Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus


devastated by the ambitions of his fellow Romans”

Figure 1 Pompey’s 3rd Triumph, 61: ‘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.’ (Appian)


Background & Family 4

Outline of achievement 4

Military Career 4

Marius v Sulla 4

Fighting the Marians for Sulla in the Social War c 89 4

Coming of Age 5

Other Campaigns 83-71 5

Lepidus 5

Pompey the Great 6

Marriage and family 6

Sertorius 6

Proconsular Power 6

In Spain 7

Spartacus 7

Consul 8

Transfers allegiance to Populares 8

Pompey and Crassus as Consuls 8

Military Career 70-61 9

Pirates 9

Lex Gabinia 9

Action against the Pirates 9

Third Mithridatic War 66-63 10

Lex Manilia 10

Combat 10

Tigranes and Antiochus 10

Jews 10

Parthia 12

Reorganisation of the East 12

Military Honours 12

The Triumvirate 60-54 13

Problems with the Optimates 13

The Triumvirate formed, 59 13

Decline of Triumvirate 14

Triumvirate renewed at Lucca 56 15

The end 15

Rivalry between Pompey and Caesar 54-48 15

Pompey Sole Consul 52 16

The Great Roman Civil War, or Caesar’s Civil War 49-45 16

Preliminaries 16

Crossing the Rubicon, 49 17

Italy 17

Pompey at Dyrrhachium 18

Macedonia 18

Pompey’s Defeat and Death 19

Pharsalus, 48 19

Pelusium 20

Posthumous 21

Pompey and the Roman Republic 21

As a statesman 21

As a Soldier 21

As a businessman 22

Personal Qualities 22

Negative Views 22

And the Republic 22

Bibliography 23

Bibliographical Note: 23

FRESCI on Pompey 24

Foreign and Military 24

Brilliant Generalship 24

Brilliant grasp of Geopolitics 24

Religion and Ideas 24

Economics 24

Social 24

Constitutional 24

Individual and Random 24


Author’s Note: in this account, material which was corroborated by at least two of the 16 sources is shown in Bold Times New Roman font like this. Material asserted by a single source is in Times New Roman italics like this.

Background & Family

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus was born (1,2) into wealth, politics and war, (14) on 29th September 106 (1,2) at Picenum (2,12) in what is now the Marches region of eastern Italy (15) [OR] modern Marche and the northern part of Abruzzo, (16) in northern (12) [OR] Eastern (17) Italy (12,17) in the Roman Republic, (2,16) where the family possessed lands. (15,16) He belonged to an affluent (4,12) noble (15) venerable (11) [OR] not long and illustrious, like Caesar’s (12) landowning (14) senatorial (5,7) non-Latin (12) family (5,11) from an Italian provincial background, (7,12) although his family first achieved the office of consul only in 141. (15) He was the son of Gnaeus Pompeius (2,4) [OR] Pompey (14,16) Strabo, (2,4) who was (14,16) like Gaius Marius (14) one of the homines novi (new men) (14,16) infamous (4,14) for his greed, deceit in politics, and mercilessness in war. (14,16) He ascended the traditional cursus honorum, (16) rising from being a quaestor (14) in 104 (16) to a praetor (14) in 92 (16) and eventually (14) a consul. (11,14) in 89. (16) His daughter was Pompeia Magna. (2) His son, the famous one, is commonly referred to in English as either Pompey or Pompey the Great. (1,2) Although Pompey Junior was fluent in Greek (14,15) and a lifelong and intimate friend of Greek literati, (15) and had received a solid education as a young nobleman, he learned the most from his father, (14,15) who did much to form his character, develop his military capabilities, and arouse his political ambition. (15) Strabo had a body of clients, which he greatly enlarged in the year of his consulship. (15) In a civil war (88–87) between the rival generals Lucius Sulla and Gaius Marius, Strabo defied Sulla and favoured the Marians and a fellow general. (15)

Outline of achievement

Pompey Junior was a distinguished (1,2) and ambitious (1,15) Roman (1,3) military leader, (1,2) provincial administrator (1,16) and politician (1,2) of the 1st century BC, the period of the Late Republic. (1,2) He was a key figure in ancient Roman history, without any political leverage (4) [OR] he was a member of (5) [OR] got a place for himself in (7) the senatorial nobility. (5,7) He grew up to become a very influential man, (4) whose career was significant in Rome’s transformation from a republic to empire. (5,15)

Military Career

Marius v Sulla

Gaius (11) Marius and (6,11) Lucius Cornelius (7,11) Sulla (11,12) had been at odds ever since Marius took credit for a victory in Africa that his subordinate Sulla had engineered. (12) A novus homo, or ‘new man,’ Marius was Julius Caesar’s uncle and a supporter of the populist group known as the Populares. (12)

Fighting the Marians for Sulla in the Social War c 89

Pompey was a Sullan (11,12) and a supporter of the conservative Optimates. (12) At 17 (6,11) he fought in the (6,11) Marsic (13) social (6,13) war (6,11) [OR] the War of the Confederation in Picenum. (13) He fought alongside Sulla (11) against (6,11) Marius and (6,11) Lucius Cornelius (11) Cinna (6,11) and the Italians. (14) Their struggles led to many Roman deaths and unthinkable violations of Roman law, such as bringing an army into the city itself. (12) Pompey entered a military career while still young. (5,11) In 89 (13) when only 17 years old, (11) he fought (11,12) for two years under his father’s commands (4,13) in Sicily and Africa. (11,12) His father died during the Marian siege against Rome in 87, (14,16) either as a casualty of an epidemic, or by having been struck by lightning. (16)

Coming of Age

Therefore, at 23, (11,12) [OR] 20 (14) following in his father’s footsteps, (11,12) he took over the reins (4,14) inheriting his lands, his politics and the devotion of his legions. (14) Upon his return to Rome, (13,14) he faced prosecution for unlawfully plundering, (14,16) following accusations that his father stole public property. (16) (As his father’s heir, Pompey could be held to account. (16)) He discovered that the theft was committed by one of his father’s freedmen. (16) Following his preliminary bouts with his accuser, the judge took a liking to Pompey and offered his daughter Antistia in marriage. (16) Pompey was acquitted. (14,16) After his father’s death, he detached himself from the Marians. (15) A report that he was ‘missing’ in Cinna’s army, when it was embarking for the Balkans to deal with Sulla, led to the lynching of Cinna by his troops (84). (15) Pompey’s part in this mutiny is unclear. (15) Young Pompey entered the political scene by raising troops to help Roman general Sulla liberate Rome from the Marians. (12) Pompey showed his military capabilities in the fighting against Marius (4,14) and proved himself to be better than his father in using tactical skills to win battles. (4) Sulla made ample use of his youthful ally’s military abilities. (15) Pompey now demanded that ‘his’ dictator Sulla should have a triumph for him when he returned. (14) He was not well received by Sulla (13) who refused his request. (14) Pompey in turn refused to disband his army and showed up at the gates of Rome, commanding Sulla to oblige to his demands. (14) Sulla gave in, and after he had his own triumph, granted Metellus Pius his triumph, and then (14) although he had not held a single office until then, (11) fulfilled Pompey’s request, (14) granting him a triumph as a general. (11,13) He was now the idol of the people. (6) The Marians controlled Italy for the next couple years until Sulla returned after his campaign against Mithradates (14) [OR] Mithridates (3,6) in 83. (14)

Other Campaigns 83-71


After Sulla’s return, in 83, (14) Pompey continued to strive for military and political power. (11,14) He was rising to prominence serving the dictator Sulla. (5,6) He assembled three (11,14) Picenean (14,15) legions (14,15) from his father’s veterans and his own clients (16) to fight (14,15) as an independent ally of Sulla (15) the Marian regime (14) of Gnaeus Papirius Carbo (14,16) [OR] Marcus Aemilius (11) Lepidus, (6,11) [OR] Gaius Marius the Younger (16) between 83 and 82. (3) [OR] in 83. (15) Cassius Dio described Pompey’s troop levy as a ‘small band’. (16) It supported Sulla’s march on Rome against the Marian regime, (16) helping Sulla to recover Rome and Italy. (15) His military talents enabled him (3,6) to win a great victory. (6,11) He drove the Marians out of Italy (6,11) and the senate gave him (on Sulla’s instructions) the task of reclaiming Sicily and Africa from the Marians. (14,15) He destroyed the remains of the Marian faction in Africa and Sicily. (6) Pompey finished the job in two fast but efficient campaigns (82-81). (14,15) Pompey did as his father had taught him, (14) mercilessly executing the Marian leaders who surrendered to him. (14,15) The Sicilian cities had been treated harshly by Perpenna, Pompey treated them with kindness. (16) 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. (16) Pompey also treated Quintus Valerius ‘with unnatural cruelty’. (16) Although Pompey’s actions could be considered barbaric (5,14) (his adversaries gave him the nickname adulescentulus carnifex (‘teenage butcher’) for his ruthlessness.) (5,16) they were effective, instilling fear in his enemies. (14) He became known as Sulla’s butcher. (14) It was only when Lepidus fell victim to a conspiracy of his own followers that Pompey (13) [OR] Sulla (14) was able to successfully end the costly war (13) by 83, (12) by defeating the Marians. (13,14) Sulla became dictator of Rome. (14,16) The career of Pompey seemed to be driven by the ambition for military glory and neglect of the customary political restraints. (13,14) He became a commander in Sulla’s civil war, (5,6) although he was actually too young for a regular military command (13) and had not passed through the constitutionally required steps to hold one. (11,13)

