Pompey the Great
Just four years after his prosecution of Verres, in 66 BCE Cicero addressed the Roman people in a public meeting on the security of the empire. Now a praetor, and with his eyes on the consulship, he was speaking in support of a proposal by a tribune to put Pompey in command of the long-running, on-and-off war against the same King Mithradates whom the Romans had been fighting, with mixed success, for more than twenty years. Pompey&rsquos powers were to include almost complete control over a large swathe of the eastern Mediterranean for an unlimited period, with more than 40,000 troops at his disposal, and the right to make peace or war and to arrange treaties more or less independently.
43. The head of Mithradates VI on one of his silver coins. The sweeping hair, tossed back, is reminiscent &ndash no doubt intentionally &ndash of the distinctive hairstyle of Alexander the Great. In Mithradates&rsquo conflict with Pompey &lsquothe Great&rsquo, two new, would-be Alexanders were fighting each other.
Cicero may have been genuinely convinced that Mithradates was a real threat to Rome&rsquos security and that Pompey was the only man for the job. From the heartland of his kingdom on the Black Sea the king had certainly scored occasional terrifying victories over Roman interests across the eastern Mediterranean, including in 88 BCE a notorious, and highly mythologised, massacre of tens of thousands of Romans and Italians on a single day. Exploiting what must have been a widespread hatred of Roman presence and offering added incentives (any slave who murdered a Roman master was to be freed), he coordinated simultaneous attacks on Roman residents in towns on the west coast of what is now Turkey, from Pergamum in the north to Caunos, the &lsquofig capital&rsquo of the Aegean, in the south, killing &ndash in highly inflated Roman estimates &ndash somewhere between 80,000 and 150,000 men, women and children. If even nearly on that scale, this was a cold, calculating and genocidal massacre, but it is hard to resist the feeling that by the 60s BCE, after the campaigns of Sulla in the 80s BCE, Mithradates might have been disruptive rather than dangerous and that he had become a convenient enemy in Roman political circles: a bogeyman to justify potentially lucrative campaigns and a stick with which to beat one&rsquos rivals for their inactivity. Cicero also more or less admitted to having been leaned on by commercial interests in Rome, anxious about the effect of prolonged instability, real or imaginary, in the East on their private profits as much as on the finances of the state. The boundary between the two was carefully blurred.
In making the case for this special command, Cicero pointed to Pompey&rsquos lightning success the previous year in clearing the Mediterranean of pirates, also thanks to sweeping powers voted by a popular assembly. Pirates in the ancient world were both an endemic menace and a usefully unspecific figure of fear, not far different from the modern &lsquoterrorist&rsquo &ndash including anything from the navy of a rogue state to small-time human traffickers. Pompey got rid of them within three months (suggesting they may have been an easier target than they were painted) and followed up his success with a resettlement policy, unusually enlightened for either the ancient or the modern world. He gave the ex-pirates smallholdings at a safe distance from the coast, where they could make an honest livelihood. Even if some fared no better than Sulla&rsquos veterans, one of those who did take well to his new life makes a lyrical cameo appearance in Virgil&rsquos poem on farming, the Georgics, written in the late 30s BCE. The old man is living peacefully near Tarentum in southern Italy, now an expert on horticulture and beekeeping. His piracy days are long behind him instead &lsquoplanting herbs scattered among the bushes and white lilies all around, vervain and slender poppies, in his spirit he equalled the riches of kings&rsquo.
Cicero&rsquos underlying argument, however, was that new problems called for new solutions. The danger Mithradates posed to Rome&rsquos commercial revenues, its taxation income and the lives of Romans based in the East demanded a change of approach. As the empire had expanded over the past two centuries, all kinds of adjustments had already been made in Rome&rsquos traditional system of office holding to cope with the demands of overseas government and to add to the available manpower. The number of praetors, for example, had increased to eight by the time of Sulla and there was now a regular system by which elected officials went to provincial posts abroad for a year or two (as proconsuls or propraetors, &lsquoin place of consuls or praetors&rsquo) after they had completed a year&rsquos duties in Rome. Yet these offices remained piecemeal and short term when what Rome needed in the face of an enemy such as Mithradates was the best general, with a lengthy command, over the whole of the area that might be affected by the war, with the money and soldiers to do the job, not hampered by the normal controls.
