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).
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