Pompey the Great

From Africa Pompey demanded that a triumph be given him in Rome; he refused to disband his army and appeared at the gates of Rome, obliging Sulla to yield to his demand. (15) When Sulla was resisting him, Pompey said that more people worshipped the rising than the setting sun, implying that his power was on the increase, while Sulla’s was on the wane. (16) Sulla admired Pompey’s qualities and thought that he was useful for the administration of his affairs. (16) For his success against the Marians (5,7) and for his bravery in battle (12) Pompey was soon after promoted or known as ‘Imperator’ which is a close synonym to commander under the Roman Republic. (14) Sulla (7) [OR] his own men (14,15) in Africa (82–81) (15) gave him (7) the cognomen (5) Magnus – ‘the Great’ – (5,7) after Pompey’s boyhood hero Alexander the Great. (5) he assumed the cognomen Magnus after 81. (15)

Marriage and family

He was married at least 5 (2,13) 6 times. (2) He married Antistia (2,13) at a young age, (13) but Sulla was so infatuated with Pompey that he (14,15) and his wife, Metella, persuaded Pompey to divorce Antistia and marry Sulla’s (16) married and pregnant (14) stepdaughter, (14,15) Aemilia Scaura. (2,13) Plutarch commented that the marriage was ‘characteristic of a tyranny, and benefitted the needs of Sulla rather than the nature and habits of Pompey, Aemilia being given to him in marriage when she was with child by another man’. (16) Pompey therefore divorced Antistia (13,14) who had recently lost both her parents, (16) to marry (13,14) Aemilia (2,13) and Aemilia divorced her husband, and she and Pompey started a new life together. (14) However, she died of premature birth. (13,14) ‘Aemilia had scarcely entered Pompey’s house before she succumbed to the pangs of childbirth.’ (16) Although the marriage was short-lived, it had still confirmed Pompey’s devotion and significantly furthered his career. (14) Pompey later married Mucia Tertia. (17) We have no record of when this took place. (17) In 59 he married Julia, the wife he loved most dearly. (15) In 54 (6,11) Julia died,  (11,12) breaking one of the main bonds holding the Triumvirs together, (12,14) In 52 he married (12,13) his fifth and last wife (13) Cornelia (12,13) Metella (13) the daughter of the Roman consul Metellus Scipio. (12) Cornelia outlived him and mourned his death. (15) He had three (13,15) [OR] seven (2) children (13,15) all from Mucia Tertia (2,13) Minor (2) Pompey dismissed with contempt (16) a report that Mucia had had an affair (15,16) with Caesar (15) while he was fighting in the Third Mithridatic War between 66 and 63. (16) However, on his journey back to Rome, he examined the evidence more carefully (16) and filed for divorce (15,16) on the grounds of adultery. (15) Cicero wrote that the divorce was strongly approved. (16) Cassius Dio wrote that she was the sister of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer and that Metellus Celer was angry because Pompey had divorced her despite having had children by her. (16) His children were Gnaeus (2,13) Pompey the Younger (13) [OR] Pompeius Pompeius (2); a daughter Pompeia (2,13) Maior (2) who was married to Faustus Cornelius Sulla, (13) and Sextus (2,13) Pompey (13) [OR] Pompeius Magnus Pius. (2) He had another daughter, Pompeia Minor and 2 others. (2)



Proconsular Power

As soon as his reforms were completed, in 79, (Langer) Sulla voluntarily retired from public life, (Langer) [OR] Sulla and his supporters were defeated. (14) After Sulla’s abdication, (15,Langer) Pompey supported (14,15) the renegade Sullan (15) Marcus Lepidus for the consulship of 78 (14,15) against Sulla’s wishes. (14) After Sulla’s death, (13,14) in 77, (3,13) [OR] 78 (14, Langer) it was found that he had omitted Pompey from his will. (16) Civil war continued in Rome. (12) Lepidus revolted, but was repressed (14,15) by Pompey (14) [OR] by Pompey and the forces of law and order, (15) as requested by the Senate. (14) The plebeians wanted to regain their civil rights and constitutional privileges that had lapsed during Sulla’s reign. (14) Because of Pompey’s success against Lepidus, (14) [OR] because he threatened the Senate with his army, which he refused to disband (15), he was able to once again circumvent yet another Roman custom and at the age of only 35 he became a Consul without even being a senator, with the result of a vast majority vote. (14) He then (15) demanded a proconsular empire associated with (13,14) the governorship of (13) the province of Further Spain. (13,14) Pompey requested this to join Metellus Pius in Spain to fight (14,15) against the Marian leader (15) Quintus Sertorius, (12,14) a general (14) of the Populares. (12,14) When he was denied his request he resorted to his fighting ways and once again refused to release his army until the Senators changed their minds and approved his request. (14,15) His proconsular mandate was extra-legal, as a proconsulship was the extension of the military command (but not the public office) of a consul. (16) Pompey, however, was not a consul and had never held public office. (16)

In Spain

Sertorius had launched an attack against the Sullans in the Western Roman Empire. (12) and had held his own the previous three years against Metellus Pius, one of Sulla’s best generals. (14) Pompey (12,14) now had power equal to Metellus (14) and was sent (12) to Spain (12,14) assist the Sullans in the fighting, which lasted from 80 to 72. (12) [OR] 76 to 71, (6,14) He recruited an army of 30,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry, its size evidence of the seriousness of the threat possed by Sertorius. (16) On his way to Hispania, he opened a new route through the Alps and subdued tribes that had rebelled in Gallia Narbonensis. (16) Cicero later describes Pompey leading his legions to Spain through a welter of carnage in a transalpine war during the autumn of 77. (16) After a hard and bloody campaign Pompey wintered his army near the Roman colony of Narbo Martius. (16) In the spring of 76 he marched on and entered the Iberian peninsula through the Col de Petrus. (16) He would remain in Hispania from 76 to 71. (16) He extinguished the Marian party in Spain (6,11) under Sertorius (3,6) The reconquest of Spain taxed Pompey’s military skill and strained his own and the state’s resources to the utmost. (15) Because of Sertorius’s guerrilla tactics, unlike Rome’s traditional style of fighting, it took Pompey a long time find a way to beat him, (14) but he was a skilled strategist, and used his forces to draw out the enemy and attack them when they least suspected it. (12) He conducted a war of attrition against Sertorius’s junior officers, taking city by city. (14) Finally, after Sertorius was killed by his own officer, Marcus Perperna Vento, Pompey crushed him in their first battle and the war ended soon after. (14) In the end it was he, not Metellus, who imposed on Spain a settlement reflecting and promoting his own political aims. (15) His policy was one of reconciliation and rehabilitation. (15) He showed a talent for efficient organisation and fair administration in the conquered province. (16) His personal authority and patronage now covered Spain, southern Gaul, and northern Italy. (15,16) His departure from Hispania was marked by the erection of a Triumphal monument at the summit off the pass over the Pyrenees. (16) On it he recorded that from the Alps to the limits of Further Spain he had brought 876 towns under Roman sway. (16)


While Pompey was in Hispania (16) the uprising of the slave (11,12) Spartacus (3,6) in 71. (3,12) rebellion of the slaves led by Spartacus (the Third Servile War, 73–71) broke out. (16) Crassus was given eight legions and led the final phase of the war. (16) 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.’ (16) The senate decided to send Pompey who had just returned from Hispania. (16) [OR] Unlike Metellus, Pompey had taken his army back to Italy with him, ostensibly to assist (15) Crassus (13,15) and other Roman leaders (11) in putting down the uprising. (15) On hearing of Pompey’s approach, Crassus hurried to engage in the decisive battle, and (16) routed the rebels. (15,16) On his arrival, Pompey cut to pieces 6,000 fugitives from the battle. (16) Pompey wrote to the senate that Crassus had conquered the rebels in a pitched battle, but that he himself had extirpated the war entirely. (16) For this he received another triumph, (13,15) which was extra-legal. (16)


The real reason for taking his army back had been to secure the triumph and (15) election to the consulship (11,13) for 70. (6,13) 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). (16) His success as a general while still so young, (5,6) and his ambition (11) enabled him to be elected as consul (11,13) for the year 70, (16) together with Marcus Licinius Crassus, (11,13) following a bargain he had struck with Crassus, his rival. (15) 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. (16) Pompey accepted gladly. (16) In the Life of Pompey Plutarch wrote that Pompey ‘had long wanted an opportunity of doing Crassus some service and kindness… (16) In the Life of Crassus he wrote that Pompey ‘was desirous of having Crassus, in some way or other, always in debt to him for some favour’. (16) 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. (16) This was made possible by a special senatorial decree, because he had not occupied the quaestorship and was an equestrian and did not have senatorial rank; (16) and so he had not met the normal cursus honorum (requirements for office). (5,16)

Transfers allegiance to Populares

Up to that point Pompey had belonged to the aristocratic party, but (6) the nobles whom Sulla had restored to power had proved to be more corrupt and incompetent than ever, (15) and had begun to look upon Pompey with suspicion. (6) He therefore now espoused the people’s cause. (6,13) He promised reforms at home and abroad. (15)

Pompey and Crassus as Consuls

During their joint consulate, (15) he and Crassus (13,15) substantially repealed Sulla’s political reforms by (15) restoring the Tribunician power to the people. (6,13) Ambitious young plebeians had sought election as tribunes as a stepping stone for election to other offices and to climb up the cursus honorum. (16) Sulla had blocked this, so the plebeian tribunate became a dead end for one’s political career. (16) 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. (16) These changes reflected Sulla’s hatred of the plebeian tribunate as a source of subversion that roused the ‘rabble’ (the plebeians) against the aristocracy. (16) Naturally, these measures were unpopular among the plebeians, the majority of the population. (16) 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. (16) Through the repeal of Sulla’s measures against the plebeian tribunate Pompey gained the favour of the people. (16) He was given another triumph. (15) He and Crassus also stripped the senators of their monopoly as jurors on standing courts. (15) Although the nobles were to continue to dominate the consular elections in most years, the real sources of power henceforth lay outside of Italy. (15)

Military Career 70-61


After his consulship, Pompey waited in Rome while rival nobles undermined the position of Lucius Licinius Lucullus, who was campaigning against Mithridates in Anatolia, and made half-hearted attempts to deal with the pirates. (15) Piracy in the Mediterranean became a large-scale problem. (16) A large network of pirates coordinated operations over wide areas with large fleets. (16) According to Cassius Dio, many years of war contributed to this. (16) Many war fugitives joined them. (16) Pirates were more difficult to catch or break up than bandits. (16) The pirates pillaged coastal fields and towns. (16) As not much was done against them, some towns were turned into pirate winter quarters and raids further inland were carried out. (16) Many pirates settled on land in various places and relied on an informal network of mutual assistance. (16) Towns in Italy were also attacked, including Ostia, the port of Rome: ships were burnt and there was pillaging. (16) The pirates seized important Romans and demanded large ransoms. (16) Rome was affected through shortages of imports and the supply of grains, but the Romans did not pay proper attention to the problem. (16) They sent out fleets when ‘they were stirred by individual reports’ and these did not achieve anything. (16) Extraordinary commands would have to be created if Rome was to recover control of the sea from pirates. (15)

Lex Gabinia

In 67 (13,15) the tribune (13,14) of the Plebians (14) Aulus Gabinius, (13,14) a follower of Pompey, introduced (13) and, with the help of Pompey, (12) forced through the popular assembly a bill (15) (lex Gabinia) for the establishment of a general force (13) against the pirates in the Mediterranean Sea (4,6) who made it unsafe. (13) It provided for choosing ‘from among the ex-consuls a commander with full power against all the pirates’. (16) He would have dominion over the waters of entire Mediterranean and up to fifty miles inland for three years. (14,16) He was to be empowered to pick fifteen lieutenants from the senate and assign specific areas to them. (16) He was allowed to have 200 ships, levy as many soldiers and oarsmen as he needed and collect as much money from the tax collectors and the public treasuries as he wished. (16) The use of treasury in the plural might suggest power to raise funds from treasures of the allied Mediterranean states as well. (16) Such sweeping powers were not a problem because comparable extraordinary powers given to Marcus Antonius Creticus to fight piracy in Crete in 74 provided a precedent. (16) 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. (16) The senators nearly killed Pompey. (16) This outraged the people, who set upon the senators. (16) They all ran away, except for the consul Gaius Piso, who was arrested. (16) On the day of the vote Pompey withdrew to the countryside. (16) There was more opposition than support for this action, but (14) the Lex Gabinia was passed. (16) Pompey was assigned the senior command (13,14) and it was therefore he who benefited most from the exercise of the restored tribunician power. (15) He extracted further concessions and received 500 ships, 120,000 infantry, 5,000 cavalry and twenty-four lieutenants. (16) It was ‘a law which gave him, not an admiralty, but an out-and‑out monarchy and irresponsible power over all men’. (Plutarch) (16)

Action against the Pirates

He defeated the Pirates (3,4) in 67. (3,11) in a few months, (13) significantly less time than he had been given to complete this task. (14) He cleared the western Mediterranean in forty days, proceeded to Brundusium (Brindisi) and cleared the eastern Mediterranean in the same amount of time. (16) He captured 71 ships and 306 ships were surrendered. (16) He seized 120 towns and fortresses and killed about 10,000 pirates in battles. (16) The Sea was cleared of pirates and communication and trade throughout the Mediterranean was restored. (14) Once again Pompey was a hero in Rome. (14) He recognised that the pirates had been acting because of the poverty caused by the war. (16) Pompey thought the pirates would abandon their old ways and be softened by a change of place, new customs and a gentler way of life (16) so in order to prevent a new outbreak of piracy, Pompey settled them (13,14) in different cities of Cilicia, Greece and Lower Italy, including for example the Soloi, which was renamed Pompeiopolis for this reason, (13) and thus gave them a new way of life (13,14) as peaceful farmers. (14) He executed a brigand chief named Dionysius of Tripolis, and took over the country of Ptolemy of Calchis. (16) Ptolemy was hated in Syria, Phoenicia and Judea; Pompey, however, let him escape punishment in exchange for 1,000 talents (24,000,000 sesterces). (16) This vast sum was used by Pompey to pay his soldiers and vividly illustrates the attractions of piracy and brigandage in this poorly controlled country. (16)

Third Mithridatic War 66-63 

Lex Manilia

The kingdom of Bithynia had been bequeathed to Rome by its last king, Nicomedes IV, in 74, triggering the Third Mithridatic War. (16) Pompey was still engaged in this when in Rome (14) in 66 (12) another new (14,15) plebeian (16) Tribune, Gaius Manilius, passed a bill (14,15) against weakened opposition (15) assigning Pompey to the command against (11,14) Mithridates VI (3,6) of Pontus (6,12) in Asia Minor, who had long been a thorn in Rome’s side. (12) He was given full powers to make war and peace and to organize the whole Roman East. (14) This was the lex Manilia. (16) Pompey was to displace Lucullus (15,16) and wage war on Mithridates and Tigranes. (16) It allowed him to retain his naval force and his dominion over the sea granted by the lex Gabinia. (16) Therefore, Phrygia, Lycaonia, Galatia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Upper Colchis, Pontus and Armenia as well as the forces of Lucullus were added to his command. (16) Plutarch noted that this meant the placing of Roman supremacy entirely in the hands of one man. (16) The optimates were unhappy about so much power being given to Pompey and saw this as the establishment of a tyranny. (16) They agreed to oppose the law, but they were fearful of the mood of the people. (16) Only Catulus spoke up. (16) The law was passed. (16) The law was supported by Julius Caesar and justified by Cicero in his extant speech Pro Lege Manilia. (16) Former consuls also supported the law. (16) Cicero mentioned Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus (consul in 72), Gaius Cassius Longinus Varus (73), Gaius Scribonius Curio (76) and Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus (79). (16)


Pompey invaded Pontus (12) he defeated Mithridates in 66, (3,11) with relative ease. (14) Many were killed, but many, including (16) Mithridates, fled. (12,16) He tried to go to Tigranes, who refised him aid. (16) He went on to the Crimea (12,13) where he arranged for (12) his own death. (12,14) in 63. (14) [OR] tried to poison himself, but failed because he was immune due to taking ‘precautionary antidotes in large doses every day, and was killed by the rebels. (16) Pompey took the provinces of Bithynia and Pontus. (13) This meant the Mithridatic wars were finally over, and Pompey could take credit for another victory. (12) He was now free to plan the consolidation of the eastern provinces and frontier kingdoms. (14)

