1902 Encyclopedia > Pompey

(Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus)
Roman soldier and politician (106-48 BC)
AND his son, Sextus Pompeius Magnus (75-35 BC)

POMPEY is the common English form of the Roman name Pompeius.

I. GNAEUS POMPEIUS MAGNUS (106-48 B.C.), the great triumvir, whose name we always associate with Caesar and Crassus, may be said to have led a soldier's life from his boyhood to his death. Born in 106 B.C., he fought by his father's side when a stripling of seventeen in the Social or Italian War on the side of Sulla against the party of Marius and Cinna. Thus early in life he connected himself with the cause of the aristocracy, and a decisive victory which he won in 83 over the Marian armies gained for him from Sulla the title of "imperator." He followed up his successes in Italy by defeating the Marians in Sicily and Africa, and on his return to Rome in 81, though he was still merely an "eques" and not legally qualified to celebrate a triumph, he was allowed by general consent to enjoy this great distinction, while Sulla greeted him with the surname of Magnus, a title he always retained and handed down to his sons. Yet in 79 he used his influence in getting elected to the consulship a man politically opposed to Sulla, Aemilius Lepidus, who threatened Rome with another revolution and civil war in the interest of the democratic party. Pompey, however, at this crisis was loyal to his friends, and with the defeat of Lepidus the danger passed away. With some fears and misgivings the senate permitted him to retain the command of his victorious army, and decided on sending him to Spain, where, under a leader of singular ability, Sertorius, the Marian party was still formidable. Pompey was fighting in Spain from 76 to 71, and though at first he met with serious reverses he was ultimately successful, his great opponent, Sertorius, having, it would seem, lost the confidence of some of the native Spanish tribes. In 71 he was again in Italy at the head of his army, and won fresh glory by giving a finishing blow to the slave insurrection of Spartacus. That same year, amid great popular enthusiasm, but without the hearty concurrence of the senate, whom he had alarmed by talking of restoring the dreaded power of the tribunes, and though still merely an "eques," he was elected with Crassus to the consulship, and entered Rome in triumph for his Spanish victories. The following year saw the work of Sulla undone: the tribuneship was restored, and the administration of justice was no longer left exclusively to the senate, but was to be shared by them with the wealthier portion of the middle class, the "knights," as from old time they had been called, and the farmers and collectors of the revenue. The change was really necessary, as the provincials could never get justice from a court composed of senators, and it was carried into effect by Pompey with Caesar's aid. Pompey as a matter of course rose still higher in popularity, and on the motion of the tribune Gabinius in 67 he was entrusted with an extraordinary command over the greater part of the empire, specially for the extermination of piracy in the Mediterranean, by which the corn supplies of Rome were seriously endangered, while high prices of provisions caused great distress. It soon appeared that the right man had been chosen for the work : the price of corn fell immediately on Pompey's appointment, and in forty days the Mediterranean was swept from end to end and the pirates cleared out of its waters. Next year, on the proposal of the tribune Manilius, he had a yet further extension of his powers, the whole of Rome's empire in the East being put under his control for three years with the view of finally terminating the war with Mithradates, king of Pontus, who had recovered from the defeats he had sustained from Lucullus and regained his dominions. Both Caesar and Cicero supported the tribune's proposal, which was easily carried in spite of the interested opposition of the senate and the aristocracy, several of whom held provinces which would now be practically under Pompey's command. Pompey was now by far the first man in the Boman world. His operations in the East were thoroughly successful, and, though no doubt he owed something to the victories of Lucullus, he showed himself an able soldier. The wild tribes of the Caucasus were cowed by the Roman arms, and the king of Pontus himself fled from Asia across the Black Sea to Panticapaeum, the modern Kertch. In the years 64 and 63 Syria and Palestine were annexed to Rome's empire. After the capture of Jerusalem Pompey is said to have entered the temple, and even the Holy of Holies. Asia and the East generally were left under the subjection of petty kings who were mere vassals of Rome. Several cities had been founded which became centres of Greek life and civilization. A really great work had been accomplished, and Pompey, now in his forty-fifth year, returned to Italy in 61 to celebrate the most magnificent triumph which Borne had ever witnessed, and to be hailed as the conqueror of Spain, Africa, and Asia.

