Pompēius in Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
Cn. Pompēius Magnus , the Triumvir, son of No. 9, was born on the 30th of September, B.C. 106, in the consulship of Atilius Serranus
and Servilius Caepio, and was consequently a few months younger than Cicero (who was born on the 3d of January in the same year) and
six years older than Caesar. He fought under his father in 89 against the Italians, when he was only seventeen years of age, and
continued with him till his death two years afterwards. For the next few years the Marian party had possession of Italy; and
accordingly Pompey, who adhered to the aristocratic party, was obliged to keep in the background, and was only saved from an
indictment by the intervention of Carbo. But when it became known, in 84, that Sulla was on the point of returning from Greece to
Italy, Pompey hastened into Picenum, where he raised an army of three legions. Although only twenty-three years of age, Pompey
displayed great military abilities in opposing the Marian generals by whom he was surrounded; and when he succeeded in joining Sulla
in the course of the year (B.C. 83) he was saluted by the latter with the title of Imperator.
During the remainder of the war in Italy Pompey distinguished himself as one of the most successful of Sulla 's generals; and when
the war in Italy was brought to a close, Sulla sent Pompey against the Marian party in Sicily and Africa. Pompey first proceeded to
Sicily, of which he easily made himself master (B.C. 82): here he put Carbo to death. In 81, Pompey crossed over to Africa, where he
defeated Cn. Domitius Ahenorbarbus and the Numidian king Hiarbas, after a hard-fought battle. On his return to Rome in the same year,
he was received with enthusiasm by the people, and was greeted by Sulla with the surname of Magnus , a name which he bore ever
afterwards, and handed down to his children. Pompey, however, not satisfied with this distinction, sued for a triumph, which Sulla at
first refused, but at length, overcome by Pompey's importunity, he allowed him to have his own way. Accordingly, Pompey, who had not
yet held any public office, and was still a simple eques, entered Rome in triumph in September, 81, and before he had completed his
Pompey continued faithful to the aristocracy after Sulla 's death (B.C. 78), and supported the consul Catulus in resisting the
attempts of his colleague Lepidus to repeal the laws of Sulla ; and when Lepidus had recourse to arms in the following year (B.C.
77), Pompey took an active part in the war against him, and succeeded in driving him out of Italy. The aristocracy, however, now
began to fear the young and successful general; but since Sertorius in Spain had for the last three years successfully opposed
Metellus Pius, one of the ablest of Sulla 's generals,
Coin of Pompey.
and it had become necessary to send the latter some effectual assistance, the Senate, with considerable reluctance, determined to
send Pompey to Spain, with the title of proconsul, and with equal powers to Metellus. Pompey remained in Spain between five and six
years (76-71); but neither he nor Metellus was able to gain any decisive advantage over Sertorius. But when Sertorius was
treacherously murdered by his own officer Perperna in 82, the war was speedily brought to a close. Perperna was easily defeated by
Pompey in the first battle, and the whole of Spain was subdued by the early part of the following year (B.C. 71). Pompey then
returned to Italy at the head of his army. In his march towards Rome he fell in with the remains of the army of Spartacus, which M.
Crassus had previously defeated. Pompey cut to pieces these fugitives, and therefore claimed for himself, in addition to all his
other exploits, the glory of finishing the Servile War.
Pompey was now a candidate for the consulship; and although he was ineligible by law, inasmuch as he was absent from Rome, had not
yet reached the legal age, and had not held any of the lower offices of the State, still his election was certain. His military glory
had charmed the people; and as it was known that the aristocracy looked upon Pompey with jealousy, they ceased to regard him as
belonging to this party, and hoped to obtain, through him, a restoration of the rights and privileges of which they had been deprived
by Sulla. Pompey was accordingly elected consul, along with M. Crassus; and on the 31st of December, B.C. 71, he entered the city a
second time in his triumphal car a simple knight.
In his consulship (B.C. 70), Pompey openly broke with the aristocracy, and became the great popular hero. He proposed and carried a
law, restoring to the tribunes the power of which they had been deprived by Sulla. He also afforded his all-powerful aid to the Lex
Aurelia, proposed by the praetor L. Aurelius Cotta, by which the iudices were to be taken in future from the Senate, knights, and
tribunes of the treasury, instead of from the senators exclusively, as Sulla had ordained. In carrying both these measures Pompey was
strongly supported by Caesar, with whom he was thus brought into close connection.
