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Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus

Statue of Pompey the Great
Born September 29, 106 BC
Rome, Roman Republic
Died September 28, 48 BC (aged 57)
Ptolemaic Kingdom
Occupation Politician and military commander

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey (/'pɒmpi/) or Pompey the Great[1] (Classical Latin abbreviation: CN·POMPEIVS·CN·F·SEX·N·MAGNVS[2]) (106 BC – 48 BC), was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic. He came from a wealthy Italian provincial background, and established himself in the ranks of Roman nobility by successful leadership in several campaigns. Sulla addressed him by the cognomen Magnus (the Great) and he was awarded three triumphs.

Pompey joined his rival Marcus Licinius Crassus and his ally and father-in-law Julius Caesar in a military-political alliance known as the First Triumvirate. After the deaths of Crassus and Julia, Pompey's wife and Caesar's daughter, Pompey and Caesar contended the leadership of the Roman state in a civil war. Pompey sided with the optimates, the conservative and aristocratic majority of the Roman Senate. When Caesar defeated him at the battle of Pharsalus he sought refuge in Egypt, where he was assassinated. His career and defeat are significant in Rome's subsequent transformation from Republic to Principate and Empire.


Early life and political debut

Pompey's father, Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo was a wealthy landed Italian provincial from Picenum, one of the "new men" whose influence would increasingly dominate Roman politics in the Late Republic.[3] Pompeius Strabo ascended the traditional cursus honorum, becoming quaestor in 104 BC, praetor in 92 BC and consul in 89 BC, and acquired a reputation for greed, political double-dealing and military ruthlessness. He supported Sulla's traditionalist optimates against the popularist general Marius in the first Marian-Sullan war. He died during the Sullan campaign against the Italians in 87 BC, either as a casualty of pandemic plague, or struck by lightning, or possibly both.[4] In Plutarch's account, his body was dragged from its bier by the mob.[5] His nineteen year old son Pompey inherited his estates, his political leanings and the loyalty of his legions.

Pompey the Great in middle age. Marble bust in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark

Pompey had served two years under his father's command, and was involved in the final acts of the Marsic Social War against the Italians. He returned to Rome and was prosecuted for misappropriation of plunder: his betrothal to the judge's daughter Antistia secured a rapid acquittal.[6]

For the next few years, the Marians had possession of Italy.[7] When Sulla returned from campaign against Mithridates in 83 BC, Pompey raised three Picenean legions to support him against the Marian regime of Gnaeus Papirius Carbo[8]

Sulla and his allies displaced the Marians in Italy and Rome: Sulla, now Dictator of Rome, was impressed by the young Pompey's self-confident performance. He addressed him as imperator and offered his stepdaughter Aemilia Scaura in marriage. Aemilia – already married and pregnant – divorced her husband and Pompey divorced Antistia.[9] Though Aemilia died in childbirth soon after, the marriage confirmed Pompey's loyalty and greatly boosted his career.[10]

Sicily and Africa

With the war in Italy over, Sulla sent Pompey against the Marians in Sicily and Africa.[11] In 82 BC, Pompey secured Sicily, guaranteeing Rome's grain supply. He executed Gnaeus Papirius Carbo and his supporters out of hand, which may have led to his dubbing as the adulescens carnifex meaning "adolescent butcher".[12] In 81 BC he moved on to the Roman province of Africa, where he defeated Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus and the Numidian king Hiarbas, after a hard-fought battle.[13]

After this string of victories, Pompey was proclaimed Imperator by his troops on the field in Africa; once back in Rome, he was given an enthusiastic popular reception and hailed by Sulla as Magnus ("the Great") – probably in recognition of Pompey's undoubted victories and popularity but also with some degree of sarcasm. The young general was still officially a mere privatus (private citizen) who had held no offices in the cursus honorum. The title may have been meant to cut Pompey down to size; he himself used it only later in his career.[14]

When Pompey demanded a triumph for his African victories, Sulla refused: it would be an unprecedented, even illegal honour for a young privatus – he must disband his legions. Pompey refused, and presented himself expectantly at the gates of Rome: Sulla gave in.[15] However, Sulla had his own triumph first, then allowed Metellus Pius his triumph, relegating Pompey to an extra-legal third place in a quick succession of triumphs.[16] On the day, Pompey attempted to upstage both his seniors in a triumphal chariot towed by an elephant, representing his exotic African conquests. The elephant would not fit through the city gate. Some hasty re-planning was needed, much to the embarrassment of Pompey and amusement of those present.[17] His refusal to give in to his troops' near-mutinous demands for cash probably impressed his mentor and Rome's conservatives.

Quintus Sertorius and Spartacus

Bust of Pompey in the Residenz, Munich.

