1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pompey

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POMPEY, the common English form of Pompeius, the name of a Roman plebeian family.

1. Gnaeus Pompeius (106–48 B.C.), the triumvir, the first of his family to assume the surname Magnus, was born on the 36th of September in the same year as Cicero. When only seventeen he fought together with his father in the Social War. He took the side of Sulla against Marius and Cinna, but for a time, in consequence of the success of the Marians, he kept in the background. On the return of Sulla from the Mithradatic War Pompey joined him with an army of three legions, which he had raised in Picenum. 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 distinction, While Sulla greeted him with the surname of Magnus, a title he always retained and handed down to his sons. Latterly, his relations with Sulla were somewhat strained, but after his death he resisted the attempt of the consul M. Aemilius Lepidus to repeal the constitution. In conjunction with A. Lutatius Catulus, the other consul, he defeated Lepidus when he tried to march upon Rome, and drove him out of Italy (77). 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 the Marian party, under Sertorius, 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. After Sertorius had fallen a victim to assassination, Pompey easily defeated his successor Perperna and put an end to the War. In 71 he won fresh glory by finally crushing 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, he was elected with M. Licinius Crassus to the consulship, and entered Rome in triumph (December 31) for his Spanish victories. He was legally ineligible for the consulship, having held none of the lower offices of state and being under age. The following year saw the work of Sulla undone; the tribunate restored, and the administration of justice was no longer was left exclusively to the senate, but was to be shared by it with the wealthier portion of the middle class, the equites (q.v.) and the tribuni aerarii.[1] 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 rose still higher in popularity, and on the motion of the tribune Aulus 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 the high prices of provisions caused great distress. He was completely successful; the price of corn fell immediately on his appointment, and in forty days the Mediterranean was cleared of the pirates. Next year, on the proposal of the tribune Manilius, his powers were still further extended, the care of all the provinces in the East being put under his control for three years together with the conduct of the war against, Mithradates VI., 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. The result of Pompey’s operations was eminently satisfactory. The wild tribes of the Caucasus were cowed by the Roman arms, and Mithradates himself fled across the Black Sea to Panticapaeum (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.

Pompey, now in his forty-fifth year, returned to Italy in 61 to celebrate the most magnificent triumph which Rome had ever witnessed, as the conqueror of Spain, Africa, and Asia (see A. Holm, Hist. of Greece, Eng. trans., vol. iv.). This triumph marked the turning-point of his career. As a soldier everything had gone well with him; as a politician he was a failure. He found a great change in public opinion, and the people indifferent to his achievements abroad. The optimates resented the extraordinary powers that had been conferred upon him; Lucullus and Crassus considered that they had been robbed by him of the honour of concluding the war against Mithradates. The senate refused to ratify the arrangements he made in Asia or to provide money and lands for distribution amongst his veterans. In these circumstances he drew closer to Caesar on his return from Spain, and became reconciled to Crassus. The result was the so-called first triumvirate (see Rome: History).

The remainder of his 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, who was gradually losing the confidence of all political parties in Rome. 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. 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 deaths of Pompey’s wife Julia (54) and of Crassus (53) the relations between him and Caesar became strained, 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. and called upon them to disband their armies. 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 the superior political tact of his rival, combined with extraordinary promptitude and decision in following up his blows, soon 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 by one of his old centurions as he was landing. He was five times married, and three of his children survived him—Gnaeus, Sextus, and a daughter Pompeia.

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. 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.

Authorities.—Ancient: Plutarch, Pompey; Dio Cassius; Appian; Velleius Paterculus; Caesar, De bello civili; Strabo xii., 555–560; Cicero, passim; Lucan, Pharsalia.

Modern: Histories of Rome in general (see Rome: Ancient History, ad fin.); works quoted under Caesar and Cicero. Also G. Boissier, Cicero and His Friends (Eng. trans., A. D. Jones, 1897); J. L. Strachan-Davidson’s Cicero (1894); Warde Fowler’s Julius Caesar (1892); C. W. Oman, Seven Roman Statesmen of the Later Republic (1902); notes in Tyrrell and Purser’s Correspondence of Cicero (see index in vii. 80).

2. Gnaeus Pompeius, surnamed Strabo (squint-eyed), Roman statesman, father of the triumvir. He was successively quaestor in Sardinia (103 B.C.), praetor (94), propraetor in Sicily (93) and consul (89). He fought with success in the Social War, and was awarded a triumph for his services. Probably towards the end of the same year he brought forward the law (lex Pompeia de Gallia Transpadana), which conferred upon the inhabitants of that region the privileges granted to the Latin colonies. During the civil war between Marius and Sulla he seems to have shown no desire to attach himself definitely to either side. He certainly set out for Rome from the south of Italy (where he remained as proconsul) at the bidding of the aristocratic party, when the city was threatened by Marius and Cinna, but he displayed little energy, and the engagement which he fought before the Colline gate, although hotly contested, was indecisive. Soon afterwards he was killed by lightning (87). Although he possessed great military talents, Pompeius was the best-hated general of his time owing to his cruelty, avarice and perfidy. His body was dragged from the bier, while being conveyed to the funeral pile, and treated with the greatest indignity.

See Plutarch, Pompey, 1; Appian, Bell. civ. i. 50, 52, 66–68, 80; Vell. Pat. ii. 21; Livy, Epit. 74–79; Florus iii. 18.

3. Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (c. 75–45 B.C.), the elder son of the triumvir. In 48 B.C. during the civil war he commanded his father’s fleet in the Adriatic. After the battle of Pharsalus he set out for Africa with the remainder of the Pompeian party, but, meeting with little success, crossed over to Spain. Having been joined by his brother Sextus, he collected a considerable army, the numbers of which were increased by the Pompeians who fled from Africa after the battle of Thapsus (46). Caesar, who regarded him as a formidable opponent, set out against him in person. A battle took place at Munda on the 17th of March 45, in which the brothers were defeated. Gnaeus managed to make his escape after the engagement, but was soon (April 12) captured and put to death. He was generally unpopular owing to his cruelty and violent temper.

See Pseudo-Oppius, Bellum hispaniense, 1–39; Lucan, Pharsalia, ix. 120; Dio Cassius xliii. 28–40.

4. Sextus Pompeius Magnus (75–35 B.C.), the younger son of the triumvir. After his father’s death he continued the struggle against the new rulers of the Roman Empire. From Cyprus, where he had taken refuge, he made his way to Africa, and after the defeat of the Pompeians at Thapsus (46) crossed over to Spain. After Caesar’s victory at the battle of Munda (45), in which he took no actual part, he abandoned Corduba (Cordova), though for a time he held his ground in the south, 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, with which he made himself master of Sicily, and from thence ravaged the coasts of Italy. Rome 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 at Misenum (39), which was to leave him in possession of Sicily, Sardinia and Achaea, provided he would allow Italy to be freely supplied 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 at Naulochus off the north coast of Sicily. After his defeat he fled to Mytilene, and from there to Asia Minor. In the attempt to make his way to Armenia he was taken prisoner by Antony’s troops, and put to death at Miletus. Like his father, he was a brave soldier, but a man of little culture.

See Dio Cassius, xlvi–xlix.; Appian, Bell. civ. iv. 84–117, v. 2—143; Veil. Pat. ii. 73–87; Plutarch, Antony; Livy, Epit. 123, 128, 129, 131; Cicero, Philippica, xiii., and many references in Letters to Atticus.

  1. Their history and political character is obscure; they were at any rate connected with the knights (see Aerarium).