There was predictable opposition. Pompey was a radical and ambitious rule breaker who had already flouted most of the conventions of Roman politics that traditionalists were increasingly trying to insist on. The son of a &lsquonew man&rsquo, he had risen to military prominence by exploiting the disruption of the 80s BCE. When still in his twenties, he had put together three legions from among his clients and henchmen to fight on behalf of Sulla and was soon awarded a triumph for chasing down Sulla&rsquos rivals and assorted enemy princelings in Africa. It was then that he gained the nickname adulescentulus carnifex: &lsquokid butcher&rsquo rather than enfant terrible. He had held no elected office whatsoever when he was given, by the senate, a long-term command in Spain to deal with a Roman general who had &lsquogone native&rsquo with a large army, another hazard of a far-flung empire. Successful again, he ended up a consul for 70 BCE, at the age of just thirty-five and bypassing all the junior posts, flagrantly at odds with Sulla&rsquos recent rulings on office holding. So ignorant was he of what went on in the senate, which as consul he had to chair, that he resorted to asking a learned friend to write him a handbook of senatorial procedure.
A few hints of the objections made to this new command can be gleaned from Cicero&rsquos speech. His enormous emphasis, for example, on the immediate danger posed by Mithradates (&lsquoletters arrive every day telling how villages in our provinces are being burnt&rsquo) strongly suggests that some people did claim at the time that it was being blown out of all proportion as an excuse to give vast new powers to Pompey. The objectors did not win the day, though they must have come to feel that their fears were not unfounded. Over the next four years, under the terms of his new command, Pompey set about redrawing the map of the eastern part of the Roman Empire, from the Black Sea in the north to Syria and Judaea in the south. In practice, he cannot have done this alone he must have had the help of hundreds of friends, junior officers, slaves and advisors. But this particular rewriting of geography was always at the time ascribed to Pompey himself.
His power was partly the result of military operations. Mithradates was quickly driven out of Asia Minor, to his territories in the Crimea, where he was later ousted in a coup by one of his sons and killed himself and there was a successful Roman siege of the fortress at Jerusalem, where two rivals were contesting the high priesthood and kingship. But more of this power came from a judicious mixture of diplomacy, bullying and well-placed displays of Roman force. Months of Pompey&rsquos time were devoted to turning the central part of Mithradates&rsquo kingdom into a directly governed Roman province, adjusting the boundaries of other provinces, founding dozens of new cities and ensuring that many of the local monarchs and dynasts had been downsized and made obedient in the old style.
In the triumph he celebrated in 61 BCE, after his return to Rome and on his forty-fifth birthday (no doubt a planned coincidence), Pompey is said to have worn a cloak that once belonged to Alexander the Great. Where on earth he had come across this fake, or piece of fancy dress, is impossible to know &ndash and he did not deceive many shrewd Roman observers, who were no less sceptical about the authenticity of the fabric than we are. But it was presumably intended to match not only the name (&lsquothe Great&rsquo) that he had borrowed from Alexander but also the ambitions of far-flung imperial conquest. Some Romans were impressed, others decidedly dubious about the display. Pliny the Elder, writing just over a hundred years later, singled out for disapproval a portrait head of Pompey that the general himself had commissioned, made entirely of pearl: &lsquothe defeat of austerity and the triumph of luxury&rsquo. But there was a bigger point. This celebration was the most powerful expression yet of the Roman Empire in territorial terms, and even of Roman ambition for world conquest. One of the trophies carried in the procession, probably in the shape of a large globe, had an inscription attached to it declaring that &lsquothis is a trophy of the whole world&rsquo. And a list of Pompey&rsquos achievements displayed in a Roman temple included the telling if over-optimistic boast that he &lsquoextended the frontiers of the empire to the limits of the earth&rsquo.
30. The warrior Pharaoh who fought history&rsquos first battle of whose tactical details and formations are known.
&ldquoI met a traveller from an antique land, / Who saidâ &lsquoTwo vast and trunkless legs of stone / Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, / Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, / And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, / Tell that its sculptor well those passions read / Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, / The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed / And on the pedestal, these words appear: / &lsquoMy name is Ozymandias, King of Kings / Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!&rsquo / Nothing beside remains. Round the decay / Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.&rdquo &ndash Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley
A relief from circa 1250 BC, depicting Ramesses II capturing enemies: a Nubian, a Libyan, and a Syrian. Cairo Museum
Ozymandias was the Greek name for Ancient Egypt&rsquos Pharaoh Ramesses II (circa 1303 &ndash 1213 BC), or Ramesses the Great &ndash a title he might have bestowed upon himself. Often identified as the pharaoh who clashed with Moses in the Exodus story, this Ramesses was the greatest, most powerful, and most celebrated ruler of the New Kingdom, Ancient Egypt&rsquos most powerful period. A warrior through and through, he battled sea pirates, fought numerous campaigns in the Levant, and led several military expeditions into Nubia.
This week in history: Caesar triumphs over Pompey at Pharsalus
Julius Caesar won a major triumph over the forces of Pompey the Great at Pharsalus, in 48 B.C. on what historians calculate is about Aug. 9. The battle broke the back of republican opposition to Caesar and opened the way for his dictatorship of Rome.
Several years before, in 59 B.C., Caesar joined Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great), and Marcus Licinius Crassus to form an informal political leadership of Rome, referred to by historians as the First Triumvirate. Each brought something to the table. Pompey's reputation as a military commander and all its glory added prestige to the alliance, and Crassus' great wealth funded their program.
Unlike Pompey and Crassus, who belonged to the optimates faction, which represented the Patricians, or nobility, and best families of Rome, Caesar belonged to the populares, the common people's faction. Caesar's connection to the people of Rome made him a valuable asset.
Though the Roman senator and orator Cicero was invited to join this alliance, he feared it would turn Rome into a narrow oligarchy and declined. To shore up the political alliance, Pompey married Caesar's daughter, Julia, though she was 30 years his junior.
After his consulship, Caesar took up duties as the governor of Gaul, where he won considerable wealth and military glory. Typically, governorships lasted for five years, but with the help of his political allies, Caesar was able to convince those in the Senate to extend his position past its initial expiration date. Many Romans thought this was improper and decidedly un-Roman.
The political alliance soon began to break down, however. Julia died in childbirth in 54 B.C., severing the family tie between Caesar and Pompey. The next year, Crassus, jealous of Caesar and Pompey's reputation for military glory, launched an invasion of Parthia, Rome's neighbor the east. The war proved a disaster for Rome, and Crassus was killed during a parley.
Pompey, too, soon grew jealous of Caesar's exploits in Gaul, and with the collusion of the Senate, ordered him back to Rome in 50 B.C. Soon, Caesar and Pompey both called the other traitors to the republic, and Caesar crossed the Rubicon river, which served as Italy's northern border, with a legion. The civil war had begun.
Unable to raise an army in time to defend Rome, Pompey and several senators, including Cicero, Cato the Younger and Marcus Brutus, fled across the Adriatic Sea to Greece. From there, they hoped to secure a power base, raise revenue and prepare an army to meet Caesar.
Unopposed, Caesar entered Rome. In contrast to the dictator Sulla, who decades before set about mercilessly killing his political enemies by means of a proscription list, Caesar offered amnesty to those who had opposed him in exchange for their future allegiance. Caesar set out for Spain to take on pro-Pompey forces. Crushing them quickly, he soon turned about and headed for Greece.
When Caesar landed his forces in Greece in the summer of 48 B.C., he found himself in the weaker position. Pompey's forces boasted perhaps 50,000 men, both Romans and Greek allies, while Caesar's stood at around 30,000. Not only was there a numerical disparity, but logistical concerns haunted Caesar's army as well. Most residents of the area supported Pompey and the senators. Food and supplies were hard to come by, and he was a long way from his power base in Rome.
After Caesar's army was nearly wiped out by Pompey at the Battle of Dyrrachium in early July, his position became even more tenuous. His desire to bring about a decisive battle with Pompey on his terms only grew, though his adversary had other plans.
Pompey delighted in the situation. His intention was not to battle Caesar again, if he could help it. Instead, he merely had to wait Caesar out. Sooner or later, his forces would dwindle from sheer attrition and shortages. Caesar attempted several times to bring Pompey to battle, but the old general refused. Sitting tight was in Pompey's interest. The senators who had accompanied him, however, viewed Pompey's inaction with disdain.
In the book “Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic,” historian Tom Holland wrote: “But in his council of war tempers were fraying. The senators in Pompey's train, impatient for action, wanted Caesar and his army wiped out. What was wrong with their generalissimo? Why would he not fight? The answer was all too readily at hand, bred of decades of suspicion and resentment: 'They complained that Pompey was addicted to command, and took pleasure in treating former consuls and praetors as though they were slaves.'”
