Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Latin: [ˈŋnae̯.ʊs pɔmˈpɛjjʊs ˈmaŋnʊs]; 29 September 106 BC to 28 September 48 BC), known in English as Pompey the Great (/ˈpɒmpiː/), was a leading Roman general and statesman.
He played a significant role in the transformation of Rome from Republic to Empire. He was also (for a time) a student of Roman general Sulla as well as the political ally (and later enemy) of Julius Caesar.
A member of the senatorial nobility, Pompey entered into a military career while still young. He rose to prominence serving the dictator Sulla as a commander in the civil war of 83-82 BC. Pompey’s success as a general while young enabled him to advance directly to his first Roman consulship without following the traditional cursus honorum (the required steps to advance in a political career). He was elected as Roman consul on three occasions. He celebrated three Roman triumphs, served as a commander in the Sertorian War, the Third Servile War, the Third Mithridatic War, and in various other military campaigns. Pompey’s early success earned him the cognomen Magnus – “the Great” – after his boyhood hero Alexander the Great. His adversaries also gave him the nickname adulescentulus carnifex (“teenage butcher”) for his ruthlessness.
In 60 BC, Pompey joined Crassus and Caesar in the military-political alliance known as the First Triumvirate. Pompey also married Caesar’s daughter, Julia, which helped secure this partnership. After the deaths of Crassus and Julia, Pompey became an ardent supporter of the political faction the optimates – a conservative faction of the Roman Senate. Pompey and Caesar then began contending for leadership of the Roman state in its entirety, eventually leading to Caesar’s Civil War. Pompey was defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, and he sought refuge in Ptolemaic Egypt, where he was assassinated in a plot by the courtiers of Ptolemy XIII.
Early Life and Political Debut
Pompey was born in Picenum (a region of Ancient Italy) to a local noble family. His father, Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo, was the first of his branch of the gens Pompeia to achieve senatorial status in Rome, despite his provincial origins. The Romans referred to Strabo as 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.
Pompey’s father acquired a reputation for greed, political double-dealing, and military ruthlessness. He fought the Social War against Rome’s Italian allies and was granted a triumph. Strabo died during the siege of Rome by the Marians, in 87 BC – either as a casualty of an epidemic, or by having been struck by lightning. His twenty-year-old son Pompey inherited his estates and the loyalty of his legions
Pompey served under his father’s command during the final years 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 the theft 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, and so Pompey was acquitted.
Another civil war broke out between the Marians and Sulla in 84-82 BC. The Marians had previously taken over Rome while Sulla was fighting the First Mithridatic War (89-85 BC) against Mithridates VI in Greece. In 84 BC, Sulla returned from that war, landing in Brundisium (Brindisi) in southern Italy. Pompey raised three legions from his father’s veterans and his own clients in Picenum to support Sulla’s march on Rome against the Marian regime of Gnaeus Papirius Carbo and Gaius Marius. Cassius Dio described Pompey’s troop levy as a “small band.”
Sulla defeated the Marians and 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. 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 a 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 pangs of childbirth.” Pompey later married Mucia Tertia, but there’s no record of when this took place, the sources only mentioning Pompey’s divorce with her. Plutarch wrote that Pompey dismissed with contempt a report that she had had an affair while he was fighting in the Third Mithridatic War between 66 and 63 BC. However, on his journey back to Rome, he examined the evidence more carefully and filed for divorce. Cicero wrote that the divorce was strongly approved. 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 having had children by her. Pompey and Mucia had three children: the eldest, Gnaeus Pompey (Pompey the Younger); Pompeia Magna, a daughter; and Sextus Pompey, the younger son. Cassius Dio wrote that Marcus Scaurus was Sextus’ half-brother on his mother’s side. He was condemned to death, but later released for the sake of his mother Mucia.
Sicily, Africa and Lepidus’ Rebellion
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 on Sicily by Roman general Marcus Perpenna Vento. Papirius Carbo had a fleet there, and Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus had forced entry into the Roman province of Africa. Sulla sent Pompey to Sicily with a large force. According to Plutarch, Perpenna fled and left Sicily to Pompey. While the Sicilian cities had been treated harshly by Perpenna, Pompey treated them with kindness. However, Pompey “treated Carbo in his misfortunes with an unnatural insolence,” taking Carbo in fetters to a tribunal he presided over, examining him closely “to the distress and vexation of the audience,” and finally, sentencing him to death. Pompey also treated Quintus Valerius “with unnatural cruelty.” His opponents dubbed him adulescentulus carnifex (adolescent butcher). While Pompey was still in Sicily, Sulla ordered him to the province of Africa to fight Gnaeus Domitius, who had assembled a large force there. Pompey left his brother-in-law, Gaius Memmius, in control of Sicily and sailed his army to Africa. When he got there, 7,000 of the enemy forces went over to him. Domitius was subsequently defeated at the battle of Utica and died when Pompey attacked his camp. Some cities surrendered, some were taken by storm. King Hiarbas of Numidia, who was an ally of Domitius, was captured and executed. Pompey invaded Numidia and subdued it in forty days, restoring Hiempsal II to the throne. When he returned to the Roman province of Africa, Sulla ordered him to send back the rest of his troops and remain there with one legion to wait for his successor. This turned the soldiers who had to stay behind against Sulla, but Pompey said that he would rather kill himself than go against Sulla. When Pompey returned to Rome, everyone welcomed him. To outdo them, Sulla saluted him as Magnus (the Great), after Pompey’s boyhood hero Alexander the Great, and ordered the others to give him this cognomen.
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 too young even to be a senator – were to do so, he would make both Sulla’s regime and his honour odious. Plutarch commented that Pompey “had scarcely grown a beard as yet.” Pompey replied that more people worshiped the rising sun than the setting sun, implying that his power was on the increase, while Sulla’s was on the wane. According to Plutarch, Sulla did not hear him directly, but saw expressions of astonishment on the faces of those that did. When Sulla asked what Pompey had said, he was taken aback by the comment and cried out twice “Let him have his 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. Sulla was annoyed, but did not want to hinder his career and kept quiet. However, in 79 BC, when Pompey canvassed for Lepidus and succeeded 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 omitted Pompey from his will.
After Sulla’s death in 78 BC, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus tried to revive the fortunes of the populares. He became the new leader of the reformist movement silenced by Sulla. He tried to prevent Sulla from receiving a state funeral and from having his body buried in the Campus Martius. Pompey opposed this and ensured Sulla’s burial with honours. In 77 BC, when Lepidus had left for his proconsular command (he was allocated the provinces of Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul), his political opponents moved against him and he was recalled from his proconsular command. When he refused to return, they declared him an enemy of the state, and, when Lepidus did move back to Rome, he did so at the head of an army.
The Senate passed a Consultum Ultimum (the Ultimate Decree) which called on the interrex Appius Claudius and the proconsul Quintus Lutatius Catulus to take necessary measures to preserve public safety. Catulus and Claudius persuaded Pompey, who had several legions’ worth of veterans in Picenum (in the northeast of Italy) ready to take up arms at his command, to join their cause. Pompey, invested as a legate with propraetorial powers, quickly recruited an army from among his veterans and threatened Lepidus, who had marched his army to Rome, from the rear. Pompey penned up Marcus Junius Brutus, one of Lepidus’s lieutenants, in Mutina.
After a lengthy siege, Brutus surrendered. Plutarch wrote that it was not known whether Brutus had betrayed his army or whether his army had betrayed him. Brutus was given an escort and retired to a town by the river Po, but the next day he was apparently assassinated on Pompey’s orders. 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.
Catulus, who had recruited an army at Rome, now took on Lepidus, directly defeating him in a battle just to the north of Rome. After having dealt with Brutus, Pompey marched against Lepidus’ rear, catching him near Cosa. Although Pompey defeated him, Lepidus was still able to embark part of his army and retreat to Sardinia. Lepidus fell ill while on Sardinia and died, allegedly because he found out that his wife had had an affair.
Sertorian War, Third Servile War and First Consulship
Refer to Sertorian War (80-72 BC).
Quintus Sertorius, the last survivor of the Cinna-Marian faction (Sulla’s main opponents during the civil wars of 88-80 BC), waged an effective guerrilla war against the officials of the Sullan regime in Hispania. He was able to rally the local tribes, particularly the Lusitanians and the Celtiberians, in what came to be called the Sertorian War (80-72 BC). Sertorius’s guerrilla tactics wore down the Sullans in Hispania; he even drove the proconsul Metellus Pius from his province of Hispania Ulterior. Pompey, who had just successfully assisted the consul Catulus in putting down the rebellion of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, asked to be sent to reinforce Metellus. He had not disbanded his legions after squashing the rebels and remained under arms near the city with various excuses until he was ordered to Hispania 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.” Pompey’s proconsular mandate was extra-legal, as a proconsulship was the extension of the military command (but not the public office) of a consul. Pompey, however, 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.
Pompey recruited an army of 30,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry, its size evidence of the seriousness of the threat posed by Sertorius. On Pompey’s staff were his old lieutenant Afranius, D. Laelius, Petreius, C. Cornelius, probably Gabinius and Varro. Gaius Memmius, his brother-in-law, who was already serving in Spain under Metellus, was transferred to his command and served him as a quaestor. On his way to Hispania, he opened a new route through the Alps and subdued tribes that had rebelled in Gallia Narbonensis. Cicero later describes Pompey leading his legions to Spain through a welter of carnage in a transalpine war during the autumn of 77 BC. After a hard and bloody campaign, Pompey wintered his army near the Roman colony of Narbo Martius. In the spring of 76 BC, he marched on and entered the Iberian peninsula through the Col de Petrus. He would remain in Hispania from 76 BC to 71 BC. Pompey’s arrival gave the men of Metellus Pius new hope and led to some local tribes, which were not tightly associated with Sertorius, to change sides. According to Appian, as soon as Pompey arrived, he marched to lift the siege of Lauron, where he suffered a substantial defeat at the hands of Sertorius himself. It was a serious blow to Pompey’s prestige. Pompey spent the rest of 76 BC recovering from the defeat and preparing for the coming campaign.
In 75 BC, Sertorius decided to take on Metellus while he left the battered Pompey to two of his legates (Perpenna and Herennius). In a battle near Valentia, Pompey defeated Perpenna and Herennius and regained some of his prestige. Sertorius, hearing of the defeat, left Metellus to his second-in-command, Hirtuleius, and took over the command against Pompey. Metellus then promptly defeated Hirtuleius at the Battle of Italica and marched after Sertorius. Pompey and Sertorius, both not wanting to wait for the arrival of Metellus (Pompey wanted the glory of finishing off Sertorius for himself and Sertorius did not relish fighting two armies at once), hastily engaged in the indecisive Battle of Sucro. On Metellus’ approach, Sertorius marched inland. Pompey and Metellus pursued him to a settlement called “Seguntia” (certainly not the more known Saguntum settlement on the coast, but one of the many Celtiberian towns called Seguntia, since Sertorius had withdrawn inland), where they fought an inconclusive battle. Pompey lost nearly 6,000 men and Sertorius half of that. Memmius, Pompey’s brother-in-law and the most capable of his commanders, also fell. Metellus defeated Perpenna, who lost 5,000 men. According to Appian, the next day, Sertorius attacked Metellus’ camp unexpectedly, but he had to withdraw because Pompey was approaching. Sertorius withdrew to Clunia, a mountain stronghold in present-day Burgos, 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, while pirate tactics at sea disrupted maritime supplies. This forced the two Roman commanders to separate. Metellus went to Gaul, and 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 consul Lucius Licinius Lucullus, canvassing for the command of the Third Mithridatic War, believing that it would bring glory with little difficulty and fearing that Pompey would leave the Sertorian War to take on the Mithridatic one, ensured that the money was sent to keep Pompey. Pompey got his money and was stuck in Hispania until he could convincingly beat Sertorius. The “retreat” of Metellus made it seem like victory was further away then ever and led to the joke that Sertorius would be back in Rome before Pompey.
In 73 BC, Rome sent two more legions to Metellus. He and Pompey then 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. Revolts in the towns were further stirred up by these men, which caused Sertorius to kill some allies and sell others into slavery. 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, he reproached his Roman soldiers for treachery. This aggrieved the soldiers, because they felt that they were blamed for the desertion of other soldiers and, since this was happening while they were serving under an enemy of the regime in Rome, in a sense, they were betraying their country through him. Moreover, the Celtiberians treated them with contempt as men under suspicion. These facts made Sertorius unpopular; only his skill at command kept his troops from deserting en masse.
Metellus took advantage of his enemy’s poor morale, bringing many towns allied to Sertorius under subjection. Pompey besieged Palantia until Sertorius showed up to relieve the city. 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, which led to the loss of 3,000 men. In 72 BC, there were only skirmishes. However, Metellus and Pompey advanced on several towns, some of them defecting and some being 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 began to fear for his safety and conspired to murder Sertorius. 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, but, in all reality, he wanted to take over the supreme command.
When Sertorius was murdered, the formerly disaffected soldiers grieved for the loss of their commander whose bravery had been their salvation and were angry with Perpenna. The native troops, especially the Lusitanians, 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, while threatening others and killing 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, he marched into battle, but Pompey ambushed and defeated him. Frontinus wrote about the battle in his stratagems:
Pompey put troops here and there, in places where they could attack from ambush. Then, pretending fear, he pulled back drawing the enemy after him. Then, when he had the enemy exposed to the ambuscade, he wheeled his army about. He attacked, slaughtering the enemy to his front and on both flanks.
Pompey won against a poor commander and a disaffected army. Perpenna hid in a thicket, fearing his troops more than the enemy, and was eventually captured. Perpenna offered to produce letters to Sertorius from 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. 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. His departure from Hispania was marked by the erection of a Triumphal monument at the summit off the pass over the Pyrenees. On it, he recorded that, from the Alps to the limits of Further Spain, he had brought 876 towns under Roman sway.
Third Servile War
Refer to Third Servile War (73-71 BC).
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.” The senate decided to send Pompey, who had just returned from Hispania. On hearing this, Crassus hurried to engage in the decisive battle, and 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.
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, and had not held any public office, much less 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, was an equestrian and did not have senatorial rank. 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…” 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 favor”. 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.”
Pompey and Crassus were elected consuls for the year 70 BC. Plutarch wrote that, in Rome, Pompey was looked upon with both fear and great expectation. About half of the people feared that he would not disband his army, 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…” 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.” 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.
Neither Plutarch nor Suetonius wrote that the acrimony between Pompey and Crassus stemmed from 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.” According to Appian, however, there was a contention for honours between the two men – a reference to the fact that Pompey claimed that he had ended the slave rebellion led by Spartacus, whereas in fact Crassus had done so. 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, as neither wanted to be the first to do so. 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 the handshake.
Plutarch’s reference to Pompey’s “devot[ing] himself more to the people than to the senate” was related to a measure regarding the plebeian tribunes, the representatives of the plebeians. As part of the constitutional reforms Sulla carried out after the civil war, he revoked the power of the tribunes to veto the senatus consulta (the written advice of the senate on bills, which was usually followed to the letter), and 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. 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 that, if negative, could invalidate them. The reforms reflected Sulla’s view of the plebeian tribunate as a source of subversion that roused the “rabble” (the plebeians) against the aristocracy. Naturally, 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.” 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, otherwise the most detailed of the sources, 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.” 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.” The two leaders are presumed to have been the two consuls, Crassus and Pompey.
Campaign against the Pirates
Piracy in the Mediterranean became a large-scale problem, with a big network of pirates coordinating operations over wide areas with many fleets. According to Cassius Dio, the many years of war contributed to this, as a large number of fugitives joined them, since pirates were more difficult to catch or break up than bandits. The pirates pillaged coastal fields and towns. Rome was affected through shortages of imports and the supply of grains, 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 or drive back all the pirates at once. 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 network of mutual assistance. Towns in Italy were also attacked, including Ostia, the port of Rome, with ships burned and pillaged. The pirates seized important Romans and demanded large ransoms.
Cilicia had been a haven for pirates for a long time. It was divided into two parts: Cilicia Trachaea (Rugged Cilicia), a mountainous 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, in which parts of Cilicia Pedias became Roman territory, but only a small part becoming a province. Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus was given the command of fighting 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 Isauricus 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 Pedias belonged to the kingdom of Armenia. Cilicia Trachea was still under the control of the pirates.
In 67 BC, three years after Pompey’s consulship, the plebeian tribune Aulus Gabinius proposed a law (lex Gabinia) for choosing “…from among the ex-consuls, a commander with full power against all the pirates.” He was to have dominion over the waters of the entire Mediterranean and up to fifty miles (80 km) inland for three years, empowered to pick fifteen lieutenants from the senate and assign specific areas to them, 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. Such sweeping powers were not a problem because comparable extraordinary powers given to Marcus Antonius Creticus to fight piracy in Crete in 74 BC provided a precedent. The optimates in the Senate remained suspicious of Pompey – this seemed yet another extraordinary appointment. Cassius Dio claimed that Gabinius “had either been prompted by Pompey or wished in any case to do him a favor… 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.” 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.”
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, and the senators nearly killed Pompey. This outraged the people, who set upon the senators. They all ran away, except for the consul Gaius Piso, who was arrested, but 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. Trebellius tried to speak against the bill, but Gabinius postponed the vote and introduced a motion to remove him from the tribunate. After seventeen tribes had voted in favor of the motion, Trebellius backed down, keeping his office, but forced into silence. Having witnessed this, Roscius did not dare to speak, but suggested with a gesture that two commanders should be chosen, for which the people booed him loudly. The law was passed and the senate ratified it reluctantly. Pompey tried to appear as if 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 that 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.”
Plutarch did not mention Pompey being nearly killed. He gave details of the acrimony of the speeches against Pompey, with one of the senators proposing 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, only shouting loudly, resulting in the assembly being dissolved. On the day of the vote, Pompey withdrew to the countryside, and the lex Gabinia was passed. Pompey extracted further concessions and received 500 ships, 120,000 infantry, 5,000 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 assigned to a commander with his own forces.
Appian gave the same number of infantry and cavalry, but the number of ships was 270, and 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); Marcus Pomponius (Gaul and Liguria); Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus and Publius Atilius (Africa, Sardinia, Corsica); Lucius Gellius 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); Lucius Lollius (the Greek islands, the Aegean sea, and the Hellespont); Publius Piso (Bithynia, Thrace, the Propontis and the mouth of the Euxine); Quintus Caecilius Metellus Nepos Iunior (Lycia, Pamphylia, Cyprus, and Phoenicia). Pompey made a tour of the whole area. He cleared the western Mediterranean in forty days, proceeded to Brundisium (Brindisi) and cleared the eastern Mediterranean in the same amount of time.
In Plutarch’s account, Pompey’s scattered forces encompassed every pirate fleet they came across and brought them to port, the remaining pirates escaping to Cilicia. Pompey attacked Cilicia with his sixty best ships; after that, he 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, and thus Pompey went back 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, defeating 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 being fortified and difficult to take by storm. Pompey seized many ships, but he also spared 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, new customs and a gentler way of life.
In Appian’s account, Pompey went to Cilicia expecting to have to undertake sieges of rock-bound citadels. However, he did not have to. His reputation and the magnitude of his preparations provoked panic and the pirates surrendered, hoping to be treated leniently because of this. They gave up large quantities of weapons, ships and shipbuilding materials. Pompey destroyed the material, took away the ships and sent some of the captured pirates back to their countries. He recognised that they had undertaken piracy due to the poverty caused by the mentioned war and settled many of them in Mallus, Adana, Epiphania or any other uninhabited or thinly populated town in Cilicia. He sent some to Dyme in Achaea. According to Appian, the war against the pirates lasted only a few days. Pompey captured 71 ships and 306 ships were surrendered. He seized 120 towns and fortresses and killed about 10,000 pirates in battles.
In Cassius Dio’s brief account, Pompey and his lieutenants patrolled “the whole stretch of sea that the pirates were troubling,” and his fleet and his troops were irresistible both on sea and land. The leniency with which he treated the pirates who surrendered was “equally great” and won over many pirates, who went over to his side. Pompey “took care of them” and gave them land which was empty or settled them in underpopulated towns so that they would not resort to crime due to poverty. Soli was among these cities. It was on the Cilician coast and had been sacked by Tigranes the Great. Pompey renamed it Pompeiopolis
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, besieging 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.
Eastern Campaigns: Third Mithridatic War, Syria and Judea
Third Mithridatic War
Refer to the Third Mithridatic War (73-63 BC).
Lucius Licinius Lucullus was conducting the Third Mithridatic War (73-63 BC) against Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus, and Tigranes the Great, the king of Armenia. He was successful in battle; however, the war was dragging on and he opened a new front in Armenia. 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.
In 68 BC, the province of Cilicia was taken from Lucullus and assigned to Quintus Marcius Rex. He refused a request for aid from Lucullus because his soldiers refused to follow him to the front. According to Cassius Dio, this was a pretext. One of the consuls for 67 BC, Manius Acilius Glabrio, was appointed to succeed Lucullus. However, when Mithridates won back almost all of Pontus and caused havoc in Cappadocia, which was allied with Rome, Glabrio did not go to the front, but delayed in Bithynia.
Another plebeian tribune, Gaius Manilius, proposed the lex Manilia. It gave Pompey command of the forces and the areas of operation of Lucullus, and, in addition to this, Bithynia, which was held by Acilius Glabrio. It commissioned him to wage war on Mithridates and Tigranes, allowing 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 Catulus spoke up, and the law was passed. The law was supported by Julius Caesar and justified by Cicero in his extant speech Pro Lege Manilia. Former consuls also supported the law, with Cicero mentioning 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). According to Cassius Dio, while this was happening, Pompey was preparing to sail to Crete to face Metellus Creticus 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, referring not merely to Pompey’s new command against Mithridates, but also his claim to have finished the war against Spartacus.
According to Cassius Dio, Pompey made friendly proposals to Mithridates to test his 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, which 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. In Appian’s account, when the deserters heard about the demand to hand them back, Mithridates swore that he would not make peace with the Romans and that he would not give them up.
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 and encamped on a mountain that was difficult to attack. He sent the cavalry down for skirmishes, which caused a large number of desertions. Pompey moved his camp to a wooded area for protection, setting 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 to charge. The Romans attacked with the moon at their back, confusing the enemy who, because of the shadows, thought that they were nearer. The enemy fled in panic and was cut down.
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 an elevated height. When they ran 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, creating shadows and causing confusion for the enemy. Many were killed, but many, including Mithridates, fled. He then tried to go to Tigranes. Plutarch wrote that Tigranes forbade him from coming and put a reward on him, while 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 southeastern 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 had gone over to the Romans, killed and recovered that country. Meanwhile, Pompey set up a colony for his soldiers at Nicopolitans in Cappadocia.
In Appian’s account, Mithridates wintered at Dioscurias in Colchis, in 66/65 BC. He intended to travel around the Black Sea, reach the strait of the Bosporus and attack the Romans from the European side while they were in Asia Minor. He also wanted to seize the kingdom of Machares, his son who had gone over to the Romans. He crossed the territory of the Scythians (partly by permission, partly by force) and the Heniochi, who welcomed him, and he made alliances with their many princes. He contemplated marching through Thrace, Macedonia and Pannonia and crossing the Alps into Italy. He gave some of his daughters in marriage to the more powerful Scythian princes. Machares sent envoys to say he had made terms with the Romans out of necessity, and then fled to the Pontic Chersonesus, burning the ships to prevent Mithridates from pursuing him. However, his father found other ships and sent them after him, and Machares eventually killed himself.
In Appian, at this stage, Pompey pursued Mithridates as far as Colchis and then marched against Armenia. In the accounts of Plutarch and Cassius Dio, instead, he went to Armenia first and to Colchis later. In Appian, Pompey thought that his enemy would never reach the sea of Azov or do much if he escaped. His advance was more of an exploration of that country, which was the place of the legends of the Argonauts, Heracles, and Prometheus. He was accompanied by the neighbouring tribes. Only Oroeses, the king of the Caucasian Albanians, and Artoces, the king of the Caucasian Iberians, resisted him. Learning of an ambush planned by Oroeses, Pompey defeated him at the Battle of the Abas, driving the enemy into a forest and setting it on fire, pursuing the fugitives until they surrendered and brought him hostages. He then marched against Armenia.