Pompey's career seems to have been driven by desire for military glory and disregard for traditional political constraints.[18] In the consular elections of 78 BC, he supported Lepidus against Sulla's wishes. In 78, Sulla died; when Lepidus revolted, Pompey suppressed him on behalf of the senate. Then he asked for proconsular imperium in Hispania[19] to deal with the Marian general Quintus Sertorius, who had held out for the past three years against Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, one of Sulla's most able generals. The Roman aristocracy turned him down – they were beginning to fear the young, popular and successful general. Pompey resorted to his tried and tested persuasion; he refused to disband his legions until his request was granted.[20] The senate acceded, reluctantly granted him the title of proconsul and powers equal to those of Metellus, and sent him to Hispania.[21]

Pompey remained there from 76 – 71 BC. Sertorius was murdered by his own officer Marcus Perperna Vento, who was defeated in 72 by Pompey, at their first battle. By early 71 the whole of Hispania was subdued.[22] Pompey showed a talent for efficient organisation and fair administration in the conquered province; this extended his patronage throughout Hispania and into southern Gaul.[23] Some time in 71 BC, he set off for Italy, along with his army.

Meanwhile, Crassus was facing Spartacus to end Rome's Third Servile War. Crassus defeated Spartacus; but in his march towards Rome, Pompey encountered the remanants of Spartacus' army, captured five thousand of them and claimed the credit for finishing the revolt; this infuriated Crassus.[24]

Back in Rome, Pompey was wildly popular. On December 31, 71 BC, he was given a triumph for his victories in Hispania – like his first, it was granted extralegally. To his admirers he was the most brilliant general of the age, evidently favoured by the gods and a possible champion of the people's rights. He had successfully faced down Sulla and his senate; he or his influence might restore the traditional plebian rights and privileges lost under Sulla's dictatorship. So Pompey was allowed to bypass another ancient Roman tradition; at only 35 years of age and while not even a senator, he was elected Consul by an overwhelming majority vote, and served in 70 BC with Crassus as partner. Pompey's leap from mere eques to Consul was not simply unprecedented; his tactics offended the traditionalist nobility whose values he claimed to share and defend. He had left them no option but to allow his consulship and they probably never forgave him.[25]


Campaign against the pirates

Pompey on a coin by his son Sextus Pompeius.

Two years after his consulship, Pompey was offered command of a naval task force to deal with piracy in the Mediterranean Sea. The conservative faction of the Senate remained suspicious and wary of him; this seemed yet another illegal or at least extraordinary appointment.[26]. Pompey's supporters for this command – including Caesar – were in the minority, but support was whipped up through his nomination by the Tribune of the Plebs Aulus Gabinius who proposed a Lex Gabinia; Pompey should have control over the sea and the coasts for 50 miles inland. This would set him above every military leader in the East – it was passed despite vehement opposition.

According to Rome's historians, pirates were masters of the Mediterranean at the time, and had plundered the coastal cities of Greece, Asia and Italy itself. The extent and nature of their threat is questionable: anything that threatened Rome's grain supply was cause for panic, but Roman public opinion and Pompey's supporters may have exaggerated the problem. Various settlements, peoples and city-states around the Mediterranean had co-existed several centuries and most had operated small fleets for war, or trade in commodities, including slaves. Their alliances might be temporary or more-or-less permanent, and some regarded themselves nations. With the growth of Rome as a major military and trading power, marginalised communities and economies with access to the sea would have increasingly resorted to piracy. As long as these piratical independents met Romes increasing requirement for slaves, left Rome's allies and territories untouched and offered her enemies no support, they were tolerated or even subsidised.[27] But fear of piracy was potent – these same pirates, it was later alleged, had assisted Sertorius – and Pompey's military reputation was unmatched, even by Crassus.

By the end of that winter, the preparations were complete. Pompey allocated one of thirteen areas to each of his legates, and sent out their fleets. In forty days the Western Mediterranean was cleared.[26] Dio reports that communication was restored between Hispania, Africa, and Italy;[28] and that Pompey then attended to the largest of these alliances, centered on the coast of "Rough Cilicia".[29] After "defeating" its fleet, he induced its surrender with promises of pardon, and settled many of its people at Soli, which was henceforward called Pompeiopolis[30]. De Souza (2002) finds that Pompey had officially returned the Cilicians to their own cities, ideally suited as bases for piracy and not – as Dio would have it – for the dignified reformation of pirates as farmers. Pompey's entire campaign is therefore in question; its description as "war" is hyperbole – some form of treaty or pay-off is likely, with Pompey as chief negotiator. This was standard practice but undignified and seldom acknowledged; Rome's generals were supposed to wage and win wars. A decade on, in the 50's BC, the Cilicians and pirates in general remained a nuisance to Rome's sea-trade.[31]