Against his better judgment, Pompey finally accepted Caesar's offer of battle on Aug. 9. Pompey decided to use his cavalry to break through on Caesar's right flank, though Caesar was prepared for this tactic. Concealing troops behind his center, Caesar ordered his left flank to retreat in an orderly fashion, inviting Pompey's cavalry further toward his lines. Then, once the cavalry finally engaged with Caesar's pulled-back infantry, he let loose his hidden troops, which unexpectedly attacked the cavalry's right flank.
Holland wrote: “Caesar. had formulated the perfect tactic. Pompey's cavalry turned and fled. Next, his loosely armed slingers and archers were cut down. Domitius, leading the left wing, was killed as his legions buckled. Caesar's men, outflanking Pompey's line of battle, then attacked from the rear. By mid-day the battle was over. That evening it was Caesar who sat down in Pompey's tent and ate the victory meal prepared by Pompey's chef, off Pompey's silver plate.”
Caesar's forces lost just 200 men. Approximately 15,000 of Pompey's men were killed and more than 20,000 taken prisoner. The battle decisively ended the civil war, and also ended Pompey and the senators' cause. Despite his numerical inferiority and logistical problems, Caesar had emerged triumphant.
Pompey, who had sought to merely wear Caesar down by attrition, fell into the trap of letting military novices dictate his strategy, and it had disastrous consequences. It was not the first or the last time that a sound military strategy of sitting still was ignored. The Athenians had abandoned Pericles' strategy of sitting tight behind Athens' walls during the Peloponnesian War 400 years earlier. Gen. Robert E. Lee rushed to attack the Union Army at Gettysburg 1,900 years later.
In the book, “Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician,” biographer Anthony Everitt noted Pompey's reaction to the defeat: “When Pompey saw how the battle was going, he withdrew to his camp where he sat speechless and stunned. Nothing in his long, cloudless career had prepared him for such a disaster. He changed out of his uniform and made his escape on horseback.”
Indeed, Pompey the Great, the hero of battle after battle in Rome's many wars, fled across the Mediterranean Sea to Egypt, hoping to connect with allies there and perhaps restart his efforts to battle Caesar. It was not to be. The young King Ptolemy XIII's advisers worried that taking Pompey's side in the Roman conflict would give Caesar the excuse he needed to end Egyptian autonomy. With that in mind, Pompey was assassinated while wading ashore near Alexandria.
Cicero, Brutus and most of the senators surrendered themselves to Caesar, swore allegiance to him and returned to Rome. Cato the Younger, however, eventually committed suicide rather than live under Caesar's dictatorship. Soon after Pompey's death, Caesar did indeed go to Egypt and place limits on the kingdom's sovereignty.
The Battle of Pharsalus proved a turning point in Roman history as Caesar's triumph allowed him to further subvert the republic and become Rome's king in all but name. After his assassination in 44 B.C., the stage was set for his adopted son Octavian to complete the process of turning Rome into a military dictatorship.
It is doubtful, however, that a successful Pompey could have ultimately saved the republic in the long run. When all of Rome's myriad political and economic problems, endemic corruption, and rigid class interests are taken into consideration, it is difficult to see Caesar as the cause of the fall of the republic, but rather its greatest symptom.
Pompey the Great
Upon landing in Egypt, Roman general and politician Pompey is murdered on the orders of King Ptolemy of Egypt.
During his long career, Pompey the Great displayed exceptional military talents on the battlefield. He fought in Africa and Spain, quelled the slave revolt of Spartacus, cleared the Mediterranean of pirates, and conquered Armenia, Syria, and Palestine. Appointed to organize the newly won Roman territories in the East, he proved a brilliant administrator.
In 60 B.C., he joined with his rivals Julius Caesar and Marcus Licinius Crassus to form the First Triumvirate, and together the trio ruled Rome for seven years. Caesar's successes aroused Pompey's jealousy, however, leading to the collapse of the political alliance in 53 B.C. The Roman Senate supported Pompey and asked Caesar to give up his army, which he refused to do. In January 49 B.C., Caesar led his legions across the Rubicon River from Cisalpine Gaul to Italy, thus declaring war against Pompey and his forces.