Tigranes and Antiochus

In 64 (13) he defeated (6,11) King (11) Tigranes (6,11) the Great (11) of Armenia, and Antiochus (6,11) XIII, (11) King of Syria. (6,11) He annexed (11,12) the rest of the Seleucid Empire (13) (as the province of Syria (11,13) to the Roman territories, (11,12) significantly increasing the state income and his personal wealth. (11) For 6,000 talents he set up King Tigranes in Armenia as a friend and ally of Rome—and as his own protégé. (15)


By 163, the Maccabean Revolt established the independence of Judea. (16) A conflict between the brothers Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II over the succession to the Hasmonean throne began in Judea in 69. (16) Aristobulus deposed Hyrcanus. (16) Then Antipater the Idumaean became the adviser of weak-willed Hyrcanus and persuaded him to contend for the throne. (16) The people supported Hyrcanus and only the priests supported Aristobulus. (16) Meanwhile, Pompey, who was fighting Tigranes the Great in Armenia, sent Marcus Aemilius Scaurus (who was a quaestor) to Syria. (16) Since two of Pompey’s lieutenants, Metellus and Lollius, had already taken Damascus, Scaurus proceeded to Judea. (16) The ambassadors of Aristobulus and Hyrcanus asked for his help. (16) Both offered Scaurus bribes and promises. (16) 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. (16) However, Aristobulus went to Judea. (16) Aristobulus’s obstinacy angered Pompey who marched on Judea and went to the fortress of Alexandreium, where Aristobulus fled to. (16) When Pompey ordered him to surrender the fortress, Aristobulus did give it up. (16) Pompey intervened in riots in Judea (13) [OR] Pompey marched on Jerusalem because Aristobulus had gone there and prepared for war. (16) he was informed about the death of Mithridates. (16) Pompey encamped at Jericho. (16) Aristobulus went to see him, promised to give him money and received him into Jerusalem. (16) Pompey forgave him and sent Aulus Gabinius with soldiers to receive the money and the city. (16) The soldiers of Aristobulus did not let them in. (16) Pompey arrested Aristobulus and entered Jerusalem. (16) The pro-Aristobulus faction went to the Temple and prepared for a siege. (16) The rest of the inhabitants opened the city gates. (16) Pompey sent in an army led by Piso and placed garrisons in the city and at the palace. (16) The enemy refused to negotiate. (16) Pompey built a wall around the area of the Temple and encamped inside this wall. (16) However, the temple was well fortified and there was a deep valley around it. (16) The Romans built a ramp and brought siege engines and battering rams from Tyre. (16) Pompey took advantage of the enemy celebrating the Sabbath to deploy his battering rams. (16) Jewish law did not allow the Jews to meddle with the enemy if they were not attacking them on the day of the Sabbath. (16) 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. (16) Pompey captured Jerusalem when, (6,12) on the next day, the wall of the Temple was broken through and the soldiers went on the rampage. (16) Pompey subdued the Jews. (6,16) According to Josephus 12,000 Jews fell. (16) Josephus wrote, ‘No small enormities were committed about the temple itself, which, in former ages, had been inaccessible, and seen by none; for (16) Pompey went into the temple, with some of his men, and saw all that which it was unlawful for any other men to see (13,16) but only for the high priests. (16) 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. (16) 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. (16) 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’. (16) Pompey returned the Syrian cities the Jews had conquered to Syrian rule, thus bringing Judea back to its original territory. (16) He rebuilt the city of Garara and restored seven inland cities and four coastal ones to its inhabitants. (16) He made Jerusalem a tributary of Rome and made Judea a satellite of Syria. (16) and brought Palestine [OR] Judaea (15) under the Roman Empire (4) as a dependent, diminished temple state. (15) Josephus commented “…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.” (16) The Syrians continued to use the Seleucid calendar, but a number of the cities in Judea and Galilee adopted the Pompeian calendar, starting at 63 BC. (16) Pompey restored the independence of several Hellenised cities, and the distinction between citizens of the polis (Greeks) and natives (Jews) was restored. (16) Jews were not counted as citizens on religious grounds, and were probably deported or saw their property confiscated in revenge, with some probably becoming tenants of Hellenized landowners. (16) Such developments increased the long-standing hostility between Jews and Hellenized people. (16)


He also established contact with the Parthian Empire. (11,15) Pompey rejected (15) the Parthian king (11,15) Phraates’s (11) request to recognize the Euphrates as the limit of Roman control. (15) He demonstrated his military power to the Parthians, and reached an agreement with Phraates (11) extending the Roman chain of protectorates to include Colchis, on the Black Sea, and the states south of the Caucasus. (15) In Anatolia, he created the new provinces of Bithynia-Pontus and Cilicia. (15) Pompey went back to Amisus (Samsun). (16) Here he found many gifts from Pharnaces and many dead bodies of the royal family, including that of Mithridates. (16) Pompey could not look at Mithridates’ body and sent it to Sinope. (16)

Reorganisation of the East

The re-organization of the East is if not the greatest, one of the greatest of Pompey’s achievement. (14) He established new provinces of Asia and Asia Minor. (11) Many kingdoms and principalities, were subject to Rome as client empires. (11,16) His comprehensive appreciation of the geographical and political aspects involved allowed him to execute a general settlement that was to form the foundation of the defensive frontier system and was to endure, with few significant changes, for over 500 years. (14) In 66, following Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus’ campaigns there (69–67), Crete was annexed as a Roman province. (16) Pompey then made his way back to Italy in great pomp. (16) On his way to Italy he went to Mytilene on the island of Lesbos. (16) He decided to build a theatre in Rome modelled on that of this city. (16) In Rhodes he listened to the sophist philosophers and gave them money. (16) 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). (16)

Military Honours

On his triumphant return to Italy (13) there were rumours in Rome that Pompey would march his army against the city and establish a monarchy. (16) Crassus secretly left with his children and money, probably more to give credibility to the rumours rather than through genuine fear. (16) However, Pompey disbanded his army when he landed in Italy, (13,14) trusting that his influence with the Senate was assured anyway, (13) Pompey was probably equally admired and feared. (16) On the streets he was as popular as ever. (16) He was cheered by the inhabitants of the cities he passed on his way to Rome and many people joined him. (16) Plutarch remarked that he arrived in Rome with such a large crowd that he would not have needed an army for a revolution. (16) It was 62, and he was at the height of his powers. (14,16) He had been consul three times. (5) He was appointed as the administrator of the lands conquered by him. (4) He celebrated three Roman triumphs, (5,6) the last in 61, (6,11) which he celebrated on his 45th birthday in 61, seven months after his return to Italy. (16) Plutarch wrote that it surpassed all previous triumphs. (16) It took place over an unprecedented two days. (16) In total, 324 people were paraded. (16) The procession included images of Tigranes and Mithridates, who were not present, and the sons and daughters of Mithridates who had died. (16) The image of Mithridates was made of gold and was four metres high. (16) Much of what had been prepared would not find a place and would have been enough for another procession. (16) 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. (16) 800 pirate ships and 1,000 pirates were captured and that 39 cities were founded. (16) 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. (16) There were 75,100,000 drachmas of silver coin and 700 ships were brought to the port. (16) Pliny the Elder wrote that Pompey displayed ‘a chess-board made of two precious stones, three feet in width by two in length.’ and remarked that his displays were. ‘… more the triumph of luxury than the triumph of conquest’. (16) Cassius Dio pointed out that Pompey 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. (16)

The Triumvirate 60-54

Problems with the Optimates

For the next decade he reigned supreme (14,15) [OR] Sadly, because of his great successes, mistrust and fears arose at the Roman Senate that Pompey was striving for sole rule. (11,16) When Pompey returned to Rome from the Third Mithridatic War, (16) he sought the en bloc ratification of his eastern settlement (6,15) and land for his veterans. (13,15) This was opposed by the senators, particularly the optimates, (15,16) the inner ring of nobles. (15) They were suspicious of the power Pompey had acquired with the lex Gabinia and the lex Manilia and the popularity he gained with his military successes. (16) They were his inveterate enemies, and (15) saw him as a threat to their supremacy and as a potential tyrant. (16) They had gradually reasserted their dominance in Rome and closed their ranks against him, hampering attempts to alleviate the condition of Italy and the Roman populace. (15) They were more of a problem to Pompey than Crassus or Caesar, who had merely tried to steal the limelight in Pompey’s absence and to manoeuvre into a better position for bargaining with their former political ally. (15) In 60, the optimates defeated a bill that would have distributed farm land 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. (16) In the end, lacking support, Pompey let the matter drop. (16) The Pompeian camp proved to be inadequate to respond the obstructionism of the optimates. (16) For his part, Pompey avoided siding with popular elements against the Optimates. (15) He was no revolutionary. (15) He wanted all classes to recognize him as first citizen, available for further large-scale services to the state. (15) He had divorced his third wife, Mucia, allegedly for adultery with Caesar, and now proposed to ally himself by marriage to the party of the young senatorial leader Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger. (15) Pompey’s offer to ally with Marcus Porcius Cato was rebuffed. (15) Lucullus and others were determined to prevent this, (15) When in 60 (4,5) the Senate declined to accede to his wishes, (6) Pompey became angry and turned against the aristocratic party. (11) Allied neither to Optimates nor Populares, Pompey was isolated. (13,15)

