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Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey /'pɑmpi/, Pompey the Great or Pompey the Triumvir (Classical Latin abbreviation: CN·POMPEIVS·CN·F·SEX·N·MAGNVS) (106 BC - 48 BC), was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic. He came from wealthy Italianmarker provincial background, and established himself in the ranks of Roman nobility by successful leadership in several campaigns. Sulla addressed him by the cognomen Magnus (the Great) and he was awarded three triumphs.

Pompey was a rival of Marcus Licinius Crassus, and at first an ally to Gaius Julius Caesar. He joined them in an unstable political alliance known as the First Triumvirate, which dominated military and political developments in the Late Roman republic. After the deaths of Crassus and Julia (Pompey's wife and Caesar's daughter) Pompey and Caesar contended the leadership of the Roman state in Caesar's civil war. This was a significant episode in the larger Roman Revolution, which saw the end of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Princeps and the Roman Empire.

Pompey fought on the side of the optimates, the conservative and aristocratic faction of the Roman Senate, until he was defeated by Caesar at the battle of Pharsalus. He sought refuge in Egypt, where he was assassinated.

Early life and political debut

Pompey's father, Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo was a wealthy landed Italian provincial from Picenum, one of the "new men" whose influence would increasingly dominate Roman politics in the Late Republic. Pompeius Strabo ascended the traditional cursus honorum, becoming quaestor in 104 BC, praetor in 92 BC and consul in 89 BC, and acquired a reputation for greed, political double-dealing and military ruthlessness. He died in 87 BC, either struck by lightning, or as a casualty of pandemic plague, or possibly both, during the first Marian-Sullan war. In Plutarch's account, his body was dragged from its bier by the mob. His nineteen year old son Pompey inherited his estates and apparently, the loyalty of his legions.

Pompey had seen two years military service under his father's command, and had been involved in the final acts of the Marsic Social War against the Italians. Pompey, as an optimas, was obliged to keep a low profile. He returned to Rome and was prosecuted for misappropriation of plunder: his betrothal to the judge's daughter Antistia secured a rapid acquittal.

For the next few years, the Marian party had possession of Italy. In 83BC Sulla returned from campaign in Greece, and Pompey raised three Picinean legions in his support against the Marian regime of Gnaeus Papirius Carbo

When Pompey, displaying great military abilities in opposing the Marian generals who surrounded him, succeeded in joining Sulla via a cocktail of blackmail and arrogance, Sulla hailed him as imperator. Sulla, now the Dictator of Rome, ordered Pompey to divorce his wife Antistia and marry Aemilia Scaura, Sulla's young stepdaughter, who was pregnant by her first husband (Sulla forced their divorce because the husband had criticized him). This bound his young ally more closely to him and boosted Pompey's career. After marrying Pompey however, Aemilia died giving birth to the child.

Sicily and Africa

With the war in Italy over, Sulla sent Pompey against the Marian party, first in Sicily and then in Africa.

In 82BC, Pompey secured Sicily, guaranteeing Rome's grain supply. He executed Gnaeus Papirius Carbo and his supporters out of hand, which may have led to his dubbing as the adulescens carnifex meaning 'adolescent' or 'teenage' butcher. In 81 BC he moved on to the Roman province of Africa, where he defeated Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and the Numidian king Hiarbas, after a hard-fought battle.

For this string of unbroken victories, Pompey was proclaimed Imperator by his troops on the field in Africa. He returned to Rome in the same year, and was enthusiastically received by the people. He was hailed by Sulla as Magnus (Great). Pompey himself used the title only later in his career; Sulla was almost certainly being sarcastic considering Pompey's age, and intended to cut Pompey down to size - regardless of his acclamation in the field, he was officially still a mere privatus (private citizen) and as such was disqualified from the Cursus honorum.

Pompey then demanded a triumph for his African victories, which Sulla correctly (Pompey being a "privatus") refused; Pompey himself refused to disband his legions and appeared with his demand at the gates of Rome where Sulla in exasperation, gave in. However, Sulla had his own triumph first, then allowed Metellus Pius his triumph, relegating Pompey to a third one in a quick succession of triumphs. On the day, Pompey attempted to upstage both his seniors in a triumphal chariot towed by an elephant, representing his exotic African conquests but the elephant would not fit through the city gate. Some hasty re-planning was needed, much to the embarrassment of Pompey and amusement of those present.

