Pompey the Great

  • Maaike-Anna Hempenius - Faculty of Medicine
  • Sophie Jackson - Faculty of Economics and Business
  • Roy Raukema - Faculty of Arts

Pompey was a military and political leader who lived from 106 to 48 BC. He succeeded in many military triumphs, gaining him the title The Great or Magnus. Together with Julius Caesar and Marcus Crassus he formed the first Triumvirate in 60 BC.[1] This was a political alliance aimed at restraining the power of the senate. At the start the alliance functioned harmoniously yet after a while strains began to emerge on the relationship, eventually leading to disintegration.

Pompey around
55 BC[2]
1.1 Live and Career
1.2 The First Triumvirate
1.3 The Downfall of Pompey

1.1 Live and Career

Pompey was born son of Gnaeus Pompey Strabo, one of the richest Roman men at the time. The noble family came from Picenum, an area east of Rome. In 89 BC when Pompey was 16 years old, his father became the first consul in their family. Like his father, Pompey was a gifted military general with his career starting under his father his command.[3] After his father passed away in 87 BC, Pompey fought successfully with his own legions in the name of the great Roman general and statesman Sulla. In 70 BC Pompey, now a general with many victories, and Crassus became consuls.[4]

Pompey did not follow the cursus honorum like his father. Instead of first becoming a quaestor (financial administrator), as was to be expected , Pompey became consul directly at the age of 35. Normally men could not become consul before the age of 42, or 40 if they came from a rich family. Nevertheless Pompey was selected by a majority ruling so the concerns of conservative people were automatically waived.[5]

During the years to come, Pompey succeeded in many more triumphs. In 67 BC he defeated the pirates in the Mediterranean Sea in 89 days. From 66 to 64 BC he battled in the East against Mithridates VI, the king of Pontus. With the defeat of Mithridates, Pompey managed to expand the borders of the Roman territory further east. Subsequently he then restored peace in Syria during the winter of 64/63 BC.[6] When Pompey came back to Rome in 61 BC to celebrate, he arranged two days for his triumph and games. He rode on a triumphal chariot with a gigantic portrait head beside him studded with pearls. He also gave food and money to the people of Rome. This was the moment he also promised the people of Rome a new theatre. Likewise to the veterans in his army he promised land to farm on. Nevertheless all these promises began to arouse suspicion in the Senate, who felt the power being threatened. As a result Senate decided to delay the gifts of land to Pompey's veterans.[7]

1.2 The First Triumvirate

Julius Caesar and Marcus Crassus had similar issues with the Senate. This eventually led to the culmination of the first Triumvirate. Pompey and Crassus would use their influence to make Caesar a consular, and in turn, Caesar would use his power as a consular to promote their wishes. To strengthen the alliance, Pompey then married Julia, the daughter of Caesar. For quite some time everything worked well and Pompey's veterans managed to obtain their promised land. Yet in 55 BC the Triumvirate began to show signs of instability. In that exact year Pompey and Crassus were elected again as a consuls. Pompey also opened his theatre with shops and a temple complex. In 54BC Julia died in childbirth and in 53 BC Crassus died during a battle in the East. All these events culminated in the collapse of the first Triumvirate. The senate decided to name Pompey consul sine collega in 52 BC to restore the peace. Still this was not an autocratic position as Pompey was still answerable to the senate.[8]

1.3 The Downfall of Pompey

Yet overall the death of Crassus had led to a power struggle between himself and Caesar. The senate then refused to elect Caesar as a consul unless he relinquished his army. This was the pivotal moment where Caesar decided to go to Rome with his army and provoke a civil war which eventually broke out in 48 BC. The senate consequently fled from Rome and Pompey's army was defeated at Pharsalus in Thessaly. In reaction to defeat, Pompey then fled to Egypt to seek protection from Ptolemy XIII. Ptolemy was in a battle with his sister Cleopatra for the throne. He wanted favour with Caesar so he ordered his men to kill Pompey. After he presented Pompey his head to Caesar but Caesar was still not satisfied. Instead he ordered to give his former ally a proper Roman Funeral. Caesar subsequently made Cleopatra his lover and declared her sole ruler.[9]


  1. Boak, A History of Rome to 565 A.D., pg. 169.
  2. Pompey, bust c. 60 to 50 BC; in the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Den.Courtesy of Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Website http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/469463/Pompey-the-Great:.
  3. Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg. 126.
  4. Boak, A History of Rome to 565 A.D., pg. 155.
  5. Plutarch, Life of Pompey, pg. 149.
  6. Boak, A History of Rome to 565 A.D., pg. 154, pg 159.
  7. Dio, Roman History, pg. 178.
  8. Boak, A History of Rome to 565 A.D., pg. 173.
  9. Boak, A History of Rome to 565 A.D., pg. 177.