The Triumvirate formed, 59

Help came only when Caesar returned from his governorship in Spain, (15,16) in the midsummer of 60, flushed with success from his campaign in Hispania and determined to win the consulship. (16) Caesar pursued a policy of conciliating Crassus and Pompey, who had become rivals over the last decade. (16) 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. (16) He also had the support of his war veterans: ‘Prestige, wealth, clients, and loyal, grateful veterans who could be readily mobilised—these were the assets which could guarantee [Pompey’s] brand of [power].’ (16) Like Pompey, Caesar was a skilled and highly respected military leader. (12) He was also a skilled and energetic politician and (16) although a former rival, (4,12) exactly the man Pompey was now looking for: (16) Caesar was a necessary instrument (13,14) to circumvent his increasing isolation. (13) Caesar also enjoyed the support of (16) another former rival of Pompey’s (7,16) the plutocrat (6,12) Marcus Licinius Crassus. (4,5) As a property speculator and the richest man in Rome (12,16) [OR] ‘in the Roman Empire’, (12) he had extensive patronage networks, and was a political force on his own. (16) He had not been happy that Pompey had taken credit for overcoming the Spartans, (12) and he had also seen his agenda blocked by the Optimates. (16) Caesar won the election for one of the two consulships for 59, and could now provide the kind of support needed for Pompey’s and Crassus’s bills to be passed. (16) With Caesar mediating, Crassus agreed to the co-operate with Pompey for his political ends. (12) This led to the first triumvirate, (3,14) in which Pompey and Crassus formed a close intimacy with (4,5) Gaius Julius Caesar. (11,12) This was later referred to as (13,15) the ‘First Triumvirate.’ (4,5) It was not a legal position, and the term, although convenient, is modern. (15) It was an informal alliance (11,13) [OR] an illegal (12) political agreement. (11,12) This ‘three-man rule’ was designed to benefit all of them with their desired political careers: (11,14) ‘nothing should happen in the state that one of the three disliked’ (Suetonius). (11) Together these three men could break the resistance of Optimates. (16) The Triumvirate was to become more than a mere election compact: (15) it dominated the Late Roman republic, (7,12) seizing power from some of the Optimates and resisting the power of the Roman nobles in the Senate. (12) The three of them protected their ends by violence and corruption after a prolonged struggle, (14) but it would strain all their resources to wrest one consulship from the Optimates; their continued solidarity was essential if they were to secure what Caesar gained for them in 59. (15) Caesar was elected Consul, and was able to implement measures in Pompey’s interest. (13,16) He proposed an agrarian bill (15,16) to the plebeian council (16) and, shortly after, another appropriating public lands in Campania (15) which Pompey and Crassus publicly supported. (16) 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. (16) Calpurnius Bibulus subsequently retired from politics and (16) Caesar had the acts of Pompey’s settlements in the east passed. (6,16) Caesar, for his part, wanted a long-term command. (15) and succeeded (6,16) with a law that made him governor of Gallia Cisalpina and Illyricum also passed. (16) When the governor of Gallia Transalpina died, Caesar was given that province as well. (16) Once he had secured a five-year command in Illyria and Gaul he could be relied on to take off a large proportion of Pompey’s discharged troops and give them further opportunities for profitable employment. (15)   Caesar’s daughter, Julia, (5,6) Caesaris Minor (2) was given in marriage to Pompey (5,6) to secure the alliance, (5,11) even though she was betrothed to another man. (16)

Decline of Triumvirate

The alliance between the three men, however, was personal, tenuous, and short-lived. (12) Pompey’s position in Rome became weaker. (3,13) In 59, (6,11) Caesar left Rome to take on these governorships. (16) He went to Gaul (6,11) for 9 years. (6,16) He got involved in his Gallic Wars, which lasted from 58 to 50. (16) and won many victories (6,11) while Pompey was wasting his time in Rome. (6) Pompey and Caesar set Publius Clodius Pulcher against Marcus Tullius Cicero, who was an opponent of the triumvirate. (16) Clodius managed to have Cicero exiled, but soon Pompey decided to have Cicero recalled to Rome because Clodius turned against him. (16) A grateful Cicero stopped opposing Pompey. (16) In 58, food shortages in Rome caused popular unrest. (16) Cicero persuaded the people to appoint Pompey as praefectus annonae (prefect of the provisions) in Italy and beyond for five years. (16) This post was instituted at times of severe grain shortages to supervise the grain supply. (16) Clodius alleged that the scarcity of grain had been engineered to support a law that boosted Pompey’s power, which had been decreasing. (16) Both Plutarch and Cassius Dio thought that the law made Pompey ‘the master of all the land and sea under Roman possession’. (16) 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, (16) solving the problem of Rome’s grain supply with his usual efficiency. (15,16) He collected it in such abundance that the markets were filled and there was also enough to supply foreign peoples. (16) Appian wrote that this success gave Pompey great reputation and power. (16) 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. (16) Nevertheless the nobles kept up their opposition. (15) The year 56 was a critical one for the triumvirs. (15) The nobles concocted religious impediments to prevent the dispatch of Pompey on a military mission to Egypt, while Publius Clodius contrived to persuade Pompey that Crassus had designs on his life. (15) An attempt was made to suspend Caesar’s law for the distribution of Campanian land. (15) Pompey’s ascendancy was eroded through Caesar’s growing military power and gradual capture of Pompey’s worldwide client network, from the power base Caesar, in turn, created in northern Italy and Gaul. (15) Pompey was annoyed about the increasing admiration of Caesar due to his success in the Gallic Wars, which, he felt, overshadowed his own exploits. (16) He tried to persuade the consuls not to read Caesar’s reports from Gaul and to send someone to relieve his command. (16) He was unable to achieve anything through the consuls, and felt that Caesar’s increasing independence made his own position precarious. (16) He began to arm himself against Caesar and got closer to Crassus because he thought he could not challenge Caesar on his own. (16) Caesar’s growing military power, along with the fact that most of the nobles were never fully behind Pompey, started getting in the way. (14) He was consistently outmanoeuvred in the 50s by Caesar. (3)

Triumvirate renewed at Lucca 56

The relationship between Pompey and Crassus became increasingly tense (11,15) They caused an interregnum by preventing the consular elections. (11) The two men decided to stand for the consulship so that they could be more than a match for Caesar. (16) Alarmed at Pompey’s suspicions and truculence, Crassus set off to meet Caesar at Ravenna. (15) In 56, (11,16) Caesar, who was fighting the Gallic Wars, crossed the Alps into Italy and came to the limit of his province at Lucca. (15,16) to meet Pompey. (15) There the triumvirate was renewed. (11,15) The Lucca conference prepared the ground for the next phase of cooperation: (15) [OR] Cassius Dio, who wrote the most detailed account of the period, did not mention the Lucca conference. (16) Pompey and Crassus were to secure election to the consulship for 55, (15,16) for they too wanted (15,16) five-year (16) commands in the provinces, while Caesar’s command was to be renewed for another five years. (15,16) Caesar would support them by sending soldiers to Rome to vote for them. (16)

The end

The three secured their ends by violence and corruption after a prolonged struggle, (15) when, early in 55, Pompey and Crassus were at last elected consuls, (14,15) with most of the lesser magistracies going to their supporters. (15) 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. (16) They would hold the command there for five years. (16) Pompey was given Spain (11,15) as a proconsulate, (11) and Crassus received a command in Syria. (15) Caesar obtained the extension of his command. (15) Pompey was allowed to stay on in Italy and govern Spain by deputies. (15) They could levy as many troops as they wanted and ‘make peace and war with whomsoever they pleased’. (16) The supporters of Caesar were unhappy and therefore Crassus and Pompey extended Caesar’s command in Gaul. (16) According to Cassius Dio, this was for three years, not five. (16) But the triumvirate was approaching the end. (14) In 54 (6,11) Pompey was the only member of the triumvirate who was in Rome. (16) Caesar continued his campaigns in Gaul and Crassus undertook his campaign against the Parthians. (16) In September 54, (16) Pompey’s wife Julia died, (11,12) while giving birth to a girl, who also died a few days later. (16) This broke one of the main bonds holding the Triumvirs together, (12,14) and in May (16) 53, the triple alliance came to an end. (11,13) Crassus (11,12) a less capable military leader than the other two, (12) was killed (11,12) in the terrible (14) disastrous (15) defeat (12,14) at the Battle of Carrhae (16). in Parthia (12,13) [OR] Syria. (11) [OR] Mesopotamia. (14,15) Julia’s death in 44 (5,6) and Crassus’ (5,7) in 53 (11,12) brought about the dissolution of the First Triumvirate. (12,15) Pompey’s star began to wane, (6) but as yet he showed no inclination to break with Caesar. (15) He became jealous of Caesar’s success. (4,6) in Gaul (11) as he fell behind Caesar in popular favour. (6) Caesar, likewise, could not tolerate the extraordinary rise of Pompey. (4) [OR] Pompey rejected all proposals from Caesar for an alliance. (14) The alliance loosened more and more. (11,12) Eventually the two fell out. (4,5) From outside the walls of Rome (15) Pompey watched the lawlessness and disorder in the city becoming daily more unbearable. (11,14) Street violence made it impossible to hold the elections. (15)

