Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) was born in 106 BC in the northern Italian town of Picenum. Though not a native Roman family, the Pompeys were moderately successful at making inroads into Senate seats. His father, Pompey Strabo, was elected consul in 89 BC, and was an accomplished general who served Rome in the Marsic Social War, as well as the civil wars of Marius and Sulla. By the age of 17, Pompey was an active participant in his father's campaigns and was busily building a foundation for his own military career.
Pompey rose to prominence serving Sulla in the first major Roman civil war, defeating the forces of Marius in Africa. For this he earned, or was mocked with, the title Magnus (the Great). Involved only a short time in Roman civil affairs, Pompey quickly learned the political power of an army behind him. After Sulla, and despite having no experience as a Roman magistrate, he coerced a command in Spain against the rebel Sertorius, simply through the fear of his legions. While the war was not exactly a clear cut victory for Pompey, the opposing army was only defeated after Sertorius was murdered, Pompey returned to Rome in triumph.
Upon returning from Spain, Pompey helped mop up the war with the Gladiator general Spartacus, claiming much of the credit in the process. He and M. Licinius Crassus, who conducted the bulk of the operation against Spartacus, built a dangerous rivalry in the process. In order to avoid more potential civil disorder, as both men maintained considerable armies, both were elected as Consul for the year 70 BC. In their joint consulship, the two worked together repealing the bulk of Sulla's constitutional reforms, but otherwise had little use for one another.
Regardless, Pompey enjoyed considerable favoritism among the masses, as well as the army. Despite fears of a new Sullan military dictatorship, as the Senatorial class deeply distrusted Pompey, he received numerous special powers in his career. Perhaps to appease a man who was in a position to possibly march on Rome, or to truly honor a capable general with the best chance of Roman victory, the Senate reluctantly tolerated Pompey. Both during and after Pompey's consulship, problems in the east were persistent. Piracy and Rome's old enemy, Mithridates, continued to stir up trouble, and the command of L. Licinius Lucullus against him garnered little success. By 67 BC, the Senate, and the people had had enough, and new initiatives were launched. First, the tribune A. Gabinius passed a law transferring command of the Mithridatic campaign to the current Consul Glabrio. Pompey was also granted unparalled authority in defeating the Cilician pirates who ravaged shipping throughout the Mediterranean. Pompey's command would go so well, in fact, that by the time Glabrio took his post against Mithridates, another tribune, C. Manilius was proposing more changes.
In 66 BC, despite fierce Senatorial Optimate opposition, the Lex Manilia was passed granting Pompey unlimited power in the eastern territories. Ironically enough, it was the oration of the life long Republican defender Marcus Tullius Cicero, which pushed the proposal into law.
Did you know...?
Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo became the first of the Pompeii to achieve senatorial status in Rome. He commanded Roman forces against the Italian Allies in the northern part of Italy. His three Roman legions were crucial in Rome's victory.