Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus

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Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus

This protégé of Sulla’s was born September 29, 106 BC in Picenum to Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo. Strabo was a wealthy man who fought under Sulla against Marius and the first to earn consulship among his gens Pompeii. His loyal troops would later follow Pompey the Great who spent his childhood following his father on his military expeditions.

By the time Pompey was 17, he held a command and his staff officer was Marcus Tullius Cicero. Upon the death of Pompey Strabo and his return from the first Mithridatic War, Sulla found the younger Pompey and his father’s three legions helpful in controlling the city and so married Pompey to his stepdaughter in 83 BC; it was the first of his many politically minded marriages. In 82-81, Sulla sent Pompey to secure Sicily and thereby secure Rome’s grain supply. From Sicily, he continued the fighting into Africa where he held a number of victories. Upon conclusion, he demanded a triumph to which Sulla agreed. Therefore, at the young age of 25 Pompey was awarded the cognomen Magnus and earned his first triumph heralding his great future ahead.

In 76, Pompey demanded proconsular imperium to fight against a Marian general, Sertorius, who was stirring up the Hispania province. Pompey joined Metellus Pius against Sertorius, but only defeated the troops when Sertorius was murdered in 71. He quickly moved his troops back to Italy to finish up the crushing of Spartacus’ rebellion which took the credit for the victory away from Crassus who had destroyed the majority of the revolting slaves. Following this victory, Pompey was elected junior co-consul with Crassus for 70 BC at the young age of 35.

Three years later, in 67 BC, the Senate granted Pompey a special task-force to eliminate the pirate threat in the Mediterranean. This appointment included imperium greater than any other general in the East had. Fears that Pompey would become power-hungry and become the next Sulla were well founded; his ability to administrate provinces and his military genius combined with his great imperium were the makings for another tyrant. Pompey finished his pirate campaign within three months. The senate then conferred on him power to fight Mithridates in the Third Mithridatic war. While many senators were wary of his power, in the senate both missions Caesar heartily supported. During this expedition, Pompey would reorganize the east and annex a large portion of Asia for Rome under his control. He went on to capture Jerusalem and defeated both the king of Armenia and the king of Syria. He expanded Rome’s power in the east to limits which would remain largely unchanged throughout the empire.

In 62, Pompey returned to Rome wanting both a third triumph and to run for consul by postponing consular elections for the day after his triumph. Cato opposed this dual celebration and fought Pompey’s enormous power. He forced Pompey to choose the triumph over a second consulship. This triumph was the largest to date, and encompassed two days of celebration. Following the triumph, he dismissed his troops which alleviated senators worries and began working behind the scenes of the Senate attempting to pass laws which would grant his veterans public land. However, Clodius and others frustrated each move he seemed to make so he turned to Caesar and Crassus who offered stronger political positioning.

Around 60 BC, it forced the three men into the first triumvirate to accomplish their individual motives. In 59 BC, Caesar was elected consul and Pompey’s land grants were given to him as was a new wife, Caesar’s daughter Julia. He was granted the province Hispania Ulterior which he administrated through his underlings while he administered the grain supply in Rome. However, the political scene in Rome grew tense following Cicero’s exile.

In 55 BC, the political collusion between the three great men was disintegrating, it took great skill and even more money to secure Pompey and Crassus a second consulship. A year later, Julia died in childbirth and the Parthians at the battle of Carrhae soundly defeated Crassus. The senate started to see Pompey as the lesser of two evils, and when Caesar offered Pompey a second marriage he refused and instead married Cornelia in 52, the daughter of Caesar’s great personal enemy Metellus Scipio. While Caesar was away fighting Vercingetorix, Pompey created several laws which made prosecution for bribery effective retroactively and one in which one could not stand for consulship in absentia. It was an attack against Caesar, and finally in 51 Pompey made sure Caesar knew he would be unable to stand for consulship unless he gave up his armies.

When Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49, effectively declaring war on Rome, Pompey fled first to Brundisium and then to the East hoping to regroup and thinking that Caesar would never dare to follow him. During the siege of Dyrrhachium, Pompey nearly defeated Caesar but failed to press his advantage. The final blow came in 48 at the battle of Pharsalus in Greece. He fled to Egypt with his wife and son where he hoped Ptolemy XIII would receive him favorably. However, Ptolemy saw an opportunity and murdered and decapitated Pompey showing the head to Caesar upon his arrival. Plutarch claims Caesar wept upon seeing the head of his former son-in-law and greatest rival and killed Ptolemy. Strangely, Pompey the Great was killed on his 58th birthday. The senate deified Pompey in 45 BC.


“Pompey.” Wikepedia. 17 Jan. 2006

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