Quintus Sertorius and Spartacus

Pompey's desire for military glory and his disregard for the traditional political career path continued when, after suppressing the revolt by Lepidus (whom he had initially supported for consul, against Sulla's wishes), he demanded proconsular imperium (although he had not yet served as Consul) to go to Hispania (the Iberian Peninsulamarker, comprising modern Spainmarker and Portugalmarker) to fight against Quintus Sertorius, a Marian general. The aristocracy, however, now beginning to fear the young and successful general, was reluctant to provide him with the needed authority. Pompey countered by refusing to disband his legions until his request was granted. However, in Hispania, Sertorius had for the last three years successfully opposed Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, one of the ablest of Sulla's generals, and ultimately it became necessary to send the latter some effectual assistance. As a result, the Senate, with considerable lack of enthusiasm, determined to send Pompey to Hispania against Sertorius, with the title of proconsul, and with equal powers to Metellus.

Pompey remained in Hispania between five and six years 76–71 BC; but neither he nor Metellus was able to achieve a clean victory or gain any decisive advantage on the battlefield over Sertorius. But when Sertorius was treacherously murdered by his own officer Marcus Perperna Vento in 72, the war was speedily brought to a close. Perperna was easily defeated by Pompey in their first battle, and the whole of Hispania was subdued by the early part of the following year 71.

In the months after Sertorius' death, however, Pompey revealed one of his most significant talents: a genius for the organization and administration of a conquered province. Fair and generous terms extended his patronage throughout Hispania and into southern Gaul. While Crassus was facing Spartacus late in the Third Servile War in 71 BC, Pompey returned to Italy with his army. In his march toward Rome he came upon the remains of the army of Spartacus and captured five thousand Spartacani who had survived Crassus and were attempting to flee. Pompey cut these fugitives to pieces, and therefore claimed for himself, in addition to all his other exploits, the glory of finishing the revolt. His attempt to take credit for ending the Servile war infuriated Crassus.

Disgruntled opponents, especially Crassus, said he was developing a talent for showing up late in a campaign and taking all the glory for its successful conclusion. This growing enmity between Crassus and Pompey would not be resolved for over a decade. Back in Rome, Pompey was now a candidate for the consulship; although he was ineligible by law, inasmuch as he was absent from Rome, had not yet reached the legal age, and had not held any of the lower offices of the state, still his election was certain. Pompey's admirers saw him as the most brilliant general of the age; as it was known that the aristocracy looked upon Pompey with jealousy, many people ceased to regard him as belonging to this party and hoped to obtain, through him, a restoration of the rights and privileges of which they had been deprived by Sulla.

On December 31, 71 BC, he entered the city of Rome in his triumphal car, a simple eques, celebrating his second extralegal triumph for the victories in Hispania. In 71 BC, at only 35 years of age Pompey was elected Consul for the first time, serving in 70 BC as partner of Crassus, with the overwhelming support of the Roman population. This was an extraordinary measure: never before had a man been elevated from privatus to Consul in one swift move such as this. Pompeius, not even a member of the Senate, was never forgiven by most of Rome's noblemen, especially the boni for forcing that body to accept his nomination in the elections.

Rome's new frontier on the East

In his consulship (70 BC), Pompey openly broke with the aristocracy and became the great popular hero. By 69 BC, Pompey was the darling of the Roman masses, although many Optimates were deeply suspicious of his intentions. He proposed and carried a law restoring to the tribunes the power of which they had been deprived by Sulla. He also afforded his powerful aid to the Lex Aurelia, proposed by the praetor Lucius Aurelius Cotta, by which the judices were to be taken in future from the senatus, equites, and tribuni aerarii, instead of from the senators exclusively, as Sulla had ordained. In carrying both these measures Pompey was strongly supported by Caesar, with whom he was thus brought into close connection. For the next two years (69 and 68 BC) Pompey remained in Rome. His primacy in the State was enhanced by two extraordinary proconsular commands, unprecedented in Roman history.

