First Triumvirate and his marriage to Julia is a large part of Caesar's Women and his loss of Julia, the dissolution of the First Triumvirate, his later political career, the civil war between him and Caesar and his eventual defeat and his betrayal and murder in Egypt are all told in Caesar.
  • In comics, he appears as Julius Caesar's foe throughout the The Adventures of Alix series.
  • Pompey is a recurring character in the Roma Sub Rosa series of novels by Steven Saylor, portraying his role in the Civil War with Caesar. His final appearance is in Saylor's novel The Judgment of Caesar, graphically depicting his murder by Ptolemy in Egypt.
  • Pompey also appears frequently in the SPQR series by John Maddox Roberts, narrated by Senator Decius Metellus, a fictional nephew of Caecilius Metellus Pius. Decius despises Pompey as a glory-seeker and credit-grabber, while acknowledging that he is a political dunce who was eventually swept up into the optimates feud with Caesar.
  • Pompey is a major recurring character in Robert Harris's trilogy of the life of Cicero, (Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator), in which Pompey is portrayed as bombastic and dim-witted, though fearsome.
  • In comics, all Roman Senators sowed discord in Asterix and the Secret Agent was accusing one another under Pompey's pay.

Marriages and offspring[edit]

Chronology of Pompey's life and career[edit]

  • 106 BC September 29– Born in Picenum
  • 83 BC– Aligns with Sulla, after his return from the Mithridatic War against King Mithridates IV of Pontus;
  • 83 BC- Pompey raises a legion and cavalry in hopes of joining Sulla[168]
  • 82 BC- Marriage to Aemilia Scaura at the beheast of Sulla, Aemilia is already pregnant and eventually dies during childbirth [169]
  • 82–81 BC– Defeats Gaius Marius's allies in Sicily (Autumn of 82 BC) and Africa after his victory in Sicily
  • 81 BC– Returns to Rome and celebrates First triumph
  • 80 BC- Pompey marries Mucia of the Mucii Scaevolae Family [169]
  • 79 BC- Pompey supports the election of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, Lepidus openly revolts against the senate a few months later, Pompey suppresses the rebellion with an army raised from Picenum and puts down the rebellion killing the senior legate Marcus Junius Brutus, father of Brutus who assassinated Julius Caesar [170]
  • 76–71 BC– Campaign in Hispania against Sertorius
  • 71 BC– Returns to Italy and participates in the suppression of a slave rebellion led by Spartacus; Second triumph
  • 70 BC– First consulship (with M. Licinius Crassus)
  • 67 BC– Defeats the pirates and goes to Asia province
  • 66–61 BC– Defeats King Mithridates of Pontus; end of the Third Mithridatic War
  • 64–63 BC– Pompey's March through Syria, the Levant, and Judea
  • 61 BC September 29– Third triumph
  • 59 BC April– The first triumvirate is constituted; Pompey allies to Julius Caesar and Licinius Crassus; marriage to Julia (daughter of Julius Caesar)
  • 58–55 BC– Governs Hispania Ulterior by proxy, construction of Pompey's Theater
  • 55 BC– Second consulship (with M. Licinius Crassus), Dedication of the Theatre of Pompey
  • 54 BC– Julia dies; the first triumvirate ends
  • 52 BC– Serves as sole consul for intercalary month,[171] third ordinary consulship with Metellus Scipio for the rest of the year; marriage to Cornelia Metella
  • 51 BC– Forbids Caesar (in Gaul) to stand for consulship in absentia
  • 50 BC– Falls dangerously ill with fever in Campania, but is saved 'by public prayers'[172]
  • 49 BC– Caesar crosses the Rubicon River and invades Italy; Pompey retreats to Greece with the conservatives
  • 48 BC– Caesar defeats Pompey's army near Pharsalus, Greece. Pompey retreats to Egypt and is killed at Pelusium.
Political offices
Preceded by
Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura and Gnaeus Aufidius Orestes
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Marcus Licinius Crassus
70 BC
Succeeded by
Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus and Quintus Hortensius
Preceded by
Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus and Lucius Marcius Philippus
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Marcus Licinius Crassus
55 BC
Succeeded by
Appius Claudius Pulcher and Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus
Preceded by
Marcus Valerius Messalla Rufus and Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus
Consul of the Roman Republic
Without Colleague
Intercalary Month, 52 BC[173]
Succeeded by
Gnaeus Pompey Magnus and Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio
Preceded by
Gnaeus Pompey Magnus
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio
52 BC
Succeeded by
Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Servius Sulpicius Rufus


  1. ^ a b c "Pompey the Great assassinated". The History Channel. Retrieved October 4, 2016. 
  2. ^ Pompey's full name was Gnaeus Pompeius Gnaeī fīlius Sextī nepōs Magnus "Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, son of Gnaeus, grandson of Sextus", in Classical Latin spelling CN·POMPEIVS·CN·F·SEX·N·MAGNVS.
  3. ^ William Smith, A New Classical Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology and Geography, 1851. (Under the tenth entry of Pompeius).
  4. ^ Appian, The Civil Wars, 1.68
  5. ^ Velleius Paterculus, Compendium of Roman History 2, 21. (Loeb) at Thayer: [1]
  6. ^ Plutarch, The Live of Pompey, 4
  7. ^ Boak, History of Rome, pp. 145-6
  8. ^ Cassius Dio, 33, fragment 107 (Loeb) at Thayer
  9. ^ Plutarch, The Live of Pompey, 9.1-2
  10. ^ Plutarch, The Life of Pompey, 42.7
  11. ^ Cicero, Letters ad Atticum 1.12
  12. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History, 37.49.3
  13. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History, 51.2.5
  14. ^ Plutarch, The Life of Pompey, 10.3
  15. ^ Valerius Maximus, Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings, 6.2.8
  16. ^ Plutarch, The Life of Pompey, 11, 12, 13.1-3
  17. ^ Mary Beard, The Roman Triumph, The (2007) pp. 16-17.
  18. ^ Plutarch, The Life of Pompey, 14-15
  19. ^ Plutarch, The Life of Pompey, 16
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  56. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History, 36.24
  57. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History, 36.30, 37.1
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  59. ^ Appian, The Foreign Wars, The Mithridatic War, 14.94
  60. ^ Plutarch, Parallel Lives, The Life of Pompey, 27-29
  61. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History, 36.37.3-6
  62. ^ Plutarch, Parallel Lives, the Life of Lucullus, 33-35
  63. ^ Cassius Dio, History of Rome, 36.15.1, 17.2
  64. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History, 36. 14.4, 17.1
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  71. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History, 36.47
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  73. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History, 36.48-50
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  100. ^ Pliny, Natural History, 37.6
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  107. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History 37.49.3
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  115. ^ Plutarch, Parallel Lives, the Live of Caesar. 17.7, The Life of Pompey, 47.6
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  117. ^ Cassius Dio, Roman History,; 8.2, 5
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  160. ^ Plutarch
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  171. ^ See Abbott, 114
  172. ^ Juvenal, Satire X, 283
  173. ^ Abbott (1901), 114



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External links[edit]

  • Pompey's War - Jona Lendering details Pompey's conquest of Judea