Pompey the Great, Caesar's rival

Pompey the Great, Caesar's rival

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Pompey (Cnaeus Pompeius Magnus) was a general and politician of the Roman Republic during antiquity. At a young age, Pompey achieved important military victories and won the title of Magnus, which means "very great." In 60 BC, he formed a triumvirate with Julius Caesar and Crassus, an alliance which strengthened his influence. The war led by Julius Caesar in Gaul leaves him full powers in Rome but, on his return, the rivalry between the two men leads to a civil war. Pompey is defeated in 48 BC He will flee to Egypt, where he will be assassinated.

Pompey's early career

Pompey was born in Rome on September 29, 106 BC. AD, from a large Roman senatorial family. Still a teenager, he took part in the social war and early joined Sylla's party. He took the initiative to raise in favor of the latter three legions (83), with which he defeated the partisans of Marius, Papirius Carbo in Sicily and Domitius Ahenobarbus in Africa. On his return, he obtained the triumph outside the legal forms and was greeted by Sylla with the title of "great".

Without extraordinary military qualities, he had the good fortune to be served on several occasions by circumstances: having triumphed over Lepidus without a fight, thanks to the betrayal or the flight of the main accomplice of this factious consul (77), he trampled for four years against Sertorius in Spain but managed to emerge victorious from this war thanks to the assassination of Sertorius by Perpenna (72). His popularity was further increased by his victory over Spartacus and his rebellious slaves, already defeated by Crassus (71). He then celebrated his second triumph and, thanks to the support of the soldiers and the people, was elected consul in 1970, before reaching legal age.

In the crisis of the republican regime, Pompey soon appeared as the providential man: by two laws, lex Gabinia (67) and lex Manilia (66), he received unprecedented powers, with the supreme command of all land forces. and naval, the right to decide absolutely on peace and war, to levy all taxes in the provinces. After having eliminated in two months the piracy which ravaged the Mediterranean (67), Pompey dealt the final blow to Mithridates, for a long time weakened by the harassment of Luculus; he defeated it on the banks of the Euphrates (66), entered Armenia and forced Tigran to peace, subjected the Bridge, Paphlagonia and Bithynia, captured Syria from Antiochos XIII (64), brought under Roman domination all the coastline of Phenicia, Lebanon and Palestine, entered Jerusalem and replaced King Aristobulus by Hyrcanus II (63). Then, learning of the death of Mithridates, he received in Amise the submission of his son Pharnace, to whom he left the kingdom of the Bosphorus (62). He thus brought most of Asia Minor and the Eastern Mediterranean under Roman rule and gained recognition of the equestrian order, of which he favored financial enterprises.

The first triumvirate

In Jan. 61, after a triumphal tour through the Greek cities, he landed at Brindes, in southern Italy, at the head of his legions. It only took one gesture to annihilate the Republic, barely recovered from the conspiracy of Catiline. But, overconfident in his popularity, he committed the recklessness of disbanding his troops, and, despite the lavish celebration of his third triumph "over the whole world" (de orbe terrarum), he soon found himself relegated to the sidelines by the Senate. He then formed with Crassus and Caesar the association known as the first triumvirate (60) and sealed this union by marrying Caesar's daughter. Julie.

Caesar, brought to the consulate, satisfied Pompey's claims in favor of his veterans (60), and the renewal of the triumvirate (56) was accompanied by a real division of the world, in which Pompey obtained Africa, Spain and Rome. However, taking advantage of the absence of Caesar engaged in the conquest of Gaul, Pompey, to eclipse his associate and rival, set out to reconcile both the senate by his affected moderation and the people by his largesse. Cicero was the architect of his agreement with the senatorial oligarchy, and in 52 Pompey was appointed sole consul, which was contrary to all traditions of republican collegiality.

Civil war and the fall of Pompey

The untimely death of Caesar's daughter and, shortly after, the disappearance of Crassus, killed at Carrhae (53), left Pompey alone in front of Caesar. With his usual smugness, he underestimated the strength of his adversary, and, in 1950, he had a senatus-consultum launched which summoned Caesar, then engaged in the Gallic war, to abandon his army while he himself kept his legions. and its provinces: this was the signal for civil war. As soon as Caesar had crossed the Rubicon (Jan. 49), Pompey accumulated errors: abandoning Rome and Italy without a fight, he retired to Greece with the senate, then, leaving his entrenched camp of Dyrrachium, where he had held Caesar in check, he allowed himself to be dragged by his adversary into Thessaly and gave him battle at Pharsalia (August 9, 48), where he was completely defeated, although his army was twice the number of Caesarean troops.

Taking flight, Pompey then headed for Egypt, counting on finding asylum with the young Ptolemy XIII, who owed him his throne; but the Egyptian government, fearing Caesar's wrath, did not even let him disembark and had him assassinated while he was still at sea, under the eyes of his wife and son Sextus. His head was brought to Caesar, who wept and punished the murderers.


- Pompey, the anti Caesar, biography of Eric Teyssier. Perrin, 2013.

- Roman history. Books 40 & 41: Caesar and Pompey, by Dion Cassius. Les Belles Lettres, 1996.

Video: Caesars Civil War Part 2 - Battle of Pharsalus


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