Campaign against the pirates

In 67 BC, two years after his consulship, Pompey was nominated commander of a special naval task force to campaign against the pirates that menaced the Mediterranean Seamarker. This command, like everything else in Pompey's life, was surrounded with polemic. The conservative faction of the Senate was most suspicious of his intentions and afraid of his power. The Optimates tried every means possible to avoid his appointment, tired of his constant appointment to what they saw as illegal and extraordinary commands. Significantly, Caesar was again one of a handful of senators who supported Pompey's command from the start. The nomination was then proposed by the Tribune of the Plebs Aulus Gabinius who proposed the Lex Gabinia, giving Pompey command in the war against the Mediterranean pirates, with extensive powers that gave him absolute control over the sea and the coasts for 50 miles inland, setting him above every military leader in the East. This bill was opposed by the aristocracy with the utmost vehemence, but was carried: Pompeius' ability as a general was too well known for any to stand against him in the elections, even his fellow ex-consul Crassus.

The pirates were at this time masters of the Mediterranean, and had not only plundered many cities on the coasts of Greece and Asia, but had even made descents upon Italy itself. As soon as Pompey received the command, he began to make his preparations for the war, and completed them by the end of the winter. His plans were crowned with complete success. Pompey divided the Mediterranean into thirteen separate areas, each under the command of one of his legates. In forty days he cleared the Western Sea of pirates, and restored communication between Hispania, Africa, and Italy. He then followed the main body of the pirates to their strongholds on the coast of Cilicia; after defeating their fleet, he induced a great part of them, by promises of pardon, to surrender to him. Many of these he settled at Soli, which was henceforward called Pompeiopolis.

Ultimately it took Pompey all of a summer to clear the Mediterranean of the danger of pirates. In three short months (67-66 BC), Pompey's forces had swept the Mediterranean clean of pirates, showing extraordinary precision, discipline, and organizational ability; so that, to adopt the panegyric of Cicero:

"Pompey made his preparations for the war at the end of the winter, entered upon it at the commencement of spring, and finished it in the middle of the summer."

The quickness of the campaign showed that he was as talented a general at sea as on land, with strong logistic abilities. Pompey was hailed as the first man in Rome, "Primus inter pares" the first among equals.

Pompey in the East

Pompey was employed during the remainder of this year and the beginning of the following in visiting the cities of Cilicia and Pamphylia, and providing for the government of the newly-conquered districts. During his absence from Rome (66 BC), Pompey was nominated to succeed Lucius Licinius Lucullus in the command, take charge of the Third Mithridatic War and fight Mithridates VI of Pontus in the East. Lucullus, a well-born plebeian noble, made it known that he was incensed at the prospect of being replaced by a "new man" such as Pompey. Pompey responded by calling Lucullus a "Xerxes in a toga." Lucullus shot back by calling Pompey a "vulture" because he was always fed off the work of others, referring to his new command in the present war, as well as Pompey's actions at the climax of the war against Spartacus. The bill conferring upon him this command was proposed by the tribune Gaius Manilius, and was supported by Cicero in an oration which has come down to us (pro Lege Manilia). Like the Gabinian law, it was opposed by the whole weight of the aristocracy, but was carried triumphantly. The power of Mithridates had been broken by previous victories of Lucullus, and it was only left to Pompey to bring the war to a conclusion. This command essentially entrusted Pompey with the conquest and reorganization of the entire Eastern Mediterranean. Also, this was the second command that Julius Caesar supported in favor of Pompey.

On the approach of Pompey, Mithridates retreated towards Armenia but was defeated. As Tigranes the Great now refused to receive him into his dominions, Mithridates resolved to plunge into the heart of Colchis, and thence make his way to his own dominions in the Cimmerian Bosporusmarker. Pompey now turned his arms against Tigranes. However, conflict turned into peace once the two empires reached an agreement and became allies. In 65 BC, Pompey set out in pursuit of Mithridates but he met with much opposition from the Caucasian Iberians and Albanians; and after advancing as far as Phasis in Colchis, where he met his legate Servilius, the admiral of his Euxine fleet, Pompey resolved to leave these districts. He accordingly retraced his steps, and spent the winter at Pontus, which he made into a Roman province. In 64 BC he marched into Syria, deposed the king Antiochus XIII Asiaticus, and made that country also a Roman province. In 63 BC, he advanced further south, in order to establish the Roman supremacy in Phoeniciamarker, Coele-Syria and Judeamarker. The Hellenized cities of the region, particularly the cities of the Decapolis, for centuries counted dates from Pompey's conquest, a calendar called the Pompeian era.