Rivalry between Pompey and Caesar 54-48

Pompey and Caesar then contended for the leadership of the Roman state. (5) He refused further offers from Caesar of a marriage alliance. (15) There was talk in Rome as early as 54 of a dictatorship for Pompey. (15) but he was still distrusted by the aristocracy, (6) and avoided committing himself to dealing with them, (14) until some Roman leaders, (12) the inner circle of nobles, at one time strongly opposed to him (12,14) and Caesar (12) realized an alliance with Pompey was inevitable. (14) They decided to back Pompey in an election for consul, fearing that the failure to do so would create a power vacuum in Rome, (12) Pompey now returned to the aristocratic party, (5,6) siding with the Optimates, the conservative faction of the Senate. (5,13) The triumvirate was no more. (14) In January 52 Clodius was killed by armed followers of Titus Annius Milo, whose candidacy for the consulship was being bitterly opposed by both Pompey and Clodius. (15) Now both factions exploded into even greater violence. (15) The senate house was burned down by the mob. (15) Without any senior magistrates in office, (14) Pompey was called upon to re-establish order. (11,13) He quickly called upon his troops from Italy. (14)

Pompey Sole Consul 52

In earlier times he might have been made dictator, but it was now thought safer to make him sole consul, so (14) in 52 he was elected sole consul to restore order in Rome. (11,13) It was the hour he had waited for. (15) He speedily summoned troops from Italy. (15) He married his fifth and last wife, (13) Cornelia, (12,13) Metella, (13) the daughter of the Roman consul Metellus Scipio. (12) For a time, Pompey controlled much of the Roman Empire while Caesar continued his campaigns in Gaul. (12) He strengthened his army, which he had gathered as proconsul of Spain and planned a campaign of revenge against the Parthians. (13) The Optimates feared Caesar’s ambition and wanted to limit his powers. (11) Pompey’s legislation of 52 reveals his genuine interest in reform and the duplicity of his conduct toward Caesar. (15) He reformed procedure in the courts and produced a panel of respectable jurors. (15) A severe law against bribery at elections was made retrospective to 70 and, for all Pompey’s protests, was rightly taken by Caesar’s friends as aimed at him. (15) Another useful law enforced a five-year interval between tenure of magistracies in Rome and assumption of provincial commands. (15) But this law and another, which prohibited candidature in absence, effectively destroyed the ground of Caesar’s expectation that he should become designated consul, and so safe from prosecution, before he had to disband his army in Gaul. (15) In 51, Pompey made moves to relieve Caesar of his command. (12,15) before the expiration of his second term in Gaul, but these were frustrated by the assertiveness of Caesar’s faction and agents in Rome. (15) Pompey promised to give up his own armies as well; however, some scholars claim that this was merely a ploy to hurt public opinion of Caesar, who no one expected would surrender his forces. (12) No senator voted for Pompey to give up his arms because his troops were in the suburbs. (16) All but two voted for Caesar to disband his army. (16) Pompey, for all his growing fear and suspicion of Caesar’s ambitions, did not come out openly against Caesar until late in 51, when he suddenly made clear his intentions. (15) He declared that he would not consider the suggestion that Caesar should become designated consul while still in command of his army. (15) Pompey fell seriously ill in Naples in 50. (16) Upon his recovery, the people of Naples offered thanksgiving sacrifices, and the resulting celebration spread throughout Italy. (16) He was feted in towns he travelled to on his way back to Rome. (16) Plutarch said that ‘a spirit of arrogance came upon Pompey’ which provoked contempt for Caesar’s power: ‘he would pull him down much more easily than he had raised him up’. (16) This assessment is a bit exaggerated, but it is likely that the display of popular support made Pompey overconfident. (16) Caesar started plotting against Pompey. (4), Negotiations continued unsuccessfully for some time, with neither commander willing to make military concessions, and eventually the conflict turned into outright war. (12)

The Great Roman Civil War, or Caesar’s Civil War 49-45 


Pompey’s proposals for a compromise date for Caesar’s recall were unacceptable to Caesar, whose sole resource now was to use the wealth he had accumulated in Gaul to buy men who could obstruct his enemies in the Senate. (15) When war came, the Senate was evenly divided between Caesar and Pompey. (15) The consuls were solidly for Pompey, (15,16) although they saw him simply as the lesser evil. (15) Two bitter enemies of Caesar, Lucius Aemilius Lepidus Paulus and Gaius Claudius Marcellus Minor (a cousin of the previous consul) were chosen as consuls for 50. (16) Curio, who was also opposed to Caesar, became one of the new plebeian tribunes. (16)  Late in 50 the consul Gaius Marcellus, failing to induce the Senate to declare Caesar a public enemy, visited Pompey with the consuls designate and placed a sword in his hands. (15) Pompey accepted their invitation to raise an army and defend the state. (15) Caesar continued to offer compromise solutions while preparing to strike. (15) The Senate insisted on Caesar’s unconditional resignation, (6,11) and return to Rome, (11) otherwise he would be declared a Public Enemy. (6,11) Caesar consented to lay down his office, if Pompey would do the same. (6,11)

Crossing the Rubicon, 49

In the spring of 49, (7,13) the conflict between Caesar (who wanted to become consul again) and the Senate (in which many wanted to bring Caesar to justice) escalated. (13) On January 7th, 49, the Senate finally decreed a state of war. (15) Four days later (15) Caesar, accustomed to celerity and audacity, decided to advance and seize strategic positions in Italy. (16) Caesar crossed the Rubicon, (6,7) with just the one legion, (16) defying the Senate and beginning a civil war. (5,11)


Pompey said he could defeat Caesar (7,14) and raise armies merely by stamping his foot on the soil of Italy. (7) [OR] Pompey intended to build up his army, and wage war against Caesar in the east. (7,15) His strategic plan was to abandon Rome and Italy to Caesar and rely on his command of the sea and the resources of the East to starve out the Caesarians in Italy. (15) The Senate trusted his generalship, (13) but Caesar’s legions swept down the peninsula. (7,11) He sent a detachment to Ariminum (Rimini), the first town in Italy, and took it by surprise. (16) He then advanced towards Rome, having crossed the River Rubicon at the boundary of Italy. (16) On hearing of this, the consuls directed Pompey to quickly recruit more troops. (16) The Senate, still unprepared, was panicked at Caesar’s unexpected speed. (16) Pompey did not have the disciplined loyalty and full cooperation of his Optimate allies. (15) and his armed forces were too weak to hold Italy6. Abandoning Rome, (7,11) he took his legions south towards Brundusium. (7,16) Neither Pompey nor the Senate thought of taking the vast treasury with them, probably thinking Caesar would not dare take it for himself. (7) It was left in the Temple of Saturn when Caesar and his forces entered Rome. (7) Pompey hastened to Nuceria and then to Brundusium, the main port for crossing to Greece. (16) He had finally decided to abandon Italy and to complete his war preparations in Greece. (16) 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. (16) Pompey knew he could not reach his troops in Hispania because Caesar controlled Gaul and therefore blocked the land route into the Iberian peninsula. (16) 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. (16) Possibly because of the change of plan there were only enough transports for thirty out of his fifty cohorts. (16) Pompey decided he should let the consuls and their new recruits cross over to Dyrrachium first. (16) Thus he saved the conservatives (7,11) including a large number of the senators. (13) [OR] the entire Senate and a large part of the higher nobility. (11) They left by 8 March. (16) On 9 March, after sixteen days of hard marching, Caesar’s army arrived at Brundusium and proceeded to set up camp outside the town walls. (16) The city was difficult to seize, and Caesar tried to negotiate peace and resume his friendship with Pompey. (16) Pompey merely said that he would relay that to the consuls. (16) Caesar besieged and attacked Brundusium. (7,16) Pompey repelled him until the ships returned and (16) barely escaping Caesar, (7) he set sail at night (16) and crossed over into (7,11) Greece (11,13) [OR] Epirus. (7) After this, Caesar seized the city and captured two ships full of men. (16) making himself thus the lord of Italy. (13)