For the next two years (69 and 68) Pompey remained in Rome. In 67, the tribune A. Gabinius brought forward a bill, proposing to
confer upon Pompey the command of the war against the pirates with extraordinary powers. This bill was opposed by the aristocracy
with the utmost vehemence, but was notwithstanding carried. The pirates were at this time masters of the Mediterranean, and had not
only plundered many cities on the coasts of Greece and Asia, but had even made descents upon Italy itself. As soon as Pompey received
the command, he began to make his preparations for the war, and completed them by the end of the winter. His plans were formed with
great skill and judgment, and were crowned with complete success. In forty days he cleared the western sea of pirates, and restored
communication between Spain, Africa, and Italy. He then followed the main body of the pirates to their strongholds on the coast of
Cilicia; and after defeating their fleet, he induced a great part of them, by promises of pardon, to surrender to him. Many of these
he settled at Soli, which was henceforward called Pompeiopolis. The second part of the campaign occupied only forty-nine days, and
the whole war was brought to a conclusion in the course of three months; so that, to adopt the panegyric of Cicero (Pro Leg. Man.
12), "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." Pompey was employed during the remainder of this year and the beginning of the following in visiting
the cities of Cilicia and Pamphylia, and providing for the government of the newly-conquered districts.
During his absence from Rome, Pompey had been appointed to succeed Lucullus in the command of the war against Mithridates (B.C. 66).
The bill, conferring upon him this command, was proposed by the tribune C. Manilius, and was supported by Cicero, in an oration which
has come down to us (Pro Lege Manilia). Like the Gabinian law, it was opposed by the whole body of the aristocracy, but was carried
triumphantly. The power of Mithridates had been broken by the previous victories of Lucullus, and it was only left to Pompey to bring
the war to a conclusion. On the approach of Pompey, Mithridates retreated towards Armenia, but he was defeated by the Roman general;
and as Tigranes now refused to receive him into his dominions, Mithridates resolved to plunge into the heart of Colchis, and from
thence make his way to his own dominions in the Cimmerian Bosporus. Pompey now turned his arms against Tigranes; but the Armenian
king submitted to him without a contest, and was allowed to conclude a peace with the Republic. In 65 Pompey set out in pursuit of
Mithridates, but he met with much opposition from the Iberians and Albanians; and after advancing as far as the river Phasis (Faz),
he resolved to leave these savage districts. He accordingly retraced his steps, and spent the winter at Pontus, which he reduced to
the form of a Roman province. In 64 he marched into Syria, deposed the king Antiochus Asiaticus, and made that country also a Roman
province. In 63 he advanced farther south, in order to establish the Roman supremacy in Phœnicia, Coele-Syria, and Palestine. The
Jews refused to submit to him, and shut the gates of Jerusalem against him, and it was not till after a siege of three months that
the city was taken. Pompey entered the Holy of Holies, the first time that any human being, except the high priest, had dared to
penetrate into this sacred spot. It was during the war in Palestine that Pompey received intelligence of the death of Mithridates.
(See Mithridates .) Pompey spent the next winter in Pontus; and after settling the affairs of Asia, he returned to Italy in 62. He
disbanded his army almost immediately after landing at Brundisium, and thus calmed the apprehensions of many, who feared that, at the
head of his victorious troops, he would seize upon the supreme power. He did not, however, return to Rome till the following year
(B.C. 51), and he entered the city in triumph on the 30th of September. He had just completed his forty-fifth year, and this was the
third time that he had enjoyed the honour of a triumph.
With this triumph the first and most glorious part of Pompey's life may be said to have ended. Hitherto his life had been an almost
uninterrupted succession of military glory. But now he was called upon to play a prominent part in the civil commotions of the
commonwealth, a part for which neither his natural talents nor his previous habits had in the least fitted him. It would seem that,
on his return to Rome, Pompey hardly knew what part to take in the politics of the city. He had been appointed to the command against
the pirates and Mithridates in opposition to the aristocracy, and they still regarded him with jealousy and distrust. At the same
time, he was not disposed to unite himself to the popular party, which had risen into importance during his absence in the East, and
over which Caesar possessed unbounded influence. The object, however, which engaged the immediate attention of Pompey was to obtain
from the Senate a ratification for all his acts in Asia, and an assignment of lands which he had promised to his veterans. The
Senate, however, glad of an opportunity to put an affront upon a man whom they both feared and hated, resolutely refused to sanction
his measures in Asia. This was the unwisest thing the Senate could have done. If they had known their real interests, they would have
sought to win Pompey over to their side, as a counterpoise to the growing and more dangerous influence of Caesar. But their
shortsighted policy threw Pompey into Caesar's arms, and thus sealed the downfall of their party. Caesar promised to obtain for
Pompey the ratification of his acts, and Pompey, on his part, agreed to support Caesar in all his measures. That they might be more
sure of carrying their plans into execution, Caesar prevailed upon Pompey to become reconciled to Crassus, with whom he was at
variance, but who, by his immense wealth, had great influence at Rome. The three agreed to assist one another against their mutual
enemies, and thus was formed the so-called First Triumvirate. This union of the three most powerful men at Rome crushed the
aristocracy for the time. Supported by Pompey and Crassus, Caesar was able in his consulship (B.C. 59) to carry all his measures.