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 to Artaxata (the royal residence), Tigranes, knowing Pompey’s leniency, surrendered and allowed a Roman garrison in his palace. He went to Pompey’s camp, where 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, which Tigranes accepted. His son was not happy with the deal and remonstrated, for which he was put in chains and reserved for Pompey’s triumph. Soon after this, Phraates III, the king of Parthia asked to be given the son in exchange for an agreement to set the river Euphrates as the boundary between Parthia and Rome, but Pompey refused.
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. The two reached Artaxata, causing Tigranes to flee to the mountains. Phraates then went back to his land, and Tigranes counterattacked, defeating 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, the elder Tigranes 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, assigning Sophene to the son. This was the area where the treasures were, and the son began a dispute over them. He did not obtain satisfaction and planned to escape, so Pompey promptly put him in chains. The treasures went to the old king, who received far more money than had been agreed.
Appian gave an explanation for the young Tigranes turning against his father. Tigranes killed two of his three sons, the first one in battle and the other while hunting, because, instead of helping him when he was thrown off his horse, he put a diadem on his head. Following this incident, he gave the crown to the third son, Tigranes. However, the latter was distressed about the incident and waged war against his father. He was defeated and fled to Phraates. Because of all this, Tigranes did not want to fight any more when Pompey got near Artaxata. The young Tigranes took refuge with Pompey as a suppliant with the approval of Phraates, who wanted Pompey’s friendship. The elder Tigranes submitted his affairs to Pompey’s decision and made a complaint against his son. Pompey called him for a meeting. He gave 6,000 talents for Pompey, 10,000 drachmas for each tribune, 1,000 for each centurion, and fifty for each soldier. Pompey pardoned him and reconciled him with his son.
In Appian’s account, Pompey gave the latter both Sophene and Gordyene. The father was left with the rest of Armenia and was ordered to give up the territory he has seized in the war: Syria (west of the river Euphrates) and part of Cilicia. Armenian deserters persuaded the younger Tigranes to make an attempt on his father, so Pompey arrested and chained him. He then founded a city in Lesser Armenia where he had defeated Mithridates, calling it Nicopolis (City of Victory).
In Appian’s account, after Armenia (still in 64 BC), Pompey turned west, crossed Mount Taurus and fought Antiochus I Theos, the king of Commagene, until the two made an alliance. He then fought Darius the Mede, and put him to flight. This was because he had “helped Antiochus or Tigranes before him.” According to Plutarch and Cassius Dio, instead, it was at this point that Pompey turned north. The two writers provided different accounts of Pompey’s operations in the territories on the Caucasus Mountains and Colchis. He fought in Caucasian Iberia (inland and to the south of Colchis) and Caucasian Albania (or Arran, roughly corresponding with modern Azerbaijan).
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 fleet. However, he encountered difficulties there and the Albanians revolted again, so 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 badly-armed infantry and 12,000 cavalry led by the king’s brother. He pushed north again, but turned back south because he encountered a great number of snakes.
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, desiring 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 learned of this and invaded his territory, catching him unaware. He seized an impregnable frontier pass and got close to a fortress in the narrowest point of the river Cyrnus, leaving Artoces with no chance to array his forces. He withdrew, crossed the river and burned the bridge, making the fortress surrender. 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 l, 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 was coming close and wanted to lead him into a conflict. At the Battle of the Abas, 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, letting the cavalry through its ranks. Some of the enemy forces, which were in hot pursuit, also ended up through their ranks and were killed, with the rest being surrounded and routed. Pompey then overran the country, granting peace to the Albanians and concluding truces with other tribes on the northern side of the Caucasus.
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. 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, so the king 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, and 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, angry about not receiving help, reconciled with Phraates in order not to strengthen the position of the Romans.
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,” 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, annexing the country because it had no legitimate kings. He spent most of his time settling disputes between cities and kings or sending envoys to do so, gaining 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 this, and was criticised because this was seen as an evasion of the pursuit of Mithridates. He was urged to turn against him, since there were reports that Mithridates was preparing to march on Italy via the river Danube. However, while Pompey was encamped near Petra, a messenger brought the news that Mithridates was dead. Pompey left Arabia and went to Amisus.
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, which had been ravaged by the Arabians and Tigranes. Antiochus XIII Philadelphus (one of the last rulers of Syria) asked for them back, to no avail, and Pompey put them under Roman jurisdiction.
Cassius Dio also mentioned that Mithridates planned to reach the river Danube and invade Italy. However, he was aging and becoming weaker. As his position became weaker and that of the Romans stronger, a series of incidents happened. Some of his associates became estranged, a massive earthquake destroyed many towns, there was a mutiny by the soldiers and some of his sons were kidnapped and taken to Pompey. All of this contributed to him becoming 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 afterwards. 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, for which he was granted the kingdom of Bosporus and listed as an ally.
Syria had once been the heart of the vast Seleucid Empire, but, after the death of Antiochus IV in 164 BC, it had become increasingly unstable. Continuous civil wars had weakened central authority. By 163 BC, the Maccabean Revolt established the independence of Judea. The Parthians 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 their gains. By 100 BC, the Seleucid Empire was reduced to a few cities in western Syria. It still had to put up with countless civil wars, surviving only because none of its neighbors took it over. In 83 BC, invited by a faction in one of the civil wars, Tigranes II of Armenia invaded Syria 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, the civil wars continued.
Pompey was concerned about the political instability to the southeast of Rome’s new provinces in Asia Minor. Both Syria and Judea were lacking stability. In Syria, the Seleucid state was disintegrating, and in Judea, there was a civil war. Pompey’s actions in Syria and Judea are known 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. During the winter of 64/63 BC, Pompey had wintered his army at Antioch, Seleucid Syria’s capital. There, he received many envoys and had to arbitrate in countless disputes. At the beginning of the campaigning season of 63 BC, Pompey left Antioch and marched south. He took and destroyed two strongholds being used by brigands: Lysias, ruled over by a Jewish brigand named Silas, and Syria’s old military capital, Apameia. He then took on the robber gangs of the Libanus range and the coast north of Sidon. He executed a brigand chief named Dionysius of Tripolis, and took over the country of Ptolemy of Calchis. Ptolemy was hated in Syria, Phoenicia and Judea; Pompey, however, let him escape punishment in exchange for 1,000 talents (24,000,000 sesterces). This vast sum was used by Pompey to pay his soldiers, vividly illustrating the attractions of piracy and brigandage in the poorly controlled country. He also took Heliopolis. The Pompeian army then crossed the Anti-Lebanon mountains, took Pella and reached Damascus, where he was met by ambassadors from all over Syria, Egypt and Judea. This completed the takeover of Syria. From this time onward, Syria was to be a Roman province.
A conflict between the brothers Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II over the succession to the Hasmonean throne began in Judea in 69 BC, in which Aristobulus deposed Hyrcanus. Then, Antipater the Idumaean became the advisor to the weak-willed Hyrcanus and persuaded him to contend for the throne, advising him to escape to Aretas III, the king of the Arabian Nabataean Kingdom. Hyrcanus 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, with only the priests supporting 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’s lieutenants, Metellus and Lollius, had already taken Damascus, Scaurus proceeded to Judea. The ambassadors of Aristobulus and Hyrcanus asked for his help, both offering 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, and Aristobulus gathered an army, pursued him and defeated him. Scaurus then returned to Syria.
When Pompey went to Syria, he was visited by ambassadors from Syria and Egypt, with Aristobulus sending him a very expensive golden vine. A little later, ambassadors from Hyrcanus 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 Hyrcanus, Aristobulus and those who did not want a monarchy and wanted to return to the tradition of being under the high priest. Hyrcanus claimed that he was the rightful king as the elder brother and that he had been usurped, accusing Aristobulus of making incursions in nearby countries and being responsible for piracy, thus causing a revolt. Aristobulus claimed that Hyrcanus’ indolence had caused him to be deposed, and that he took power lest others seize it. Pompey reproached Aristobulus for his violence, and told the men to wait for him, for he would settle the matter after dealing 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.
Aristobulus went to talk to Pompey and returned to the fortress three times to pretend he was complying with him, intending to wear him down and prepare for war should he rule against him. When Pompey ordered him to surrender the fortress, Aristobulus did give it up, but 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, where Aristobulus went to see him, promising 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. However, the soldiers of Aristobulus did not let them in, which led Pompey to arrest Aristobulus and enter Jerusalem. The pro-Aristobulus faction went to the Temple and prepared for a siege, while 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, yet 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.
Pompey took advantage of the enemy celebrating the Sabbath to deploy his battering rams, since 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 a rampage. 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 Temple to purify it, and to bring offerings to God, as Jewish law required. Pompey restored Hyrcanus 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.”
Pompey returned the Syrian cities the Jews had conquered to Syrian rule, 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 also made Jerusalem a tributary of Rome and Judea a satellite of Syria. According to Josephus, Pompey then went to Cilicia, taking Aristobulus and his children with him, and, after this, he returned to Rome.
This contrasts with the account of Plutarch, who 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, and he then left Arabia and went to Amisus. 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 Aristobulus, and it was not mentioned whether he actually reached Petra before turning to Judea. He learned of the death of Mithridates when he was marching towards Jerusalem. When he completed 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. Strabo in his Geographica gives a short account of Pompey’s siege of the temple, in line with the account of Josephus.
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. His army suffered hunger, thus Hyrcanus ordered Antipater to supply grain and other provisions from Judea. Josephus did not give an explanation for the actions of Scaurus, but it probably had to do with the security of the Decapolis. Josephus also wrote:
Now the occasions of this misery which came upon Jerusalem were Hyrcanus 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.
Pompey’s Settlements in the East
Pompey set out to liberate a number of Hellenised towns from their rulers. He joined seven towns east of the River Jordan that 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 organized the league as a means of preserving the sovereignty of the city-states. Although he put them under the protection of the Roman province of Syria, each city-state was autonomous. It is thought that it was not organized 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 their inhabitants (i.e. they were given self-government). He also mentioned cities in Judea: Azotus (Ashdod), Jamneia (Yavne), Joppa (Jaffa), Dora (Tel Dor, now an archaeological site), Marissa (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 their people. Two other towns near Gaza, Anthedon (now an archaeological site) and Raphia (Rafah), as well as another inland town, Adora (Dura, near Hebron) were also restored.
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 era. 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 and 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, with some of the exiles returning home and probably new settlers for the nearby areas and Hellenized Syrians being brought in. A distinction between citizens of the polis and natives was restored. Jews were not counted as citizens because of religion, and were probably deported or saw their property confiscated in revenge, with some probably becoming tenants of Hellenized landowners. Such developments increased the long-standing hostility between Jews and Hellenized people.
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 Pontus. The kingdom of Bithynia had been bequeathed to Rome by its last king, Nicomedes IV, in 74 BC, triggering the Third Mithridatic War. During this war, it was not formally annexed. The territories Mithridates had conquered, 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 client ruler in 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), Lycaonia (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 his son and successor (Tarcondimotus II) were loyal allies of Rome.
As noted above, ancient Cilicia was divided into Cilicia Trachea, a mountainous region in the west, and Cilicia Pedias, 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, and a small part of Cilicia Pedias then became Roman territory. It was made the military operational area for the 78-74 BC 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. However, 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 Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus’ campaigns there (69-67 BC), 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.”
- The Roman province of Bithynia was enlarged and became the province of Bithynia et Pontus (Pompey added the western part of Pontus).
- Galatia was divided between Deiotarus ruling the Tolistobogii in the west, Domnilaus ruling the Tectosages in the middle, Brogitarus ruling the Trocmi in the east, and Pylaemenes ruling Paphlagonia in the north.
- Capadocia was restored to Ariobarzanes (Pompey actually increased his lands).
- The Roman province of Cilicia was also enlarged (Pompey added Pamphylia and several other inland areas). Cilicia kept its name.
- The coastal strip from Gaza to the gulf of Issus was formed into a new Roman province, that is, Syria.
- Deiotarus (the ruler of the Tolistobogii) was given an extensive kingdom east of Bithynia et Pontus; consisting of the eastern part of Pontus and Lesser Armenia.
- Colchis was given to Aristarchus.
- Commagene was given to Antiochus.
- Osrhoene was given to Abgar.
- The Amanus range was given to Tarcondimotus.
- Tigranes was allowed to remain king of Armenia.
- Sophene became independent of Armenia (but a client of Rome).
- Gordyene became a client of Rome.
- Hyrcanus was reinstated as ruler and high priest of Judaea (although much of the power in Judaea passed into the hands of Antipater).
Return to Rome and Third Triumph
Pompey went back to Amisus, where he found many gifts from Pharnaces and many dead bodies of the royal family, including that of Mithridates. Pompey could not look at Mithridates’ body and sent it to Sinope. Before he departed for Rome, Pompey paid his army. The sum distributed amounted, we are told, to 16,000 talents (384,000,000 sesterces). He then travelled in greater pomp. On his way to Italy, he went to Mytilene on the island of Lesbos, and 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, yet 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, if he arrived in Rome with such a large crowd, he would not have needed an army for a revolution.
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, which he celebrated on his 45th birthday in 61 BC, seven months after his return to Italy. Plutarch wrote that it surpassed all previous triumphs, taking 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 carried in front of the procession 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 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 the Jews; hostages from the Caucasian Albanians and the Caucasian Iberians; and the king of Commagene.
Appian gave the names of the paraded children of Mithridates VI. They were the sons Artaphernes, Cyrus, Oxathres, Darius, and Xerxes, and the daughters Orsabaris and Eupatra. He specified that there were three Iberian chiefs and two Albanian ones. Olthaces, the chief of the Colchians; the tyrants of the Cilicians; the female rulers of the Scythians and Menander the Laodicean, the commander of Mithridates’ cavalry, were also paraded. In total, 324 people were paraded. The procession included images of Tigranes and Mithridates, who were not present, and the sons and daughters of Mithridates who had died. The image of Mithridates was made of gold and was four meters high. There was a tablet with the inscription “Ships with brazen beaks captured, 800; cities founded in Cappadocia, 8; in Cilicia and Coele-Syria, 20; in Palestine, the one which is now Seleucis. Kings conquered: Tigranes the Armenian; Artoces the Iberian; Oroezes the Albanian; Darius the Mede; Aretas the Nabataean and Antiochus of Commagene.” There were two-horse carriages and litters laden with gold or ornaments, including the couch of Darius; the son of Hystaspes; and the throne and scepter of Mithridates. There were 75,100,000 drachmas of silver coin and 700 ships brought to the port. Appian also 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.”
Pliny the Elder wrote that Pompey displayed “a chessboard 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.” 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.” 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 his appellation as Magnus (the Great), and that he did not contrive to receive any other honour.
Pompey increased the state’s income by 70% (from 200 million sesterces to 340 million sesterces per annum), and the value of the booty handed over to the treasury was a further 480 million sesterces. Pompey never gave an insight into his own personal fortune, but it must have been vast. Many speculated that Pompey had surpassed Crassus in wealth.
Refer to the First Triumvirate (60-53 BC).
When Pompey returned to Rome from 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. This was opposed by the senators, particularly the optimates, who 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 their supremacy and as a potential tyrant. In 60 BC, the optimates also defeated a bill that would have distributed farmland to Pompey’s veterans, and to some of the landless urban poor of Rome, who relied on a grain dole distributed by the state to survive. 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.” In the end, lacking support, Pompey let the matter drop. The Pompeian camp proved to be inadequate to respond the obstructionism of the optimates.
Midsummer of 60 BC saw the return to Rome of Julius Caesar, flushed with success from his campaign in Hispania and determined to win the consulship. Caesar was a skilled and energetic politician and exactly the man Pompey was looking for. Caesar also enjoyed the support of Marcus Licinius Crassus, allegedly Rome’s wealthiest man and a political force on his own, who had also seen his agenda blocked by the optimates. Caesar won the election for one of the two consulships for 59 BC, and could provide the kind of support needed for Pompey’s and Crassus’ bills to be passed. Caesar also pursued a policy of conciliating Crassus and Pompey, who had become rivals over the last decade.