Pompey at Dyrrhachium

Pompey sent sixteen ships to assist Massilia which was under siege by Caesar’s forces. (16) Caesar went to Rome, after which he embarked on an astonishing 27-day forced march to Hispania (16) and defeated the troops Pompey had there. (13,16) Caesar then returned to Italy, crossed the Adriatic Sea and landed in what is now southern Albania. (16) This was a hazardous crossing (15,16) because the Pompeian fleet controlled this sea and were tasked with preventing  Caesar from crossing over. (16) Pompey had organised a fleet to maintain a patrol along the whole of the eastern coast of the Adriatic, to prevent corn from reaching the Italian ports and to safeguard the transport of essentials to the Pompeian forces and their supply bases. (16) Pompey, however, eventually had to abandon his naval blockade of the rest of Caesar’s forces in Brundusium and failed to prevent their crossing to join Caesar. (15) In Albania Caesar advanced on Oricum, which the commander of the garrison handed to him. (16) Two lieutenants of Pompey’s 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. (16) Caesar then headed for Dyrrachium (Durrës, Albania), where Pompey had an arsenal. (16) Pompey hurried to defend Dyrrachium and arrived there first. (16) The wisdom of Pompey’s strategy became clear: (15) Caesar was cut off from his base in Italy by sea and facing superior land forces. (15,16) The opposing forces fought the Battle of Dyrrhachium (48). (7,14) Pompey’s troops heavily outnumbered the enemy. (16) He built a fortified camp south of the city, so Caesar started to build a circumvallation to besiege it. (16) At the same time, Pompey extended his own fortifications to force Caesar to stretch out his. (16) Six attempts to break through by Pompey were repulsed. (16) Caesar’s troops suffered food shortages, while Pompey’s was supplied by ships as his camp was near the sea. (16) However, Pompey held a limited amount of land, which created shortages of fodder for his animals. (16) Water was also scarce, because Caesar had cut off the local streams. (16) When harvest time came close Caesar’s troops were going to have plenty of grain. (16) Pompey needed to break the siege. (16) 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 together. (16) Pompey’s troops attacked it and broke through. (16) However, Mark Antony and Caesar brought in reinforcements and pushed them back. (16) Pompey entrenched a camp near this spot to gain land for fodder. (16) 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. (16) Caesar attacked these new fortifications. (16) However, he was outnumbered, and Pompey sent a large cavalry force to outflank Caesar’s troops. (16) Caesar’s army was repulsed in an assault on Pompey’s camp at Dyrrhachium. (7,15) Caesar withdrew and gave up the siege. (16) Pompey could have destroyed Caesar’s retreating army by pursuing it but did not. (7,16) Caesar thought Pompey suspected an ambush. (16) Caesar lost only 1000 men and Pompey lost 2000, but because he failed to pursue at the moment of Caesar’s defeat, Pompey threw away the chance to destroy Caesar’s much smaller army. (7) As Caesar himself said, ‘Today the enemy would have won, if they had a commander who was a winner’ (Plutarch, 65). (7) According to Suetonius, it was at this point that Caesar said that ‘that man (Pompey) does not know how to win a war’. (7)


From Dyrrachium 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. (16) Pompey rapidly proceeded to build his new army. (16) Pompey had gathered a large force in Macedonia during Caesar’s Spanish campaign. (7) It had nine legions plus contingents from the Roman allies in the east. (7) His fleet controlled the Adriatic. (7) Nevertheless, Caesar managed to cross over into Epirus in November 49, and captured Apollonia. (7) Failing a quick decision in the West, Caesar was obliged to move eastward into Thessaly. (15) Pompey had spread exaggerated rumours about Caesar’s defeat, and the governor of Thessaly cast his lot with Pompey. (16) 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. (16) However, although Metellus Scipio had already brought his troops to Larissa, the capital of Thessaly, Pompey had not yet arrived. (16) Caesar besieged Gomphi to gain its resources and to frighten the neighbouring areas. (16) He took it by storm in one day and quickly went to Metropolis. (16) This town also closed its gates but surrendered when they heard about the fall of Gomphi. (16) All Thessaly towns not held by Metellus Scipio’s troops submitted to Caesar. (16) Pompey followed and joined forces with the Senate’s army there under Scipio, rendering Caesar’s position untenable. (15) The two forces fought the Battle of Pharsalus. (16) At this juncture, Pompey, under pressure from his Optimate allies, (13,15) decided for battle, a sensible enough decision if his opponent had not been a commander of genius. (15) [OR] Pompey tried to avoid a decisive battle, but was forced into one by the senators. (13)

Pompey’s Defeat and Death

Pharsalus, 48

Several battles were fought at Pharsalos in the north of Greece. (11) [OR] On August 9, (13) in 48. (3,5) at the Battle (7,15) on the plain of (15) Pharsalus (7,15) [OR] Pharsalia (2) [OR] Munda (12) [OR] Pharsalos in Thessaly (13) Caesar and Pompey had their final showdown. (7,13) The fighting was bitter for both sides, and although Pompey was expected to win, (7) due to advantage in numbers. (7,12) After several days of manoeuvres, Pompey drew up his men further from the rampart of his camp. (16) Caesar thought this looked like a chance to fight on more advantageous ground, and he prepared for battle. (16) Pompey deployed 45,000 troops and Caesar 25,000. (16) Pompey was going to have his superior cavalry outflank Caesar’s left wing and rout his army. (16) However, Caesar placed six select cohorts at the rear to stop this cavalry. (16) It worked, (16) and Caesar won the battle (3,5) by brilliant tactics and the superior fighting abilities of his veterans. (7) Pompey suffered a devastating defeat. (13,15) Pompey left the field and went to his camp. (16) Pompey rode away from the camp (16)  as the enemy stormed it and made his way to the coast (15,16) via Larissa. (16) From there, he reached the coast with a retinue of 30 cavalry and boarded a grain cargo ship. (16) His supporters were to rally and involve Caesar in strenuous fighting in Africa, Spain, and the East for three more years, but Pompey did not live to play a part in this struggle. (15) Pompey Murder

Figure 2: The Murder of Pompey


When he heard that Caesar was approaching, (16) Pompey went to Mitylene, on the island of Lesbos, (7,16) [OR] Mytilene (7) to take on board his wife Cornelia and his son. (7,16) Sextus. (7) He then wondered where to go next, (7) and was advised to go to Egypt, which was only three days’ sail away, and whose king, Ptolemy XIII (who was only a boy), was indebted by the friendship and the help Pompey had given to his father. (16) Hurried on by Caesar’s rapid pursuit, he lost contact with his own fleet. (15) He moved on southward to Cilicia, Cyprus, and Egypt. (15) [OR] had to flee to Egypt (13) He decided to land at Pelusium and seek the assistance of (15) his former client, (15,16) the Egyptian king Ptolemy (4,7) XIII, (7,13) who was still a minor. (11,13) [OR] the Senate suddenly ordered him to ‘protect’ Ptolemy. (11) [OR]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. (16) Pompey sent a messenger to announce his arrival to Ptolemy and to request his aid. (16) The king marched down to the coast, ostensibly to welcome him, but (15) although the general support was with Pompey, (4) he was afraid of Caesar (4,15) who was known to be on his way. (14) While Pompey’s small squadron (15) lay offshore, near Pelusium, (2,15) in Egypt (2,3) his fate was decided by Ptolemy XIII’s advisers, (7,14) Potheinus  (16) [OR] Pothinus (7) the eunuch, who was the boy king’s regent, (7,16) debated (7,14) with Theodotus of Chios, the king’s tutor, Achillas, the head of the army, and others. (16) Some advised driving Pompey away, and others welcoming him. (16) In the end Pothinus won out (7) and persuaded them not to risk offending Caesar, (4,15) but to earn his goodwill, (4,16) by assassinating Pompey (7,16) On September 28th, Achillas went to Pompey’s ship on a fishing boat together with Lucius Septimius, (16) [OR] Suptimius (14) who had once been one of Pompey’s officers, and a third assassin, Savius. (16) Pompey’s associates saw this lack of pomp with suspicion and advised Pompey to put his ship back in open sea out of reach of the Egyptian’s missiles. (16) Cornelia thought Pompey was going to be killed, (16) but he, (15,16) bade farewell to his wife, Cornelia, and (15) complied with an insidious invitation to enter, (15,16) with several companions, (15) the small boat sent to bring him to land. (15,16) According to Plutarch, Cornelia watched anxiously from the trireme as (7) Pompey left in this small boat (7,14) with a few comrades, (7,15) and headed for a welcoming party on the Egyptian shore. (7,14) The lack of friendliness on the boat prompted Pompey to tell Septimius that he was an old comrade. (16) The latter merely nodded. (16) He thrust a sword into Pompey, (16) and then Salvius, (14,16) and Achillas (7,14) (16) treacherously (15) stabbed him to death, (7,14) with daggers (16) as he prepared to step ashore (15) [OR] As soon as he landed (4,7) on 29th (1) [OR] 28th (2,5) September 48. (1,2) He was assassinated on the day after his (7,16) 57th [OR] 59th  (7) birthday. (7,16) The people on Pompey’s ship could see this and, horrified, fled. (16) Because the wind was favourable, the Egyptians did not pursue them. (16) Pompey’s head was severed, (12,16) so that it could be sent to Caesar. (12) His unclothed body was thrown in the sea (16) [OR] left on the shoreline. (7)


