Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (106 - 47 BC)
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.
Pompey in Spain (Hispania)
Pompey joined Metellus in Hispania in 76 BC. While arriving with many expectations, Pompey would prove himself to be more effective that Metellus was. Perhaps it was Sertorius, and not Pompey who was really the pre-eminent commander of the day. From the moment Pompey crossed the Pyrenees, he was harassed and outmaneuvered by Sertorius at every attempt. The year 76 BC was a disaster for the joint commanders and they were forced to withdraw.
The next two campaign seasons resulted in more of the same for Rome's supposed greatest commander, Pompey. Both he and Metellus were repulsed in open attacks, sieges failed, and harassed at every turn by Sertorius' Spaniards. Sertorius' fame and glory grew, and with it his ego. This alone seemed to be the only thing able to stop him, as Pompey proved inept in the overall campaign.
By 73 BC, in the face of Sertorius' mounting successes and growing ego, the wheels started to fall off. Sertorius treated with Cilician Pirates, rebellious slaves in Sicily and even one of Rome's great enemies, Mithridates. Sertorius' chief legate Perperna, along with other supporters were growing concerned over the direction of the Spanish Republic.
Jealousy certainly played a major role, but fear of Sertorius' changing behaviour must have had an impact. By this time, he had developed an almost tyrannical control and his supporters were certainly threatened by this power. A conspiracy was developed, led by Perperna, and Sertorius was assassinated at a feast. Perperna assumed command of the formidable forces, but without Sertorius' charisma the rebellion began to unravel. Pompey finally delivered as a promised and put an end to the war. Perperna's army was lured into a trap and decisively defeated.
Despite never beating Sertorius, Pompey would eventually earn a triumph for the victory. It may not have been deserved for his performance in combat, but he proved himself a formidable administrator. Perperna was captured, and initially offered Pompey volumes of information that would implicate leading people in Rome sympathetic towards or directly involved with Sertorius. Pompey, not only didn't look at the documents, but wisely had them destroyed to prevent further danger of rebellion. Perperna and those senior members of his staff were also executed to prevent any further damage.
In 71 BC, Pompey earned his reputation as a genius in provincial governing. He effectively cleaned up any loose pockets of resistance, and promoted fair and generous terms to native tribes through Spain and southern Gaul. With matters mostly secure in Hispania, Pompey returned to Rome the victor, just as Spartacus, the Thracian gladiator, was running rampant through Italy.
Pompey and the Cilician Pirates
Before the appointment of Pompey to the command against the Cilicians, wheat and other import prices were skyrocketing. Fears over captured or waylaid shipments were legitimate concerns. Upon passage of the law granting Pompey extraordinary powers, the prices immediately stabilized. The people of Rome had great faith in their favorite general to end the foreign threat.
Pompey arrived in his territorial command late in 67 BC with a large contingent of ships. His fleet was so large he was able to split the command between 13 naval legates responsible for various sections of the Mediterranean. 60 ships remained under his direct command, which he used as a mobile task force to flush out pirate activity and drive them into the territorial fleets of his commanders. Within 3 months, pirate activity on the western Mediterranean was virtually wiped out, and limited to the far east.
With the sea secured Pompey turned inland towards Cilicia. Quickly and with little resistance, the pirate bases and defenses were eliminated. Those former pirates who remained were moved further inland and offered life as farmers to give them an alternative opportunity away from piracy. Within three months, Pompey had delivered on his promises and secured Roman waters from piracy threats. In fact, the biggest threats on the Mediterranean after Pompey, were rival Roman forces in the civil wars that would follow.
While Pompey's victory was glorious at the time, the work of his predecessors must be acknowledged. Publius Servilius Vatia, who commanded a similar operation from 78 to 75 BC, did much to limit piracy to particular areas. The inland pirate retreats were threatened by the activities of Lucullus in the Mithridatic War. By the time Pompey arrived, the stage was set for an easy victory, yet, he was the one to accomplish it.