Caesar made early gains in the subsequent civil war, defeating Pompey's army in Italy and Spain, but he was later forced into retreat in Greece. In August 48 B.C., with Pompey in pursuit, Caesar paused near Pharsalus, setting up camp at a strategic location. When Pompey's senatorial forces fell upon Caesar's smaller army, they were entirely routed, and Pompey fled to Egypt.
Pompey hoped that King Ptolemy, his former client, would assist him, but the Egyptian king feared offending the victorious Caesar. On September 28, Pompey was invited to leave his ships and come ashore at Pelusium. As he prepared to step onto Egyptian soil, he was treacherously struck down and killed by an officer of Ptolemy.
Pompey the Great.
1. Pompey the Great
The Roman general Gnaeus Pompeius (106-48 B.C.) is portrayed as he was around the age of fifty. The head’s shape is markedly round and turned slightly toward the left. There is a powerful growth of hair. At the forehead the locks of hair ascend directly upwards. The hairstyle upon the brow, with its perpendicularly erect curls, stirred Pompey’s admirers to compare him with Alexander the Great. Inspired by the latter, the general permitted others to call him ’Magnus’. At his triumph after his campaign in Asia, Pompey wore Alexander’s purple chlamys. Original: Bronze statue in the vestibule of Pompey’s theater at the Campus Martius, 55 B.C.
Copy: Beginning of the 1st cent. A.D.
Marble. H. 0.25.
Minor damages in the face, the hair and the ears. Residues of patina are preserved in the fracture of the neck.
Acquired in 1887, from Count Tyszkiewicz’s collection in Rome, through the mediation of Helbig. According to Helbig, the portrait was discovered in 1885 at The Licinian Tomb at Porta Pia (Porta Salaria).
F. Poulsen 1951, Cat. 597 V. Poulsen 1973, Cat. 1 F. Johansen, MedKøb 30 (1973) 89— 119 F. Johansen, AnalRom VIII (1977) 48 ff. F. Johansen, Berømte romere fra Republikkens tid (1982) 25— 33 R. R. R. Smith, JRS LXXI (1981) pl. V, 2 L. Giuliani, Bildnis und Botschaft (1986) 25 ff., 56 ff. D. Boschung, JdI 101 (1986) 257 ff. Kaiser Augustus und die verlorene Republik (1988) no. 154 P. Zanker, Augustus und die Macht der Bilder (1987) 20 M. Moltesen, MedKøb 45 (1989) 88, fig. 1 M. Moltesen, AA (1991) 271 M. Bentz, RM 99 (1992) 232, Taf. 67 Kockel, Porträtreliefs, 71, n. 570, 575 M. Trunk, Boreas 17 (1994) 267 ff.
Pompey was jealous of Caesar's victories in Gaul and ordered him to disband his army and return to Rome. This Caesar refused to do, and civil war broke out. In the year 48 BC Pompey's army was heavily defeated at Pharsalus in Thessaly. Pompey himself escaped and fled to Egypt, but here he was murdered on the orders of the ministers of King Ptolemy. To the horror of Caesar they then sent him Pompey's head an an offering.
Caesar thus found himself the ruler of the whole Roman Empire the death of Pompey left him without any rival. But not for long. Four years later he himself was murdered.
Pompey the Great
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus was that rare combination – a general and a politician. Good sense, courage and sense of planning are not always to be found in those who choose to promote themselves as politicians, whereas one needs all three virtues (plus good fortune) to become a general, unless one is a third world colonel winning a successful coup.
Pompey’s early career as a soldier was, as they say today, ballistic. In fact it was brilliant. The Roman Senate empowered him to combat Lepidus, who had not very quietly raised his own private army while he was proconsul. Virtually at the same time as he was dealing with Lepidus, Pompey was also fighting Sertorius, busy backing the Lusitani rebellion in Spain.
On his return from Spain, accompanied by the millionaire soldier Crassus (and backed by their armies) Pompey and his rich friend acquired the consulship for the year 70 BC, though the former was really too young (36) for such a position and had no experience of the highest statutary offices.
Next we find him in the Mediterranean, sweeping the coasts free of pirates, so Pompey was a kind of admiral as well as a soldier (and politician). He needed only three months for this oceanic cleansing. Donning his helmet again he defeated King Mithridates VI a King in Asia Minor, and then the King of Armenia. Using his annexation of Syria, he doubled the revenue of the Roman treasury, as well as making himself almost as rich as Crassus.