After that Pompey captured Jerusalemmarker. At the time Judea was racked by civil war between two Jewish brothers who favored different religious factions: Hyrcanus II (supporting the Pharisees) and Aristobulus II (supporting the Sadducees). The civil war was causing instability and it exposed Pompey's unprotected flank. He felt that he had to act. Both sides gave money to Pompey for assistance, and a picked delegation of Pharisees went in support of Hyrcanus II. Pompey decided to link forces with the good-natured Hyrcanus II, and their joint army of Romans and Jews besieged Jerusalem for three months, after which it was taken from Aristobulus.

Pompey entered the Holy of Holies. He went to the Templemarker to find out whether the Jews had no physical statue or image of their God in their most sacred place of worship. To Pompey, it was inconceivable to worship a God without portraying him in a type of likeness, like a statue. What Pompey saw was unlike anything he had seen on his travels to sacred sites. He found no statue, religious image or pictorial description of the Hebrew God. Instead, he saw Torah scrolls and was thoroughly confused.

"Of the Jews there fell twelve thousand, but of
the Romans very few.... and 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 goldentable, the holy candlestick, and the pouring vessels, and a greatquantity of spices; and besides these there were among thetreasures two thousand talents of sacred money: yet did Pompeytouch nothing of all this, on account of his regard toreligion; and in this point also he acted in a manner that wasworthy of his virtue. The next day he gave order to those thathad the charge of the temple to cleanse it, and to bring whatofferings the law required to God; and restored the highpriesthood to Hyrcanus, both because he had been useful to him inother respects, and because he hindered the Jews in the countryfrom giving Aristobulus any assistance in his war against him."Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae, book 14, chapter 4; tr. by William Whiston, available at Project Gutenberg

It was during the war in Judea that Pompey heard of the death of Mithridates. Having been deserted by the Greek cities of the northern Euxinemarker, his army deserted him for his son Pharnaces, whereupon Mithridates committed suicide.

With Tigranes as a friend and ally of Rome, the chain of Roman protectorates now extended as far east as the Black Seamarker and the Caucasus. The amount of tribute and bounty Pompey brought back to Rome was almost incalculable: Plutarch lists 20,000 talents in gold and silver added to the treasury, and the increase in taxes to the public treasury rose from 50 million to 85 million drachmas annually. His administrative brilliance was such that his dispositions endured largely unchanged until the fall of Rome.

Pompey conducted the campaigns of 65 to 62 BC and Rome annexed much of western Asia west of modern Iraq firmly under its control. He imposed an overall settlement on the kings of the new eastern provinces, which took intelligent account of the geographical and political factors involved in creating Rome's new frontier on the East.

Pompey’s return to Rome

His third Triumph took place on the 29 September 61 BC, on Pompey's 45th birthday, celebrating the victories over the pirates and in the East, and was to be an unforgettable event in Rome. Two entire days were scheduled for the enormous parade of spoils, prisoners, army and banners depicting battle scenes to complete the route between Campus Martius and the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. To conclude the festivities, Pompey offered an immense triumphal banquet and made several donations to the people of Rome, enhancing his popularity even further.

Although now at his zenith, by this time Pompey had been largely absent from Rome for over five years and a new star had arisen. Pompey had been busy in Asia during the consternation of the Catiline Conspiracy, when Caesar pitted his will against that of the Consul Cicero and the rest of the Optimates. His old colleague and enemy, Crassus, had loaned Caesar money. Cicero was in eclipse, now hounded by the ill-will of Publius Clodius and his factional gangs. New combinations had been made and the conquering hero had been out of touch.

Back in Rome, Pompey deftly dismissed his armies, disarming worries that he intended to spring from his conquests into domination of Rome as Dictator. Pompey sought new allies and pulled strings behind the political scenes. The Optimates had fought back to control much of the real workings of the Senate; in spite of his efforts, Pompey found their inner councils were closed to him. His settlements in the East were not promptly confirmed. The public lands he had promised his veterans were not forthcoming. From now on, Pompey's political maneuverings suggested that, although he toed a cautious line to avoid offending the conservatives, he was increasingly puzzled by reluctance on the part of the Optimates to acknowledge his solid achievements. Pompey's frustration led him into strange political alliances.