In Rome, however, Pompey was hero; once again, he had guaranteed the grain supply. According to Plutarch, by the end of the summer of 66 BC his forces had swept the Mediterranean clear of opposition. Pompey was hailed as the first man in Rome, "Primus inter pares" the first among equals. Cicero could not resist a panegyric:[32]

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

The expedience of his campaign probably guaranteed Pompey his next and even more impressive command, this time in Rome's long-running war against Mithridates. By the 40's BC Cicero could comment less favourably on the pirate campaign, and especially the funded "resettlement" at Soli/Pompeiopolis; "we give immunity to pirates and make our allies pay tribute."[33]

Pompey in the East

Pompey spent the rest of that year and the beginning of the next visiting the cities of Cilicia and Pamphylia, and providing for the government of newly-conquered territories. In his absence from Rome (66 BC) he was nominated to succeed Lucius Licinius Lucullus as commander in the Third Mithridatic War against Mithridates VI of Pontus in the East. Lucullus, a plebeian noble, was incensed at the prospect of his replacement by a "new man" such as Pompey. The outgoing commander and his replacements traded insults. Lucullus called Pompey a "vulture" who fed from the work of others.[34] Pompey's command was proposed by the tribune Gaius Manilius, supported by Caesar and justified by Cicero in pro Lege Manilia. Like the Gabinian law, it was opposed by the aristocracy, but was carried nonetheless. The power of Mithridates had been worn down by previous victories of Lucullus; Pompey had only to conclude the war and reorganise the Eastern Mediterranean.

Pompey in the Temple of Jerusalem, by Jean Fouquet

At Pompey's approach, Mithridates strategically withdrew his forces. Tigranes the Great refused him refuge so he made his way to his own dominions in the Cimmerian Bosporus. Pompey secured a treaty with Tigranes and in 65 BC set out in pursuit of Mithridates but met resistance from the Caucasian Iberians and Albanians. He advanced to Phasis in Colchis and liaised with his legate Servilius, admiral of his Euxine fleet. Pompey then retraced his steps, wintered at Pontus and made it into a Roman province. In 64 BC he marched into Syria, deposed its king, Antiochus XIII Asiaticus and reconstituted this too as a Roman province[35]. In 63 BC, he moved south, and established Roman supremacy in Phoenicia and Coele-Syria.[36]

In Judea, Pompey intervened in civil war between Hyrcanus II, who supported the Pharisee faction against Aristobulus II and the Sadducees in Judaea's civil war. The armies of Pompey and Hyrcanus II laid siege to Jerusalem. After three months, the city fell.[37]

"Of the Jews there fell twelve thousand, but of the Romans very few.... and no small enormities were committed about the temple itself, which, in former ages, had been inaccessible, and seen by none; for Pompey went into it, and not a few of those that were with him also, and saw all that which it was unlawful for any other men to see but only for the high priests. There were in that temple the 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 gave order to those that had the charge of the temple to cleanse it, and to bring what offerings the law required to God; and restored the high priesthood to Hyrcanus, 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." Josephus, Antiquitates Judaicae, book 14, chapter 4; tr. by William Whiston, available at Project Gutenberg

During the war in Judea, Pompey heard of Mithridates' suicide; his army had deserted him for his son Pharnaces.[35]. Rome's Asian protectorates now extended as far east as the Black Sea and the Caucasus. Pompey's political settlements and annexations in Asia created Rome's new frontier on the East.

Return to Rome, and third triumph

News of Pompey victories in the East – and probably of his divine honours there – reached Rome before he did. He had cult at Delos and was "saviour" in Samos and Mytelene. Plutarch quotes a wall-graffito in Athens, referring it to Pompey: "The more you know you're a man, the more you become a god". In Greece, these honours were standard fare for benefactors. In Rome, they would have seemed dangerously monarchic.[38]

In Pompey's absence, his old supporter Cicero had risen to the consulship, then been forced into exile by his popularist opponents.[39] His old enemy and colleague Crassus supported Caesar. In the Senate and behind its scenes, Pompey was probably equally admired, feared and excluded; on the streets he was as popular as ever. His Eastern victories earned him his third triumph. On his 45th birthday, in 61 BC, he rode the triumphal chariot, a magnificent god-king but one of Republican form, ritualistically reminded of his impermanence and mortality. Even so, Pompey's third triumph exceeded all others; an unprecedented two days were scheduled for its procession and games (ludi). Spoils, prisoners, army and banners depicting battle scenes wended the triumphal route between the Campus Martius and the Capitoline temple of Jupiter. To conclude, he gave an immense triumphal banquet and money to the people of Rome, and promised them a new theatre.[40][41] Plutarch claimed that this triumph represented Pompey's - and therefore Rome's - domination over the entire world, an achievement to outshine even Alexander's.[42][43] In the meantime, Pompey promised his retiring veterans their lands to farm and dismissed his armies. The gesture was reassuringly traditional but did not allay the suspicion of his peers, who would not immediately confirm his settlements in the East.[44]. The public lands he had promised his veterans were not forthcoming. From now on, Pompey's political maneuverings suggest that he toed a cautious line to maintain a popular base and avoid offending the conservatives who seemed so reluctant to acknowledge his solid achievements. It would lead him into unexpected political alliances.

Caesar and the First Triumvirate

Although Pompey and Crassus distrusted each other, Crassus' tax farming clients were being rebuffed at the same time that Pompey's veterans were being ignored, and by 61 BC their grievances had pushed them both into an alliance with Caesar, 6 years younger than Pompey, returning from service in Hispania, and ready to seek the consulship for 59 BC. Their political alliance, known as the First Triumvirate operated to the benefit of each. Pompey and Crassus would make Caesar Consul, and Caesar would use his consular power to promote their claims.

Caesar's consulship of 59 BC brought Pompey land for his veterans, confirmation of his Asian political settlements and a new wife. She was Caesar's daughter, Julia; Pompey was said to be besotted by her.[45]. In the same year, Clodius renounced his patrician status, was adopted into a plebian gens and was elected a Tribune of the plebs. At the end of his consulship, Caesar secured proconsular command in Gaul. Pompey was given the governorship of Hispania Ulterior but remained in Rome to oversee Rome's critical Roman grain supply as curator annonae.[46]

Despite his preoccupation with his new wife, Pompey handled the grain issue well. His political acumen was less sure. When Clodius turned on him in turn, Pompey defended himself by supporting Cicero's recall from exile (57 BC). Once back in Rome, Cicero stepped back into his role as Pompey's defender and Clodius' antagonist but Pompey himself retreated to his lovely young wife and his theatre plans: such behaviour was not expected of the once dazzling young general. Pompey might equally have been obsessed, exhausted and frustrated. His own party had not forgiven him for allowing Cicero's expulsion. Some tried to persuade him that Crassus was plotting his assassination. Meanwhile, Caesar seemed set on outstripping both his colleagues in generalship and popularity. By 56 BC, the bonds between the three men were fraying.[46]

Caesar was no longer the amenable silent partner of the trio. He called first Crassus, then Pompey, to a secret meeting in the northern Italian town of Lucca to rethink their joint strategy. They agreed that Pompey and Crassus would again stand for the consulship in 55 BC. Once elected, they would extend Caesar's command in Gaul by five years. At the end of their joint consular year, Crassus would have the influential and lucrative governorship of Syria, and use this as a base to conquer Parthia. Pompey would keep Hispania in absentia.

In 55 BC Pompey and Crassus were elected as consuls, against a background of bribery, civil unrest and electioneering violence.[47] Pompey's new theatre was inaugurated in the same year. It was Rome's first permanent theatre, a gigantic, architecturally daring, self-contained complex on the Campus Martius, complete with shops, multi-service buildings, gardens and a temple to Venus Victrix. The latter connected its donor to Aeneas, a son of Venus and ancestor of Rome itself. In its portico, the statuary, paintings and personal wealth of foreign kings could be admired at leisure; Pompey's triumph lived on.[48] His theatre made an ideal meeting-place for his supporters.

From confrontation to war

In 54 BC, Julia, Caesar's only child and Pompey's wife, died in childbirth along with her baby. Pompey and Caesar shared their grief and condolences, but Julia's death broke their family bonds.[49] The following year, Crassus, his son Publius and most of his army were annihilated by the Parthians at Carrhae. Caesar, not Pompey, was now Rome's great new general and the fragile balance of power between them was under threat. Public anxiety spilled over: rumours circulated that Pompey would be offered dictatorship for the sake of law and order. Caesar sought a second matrimonial alliance with Pompey, offering his grandniece Octavia (the sister of the future emperor Augustus). This time, Pompey refused. In 52 BC, he married Cornelia Metella, the very young widow of Crassus's son Publius, and the daughter of Caecilius Metellus Scipio, one of Caesar’s greatest enemies. Pompey was drifting back toward the Optimates. It can be presumed that they thought him the lesser of two evils.

In the same year, Publius Clodius was murdered. When his supporters burned down the Senate House in retaliation, the Senate appealed to Pompey. He reacted with ruthless efficiency. Cicero, defending the accused murderer Titus Annius Milo, was so shaken by a Forum seething with armed soldiers that he was unable to complete his defense. Once order was restored the Senate and Cato avoided granting Pompey dictatorship – it recalled Sulla and his bloody proscriptions. Instead they made him sole Consul; this gave him sweeping but limited powers. A Dictator could not be lawfully punished for measures taken during his office. As sole Consul, Pompey would be answerable for his actions once out of office.