His good luck was not to last. The Senate refused to ratify most of his acts, calling him a pirate on occasion, and he was forced into a pact (dreadful word, dreadful thing) with rich Crassus and crafty Julius Caesar. As a matter of fact he married Caesar’s daughter Julia. He was Consul in 59 BC, but his relationship with Crassus soured, and the worldly-wise Pompey even became jealous of Caesar’s undoubted successes in Gaul.
He shortly became governor of Spain (56), with seven legions to be administered from Rome. In 52 he became sole Consul in the capital of the empire, and dealt savagely and efficiently with corruption, anarchy and gangsterism there but his days were numbered.
After having precipitated the civil war crisis in 49 BC, he was confronted by Caesar himself in a major battle at Pharsalus – and was defeated for the first time. Luckily he escaped to Egypt, because Caesar wanted no more of him and Crassus wanted to get hold of his money. Unluckily for Pompey his stay in Egypt was interrupted by Ptolemy’s chief ministers, who had him murdered, hoping to seek Julius Caesar’s approval. It is said that the great Caesar wept when he heard the news. Certainly Pompey’s life and career (he died at 58) had been meteoric, and Shakespeare seems to have admired him greatly. (see Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra).
Tag: Pompey the Great
Tales come down from the Civil War, of Union troops getting into hives of mountain honey and becoming sick and disoriented, much like Roman troops some two thousand years earlier.
From sniffing glue to licking toads and huffing gasoline, people have thought of crazy and often dangerously stupid ways, of catching a buzz. Three years ago, CNN reported on a child ingesting a few squirts of hand sanitizer, resulting in slurred speech and an inability to walk straight. What do a dozen broke college kids do on a Saturday night? Buy a bottle of gin, and snort it. In some parts of the world, bees pollinate great fields of rhododendron flowers, resulting in a neurotoxic delicacy known as “Mad Honey”.
The Rhododendron genus contains some 1,024 distinct species ranging from Europe to North America, Japan, Nepal and Turkey and grown at altitudes from sea level to nearly three miles. Many Rhododendron species contain grayanotoxins though, in most regions, concentrations are diluted to trace levels. Some species contain significant levels.
Occasionally, a cold snap in the Appalachian Mountains of the Eastern United States will kill off other flowers while leaving Rhododendrons unaffected, resulting in mad honey. Such circumstances are rare. Mad honey is the most expensive in the world, normally selling for around $166 per pound.
When ingested in small doses, grayanotoxins produce feelings of euphoria and mild hallucinations. Larger doses have toxic effects, ranging from nausea and vomiting to dizziness, severe muscular weakness and slow or irregular heartbeat and plummeting blood pressure. Symptoms generally last for three hours or so, but may persist for 24 hours or longer. Ingesting large amounts of the stuff, may result in death.
Today, the toxic effects of over ingesting mad honey are primarily found among middle-age males in Turkey and Nepal, where the stuff is thought to have restorative qualities for a number of sexual dysfunctions.
Tales come down from the Civil War, of Union troops getting into hives of mountain honey and becoming sick and disoriented, much like Roman troops some two thousand years earlier.
The Greek historian, soldier and mercenary Xenophon of Athens wrote in 401BC of a Greek army passing through Trebizond in northeastern Turkey, on the way back home. While returning along the shores of the Black Sea, this crew had themselves a feast of honey, stolen from local beehives. For hours afterward, troops suffered from diarrhea and disorientation, no longer able to march or even to stand.
Fortunately, the effects had passed by the following day, before their defeated Persian adversary could learn of their sorry state. Nearly four hundred years later, Roman troops would not be so lucky.
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus lived from September 29, 106BC through September 28, 48BC, and usually remembered in English as Pompey the Great.
Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323BC, Alexander’s generals and advisers fell to squabbling over an empire, too big to hold. The period marked the beginning of Hellenistic colonization throughout the Mediterranean and Near East to the Indus River Valley.
Within two hundred years, the Mithradatic Kingdom of Pontus encompassing modern-day Armenia and Turkey, was becoming a threat to Roman hegemony in the east. King Mithradates VI is remembered as one of the most formidable adversaries faced by the Roman Republic, engaging three of the most successful generals of the late Republic in the Mithradatic Wars of the first century.
In 67BC, a Roman army led by Pompey the Great was chasing King Mithridates and his Persian army through that same region along the Black Sea. The retreating Persians laid a trap, gathering honey and putting the stuff out in pots, by the side of the road.