Caesar and the First Triumvirate

Although Pompey and Crassus distrusted each other, by 61 BC their grievances pushed them both into an alliance with Caesar. Crassus' tax farming clients were being rebuffed at the same time that Pompey's veterans were being ignored. Thus entered Caesar, 6 years younger than Pompey, returning from service in Hispania, and ready to seek the consulship for 59 BC. Caesar somehow managed to forge a political alliance with both Pompey and Crassus (known as the First Triumvirate). Pompey and Crassus would make him Consul, and he would use his power as Consul to force their claims. Plutarch quotes Cato the Younger as later saying that the tragedy of Pompey was not that he was Caesar's defeated enemy, but that he had been, for too long, Caesar's friend and supporter.

Caesar's tempestuous consulship in 59 BC brought Pompey not only the land and political settlements he craved, but a new wife: Caesar's own young daughter, Julia. Pompey was supposedly besotted with his bride. After Caesar secured his proconsular command in Gaul at the end of his consular year, Pompey was given the governorship of Hispania Ulterior, yet was permitted to remain in Rome overseeing the critical Roman grain supply as curator annonae, exercising his command through subordinates. Pompey efficiently handled the grain issue, but his success at political intrigue was less sure.

The Optimates had never forgiven him for abandoning Cicero when Publius Clodius forced his exile. Only when Clodius began attacking Pompey was he persuaded to work with others towards Cicero's recall in 57 BC. Once Cicero was back, his usual vocal magic helped soothe Pompey's position somewhat, but many still viewed Pompey as a traitor for his alliance with Caesar. Other agitators tried to persuade Pompey that Crassus was plotting to have him assassinated. Rumor (quoted by Plutarch) also suggested that the aging conqueror was losing interest in politics in favor of domestic life with his young wife. He was occupied by the details of construction of the mammoth complex later known as Theatre of Pompeymarker on the Campus Martius; not only the first permanent theatre ever built in Rome, but an eye-popping complex of lavish porticoes, shops, and multi-service buildings.

Caesar, meanwhile, was gaining a greater name as a general of genius in his own right. By 56 BC, the bonds between the three men were fraying. Caesar called first Crassus, then Pompey, to a secret meeting in the northern Italian town of Luccamarker to rethink both strategy and tactics. By this time, Caesar was no longer the amenable silent partner of the trio. At Lucca it was agreed that Pompey and Crassus would again stand for the consulship in 55 BC. At their election, Caesar's command in Gaul would be extended for an additional five years, while Crassus would receive the governorship of Syria, (from which he longed to conquer Parthia and extend his own achievements). Pompey would continue to govern Hispania in absentia after their consular year. This time, however, opposition to the three men was electric, and it took bribery and corruption on an unprecedented scale to secure the election of Pompey and Crassus in 55 BCE. Their supporters received most of the important remaining offices. The violence between Clodius and other factions was building and civil unrest was becoming endemic.

From confrontation to war

The triumvirate was about to end, its bonds snapped by death. In 54 BC, Pompey's wife, Julia, at that time Caesar's only child, died in childbirth; the infant who might have preserved an attachment also died. The next year, Crassus, his son Publius (who had served with distinction under Caesar in Gaul), and most of his army were annihilated by the Parthians at the Battle of Carrhae. Caesar's name, not Pompey's, was now firmly before the public as Rome's great new general. The public turmoil in Rome resulted in whispers as early as 54 BC that Pompey should be made dictator to force a return to law and order. After Julia's death, Caesar sought a second matrimonial alliance with Pompey, offering his grandniece Octavia (the sister of the future emperor Augustus). This time, Pompey refused. In 52 BC, he instead married Cornelia Metella, the very young widow of Crassus's son Publius, and the daughter of Caecilius Metellus Scipio, one of Caesar’s greatest enemies — an indication of Pompey's continuing drift toward the Optimates. It can be presumed that the Optimates had deemed Pompey the lesser of two evils.