Pompey was now free to broaden his operations, with the piracy issue settled so quickly. The Tribune C. Manilius next proposed that Pompey take over the entire eastern campaign. Before the current commander, Glabrio could even get started, Pompey was granted Imperium to command the entire east, and took over.
In 66 BC, the final show down with Mithridates was to begin in the Third Mithridatic War.
Pompey in the East
Pompey returned from his forays into the far east by 64 BC. Back in Pontus, he began the process of organizing the newly won territories into provinces. Cilicia had already officially been made a province after his campaign against the pirates in 66 BC, and Pompey would continue his remarkable skills as an administrator in the additional conquered lands. Bithynia and Pontus was established as another formal province in 64 BC and Pompey masterfully used existing Greek authorities to bring the people peacefully under control.
Satisfied with the results in Pontus, Pompey moved south to Syria in late 64 BC. Syria was still technically a part of the old Seleucid Dynasty, descendants of the old Roman enemy Antiochus III. However, for the previous 60 years, the throne of the Seleucids was in utter chaos. Rivals all over the territory controlled various cities and chaos reigned supreme. The vast wealth of the region was a tempting target for the Parthians and neighboring Arabians, and Pompey wanted to stabilize it for Roman benefit.
Syria was simply annexed as a Roman province with little regard for the opposing factions within. They were removed from power and Roman authority took control, as opposed to creating a client kingdom that would be unreliable at best. In so doing, Pompey not only added Syria, but created a buffer zone between potential eastern enemies, and other newly won territories in the area that now encompasses modern Turkey.
After settling affairs in Syria, the people of Judaea called upon Pompey for assistance in their own internal conflicts. The Jews had enjoyed nearly 2 centuries of independence from the Seleucids, but a power struggle that was leading to civil war threatened their stability. Two brothers, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, both vied for the Jewish throne and Pompey offered to play the mediator. Hyrcanus eventually received Pompey's endorsement, and Aristobulus apparently conceded, but his followers did not.
While Pompey was conducting a minor campaign against the Nabataeans, the followers of Aristobulus seized the principal city of Jerusalem and refused to recognize Hyrcanus' authority. The Romans reacted swiftly and laid siege to the city. Within 3 months, Pompey took Jerusalem and put Hyrcanus on the Judaean throne. While still independent, Hyrcanus now owed his crown to the Romans, and was established as a tribute paying client kingdom, much like Armenia.
This was not the end of Pompey's negotiations, however. Not long after establishing Tigranes as a client in Armenia, the Armenia sought to take advantage of his Roman support. In 64 BC Armenia invaded Parthian interests in Mesopotamia that could have had dire consequences in the region. Pompey could've supported the invasion and taken direct involvement against Parthia, but several exhaustive years on the move must have played a part. Instead, he negotiated peace between Armenia and Parthia, giving back most of Tigranes gains, but establishing peace in the region for at least another decade.
Pompey would return to Rome and celebrate his third and most glorious triumph in late 62 BC. The wealth brought with him was nearly incalculable with estimates ranging from 20,000 to 40,000 gold talents. The annual income to Rome nearly doubled as a result of both the war spoils and tribute from client states. Back in Rome though, there was much concern over Pompey's return, despite his great success. Pompey had nearly 45,000 men under his command and an incredible amount of wealth.
The Senate feared another Sullan march and forced dictatorship. But Pompey was not the man to pose that sort of threat, he was happy to return with all the power and grandeur of a conquering general. He assumed that his great success would ensure settlements for his men, and a position of prominence in the Senate. He found instead, upon returning home, that Rome had changed as much as the east had. New names had risen in his absence such as the young Gaius Julius Caesar, and Marcus Tullius Cicero, who would lay claim to the savior of Rome in Pompey's absence.
Did you know...
Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo (Pompey the Great's father) 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.
Did you know...
For his campaign against Sertorius, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius earned the respect of Roman military historians, particularly Frontinus who often refers his deeds on the book Stratagemata.
Did you know...
Publius Servilius Vatia, who cleared Lycia and Pamphylia of the Cilician Pirates in 77 B.C, was about to strike against the pirates' base at Coracesium when a new war against Mithradates broke out.