While Caesar was fighting against Vercingetorix in Gaul, Pompey proceeded with a legislative agenda for Rome. Its details suggested covert alliance with Caesar's enemies: among his various legal and military reforms was a law allowing retrospective prosecution for electoral bribery. Caesar's allies correctly interpreted this as a threat to Caesar once his imperium ended. Pompey also prohibited Caesar from standing for the consulship in absentia, though this had been permitted under past laws. This seemed to put paid to Caesar's plans after his term in Gaul expired. Finally, in 51 BC, Pompey was more forthright: Caesar would not be permitted to stand for Consul unless he relinquished his armies. This would, of course, leave Caesar defenseless before his enemies. As Cicero sadly noted, Pompey had been diminished by age, uncertainty, his fear of Caesar and the strain of being the chosen tool of a quarreling oligarchy of Optimates. The coming conflict seemed inevitable.[50]

Civil War and assassination

The Flight of Pompey after Pharsalus, by Jean Fouquet

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

Barely eluding Caesar in Brundisium, Pompey crossed over into Epirus where during Caesar's Spanish campaign, Pompey had gathered a large force in Macedonia, comprising nine legions reinforced by contingents from the Roman allies in the east.[51] His fleet, recruited from the maritime cities in the east, controlled the Adriatic. Nevertheless, Caesar managed to cross over into Epirus in November 49 BC and proceeded to capture Apollonia[51]. Pompey managed to arrive in time to save Dyrrhachium, and he then attempted to wait Caesar out during the siege of Dyrrhachium, in which Caesar lost 1000 men. Yet, by failing to pursue at the critical moment of Caesar's defeat, Pompey threw away the chance to destroy Caesar's much smaller army. As Caesar himself said, "Today the enemy would have won, if they had had a commander who was a winner" (Plutarch, 65). According to Suetonius, it was at this point that Caesar said that "that man (Pompey) does not know how to win a war." With Caesar on their backs, the conservatives led by Pompey fled to Greece. Caesar and Pompey had their final showdown at the Battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC. The fighting was bitter for both sides and although Pompey was expected to win due to advantage in numbers, mistakes made by Pompey's front cavalry horsemen led to a victory for Caesar. Like all the other conservatives, Pompey had to run for his life. He met his wife Cornelia and his son Sextus Pompeius on the island of Mytilene. He then wondered where to go next. The decision of running to one of the eastern kingdoms was overruled in favor of Egypt.

After his arrival in Egypt, Pompey's fate was decided by the counselors of the young king Ptolemy XIII. While Pompey waited offshore, they argued the cost of offering him refuge with Caesar already en route to Egypt: the king's eunuch Pothinus won out. In the final dramatic passages of his biography, Plutarch had Cornelia watch anxiously from the trireme as Pompey left in a small boat with a few sullen, silent comrades and headed for what appeared to be a welcoming party on the Egyptian shore. As Pompey rose to disembark, he was stabbed to death by his betrayers Achillas, Septimius and Salvius. Plutarch has him meet his fate with great dignity, one day after his 59th birthday. His body remained on the shoreline, to be cremated by his loyal freeman Philip on the rotten planks of a fishing-boat. His head and seal were later presented to Caesar, who not only mourned this insult to the greatness of his former ally and son-in-law (he wept when he received Pompey's seal, on which there was an engraving of a lion holding a sword in his paw), but punished his assassins and their Egyptian co-conspirators, putting both Achillas and Pothinus to death. Pompey's ashes were eventually returned to Cornelia, who carried them to his country house near Alba.[52] Cassius Dio describes Caesar's reactions with skepticism, and considers Pompey's own political misjudgements, rather than treachery, as instrumental in his downfall.[53] For Pliny, the humiliation of his end is anticipated by the vaunting pride of Pompey's oversized portrait-head, studded entirely with pearls, carried in procession during his greatest Triumph.[54]

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

Historic view

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

He was a hero of the Republic, who seemed once to hold the Roman world in his palm only to be brought low by his own poor judgment and Caesar. Pompey was idealized as a tragic hero almost immediately after Pharsalus and his murder: Plutarch portrayed him as a Roman Alexander the Great, pure of heart and mind, destroyed by the cynical ambitions of those around him. This portrayal survived into Renaissance and Baroque portrayals of him, such as Corneille's The Death of Pompey (1642).

Popular culture

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

Marriages and offspring

Chronology of Pompey's life and career

  • 106 BC September 29– Born in Picenum
  • 83 BC– Aligns with Sulla, after his return from the Mithridatic War against King Mithridates IV of Pontus; Marriage to Aemilia Scaura
  • 82–81 BC– Defeats Gaius Marius's allies in Sicily and Africa
  • 76–71 BC– Campaign in Hispania against Sertorius
  • 71 BC– Returns to Italy and participates in the suppression of a slave rebellion led by Spartacus; Second triumph
  • 70 BC– First consulship (with M. Licinius Crassus)
  • 67 BC– Defeats the pirates and goes to Asia province
  • 66–61 BC– Defeats King Mithridates of Pontus; end of the Third Mithridatic War
  • 64–63 BC– Pompey's March through Syria, the Levant, and Palestine
  • 61 BC September 29– Third triumph
  • 59 BC April– The first triumvirate is constituted; Pompey allies to Julius Caesar and Licinius Crassus; marriage to Julia (daughter of Julius Caesar)
  • 58–55 BC– Governs Hispania Ulterior by proxy, construction of Pompey's Theater
  • 55 BC– Second consulship (with M. Licinius Crassus), Dedication of the Theatre of Pompey
  • 54 BC– Julia, dies; the first triumvirate ends
  • 52 BC– Serves as sole consul for intercalary month[55], third ordinary consulship with Metellus Scipio for the rest of the year; marriage to Cornelia Metella
  • 51 BC– Forbids Caesar (in Gaul) to stand for consulship in absentia
  • 50 BC– Falls dangerously ill with fever in Campania but is saved 'by public prayers' [56]
  • 49 BC– Caesar crosses the Rubicon River and invades Italy; Pompey retreats to Greece with the conservatives
  • 48 BC– Caesar defeats Pompey's army near Pharsalus, Greece. Pompey retreats to Egypt and is killed there.

External links

  • Pompey's War Jona Lendering details Pompey's conquest of Judea
Preceded by
Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura and Gnaeus Aufidius Orestes
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Marcus Licinius Crassus
70 BC
Succeeded by
Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus and Quintus Hortensius
Preceded by
Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus and Lucius Marcius Philippus
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Marcus Licinius Crassus
55 BC
Succeeded by
Appius Claudius Pulcher and Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus
Preceded by
Marcus Valerius Messalla Rufus and Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus
Consul of the Roman Republic
Without Colleague
Intercalary Month, 52 BC[57]
Succeeded by
Gnaeus Pompey Magnus and Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio
Preceded by
Gnaeus Pompey Magnus
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio
52 BC
Succeeded by
Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Servius Sulpicius Rufus