Pompey's acts in Asia were ratified, and Caesar's agrarian law, which divided the rich Campanian land among the poorer citizens,
enabled Pompey to fulfil the promises he had made to his veterans. In order to cement their union more closely, Caesar gave to Pompey
his daughter Iulia in marriage.
Next year (B.C. 58) Caesar went to his province in Gaul, but Pompey remained in Rome.
While Caesar was gaining glory and influence in Gaul, Pompey was gradually losing the confidence of all parties at Rome. The Senate
hated and feared him; the people had deserted him for their favourite Clodius, and he had no other resource left but to strengthen
his connection with Caesar. Thus he came to be regarded as the second man in the State, and was obliged to abandon the proud position
which he had occupied for so many years. According to an arrangement made with Caesar, Pompey and Crassus were consuls for a second
time in 55. Pompey received as his provinces the two Spains, Crassus obtained Syria, while Caesar's government was prolonged for five
years more-namely, from the 1st of January, 53, to the end of the year 49. At the end of his consulship Pompey did not go in person
to his provinces, but sent his legates, L. Afranius and M. Petreius, to govern the Spains, while he himself remained in the
neighbourhood of the city. His object now was to obtain the dictatorship, and to make himself the undisputed master of the Roman
world. Caesar's increasing power and influence had at length made it clear to Pompey that a struggle must take place between them,
sooner or later. The death of his wife Iulia in 54, to whom he was tenderly attached, broke the link which still connected him with
Caesar, and the fall of Crassus in the following year (B.C. 53), in the Parthian expedition, removed the only person who had the
least chance of contesting the supremacy with them. In order to obtain the dictatorship, Pompey secretly encouraged the civil discord
with which the State was torn asunder; and such frightful scenes of anarchy followed the death of Clodius at the beginning of 52 that
the Senate had now no alternative but calling in the assistance of Pompey, who was accordingly made sole consul in 52, and succeeded
in restoring order to the State. Soon afterwards Pompey became reconciled to the aristocracy, and was now regarded as their
The history of the Civil War which followed is related in the article Caesar. It is only necessary to mention here that after the
battle of Pharsalia (B.C. 48) Pompey sailed to Egypt, where he hoped to meet with a favourable reception, since he had been the means
of restoring to his kingdom the father of the young Egyptian monarch. The ministers of the latter, however, dreading Caesar's anger
if they received Pompey, and likewise Pompey's resentment if they forbade him to land, resolved to release themselves from their
difficulties by putting him to death. They accordingly sent out a small boat, took Pompey on board, and rowed for the shore. His wife
and friends watched him from the ship, anxious to see in what manner he would be received by the king, who was standing on the edge
of the sea with his troops; but just as the boat reached the shore, and Pompey was in the act of rising from his seat in order to
step on land, he was stabbed in the back by Septimius, who had formerly been one of his centurions, and was now in the service of the
Egyptian monarch. Pompey was killed on the 29th of September, B.C. 48, and had just completed his fifty-eighth year. His head was cut
off, and his body, which was thrown out naked on the shore, was buried by his freedman Philippus, who had accompanied him from the
ship. The head was brought to Caesar when he arrived in Egypt soon afterwards, but he turned away from the sight, shed tears at the
melancholy death of his rival, and put his murderers to death. Pompey's untimely death excites pity; but no one who has well studied
the state of parties at the close of the Roman commonwealth can regret his fall. There is abundant evidence to prove that, had
Pompey's party gained the mastery, a proscription far more terrible than Sulla 's would have taken place, and Italy and the provinces
have been divided as booty among a few profligate and unprincipled nobles. From such horrors the victory of Caesar saved the Roman
world. See Merivale, The Roman Triumvirates (London, 1887); Froude, Caesar (London, 1879); Mommsen, Hist. of Rome, vol. iv. (New
York, 1877); and Baring Gould, The Tragedy of the Caesars, vol. i. (London, 1892).