In that year, the murder of Publius Clodius and the burning of the Curia Hostiliamarker (the Senate House) by an inflamed mob led the Senate to beg Pompey to restore order, which he did with ruthless efficiency. The trial of the accused murderer, Titus Annius Milo, is notable in that Cicero, counsel for the defense, was so shaken by a Forummarker seething with armed soldiers that he was unable to complete his defense. After order was restored, the suspicious Senate and Cato, seeking desperately to avoid giving Pompey dictatorial powers, came up with the alternative of entitling him sole Consul without a colleague; thus his powers, although sweeping, were not unlimited. The title of Dictator brought with it memories of Sulla and his bloody proscriptions, something none could allow to happen once more. As a Dictator was unable to be punished by law for measures taken during office, Rome was uneasy in handing Pompey the title. By offering him to be Consul without a colleague, he was tied by the fact that he could be brought to justice if anything he did was seen to be illegal.

While Caesar was fighting against Vercingetorix in Gaul, Pompey proceeded with a legislative agenda for Rome, which revealed that he was now covertly allied with Caesar's enemies. While instituting legal and military reorganization and reform, Pompey also passed a law making it possible to be retroactively prosecuted for electoral bribery—an action correctly interpreted by Caesar's allies as opening Caesar to prosecution once his imperium was ended. Pompey also prohibited Caesar from standing for the consulship in absentia, although this had frequently been allowed in the past, and in fact had been specifically permitted in a previous law. This was an obvious blow at Caesar's plans after his term in Gaul expired. Finally, in 51 BC, Pompey made it clear that Caesar would not be permitted to stand for Consul unless he turned over control of his armies. This would, of course, leave Caesar defenseless before his enemies. As Cicero sadly noted, Pompey had begun to fear Caesar. Pompey had been diminished by age, uncertainty, and the harassment of being the chosen tool of a quarreling oligarchy of Optimates. The coming conflict was inevitable.

Civil War and assassination

In the beginning, Pompey claimed he could defeat Caesar and raise armies merely by stamping his foot on the soil of Italy, but by the spring of 49 BC, with Caesar crossing the Rubicon and his invading legions sweeping down the peninsula, Pompey ordered the abandonment of Rome. His legions retreated south towards Brundisium, where Pompey intended to find renewed strength by waging war against Caesar in the East. In the process, neither Pompey nor the Senate thought of taking the vast treasury with them, probably thinking that Caesar would not dare take it for himself. It was left conveniently in the Temple of Saturnmarker when Caesar and his forces entered Rome.

Barely eluding Caesar in Brundisium, Pompey crossed over into Epirus where during Caesar's Spanish campaign, Pompey had gathered a large force in Macedonia, comprising of nine legions reinforced by contingents from the Roman allies in the east. His fleet, recruited from the maritime cities in the east, controlled the Adriaticmarker. Nevertheless, Caesar managed to cross over into Epirus in November 49 BC and proceeded to capture Apolloniamarker. Pompey managed to arrive in time to save Dyrrhachium, and he then attempted to wait Caesar out during the siege of Dyrrhachium, in which Caesar lost 1000 men. Yet, by failing to pursue at the critical moment of Caesar's defeat, Pompey threw away the chance to destroy Caesar's much smaller army. As Caesar himself said, "Today the enemy would have won, if they had had a commander who was a winner" (Plutarch, 65). According to Suetonius, it was at this point that Caesar said that "that man (Pompey) does not know how to win a war." With Caesar on their backs, the conservatives led by Pompey fled to Greece. Caesar and Pompey had their final showdown at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC. The fighting was bitter for both sides and although Pompey was expected to win due to advantage in numbers, mistakes made by Pompey's front cavalry horsemen lead to a victory for Caesar. Like all the other conservatives, Pompey had to run for his life. He met his wife Cornelia and his son Sextus Pompeius on the island of Mytilenemarker. He then wondered where to go next. The decision of running to one of the eastern kingdoms was overruled in favor of Egyptmarker.