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 optimates. Pompey’s political clout was based on his popularity as a military commander and on the political patronage and purchase of votes for his supporters and himself that his wealth could afford. He also had the support of his war veterans: “Prestige, wealth, clients, and loyal, grateful veterans who could be readily mobilized—these were the opes which could guarantee [Pompey’s] brand of [power].” Crassus was a property speculator and the richest man in Rome, who also had extensive patronage networks.
Caesar was elected, and proposed an agrarian bill to the plebeian council, which Pompey and Crassus publicly supported. The bill passed over the opposition of his colleague as consul, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus, whose election had been funded by the optimates due to his opposition to Caesar and his bill. Calpurnius Bibulus subsequently retired from politics and Caesar had the acts of Pompey’s settlements in the east passed. A law that made Caesar governor of Gallia Cisalpina and Illyricum 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. He then left Rome to take on these governorships and got involved in his Gallic Wars, which lasted from 58 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.
In 58 BC, food shortages in Rome 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 post was instituted at times of severe grain shortages to supervise the grain supply. Clodius alleged that the scarcity of grain had been engineered to support a law that 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 friends 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 foreigners. 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.
In 56 BC, Caesar, who was fighting the Gallic Wars, crossed the Alps into Italy and wintered in 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. Cassius Dio, who wrote the most detailed account of the period, did not mention the Lucca 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, which, he felt, overshadowed his own exploits. He tried to persuade the consuls not to read Caesar’s reports from Gaul and to send someone to relieve his command. He was unable to achieve anything through the consuls, and felt that Caesar’s increasing independence made his own position precarious. 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, Pompey and Crassus got Gaius Trebonius, a plebeian tribune, to propose a measure that 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, being able to 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. In the Life of Pompey, Plutarch wrote that the laws proposed by Trebonius were in accordance with the agreement made at Lucca. 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. According to Appian, Pompey lent Caesar only one legion, when two of Caesar’s lieutenants were defeated in Gaul by Ambiorix in 54 BC.
From Confrontation to Civil War
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. 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), bringing the first triumvirate to an end. Plutarch thought that fear of Crassus had led 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 that eventually led to civil war. 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.” 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.”
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, and 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 Life 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, which Cato the Younger opposed. In both versions, the violence among 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 advisor and associate in governance, to which Cato replied that he would do so in a private capacity.
Pompey married Cornelia, a daughter of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Nasica. Some people disliked this, because Cornelia was much younger, and thought 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, and he was also seen as being partial in the conduct of some trials. However, 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 his 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, but 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, which triggered a debate. Pompey showed goodwill towards Caesar, claiming that he had letters from Caesar in which he said he wanted to be relieved of his command, but Pompey opined 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, which gave rise to suspicions about his real feelings towards Caesar.
Pompey was moving towards a power struggle with Caesar and relied on the support of the Senate and the optimates. The bone of contention between the two men was the troops they both commanded. According to Plutarch, the rift between Pompey and Cato became exacerbated when Pompey fell seriously ill in Naples in 50 BC. Upon his recovery, the people of Naples offered thanksgiving sacrifices, and the resulting 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 labor of preparation, but that he would pull him down much more easily than he had raised him up.” 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, whereas 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 goodwill. Two bitter enemies of Caesar, Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Claudius Marcellus (a cousin of the previous consul) were chosen as consuls for 50 BC. Gaius Scribonius Curio, who was also opposed to Caesar, became one of the new plebeian tribunes. Caesar obtained the neutrality of Aemilius Paullus with a large sum of money, and the help of Curio by paying off his debts. When Marcellus proposed sending someone to assume command of Caesar’s army, Paullus remained silent, and Curio seconded the motion, but added that Pompey should also give up his provinces and armies to remove fear of conflict, which encountered opposition. 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, claiming 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 Caesar to disband his armies, while Pompey retained his with impunity.
Curio exposed this, saying 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, aiming at supreme power, would have no incentive to disarm. 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 disregarded the Senate when he was consul. Some senators proposed that Caesar should disarm first, but Curio maintained that Caesar was a counterbalance to Pompey’s power and that either Pompey should disarm first or both should do so simultaneously. The Senate disagreed and he dismissed the motion without coming to a resolution.
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 them 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. 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, longed to return home, and would defect to Pompey as soon as 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.
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 the provinces of 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 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, whereas all but two voted for Caesar to disband his army. There was a false rumour that Caesar was marching on Rome, to which Claudius proposed that Caesar be declared public enemy and that the army at Capua be sent against him, but 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. This angered senators, who debated a punishment for them, and the consul Cornelius Lentulus advised them to leave the Senate, for their safety. There were detachments of Pompey standing around the senate house, that secretly went to Caesar along with Curio.
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, moving for a vote about Caesar laying down his arms and Pompey retaining his command, which passed. Then, he moved for a vote on both men laying down their arms and relinquishing their command, for which only twenty-two favoured Pompey. Curio felt that he had won the day and rushed before the people, being applauded and “pelted 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 defense of his country.”
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 he would not rush with a small force, directing Pompey to levy 130,000 Italian soldiers (mainly from the veterans) and to recruit as many men as possible from the neighbouring provinces. All the 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, accustomed to celerity and audacity, decided to advance with just the one legion, anticipating his enemy and seizing strategic positions in Italy.
Civil War and Assassination
Refer to Caesar’s Civil War (49-45 BC).
Caesar 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. Therefore, 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 request negotiations. Caesar agreed to negotiate, promising the envoys that no one would suffer harm at his hands and that he would call for the immediate disbandment of the troops. However, 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. Therefore, before his envoys could return, Pompey 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 Pompey rushed away, he hastily levied troops from the Italian cities on the road, setting up garrisons as he went.
Caesar stopped his march on Rome and claimed that he was fighting against his opponents and in defence of Rome. He sent letters throughout Italy that challenged Pompey, who responded with a letter campaign himself and tried to make Caesar look as if he had turned down reasonable terms. In response, Caesar ordered his lieutenants to advance; Picenum, Etruria and Umbria were taken. Caesar was joined by his 12th legion, which increased his numbers in Italy to two legions. Pompey did not want to send his newly recruited green forces against Caesar’s battle-hardened veterans, so he decided to abandon Italy and called on all loyalist commanders to retreat south.
Meanwhile, Caesar had set out against Corfinium, in central Italy, which was occupied by Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. Domitius had thirty-one cohorts at Corfinium and decided to make a stand, probably figuring that, outnumbering Caesar three to two, he had a chance to halt the Caesarian advance. Caesar quickly took the neighbouring town of Sulmo, garrisoned by seven cohorts. His eighth legion had arrived, increasing the number of his veteran legions to three, and Curio had brought up twenty-two cohorts of recruits. Caesar now outnumbered Domitius five to three and started building siegeworks all around the city. Realising that escape for the whole army was impossible and that no relief was on its way, Domitius apparently decided to attempt to save himself and tried to escape the siege. His troops, however, found out his plans, seized Domitius as he was trying to escape, and took him to Caesar, who let Domitius go and even let him take his money with him. Domitius’ soldiers, however, were made to swear a new oath of loyalty (to Caesar) and were added to Caesar’s army. They were eventually sent to Sicily under the command of Asinius Pollio and helped him take the island from Marcus Porcius Cato.
Pompey hastened to Nuceria and then to Brundisium, the main port for crossing to Greece. He had finally decided to abandon Italy and to complete his war preparations in Greece. He wrote to the governors of the provinces, and also to the kings and cities he had won over in the Third Mithridatic War, asking them to send aid. Pompey knew he could not reach his troops in Hispania because Caesar controlled Gaul and, therefore, blocked the land route into the Iberian peninsula. He believed Caesar would be unable to pursue him to Greece because there were too few ships, and the winter, which made the Mediterranean difficult to sail, was approaching. Possibly because of the change of plan, there were only enough transports for thirty out of his fifty cohorts. Pompey decided he should let the consuls and their new recruits cross over to Dyrrhachium first, and they left by the 08 March. On the 09 March, after sixteen days of hard marching, Caesar’s army arrived at Brundisium and proceeded to set up camp outside the town walls. The city was difficult to seize, and Caesar tried to negotiate peace and resume his friendship with Pompey, who merely said that he would relay that to the consuls. Caesar then besieged and attacked the city, and Pompey repelled him until the ships returned, setting sail at night. After this, Caesar seized the city and captured two ships full of men.