Had any on the Roman side brushed up on their Xenophon, the outcome may have become different. As it was, Roman troops pigged out and could scarcely defend themselves, against the returning Persians. A thousand or more Romans were slaughtered, with few losses to the other side. And all of it, for a little taste of honey.
Pompey the Great
Gnaeus Pompeius, better known as Pompey, was born on September 29, 106 BC. He was four years older than Julius Caesar. Pompeys father was a rich Roman noble, who was elected to the consul in 89 BC. Pompey distinguished himself as a great leader early in his life. In the civil war between Gaius Marius and Lucius Sulla, Pompey sided with Sulla. Sulla, with the help of Pompey, made some vary impressive defeats in Africa and Sicily. In 79 BC Sulla resigned and died the next year. Two of his patrons, who had fought for him, Pompey and Marcus Crassus, moved to leading military positions in the seventies.
Crassus and Pompey fought together in a battle against a Marian rebel, Quintus Sertorius, and a slave rebellion lead by Spartacus in Italy. They returned, having won, in 71 BC. Pompey then spent time campaigning successfully in Rome before he was elected to consul, with Marcus Crassus for the year 70 BC. After Pompey served his time on Consul he was given command over the Mediterranean, where he did what nobody else had successfully done before. He rid it of Pirates. Pompey, then, went to various places, establishing an ally of the King of Armenia, capturing Jerusalem, and making Syria a Roman duty.
Pompey was a great general, but not a very good politician. In 59 BC Pompey returned to Rome to find that tensions with himself and Crassus had grown. Both Crassus and Pompey had large armies, but also pieces of the city that were loyal to them. Cicero, the leader of the senate, allied himself with Pompey through great flattery. Cicero told Pompey that he must be the protector of the republic. Crassus had other plans, and by 57 BC both men were in Italy with their armies. Before war broke out Julius Caesar stepped in.
Caesar being a neutral negotiator used these well-known talents and convinced Pompey, Crassus, and Cicero to meet. The men worked out an agreement. This settlement had never been made before among the leaders of Rome. Caesar convinced Crassus and Pompey to join their power and influence with his own. Caesar was a successful leader of Gaul at this time. So the three agreed, and formed what is today known as the First Triumvirate. During this time Pompey married, most likely for political reasons, Julia, Caesar’s daughter.
Two of the three men returned to Rome and forced the Senate to obey them. Pompey asked for and got special legislation from the Senate allowing him to remain in Italy. He wanted this because he dearly wanted to become a great statesmen. Within the next five years Julia died followed by Crassus’ death. Crassus in 53 BC went to Syria where he assembled his army. He then ordered them into the Syrian dessert after the Parthian army, since Crassus was a great financier, a good politician, but a bad general. After a few days Crassus’ army was out of water and suffering.
It was then the Parthian army attacked, killing off two full Roman legions Crassus was among the deceased. Pompey again was persuaded by Cicero to work with him. Cicero named Pompey the Rector of the Republic, a nice title, but it had no meaning. Once again Pompey showed his poor political capability, and his tendency to easily be influenced. Pompey heard of Crassus death and began to fear Caesar. Caesar had been campaigning, winning many allies in Gaul, and the support of the people. Pompey on the other hand had stayed in Rome while onlookers watched his once strong leadership diminish.
Pompey tried to gain allies in the senate, but it was to late. Caesar and his troops marched across the Rubicon and on to Rome on January 11, 49 BC. Pompey had a larger army than Caesar with 40,000 men, but they were inexperienced compared to Caesar’s 22,000 experienced fighters. Pompey was pressured heavily by the Senate to attack first, and he did so against his better judgment. Caesar won at the battle of Pharsalus, destroying Pompey’s army and killing many senators. Pompey escaped, fleeing to Egypt, where he tried to ally Ptolemy.
Caesar quickly put Rome into order and went after Pompey. The Egyptians saw Caesar coming and Ptolemy had Pompey cautiously killed. Ptolemy had Pompey put to death immediately by decapitation. Gnaeus Pompeius died in 48 BC, thus ending the first Triumvirate. Pompey was not a talented politician, as he proved with some of his decisions, but he was a great general, and he fought successfully many times. It was not until later in life that his force and influence over people weakened. He with out any doubts earned his title Pompey the Great.
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