The remainder of Pompey's life is inextricably interwoven with that of Caesar. He was married to Caesar's daughter Julia, and as yet the relations between the two had been friendly. On more than one occasion Caesar had supported Pompey's policy, which of late had been in a decidedly democratic direction. Pompey was now in fact ruler of the greater part of the empire, while Caesar had only the two provinces of Gaul. The control of the capital, the supreme command of the army in Italy and of the Mediterranean fleet, the governorship of the two Spains, the superintendence of the corn supplies, which were mainly drawn from Sicily and Africa, and on which the vast population of Rome was wholly dependent, were entirely in the hands of Pompey. The senate and the aristocracy disliked and distrusted him, but they felt that, should things come to the worst, they might still find in him a champion of their cause. At the same time the senate itself was far from unanimous : among many of its members there was a feeling that a military imperialism had become a necessity, while to the rich and idle world generally peace and quiet at any price seemed the best of all blessings. Hence the joint rule of Pompey and Caesar was not unwillingly accepted, and anything like a rupture between the two was greatly dreaded as the sure beginning of anarchy throughout the Roman world. With the death of Pompey's wife Julia, in 54, came strained relations between him and Caesar, and soon afterwards he drew closer to what we may call the old conservative party in the senate and aristocracy. The end was now near, and Pompey blundered into a false political position and an open quarrel with Caesar. In 50 the senate by a very large majority revoked the extraordinary powers conceded to Pompey and Caesar in Spain and Gaul respectively. Pompey's refusal to submit gave Caesar a good pretext for declaring war and marching at the head of his army into Italy. At the beginning of the contest, the advantages were decidedly on the side of Pompey, but very speedily the superior political tact of his rival, combined with extraordinary promptitude and decision in following up his blows, turned the scale against him. Pompey's cause, with that of the senate and aristocracy, was finally ruined by his defeat in 48 in the neighbourhood of the Thessalian city Pharsalus. That same year he fled with the hope of finding a safe refuge in Egypt, but was treacherously murdered as he was stepping on the shore by one of his old centurions. He had just completed his fifty-eighth year.

Pompey, though he had some great and good qualities, hardly deserved his surname of "the Great." He was certainly a very good soldier, and is said to have excelled in all athletic exercises, but he fell short of being a first-rate general. He won great successes in Spain and more especially in the East, but for these he was no doubt partly indebted to what others had already done. Of the gifts which make a good statesman he had really none. As plainly appeared in the last years of his life, he was too weak and irresolute to choose a side and stand by it. Pitted against such a man as Caesar, he could not but fail. But to his credit be it said that in a corrupt time he never used his opportunities for plunder and extortion, and his domestic life was pure and simple.

A very complete life of Pompey will be found in Smith's Diet of Greek and Roman Biography. The allusions to him in Cicero's works are very frequent.

II. SEXTUS POMPEIUS MAGNUS (75-35 B.C.), the younger son of Pompey the Great, born 75 B.C., continued after his father's death to prolong the struggle against the new- rulers of the Roman empire. Caesar's victory at Munda in 45 drove him out of Corduba (Cordova), though for a time he held his ground in the south of Spain, and defeated Asinius Pollio, the governor of the province. In 43, the year of the triumvirate of Octavius, Antony, and Lepidus, he was proscribed along with the murderers of Caesar, and not daring to show himself in Italy he put himself at the head of a fleet manned chiefly by slaves or proscribed persons, by means of which he made himself master of Sicily, and from thence ravaged the coasts of Italy. Home was threatened with a famine, as the corn supplies from Egypt and Africa were cut off by his ships, and it was thought prudent to negotiate a peace with him, which was to leave him in possession of Sicily, Sardinia, and Achaia, provided he would allow Italy to be freely sup- plied with corn. But the arrangement could not be carried into effect, as Sextus renewed the war and gained some considerable successes at sea. However, in 36 his fleet was defeated and destroyed by Agrippa off the north coast of Sicily, and in the following year he was murdered at Mitylene by an officer of Antony. He had his father's bravery as a soldier, but seems to have been a rough uncultivated man. (w. j. B.)

The above article was written by: Rev. W. J. Brodribb.

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