  1. ^ William Smith, A New Classical Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography, Mythology and Geography, 1851. (Under the tenth entry of Pompeius).
  2. ^ Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, son of Gnaeus, grandson of Sextus
  3. ^ Truman, 62-67.
  4. ^ Appian, Civil Wars, 1.9.80, (Loeb) at Thayer
  5. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 1. (Loeb) at Thayer: [1]:see also Velleius Paterculus, Roman History 2, 21. (Loeb) at Thayer: [2]
  6. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg 126
  7. ^ Boak, History of Rome, pgs 145-6
  8. ^ Dio describes Pompey's troop levy as a "small band": Cassius Dio, 33, fragment 107 (Loeb) at Thayer:[3]
  9. ^ Aemilia's first husband had offered Sulla unwelcome criticism.
  10. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg. 136
  11. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg. 141
  12. ^ Valerius Maximus, Facta et dicta memorabilia, 6.2.8
  13. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pgs. 143-5
  14. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg 148 - 149.
  15. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg. 149
  16. ^ Pompey's age, his equestrian status and his victory over Roman foes should have disqualified him from a triumph. Sulla's consent (formalised by his obedient senate as a Republican permission) made it a "non-traditional" and strictly illegal triumph, but a triumph nevertheless. See Mary Beard, The Roman Triumph, The Belknapp Press, 2007. 16 - 17.
  17. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg. 151
  18. ^ Holland, Rubicon, pgs. 141-42
  19. ^ The Iberian peninsula, roughly comprising modern Spain and Portugal.
  20. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg. 158
  21. ^ Boak, History of Rome, pg. 152
  22. ^ Boak, History of Rome, pg. 153
  23. ^ Holland, Rubicon, pg. 142
  24. ^ Holland, Rubicon, pgs. 150-51
  25. ^ Holland, Rubicon, pg. 151
  26. ^ a b Boak, History of Rome, pg. 160
  27. ^ De Souza, 149 - 179, for background and detailed critique of primary sources on Pompey's commission and its fulfillment. Limited preview available from googlebooks [4]
  28. ^ This probably refers to the grain supply; the extent of its interruption before Pompey's campaign is not known. The reference to Hispania might relate to Sertorius' revolt and resistance – abetted, in some accounts, by "Cilician pirates" – or its aftermath.
  29. ^ Approximate to Southern Turkey. Once a Selucid province, in Pompey's day, and for some time to come, it was a semi-independent territory whose sovereignty was debated by neighbouring Greek polities. It resisted such claims but was eventually absorbed into Rome's empire.
  30. ^ Dio, Roman History, pg. 63
  31. ^ De Souza, 176 ff.
  32. ^ pro Lege Manilia, 12 or De Imperio Cn. Pompei (in favor of the Manilian Law on the command of Pompey), 66 BC.
  33. ^ Cicero, On duties, 3.49; cited in De Souza, 177.
  34. ^ Referring to Pompey's new command against Mithridates and his claim to have finished the war against Spartacus.
  35. ^ a b Boak, History of Rome, pg. 161
  36. ^ The Hellenized cities of the region, particularly the cities of the Decapolis used a calendar that counted its dates from Pompey's conquest. See Pompeian era.
  37. ^ Despite this, Aristobulus II would survive to briefly usurp Hyrcanus II, who was later (31 BC) executed by King Herod I.
  38. ^ In Beard, M., North, J., Price, S., Religions of Rome, Vol. 1, a history, Cambridge University Press, 1998, 147.
  39. ^ In large part, his rise and exile arose through his handling of the Catiline Conspiracy.
  40. ^ Beard, 16: for comments on Pompey's 3rd triumph, see also Plutarch, Sertorius, 18, 2, at Thayer [5]: Cicero, Man. 61: Pliny, Nat. 7, 95.
  41. ^ The account is exaggerated, certainly in the matter of gold, silver and military cash donatives. Mary Beard, The Roman Triumph, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007, p9. Beard cites Appian's very doubtful "75,100,000" drachmae carried in the procession as 1.5 times his own estimate of Rome's total annual tax revenue: Appian, Mithradates, 116.
  42. ^ Beard, 15-16: citing Plutarch, Pompey, 45, 5.
  43. ^ Beard, 16. For further elaboration on Pompey's 3rd triumph, see also Plutarch, Sertorius, 18, 2, at Thayer Cicero, Man. 61: Pliny, Nat. 7, 95.
  44. ^ Dio, Roman History, pg. 178
  45. ^ Boak, History of Rome, pg. 167
  46. ^ a b Boak, History of Rome, pg. 169
  47. ^ Boak, History of Rome, pg. 170
  48. ^ Beard, 22-3.
  49. ^ Holland, Rubicon, pg. 287
  50. ^ Many historians have suggested that Pompey was, in spite of everything, politically unaware of the fact that the Optimates, including Cato, were merely using him against Caesar so that, with Caesar destroyed, they could then dispose of him.
  51. ^ a b Boak, History of Rome, pg. 176
  52. ^ Plutarch, Pompey, 79-80
  53. ^ Dio, 42,4-5, at Thayer
  54. ^ Pliny, Historia Naturalis, 37, 14-16.
  55. ^ See Abbott, 114
  56. ^ Juvenal, Satire X, 283
  57. ^ Abbott (1901), 114


  • Abbott, Frank Frost (1901). A History and Description of Roman Political Institutions. Elibron Classics (ISBN 0-543-92749-0).
  • Boak, Arthur E.R. A History of Rome to 565 A.D. (MacMillan, New York, 1922)
  • De Souza, P., Piracy in the Graeco-Roman World, Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 9780521012409
  • Cassius Dio, Roman History, Volume 3 (Loeb Classical Library, 1914)
  • Goldsworthy, Adrian. In the name of Rome: The Men Who Won the Roman Empire. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004 (hardcopy, ISBN 0-297-84666-3); New York: Phoenix Press, (paperback, ISBN 0-7538-1789-6).
  • Greenhalgh, Peter. Pompey The Republican Prince, George Weidenfield and Nicolson Ltd, 1981, ISBN 0297778811
  • Holland, Tom. Rubicon - The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, Abacus, London, 2004) ISBN 0-349-11563-X
  • Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Life of Pompey (Loeb Classical Library, 1917)[6]
  • Seager, Robin. Pompey the Great: A Political Biography. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2002 (hardcover, ISBN 0-631-22720-2; paperback, ISBN 0-631-22721-0).
  • Southern, Pat. Pompey the Great: Caesar's Friend and Foe. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Tempus Publishing, 2002 (paperback, ISBN 0-7524-2521-8).
  • Truman, RW., Lázaro de Tormes and the "Homo Novus" Tradition, 62-67, in The Modern Language Review: 64.1, Jan 1969.


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote


Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) (29 September 106 BC – 29 September 48 BC) was a Roman general and politician.


