Biography of Pompey the Great, Roman Statesman

Pompey the Great
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Pompey the Great (September 29, 106 BCE–September 28, 48 BCE) was one of the main Roman military leaders and statesmen during the final decades of the Roman Republic. He made a political alliance with Julius Caesar, married his daughter, and then fought against him for control of the empire. A skilled warrior, Pompey became known as Pompey the Great.

Fast Facts: Pompey the Great

  • Known For: Pompey was a Roman military commander and statesman who was part of the First Triumvirate with Marcus Licinius Crassus and Julius Caesar.
  • Also Known As: Pompey, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus
  • Born: September 29, 106 BCE in Picenum, Roman Republic
  • Died: September 28, 48 BCE in Pelusium, Egypt
  • Spouse(s): Antistia (m. 86-82 BCE), Aemilia Scaura (m. 82-79 BCE), Mucia Tertia (m. 79-61 BCE), Julia (m. 59-54 BCE), Cornelia Metella (m. 52-48 BCE)
  • Children: Gnaeus Pompeius, Pompeia Magna, Sextus Pompeius

Early Life

Unlike Caesar, whose Roman heritage was long and illustrious, Pompey came from a non-Latin family in Picenum (in northern Italy), with money. His father, Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo, was a member of the Roman Senate. At 23, following in his father's footsteps, Pompey entered the political scene by raising troops to help Roman general Sulla liberate Rome from the Marians.

Marius and Sulla had been at odds ever since Marius took credit for a victory in Africa that his subordinate Sulla had engineered. Their struggles led to many Roman deaths and unthinkable violations of Roman law, such as bringing an army into the city itself. Pompey was a Sullan and a supporter of the conservative Optimates. A novus homo, or "new man," Marius was Julius Caesar's uncle and a supporter of the populist group known as the Populares.

Pompey fought Marius' men in Sicily and Africa. For his bravery in battle, he was given the title Pompey the Great (Pompeius Magnus).

Sertorian War and Third Mithridatic War

Civil war continued in Rome when Quintus Sertorius, one of the Populares, launched an attack against the Sullans in the Western Roman Empire. Pompey was sent to assist the Sullans in the fighting, which lasted from 80 BCE to 72 BCE. Pompey was a skilled strategist; he used his forces to draw out the enemy and attack them when they least suspected it. In 71 BCE, he helped Roman leaders suppress the slave uprising led by Spartacus, and he later played a role in the defeat of the pirate menace.

When he invaded the country of Pontus, in Asia Minor, in 66 BCE, Mithridates, who had long been a thorn in Rome's side, fled to the Crimea where he arranged for his own death. This meant the Mithridatic wars were finally over; Pompey could take credit for another victory. On behalf of Rome, Pompey also took control of Syria in 64 BCE​ and captured Jerusalem. When he returned to Rome in 61 BCE, he held a triumphal celebration.

The First Triumvirate

Along with Marcus Licinius Crassus and Julius Caesar, Pompey formed what is known as the First Triumvirate, which became the dominating force in Roman politics. Together, these three rulers were able to seize power from some of the Optimates and resist the power of the Roman nobles in the Senate. Like Pompey, Caesar was a skilled and highly respected military leader; Crassus was the wealthiest man in the Roman Empire.

The alliances between the three men, however, were personal, tenuous, and short-lived. Crassus was not happy that Pompey had taken credit for overcoming the Spartans, but with Caesar mediating, he agreed to the arrangement for political ends. When Pompey's wife Julia (Caesar's daughter) died, one of the main links broke. Crassus, a less capable military leader than the other two, was killed in military action in Parthia.

Civil War

After the dissolution of the First Triumvirate, tensions began to escalate between Pompey and Caesar. Some Roman leaders, including those who had previously resisted the authority of Pompey and Caesar, decided to back Pompey in an election for consul, fearing that the failure to do so would create a power vacuum in Rome. Pompey then married Cornelia, the daughter of the Roman consul Metellus Scipio. For a time, Pompey controlled much of the Roman Empire while Caesar continued his campaigns abroad.

In 51 BCE, Pompey made moves to relieve Caesar of his command. He promised to give up his own armies as well; however, some scholars claim that this was merely a ploy to hurt public opinion of Caesar, who no one expected would surrender his forces. Negotiations continued unsuccessfully for some time, with neither commander willing to make military concessions, and eventually the conflict turned into outright war. The Great Roman Civil War—also known as Caesar's Civil War—lasted four years, from 49 to 45 BCE. It came to an end with Caesar's decisive victory at the Battle of Munda.

Death

Pompey and Caesar first faced each other as enemy commanders after Caesar, defying orders from Rome, crossed the Rubicon. Caesar was the victor of the battle at Pharsalus in Greece, where he was outnumbered by Pompey's forces. After the defeat, Pompey fled to Egypt, where he was killed and his head cut off so that it could be sent to Caesar.

Legacy

Even though he turned against Caesar, Pompey was widely admired by his countrymen for his role in the conquest of various territories. He was especially admired by the nobles, and statues of him were placed in Rome as a tribute to his military and political accomplishments. His image was printed on silver coins in 40 BCE. Pompey has been depicted in a number of films and television series, including "Julius Caesar," "Rome," "Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire," and "Spartacus: War of the Damned."

Sources

  • Fields, Nic. "Warlords of Republican Rome: Caesar versus Pompey." Casemate, 2010.
  • Gillespie, William Ernest. "Caesar, Cicero and Pompey: the Roman Civil War." 1963.
  • Morrell, Kit. "Pompey, Cato, and the Governance of the Roman Empire." Oxford University Press, 2017.
  • Seager, Robin. "Pompey, a Political Biography." University of California Press, 1979.