From Dyrrhachium, Pompey marched to Macedonia, where he set up a training area and a camp at Beroea, a town in the lower Haliacmon valley, sixty kilometers west of Thessalonica. Pompey rapidly proceeded to build his new army. He already had with him the five legions he brought from Italy, and to these were added four more; the veteran settlers in Macedonia and Crete provided one, the remains of the two legions which formed the permanent garrison of Cilicia provided one; and the consul Lentulus, now governor of Asia, recruited two more. Furthermore, Metellus Scipio, the governor of Syria, was ordered to bring his two legions to Greece, but he had some difficulty bringing them across the Amanus range and got no further than Pergamum before deciding to put his men into winter quarters. Pompey also sent instructions to all the client rulers of the East to provide troops: Galatia, Cappadocia, Lesser Armenia, Lycia, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Paphlagonia, Pontus, Greater Armenia, Commagene and Egypt all sent contingents. The infantry was distributed among the legions; there also were 3,000 archers, 1,200 slingers, and, the pride of the army, 7,000 cavalry.
Pompey also gathered a fleet, estimated by Plutarch at 500 fighting ships with many more transports and other craft, but probably nearer 300 fighting ships. They were under the supreme command of Marcus Bibulus and divided into five flotillas commanded by: Gnaeus Pompey (60 ships from Egypt); Laelius and Triarius (the Asiatic fleet); Gaius Cassius Longinus (70 ships from Syria); Marcellus and Coponius (20 ships from Rhodes); and Marcus Octavius and Scribonius Libo (the fleets from Achaea and Liburnia). The task of the grand fleet was to maintain a patrol along the whole eastern coast of the Adriatic, to prevent corn from reaching the Italian ports, safeguard the transport of essentials to the Pompeian forces and their supply bases and, most importantly, keep Caesar from crossing over. Sixteen ships were sent to assist Massilia, which was under siege by Caesar’s forces.
Caesar went to Rome, after which he embarked on an astonishing 27-day forced march to Hispania and defeated the troops Pompey had there. Caesar then returned to Italy, crossed the Adriatic Sea and landed in what is now southern Albania, even though the Pompeian fleet controlled this sea. There, he advanced on Oricum, which the commander of the garrison handed to him. Two lieutenants of Pompey, who were guarding merchant ships loaded with wheat for Pompey’s troops, sank them with their warships to prevent them from falling into 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 Dyrrhachium (Durrës, Albania), where Pompey had an arsenal. Pompey hurried to defend Dyrrhachium and arrived there first. The opposing forces fought the Battle of Dyrrhachium. Pompey’s troops heavily outnumbered the enemy. He built a fortified camp south of the city, so 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 were supplied by ships, as his camp was near the sea. However, Pompey held a limited amount of land, which 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 from Caesar’s camp told him about a gap in Caesar’s fortifications where two palisades near the sea had not been joined. 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 abandoned and added an entrenchment so that the two camps were joined, and gained access to a stream.
Caesar attacked these new fortifications. However, he was outnumbered, and Pompey sent a large cavalry force to outflank Caesar’s troops, which made Caesar withdraw and give up the siege. Pompey could have destroyed Caesar’s retreating army by pursuing it, but did not. Caesar thought that victory was unexpected for Pompey, because, a little earlier, his troops were fleeing from their camp, and Caesar thought Pompey suspected an ambush. Moreover, Pompey’s 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.”
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 this fruitless pursuit.
Caesar marched speedily. He was in a hurry to join his lieutenant, Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus, to prevent him from being blindsided by Pompey’s arrival. Caesar considered three contingencies:
- To draw Pompey away from the coast and from his stores at Dyrrhachium, and fight him in equal conditions;
- To go to Italy with his army and that of Gnaeus Domitius’ via Illyria, should Pompey cross back to Italy;
- To blockade Metellus Scipio, one of Pompey’s lieutenants, to force Pompey to move to his aid, should Pompey try to besiege Apollonia and Oricum to cut Caesar off the coast.
Caesar informed Gnaeus Domitius about his plans, left garrisons at Apollonia, Lissus and Oricum, and began 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 of Domitius’ Gallic scouts and informed them about the situation after Dyrrhachium. Domitius, who was only a four-hour march away, avoided the danger and joined Caesar, who was on his way to Aeginium, a town just past the border of Thessaly. Domitius arrived at Gomphi, the first town in Thessaly, from which envoys had offered their resources to Caesar and asked him for a garrison.
However, Pompey had spread exaggerated rumors 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 help, because the town could not withstand a long siege. However, although Metellus Scipio had already brought his troops to Larissa, the capital of Thessaly, Pompey had not yet arrived. Caesar besieged Gomphi to gain its resources and to frighten the neighboring areas, taking it by storm in one day and quickly going to Metropolis. This town also closed its gates, but surrendered when they heard about the fall of Gomphi. All Thessalian towns not held by Metellus Scipio’s troops submitted to Caesar.
The two forces fought the Battle of Pharsalus. They were encamped near each other. With the joining of Pompey and Metellus Scipio’s large armies, Pompey’s supporters were confident of victory, and encouraged him to take to the field against Caesar rather than follow a strategy of attrition. 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 that was unfavourable to Caesar, and 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 rampart of his camp. Caesar thought this looked like a chance to fight on more advantageous ground, and he prepared for battle. Pompey’s army outnumbered Caesar’s, by almost two to one. Pompey tried to have his numerically 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 rampart, 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 rampart could not withstand the shower of javelins and left their positions. Pompey rode away from the camp and went to Larissa. From there, he reached the coast with a retinue of 30 cavalry and boarded a grain ship.
Caesar pursued Pompey to prevent him from gathering other forces to renew the war. Pompey 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 Pompey wanted new levies to fight or whether this was concealment of a planned escape.
When he heard that Caesar was approaching, Pompey left and went to Mytilene, 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, Pompey heard that Cato the Younger was sailing to Africa. Pompey blamed himself for not having used his superior navy and not having stationed at a place where he could have had naval backup 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 Parthia’s king, Arsaces, was untrustworthy and the place unsafe for Pompey’s wife. This last point put Pompey off. He was advised to go instead to Egypt, which was only three days’ sail away, and whose king, Ptolemy XIII, although only a boy, was indebted by the friendship and the help Pompey had given to his father, Ptolemy XII.
According to Caesar, Pompey went from Mytilene to Cilicia and Cyprus. There, he learned 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, with the islanders having been informed that Caesar was approaching. Pompey gave up on going to Syria. He took funds from the tax collectors, borrowed money to hire soldiers, and armed 2,000 men. He boarded a ship with many bronze coins.
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 close, thus Pompey sent a messenger to announce his arrival to Ptolemy and to request his aid.
Potheinus the eunuch, who was the boy king’s regent, held a council with Theodotus of Chios, the king’s tutor; Achillas, the head of the army; amongst others. According to Plutarch, some advised driving Pompey away, and others welcoming him. Theodotus argued that neither option was safe: if welcomed, Pompey would become a master and Caesar an enemy, while, if turned away, Pompey would blame the Egyptians for rejecting him and Caesar for making him continue his pursuit. Instead, assassinating Pompey would eliminate fear of him and gratify Caesar.
Caesar thought this was decided because Ptolemy’s forces included many of Pompey’s soldiers who had been taken to Alexandria from Syria by Aulus Gabinius to restore Ptolemy XII when he had been deposed. These soldiers had subsequently remained in Egypt as part of the Ptolemaic army. Caesar therefore assumed that the king’s advisors had decided to murder Pompey in case he tried to manipulate the Roman contingent of the Egyptian forces, in order to seize power.