Philip, one of Pompey’s freedmen (7,16) who had boarded the boat, wrapped his body with his tunic and (16) made a funeral pyre on the shore (7,16) with the rotten planks of a fishing boat. (7) When Caesar arrived in Egypt a few days later, Theodotus presented Pompey’s head and seal to him. (16) he was appalled. (16) He turned away loathing Theodotus. (16) When Caesar was given Pompey’s seal-ring, he cried. (16) Plutarch said that Caesar  (7) mourned this insult to the greatness of his former ally’. (7,11) Pompey’s remains were taken to Cornelia, who gave them burial at his Alban villa. (7,16) Caesar punished the assassins and their Egyptian co-conspirators, putting both Achillas and Pothinus to death. (7) Theodotus left Egypt and escaped Caesar’s revenge. (16) Cassius Dio describes Caesar’s reactions with scepticism. (7) He thinks Pompey’s own political misjudgements, rather than treachery, was the cause of his downfall. (7) In Appian’s account of the civil war, (7) Caesar had Pompey’s severed head buried (7,13) in Alexandria, in ground reserved for a new temple to the goddess Nemesis. (7) The divine functions of Nemesis (‘fate’) included the punishment of hubris (pride). (7) For Pliny, the humiliation of Pompey’s end is contrasted to his oversized portrait-head, studded with pearls, and carried in procession during his greatest Triumph. (7) After Caesar’s death, Pompey’s image was printed on silver coins in 40. (12) His younger son, Sextus, secured a fleet manned largely by slaves and exiles, and, occupying Sicily, ravaged the coast of Italy, but in 36 he was defeated at sea by Agrippa, and in 37 he was slain at Mytilene. (6)

Pompey and the Roman Republic

As a statesman

He was a very influential man, (4) one of the great statesmen and generals of the late Roman Republic, (15) and his legacy cast a lasting shadow. (14) Even though he turned against Caesar, Pompey was widely admired by his countrymen for his role in the conquest of various territories. (12) He was especially admired by the nobles, and statues of him were placed in Rome as a tribute to his military and political accomplishments. (12) He was circumspect and thorough—the perfect administrator. (15) His vision of empire was no narrower than Caesar’s. (15) Like many a more recent imperialist, he was satisfied with the ideal of efficient and clean-handed administration and justice, and many of his contemporaries believed that he went far to achieve that aim in his own practice. (15)

As a Soldier

Pompey was undoubtedly a successful military leader; (13,14) and his military glory was second to none for two decades. (16) He is usually considered an outstanding strategist and organizer, 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. (16) Pompey was a great forward planner, and had tremendous organizational skill, which allowed him to devise grand strategies and operate effectively with large armies. (16) During his campaigns in the east, he relentlessly pursued his enemies, choosing the ground for his battles. (16) Above all, he was often able to adapt to his enemies. (16) On many occasions, he acted very swiftly and decisively, as he did during his campaigns in Sicily and Africa, or against the Cilician pirates. (16) During the Sertorian war, on the other hand, Pompey was beaten several times by Sertorius. (16) 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. (16) In some instances, Sertorius showed up and forced Pompey to abandon a siege, only to see him strike somewhere else. (16) This strategy was not spectacular, but it led to constant territorial gains and did much to demoralize the Sertorian forces. (16) Yet, his skills were occasionally criticized by some of his contemporaries. (16) Sertorius or Lucullus, for instance, were especially critical. (16) His tactics were usually efficient, albeit not particularly innovative or imaginative, and his methods could prove insufficient against greater tacticians. (16) At times, he was reluctant to risk an open battle. (16) While being a superb commander, he earned a reputation for stealing other generals’ victories. (16) He therefore fell short of real greatness, (14,15) but Pharsalus was his only decisive defeat, and while not extremely charismatic, Pompey could display tremendous bravery and fighting skills on the battlefield, which inspired his men. (16)

As a businessman

Pompey was the wealthiest man of his age, (15) [OR] ‘Crassus was’ (16) Pompey invested his millions prudently; his landed estates were distributed throughout Italy in manageable units. (15)

Personal Qualities

For all the extravagance of his triumphal shows and the inexcusable heartlessness of the contests in slaughter with which he entertained the populace, he was a plain-living man, friend and admirer of the Stoic Panaetius. (15) By ending his life in a murder, he became a tragic hero. (14) and his death inspired some of Lucan’s finest verses. (15) In the empire he acquired official respectability, and the greatness of his achievement was fully appreciated by the great writers. (15) He lacked Caesar’s genius, his dynamism and panache, and his geniality in personal relationships. (15)

Negative Views

But there are few clearheaded or unbiased accounts of Pompey by his own contemporaries. (15) Caesar would have his readers believe that he wrote of Pompey more in sorrow than in anger; his propaganda was discreet and subtly damaging to his rival’s reputation. (15) Cicero’s veering, day-to-day judgments of Pompey reveal his inability to see clearly through the distorting medium of his own vanity. (15) The inflated eulogies of Pompey in Cicero’s speeches are punctured by his persistent sniping at him. (15) Yet he looked up to him for leadership and, in the moment of decision, joined him. (15)

And the Republic

In the person of Pompey several structural problems of the late Roman republic are united. (13) Because of the size of the empire, it was essential to give long-term military commands to individuals, but this was contrary to the Roman ‘constitution’, which was strictly based on rotation within the aristocratic leadership. (13) Also, successful military leaders (like Pompey after his return from the East and the fairy-tale successes that he achieved there) could hardly be integrated into the system of the republic, which was designed to hold back personal ambition in favour of the common good. (13) He was neither a revolutionary nor a reactionary, willing to wreck the fabric of the commonwealth for the advantage of self or class. (15) He expected a voluntary acceptance of his primacy, (15) and it was thanks to the obstinacy of the Senate that Pompey looked around for other options when he returned and believed that the solution was found in the first triumvirate. (13) On the political front, he failed miserably: (13,15) He was up against Caesar of course, [OR] but was guilty of a lack of candour and consistency in speech and action (15) and poor judgment and desires; (14) so that he was in the end to discover that the methods he had used to get his commands obeyed had permanently alienated the dominant nobility. (15) He did not lack capacity for intrigue or ruthless action, but year after year he had to play a passive role, covertly intriguing or waiting for successive occasions to arise that would force them to accept his leadership. (15) Some thought his waiting game duplicity, (15) others sheer political incompetence: (6,15) “Pompey was wasting his time in Rome”. (6) He was a Republican hero, who at one point appeared to control all of Rome and its empire in the palm of his hand. (14) but his career was significant in Rome’s transformation from a republic to empire: (5,13) Some called him The Roman Alexander the Great, with a good head and heart, but devastated by the ambitions of his fellow Romans. (14)


Bibliographical Note:


10, 9 and 8 same as 7; 15 very similar to 14 stopped verifying at ‘To his enemies he was Sulla’s butcher; to the troops he was ‘Imperator’ and ‘Magnus.’ (15)  Pompey bibliography

FRESCI on Pompey

Foreign and Military

Brilliant Generalship

  • v Sulla
  • Middle East
  • Spain
  • 3 Triumphs
  • Outmanoeuvred by Caesar at Pharsalus

Brilliant grasp of Geopolitics

  • Reorganisation of the Middle East

Religion and Ideas

  • No major doctrinal issues.
  • Hint of future issues re Judaea


  • Good personal finances
  • Vast profits from Conquests
  • Sorted out Bread shortage at Rome


  • Caught between Optimates and Populares
  • Helped to destroy Spartacus
  • Popular hero from victories


  • Marius v Sulla ‘many Roman deaths and unthinkable violations of Roman law, such as bringing an army into the city itself’.
  • Illegal consulship
  • Illegal triumphs
  • Lex Gabinia
  • Lex Manilia

Individual and Random

  • Brave: Led from the front
  • ‘Stole’ victories, e.g. v Spartacus
  • Cruel: adulescentulus carnifex
  • Up against Caesar


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