Published on March 20, 2014
ROME POMPEY significance of military and political career Political Developments in the Late Republic
The Story of the rise of Pompey
Background: The Rise of Pompey Pompey’s dad was wealthy and a land owner. People thought he was a greedy, back stabbing and ruthless man. Even so, he was very successful. He had moved up the cursus honorum and he had supported Sulla and the optimates against Marius in the first war. He died in 87BC – a victim of the plague, or hit by lighting (though Appian tells us BOTH – how unlucky can one person be!) When he died Pompey inherited everything – most importantly the loyalty of his soldiers and the respect of his father’s political supporters.
Pompey had had some military experience. He’d fought with his dad for two years – but now he had control of his own troops. He wanted to be an important man in Rome and saw the political upheavals of the time as the perfect opportunity to improve his political status. Although it was unconstitutional and against Roman traditions, In 85 BC Sulla gave Pompey the job of ending Marian resistance in Sicily and Africa. He gave him propraetorian imperium to do so. Sulla was desperate to defeat Marius and was prepared to break the rules to be the victor.
By 82 BC Pompey had secured Sicily. He may have even earned himself a nickname – Appian reports that he was called adulescens carnifex (adolescent butcher) – because he executed Carbo and his supporters. Pompey was highly successful. Success wasn’t enough for Pompey – he also wanted everyone to know HOW successful he was. Sulla sent him a message to disband his army and come back home. Pompey didn’t think that was enough – He entered Rome with his army! Sulla tried to keep the peace and greeted him as Pompeius Magnus (maybe with a touch of sarcasm). Pompey still wasn’t happy and used his army as a threat. Pompey’s popularity (the people loved him because his actions in Rome saved the grain supply) and the threat of force changed Sulla’s mind. Pompey was given his triumph.
There’s a funny story attached to this triumph – Sulla still was not happy that he had to give in to Pompey so to try and lessen the event for Pompey, he gave himself and another general a triumph first – meaning that Pompey was third in line. Pompey wasn’t happy – so he thought he would outdo the others and make himself look better. According to Plutarch Pompey found himself a triumphal chariot and an elephant – hoping to remind people about his African success – It didn’t fit through the gate. Pompey was embarrassed and a few people had a little chuckle!
Pompey wasn’t going to let political loyalty stand in his way of getting to the top. Although he had been close to Sulla (he was even married to Sulla’s stepdaughter) he decided, in 78BC to help Lepidus, who was Sulla’s opponent, win the consulship. Lepidus however, decided to threaten Rome – in 77 he threatened to march on Rome with his troops. Pompey changed sides – the senate gave him propraetorian imperiom to help Catulus put down Lepidus’ revolt. A pattern was emerging – Pompey was seen as a hero of the republic be he once again refused to disband the army and wanted another command Pompey in the Temple of Jerusalem, by Jean Fouquet.
Even though the Senate was now starting to fear Pompey, they gave in. They reluctantly granted him the title of proconsul, and sent him to Hispania in 76BC to fight Sertorius, a rebel general. Plutarch states that the campaign was not an easy one due to Sertorius’ guerrilla tactics. Some historians think he won because Sertorius was assassinated in 72BC, by one of his men – Perpena – who was executed by Pompey in 71BC. Meanwhile, Spartacus had started a revolt of slaves and gladiators. The consul Crassus had been sent to defeat them. Crassus had initially had some difficulty and requested the support of Pompey and Lucullus. He changed his mind however, as he had been able to kill around 6000 of Spartacus’ supporters. When Pompey finally arrived in 71 Crassus had already one three minor battles and in the final battle killed 13000 slaves.
Pompey encounted 5000 slaves escaping from the battle that they had lost – he captured them and used it as evidence that he had finished off the revolt. You can imagine that Crassus was not HAPPY! To make matters worse, Crassus was only given an ovation whilst Pompey was awarded another triumph – again this was illegal but recognised Pompey’s popular support with the people of Rome and the looming threat of his forces. Pompey and Crassus were not friends – Crassus was angry with Pompey’s triumph and actions, but because they both wanted the consulship of 70BC, they agreed to work together to campaign.The Flight of Pompey after Pharsalus, by Jean Fouquet
Significance of this story? So Pompey was allowed to bypass another ancient Roman tradition; at only 35 years of age and while not even a senator, he was elected Consul by an overwhelming majority vote, and served in 70 BC with Crassus as partner. Pompey's meteoric rise to the consulship was unprecedented; his tactics offended the traditionalist nobility whose values he claimed to share and defend. He had left them no option but to allow his consulship.
The most important thing to remember :
• “The really dazzling honour was to have a triumph when he was not a senator at all” PLUTARCH • Pompey’s use and abuse of military power to get what he want weakened Senatorial prestige. His changing alliances and rivalry, unconstitutional commands and use of popularity and fear as political tools significantly contributed to the decline of the republic
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