On 28 September, Achillas went to Pompey’s ship on a fishing boat together with Lucius Septimius, who had once been one of Pompey’s officers, and a third assassin, Savius. Pompey’s associates saw this lack of pomp with suspicion, and advised Pompey to put back out to open sea, out of reach of the Egyptians’ missiles. 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 Pompey was going to be killed, but he boarded the boat. The lack of friendliness on the boat prompted Pompey to tell Septimius that he was an old comrade, the latter merely nodding. He thrust a sword into Pompey, and then Achillas and Savius stabbed him with daggers. The people on Pompey’s ship could see this and, horrified, fled. Because the wind was favourable, the Egyptians did not pursue them.
Pompey’s head was severed, and his unclothed body was thrown into 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 before his 58th birthday.
When Caesar arrived in Egypt a few days later, he was appalled. He turned away, 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. Pompey’s remains were taken to Cornelia, who gave them burial at his Alban villa.
Pompey’s military glory was second to none for two decades. Yet his skills were occasionally criticized by some of his contemporaries. Sertorius or Lucullus, for instance, were especially critical. Pompey’s tactics were usually efficient, albeit not particularly innovative or imaginative, and they could prove insufficient against greater tacticians. However, Pharsalus was his only decisive defeat. At times, he was reluctant to risk an open battle. While not extremely charismatic, Pompey could display tremendous bravery and fighting skills on the battlefield, which inspired his men. While being a superb commander, Pompey also earned a reputation for stealing other generals’ victories.
On the other hand, Pompey is usually considered an outstanding strategist and organiser, who could win campaigns without displaying genius on the battlefield, but simply by constantly outmanoeuvring his opponents and gradually pushing them into a desperate situation. Pompey was a great forward planner, and had tremendous organisational skill, which allowed him to devise grand strategies and operate effectively with large armies. During his campaigns in the east, he relentlessly pursued his enemies, 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. In some instances, Sertorius showed up and forced Pompey to abandon a siege, only to see him strike somewhere else. This strategy was not spectacular, but it led to constant territorial gains and did much to demoralise 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 in 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 he could have starved Caesar’s army to death. However, he was finally compelled to fight an open battle by his allies, and his conventional tactics proved no match to those of Caesar (who also commanded the more experienced troops).
Later Portrayals and Reputation
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 once seemed 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 Pompey 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 Pierre Corneille’s play The Death of Pompey (1642).
Despite his war against Caesar, Pompey was still widely celebrated during the imperial period as the conqueror of the Orient. For example, pictures of Pompey were carried at Augustus’ funeral procession. And, as a triumphator, he had numerous statues in Rome, one of which was on the forum of Augustus. Although the imperial power did not honour Pompey as much as it did his arch enemy, who was considered a god, his reputation among many aristocrats and historians was equal, or even superior, to that of Caesar.
In Popular Culture
Pompey has appeared as a character in multiple modern works.
- Pompey makes a guest appearance in the French comic book Asterix and the Actress.
- In comics, Pompey appears as Julius Caesar’s foe throughout the Adventures of Alix series.
- Films and theatre:
- A theatrical portrayal of his life was John Masefield’s play The Tragedy of Pompey the Great (1910).
- In the opening scene of the film King of Kings (1961), he is played by actor Conrado San Martín.
- In Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series of historical novels, Pompey’s youthful exploits are depicted in Fortune’s Favourites, 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, leading to his betrayal and murder in Egypt, are all told in Caesar.
- 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, which depicts 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’ trilogy of the life of Cicero (Imperium, Lustrum and Dictator), in which Pompey is portrayed as bombastic and dim-witted, though fearsome.
- In the television series Xena: Warrior Princess, he is portrayed by actor Jeremy Callaghan.
- Chris Noth portrays Pompey in the miniseries Julius Caesar (2002).
- He appears as a major character in the season 1 of the HBO series Rome, portrayed by Kenneth Cranham.
- He was played by John Shrapnel in the BBC One docudrama series, Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire (2006).
- In the television series Spartacus: War of the Damned, he is portrayed by actor Joel Tobeck.
- He appears in the Netflix series Roman Empire, played by Stephen Lovatt.
Marriages and Offspring
- Pompey’s first wife was Antistia.
- His second wife was Aemilia, Sulla’s stepdaughter.
- His third wife was Mucia Tertia, whom he divorced for adultery, according to Cicero’s letters. The two had three children:
- Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, executed in 45 BC, after the Battle of Munda;
- Pompeia Magna, married to Faustus Cornelius Sulla, with descendants; and
- Sextus Pompey, who would rebel in Sicily against Augustus.
- His fourth wife was Julia, daughter of Caesar, that died giving birth to a child of Pompey who was born prematurely and lived only a few days.
- The gender of the child is unknown, because the sources are contradictory.
- His fifth and last wife was Cornelia Metella, daughter of Metellus Scipio.
After returning from his campaigns in the east, Pompey spent a large part of his new wealth on building projects. The grandest of these was a great stone theatre complex, on the Campus Martius and the lower slopes of the Pincian Hill in northern Rome. Based, so it was said, on that of Mytilene, it was Rome’s first stone theatre and a landmark in the history of Roman architecture.
Pompey commissioned and collected hundreds of paintings and statues to decorate the theatre. Pliny records the names of several “old masters” whose works were acquired, and there is evidence that Pompey patronised at least two contemporary Italian sculptors, Pasiteles and Coponius.
On 12 August 55 BC, the Theatre of Pompey was inaugurated. Containing seats for an estimated 10,000 spectators, it had a temple of Venus (Pompey’s patron goddess) constructed at the back of the cavea, or auditorium, in such a way that the tiers of the seats formed the steps leading up to the front of the temple. Attached to the southeast side of the theatre was a great porticus or rectangular garden, measuring approximately 180 by 135 metres, with covered colonnades running around the sides, providing shelter for the spectators in the event of rain. The walls of the colonnades were decorated with paintings gathered from the art collections of the Roman world. Either in the porticus or the theatre itself were numerous statues, the arrangement of which was entrusted to Cicero’s good friend Atticus. They included fourteen statues, representing the nations which Pompey had conquered, and one of Pompey himself was placed in a large hall attached to the porticus, where meetings of the Senate could be held.
Plutarch tells us that Pompey built himself a house in the vicinity of the theatre, “like a dinghy behind a yacht,” more splendid than his old house on the Carinae but not extravagant enough to incite envy.
Chronology of Pompey’s Life and Career
- 29 September 106 BC – Born in Picenum.
- 89 BC – Serves under his father at Asculum (during the Social War).
- 83 BC – Aligns with Sulla, after his return from the First Mithridatic War against King Mithridates VI of Pontus, raising a legion and cavalry in hopes of joining him.
- 82 BC – Marriage to Aemilia at the behest of Sulla, but Aemilia is already pregnant and eventually dies during childbirth.
- 82-81 BC – Defeats Gaius Marius’ allies in Sicily and Africa.
- 81 BC – Returns to Rome and celebrates first triumph.
- 80 BC – Pompey marries Mucia, of the Mucii Scaevolae family.
- 79 BC – Pompey supports the election of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, who 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 rebel Marcus Junius Brutus, father of Brutus, who would go on to assassinate Julius Caesar.
- 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, obtaining his second triumph.
- 70 BC – First consulship (with Marcus Licinius Crassus).
- 67 BC – Defeats the pirates and goes to the province of Asia.
- 66-61 BC – Defeats King Mithridates of Pontus, ending the Third Mithridatic War.
- 64-63 BC – Marches through Syria, the Levant, and Judea.
- 29 September 61 BC – Third triumph.
- April 59 BC – The first triumvirate is constituted. Pompey allies with Julius Caesar and Crassus, marrying Caesar’s daughter Julia (wife of Pompey).
- 58-55 BC – Governs Hispania Ulterior by proxy, while the Theatre of Pompey is constructed.
- 55 BC – Second consulship (with Marcus Licinius Crassus), and the Theatre of Pompey is finally inaugurated;
- 54 BC – Julia dies, and the first triumvirate ends.
- 52 BC – Serves as sole consul for an intercalary month, but has a third ordinary consulship with Metellus Scipio for the rest of the year, marrying his daughter 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, while 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.