  • Stop quoting laws, we carry weapons!
    • To the defenders of a besieged city who were crying outrage
    • Source: Plutarch
  • More people worship the rising than the setting sun
    • Spoken by a young Pompey to the Dictator Sulla to get Sulla to award him a triumph
    • Source: [Plutarch/Life of Pompey]

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Roman general who subjected Judea to Rome. In the year 65 B.C., during his victorious campaign through Asia Minor, he sent to Syria his legate Scaurus, who was soon obliged to interfere in the quarrels of the two brothers Aristobulus II. and Hyrcanus II. When Pompey himself came to Syria, two years later, the rivals, knowing that the Romans were as rapacious as they were brave, hastened to send presents. Pompey gradually approached Judea, however; and in the spring of 63, at the Lebanon, he subdued the petty rulers, including the Jew Silas (Josephus, "Ant." xiv. 3, § 2) and a certain Bacchius Judæus, whose subjugation is represented on a coin (Reinach, "Les Monnaies Juives," p. 28). Pompey then came to Damascus, where the claims of the three parties to the strife were presented for his consideration—those of Hyrcanus and Aristobulus in person, since the haughty Roman thus exacted homage from the Judean princes, while a third claimant represented the people, who desired not a ruler but a theocratic republic (Josephus, § 2; Diodorus, xl. 2). Pompey, however, deferred his decision until he should have subdued the Nabatæans.

The warlike Aristobulus, who suspected the designs of the Romans, retired to the fortress of Alexandrium and resolved to offer armed resistance; but at the demand of Pompey he surrendered the fortress and went to Jerusalem, intending to continue his opposition there (Josephus, "Ant." xiv. 3, § 4; idem, "B. J." i. 6, §§ 4, 5). Pompey followed him by way of Jericho, and as Aristobulus again deemed it advisable to surrender to the Romans, Pompey sent his legate Gabinius to take possession of the city of Jerusalem.

This lieutenant found, however, that there were other defenders there besides Aristobulus, whereupon Pompey declared Aristobulus a prisoner and began to besiege the city. Although the party of Hyrcanus opened the gates to the Romans, the Temple mount, which was garrisoned by the people's party, had to be taken by means of rams brought from Tyre; and it was stormed only after a siege of three months, and then on a Sabbath, when the Jews were not defending the walls. Josephus calls the day of the fall of Jerusalem "the day of the fast" (νηστείας ἡμέρα; "Ant." xiv. 4, § 3); but in this he merely followed the phraseology of his Gentile sources, which regarded the Sabbath as a fast-day, according to the current Greco-Roman view. Dio Cassius says (xxxvii. 16) correctly that it was on a "Cronos day," this term likewise denoting the Sabbath.

The capture of the Temple mount was accompanied by great slaughter. The priests who were officiating despite the battle were massacred by the Roman soldiers, and many committed suicide; while 12,000 people besides were killed. Pompey himself entered the Temple, but he was so awed by its sanctity that he left the treasure and the costly vessels untouched ("Ant." xiv. 4, § 4; "B. J." i. 7, § 6; Cicero, "Pro Flacco," § 67). The leaders of the war party were executed, and the city and country were laid under tribute. A deadly blow was struck at the Jews when Pompey separated from Judea the coast cities from Raphia to Dora, as well as all the Hellenic cities in the east-Jordan country, and the so-called Decapolis, besides Scythopolis and Samaria, all of which were incorporated in the new province of Syria. These cities, without exception, became autonomous, and dated their coins from the era of their "liberation" by Pompey. The small territory of Judea he assigned to Hyrcanus, with the title of "ethnarch" ("Ant." l.c.; "B. J." l.c.; comp. "Ant." xx. 10, § 4). Aristobulus, together with his two sons Alexander and Antigonus, and his two daughters, was carried captive to Rome to march in Pompey's triumph, while many other Jewish prisoners were taken to the same city, this circumstance probably having much to do with the subsequent prosperity of the Roman community. Pompey's conquest of Jerusalem is generally believed to form the historical background of the Psalms of Solomon.

Bibliography: Mommsen, Römische Geschichte, 5th ed., iii. 113-154; Grätz, Gesch. 4th ed., iii. 157, 172; Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., i. 294-301; Berliner, Gesch. der Juden in Rom, i. 5, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1893 (who denies that the Jewish community of Rome was founded by Pompey, asserting that the fall of Jerusalem merely increased its numbers; comp. Vogelstein and Rieger, Gesch. der Juden in Rom, i. 5, Berlin, 1896).

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|Pompey]] Pompey, Pompey the Great or Pompey the Triumvir,[1] (29 September 106 BC–29 September 48 BC), was an important military and political leader of the late Roman Republic.

Coming from an Italian provincial background, he got a place for himself in the ranks of Roman nobility, and was given the nickname of the Great by Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

Pompey was a rival of Marcus Licinius Crassus and an ally to Gaius Julius Caesar. The three politicians would dominate the Late Roman republic through a political alliance called the First Triumvirate. After the death of Crassus, Pompey and Caesar disputed the leadership of the Roman Republic. Pompey was decisively beaten by Caesar at the Battle of Pharsalus.


  1. Classical Latin abbreviation: CN·POMPEIVS·CN·F·SEX·N·MAGNVS Gnaeus or Cnaeus Pompeius Magnus
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