After his arrival in Egypt, Pompey's fate was decided by the counselors of the young king Ptolemy XIII. While Pompey waited offshore, they argued the cost of offering him refuge with Caesar already en route to Egypt: the king's eunuch Pothinus won out. In the final dramatic passages of his biography, Plutarch had Cornelia watch anxiously from the trireme as Pompey left in a small boat with a few sullen, silent comrades and headed for what appeared to be a welcoming party on the Egyptian shore. As Pompey rose to disembark, he was stabbed to death by his companions Achillas, Septimius and Salvius. Plutarch has him meet his fate with great dignity, one day after his 59th birthday. His body remained on the shoreline, to be cremated by his loyal freeman Philip on the rotten planks of a fishing-boat. His head and seal were later presented to Caesar, who not only mourned this insult to the greatness of his former ally and son-in-law (he wept when he received Pompey's seal, on which there was an engraving of a lion holding a sword in his paw), but punished his assassins and their Egyptian co-conspirators, putting both Achillas and Pothinus to death. Pompey's ashes were eventually returned to Cornelia, who carried them to his country house near Albamarker. Cassius Dio describes Caesar's reactions with skepticism, and considers Pompey's own political misjudgements, rather than treachery, as instrumental in his downfall. For Pliny, the humiliation of his end is anticipated by the vaunting pride of Pompey's oversized portrait-head, studded entirely with pearls, carried in procession during his greatest Triumph.

Theodatus, the rhetorician, shows Caesar the head of Pompey; etching, 1820

Historic view

To the historians of his own and later Roman periods, the life of Pompey was simply too good to be true. No more satisfying historical model existed than 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 his own poor judgment and 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. It was this portrayal that survived into Renaissance and Baroque portrayals of him, such as Corneille's The Death of Pompey (1642).

Popular culture

Pompey has appeared as a character in several novels, plays, motion pictures, and other media. A theatrical portrayal was John Masefield's play The Tragedy of Pompey the Great (1910). He was a major character in the first season of the HBO series Rome, in which he was portrayed by Kenneth Cranham.

Marriages and offspring

Chronology of Pompey's life and career

  • 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; Marriage to Aemilia Scaura
  • 82–81 BC Defeats Gaius Marius's allies in Sicily and Africa
  • 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 Palestine
  • 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
  • 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, 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'
  • 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 there.

External links

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


  1. William Smith, A New Classical Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology and Geography, 1851. (Under the tenth entry of Pompeius).
  2. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, son of Gnaeus, grandson of Sextus
  3. Truman, 62-67.
  4. Appian, Civil Wars, 1.9.80, (Loeb) at Thayer
  5. Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 1. (Loeb) at Thayer: [1]:see also Velleius Paterculus, Roman History 2, 21. (Loeb) at Thayer: [2]
  6. Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg 126
  7. Boak, History of Rome, pgs 145-6
  8. Dio describes Pompey's troop levy as a "small band": Cassius Dio, 33, fragment 107 (Loeb) at Thayer:[3]
  9. Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg. 136
  10. Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg. 141
  11. Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia, 6.2.8
  12. Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pgs. 143-5
  13. Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg 148
  14. Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg. 149
  15. Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg. 151
  16. Holland, Rubicon, pgs. 141-42
  17. Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg. 158
  18. Boak, History of Rome, pg. 152
  19. Boak, History of Rome, pg. 153
  20. Holland, Rubicon, pg. 142
  21. Holland, Rubicon, pgs. 150-51
  22. Holland, Rubicon, pg. 151
  23. Boak, History of Rome, pg. 160
  24. Dio, Roman History, pg. 63
  25. pro Lege Manilia, 12 or De Imperio Cn. Pompei (in favor of the Manilian Law on the command of Pompey), 66 BC.
  26. Boak, History of Rome, pg. 161
  27. Aristobulus later succeeded in temporarily usurping the throne from Hyrcanus II. Subsequently, King Herod I executed Hyrcanus II in 31 BC.
  28. Beard, 16: for comment on Pompey's 3rd triumph, see also Plutarch, Sertorius, 18, 2, at Thayer[4]: Cicero, Man. 61: Pliny, Nat. 7, 95.
  29. Dio, Roman History, pg. 178
  30. Boak, History of Rome, pg. 167
  31. Boak, History of Rome, pg. 169
  32. Boak, History of Rome, pg. 170
  33. Holland, Rubicon, pg. 287
  34. Many historians have suggested that Pompey was, in spite of everything, politically unaware of the fact that the Optimates, including Cato, were merely using him against Caesar so that, with Caesar destroyed, they could then dispose of him.
  35. Boak, History of Rome, pg. 176
  36. Plutarch, Pompey, 79-80
  37. Dio, 42,4-5, at Thayer
  38. Pliny, Historia Naturalis, 37, 14-16.
  39. See Abbott, 114
  40. Juvenal, Satire X, 283


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