Pompey the Great

Pompey the Great

(c. 106-47 B.C.)

It was Pompey’s misfortune that his great military victories were eclipsed by those of Julius Caesar (see no. 10). Born in Rome, the son of Pompeius Strabo, Pompey came from the aristocracy. In 83 B.C., he became a fol¬ lower of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, a patrician who became the unofficial dictator of Rome. During the Social Wars between the followers of Sulla and those of Caius (KAI-us)

Marius, Pompey won several victories in Italy and then crossed to Sicily and North Africa, where he defeated Marian forces.On his return to Rome, Pompey was honored with a triumph and awarded the title of “Magnus,” or “Great.”

Following Sulla’s death in 78 B.C., the Roman Senate sent Pompey to Spain. He fought and defeated Marian rebels there. He returned to Italy just in time to defeat the remnants of an army of former slaves who had rebelled under the leadership of Spartacus.

In point of fact, Marcus Licinius Crassus (c. 115—53 B.C.) had done most of the work of defeating the rebels; it was Pompey’s good fortune to arrive at the moment when the rebellion’s force had been spent.

In 67 B.C. the Senate gave Pompey supreme power at sea in order to deal with pirates in the Mediterranean who command¬ ed a total of 1,000 galleys and 400 towns. A masterful organizer, Pompey defeated the pirates in four months by capturing their

bases. This great success was followed by his campaign in Asia Minor against Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus. Pompey defeated Mithridates, then besieged and captured the Jewish capital ofJerusalem. When he returned to Rome in 62 B.C., Pompey was beyond doubt the greatest military leader in the Mediterranean world.

Pompey formed a triumvirate — a three-man government — with Crassus and Julius Caesar. In 54 B.C. Crassus was killed on a military expedition against the Parthians. Pompey became sole consul in 52 B.C., and he ordered Caesar to return to Rome without his army.

Caesar refused and instead invaded Italy. Pompey fled to Greece to assemble his forces there. The stage was set for a climactic showdown between the two greatest generals of the day. Pompey rebuffed Caesar’s troops at the port of Dyrrhachium (pres¬ ent-day Durres, Albania) and then pur¬ sued his foe.

The two armies clashed again at Pharsalus in 48 B.C. Pompey, who had the larger army, gambled everything on a massive cavalry attack against Caesar’s right flank. When the assault failed, Caesar’s troops, backed by German mercenar¬ ies on horseback, scattered Pompey’s forces. Pompey escaped from Greece and went to Egypt where he was treacherously murdered by followers of King Ptolemy XIII.