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Pompey (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus) (106-48 BC) – Roman statesman and general
The career of Pompey was an unusual one in Roman history. Long before he was thirty, he had been saluted ‘Im-perator’ by his troops and had been called ‘the Great’ by the dictator Sulla (p. 31) in 83. He was elected consul without having to stand for the lesser magistracies first. Then he was given exceptional powers, in 69, to clear the Mediterranean Sea of pirates, who had been crippling the trade between Rome, its colonies and its friendly commercial neighbours. No sooner was this done, than he was sent to Asia to supersede Lucullus (p. 33) in the war against Mithradates of Pontus, and in a series of brilliant victories, he smashed the power of the Pontine monarch, and in the process captured many cities and towns, acquiring huge quantities of booty for Rome. He also annexed Syria and Palestine for the empire. His triumph, when he returned to Rome in 61, was the most magnificent yet seen by Romans.
Pompey was extremely good-looking, bold, daring and cruel; he was also vain and politically naive. Because his military career had been so spectacular he could not grasp why politicians would not instantly do what he asked of them.
In 60, Pompey, Caesar and Crassus joined together to run affairs at Rome, and later ages called the committee the First Triumvirate (rule by three men). To cement the alliance between himself and Caesar, he married Caesar’s only daughter Julia, and it was a love match.
Once Caesar had left for Gaul, the aristocratic party in the senate did all it could to try to detach Pompey from the Triumvirate, but it was unsuccessful until 54, when Julia died, thus breaking the bond between Pompey and Caesar. Added to that, Caesar’s sensational military successes in Gaul and Britain had overshadowed Pompey’s own military renown and he did not like it.
When Caesar left Gaul to come home, in 49, the Senate prevailed on Pompey to lead their forces against him. Thus the civil war began and Pompey took the senatorial party and its forces over to Greece. At Pharsalus, however, in 48, he was defeated by Caesar’s superior generalship and his men’s greater fighting qualities. Pompey fled to Egypt where he was murdered at the orders of the young Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra’s brother.
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey)