Pompey Magnus: Biography, Quotes & Death

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson goes over one of the most famous Romans in history, Pompey the Great. Learn a bit about his early life, career, and his interactions with some very famous Romans, including Caesar.

Pompey the Great

For better or for worse, some of the most famous politicians or military leaders of recent memory include the likes of George Patton, John F. Kennedy, Adolf Hitler, and Josef Stalin. If you were alive around the first century BCE, you'd rattle off different names to the same effect: Spartacus, Caesar, Crassus, Ptolemy, and Pompey. It's the last one, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, better known as Pompey the Great, which will be the subject of this lesson's biography.

Early Life

Pompey was born into a relatively well-off and politically connected family on September 29th, 106 BCE in Rome (now Italy). He was given a good education by the standards of the day and was well-versed in Greek knowledge. His father was Pompeius Strabo, at that time a famous Roman general. Pompey served on his father's staff and developed his military acumen in the process.

Early Career

Early on in his military career, Pompey joined a Roman general, Lucius Sulla, as an ally in the latter's quest to win a civil war that was raging at the time. Pompey even married Sulla's stepdaughter. In his work for Sulla, Pompey showed himself to be a sometimes ruthless but also very skilled military leader. After the civil war, Pompey went on several more successful military campaigns throughout the following years.

Spartacus

Eventually, Pompey sought to destroy a slave revolt led by Spartacus but it was a rival, Marcus Licinius Crassus, who actually put the revolt down once and for all. Despite this, Pompey got much of the credit. To understand who Crassus was in modern terms, Crassus was like a mix of General George Patton and tech entrepreneur Bill Gates. He was Rome's richest man but also a military leader. Both Pompey and Crassus would go on to become joint rulers of Rome in 70 BCE.

Pirates & Mithridates

After his consulship, Pompey was tasked with putting down a huge pirate problem menacing the Roman Republic and the Mediterranean in general. Such was Pompey's skill that he dealt with the issue within a year's time. Although he may have been ruthless in land battles, he was surprisingly kind in terms of his dealings with the pirates. That's because he actually re-settled pirates and made them peaceful farmers instead!

Pompey was then tasked with dealing with a troublesome king in what is now Turkey. So known was Pompey's military skill by this time that the king, Mithridates, had himself killed rather than facing Pompey. This allowed Pompey to consolidate numerous territories in what was to become part of the Eastern Roman Empire, including Syria.

Pompey the Great.
Pompey the Great

The First Triumvirate

Pompey came back to Rome in 62 BC and formed a loose alliance with Crassus and Julius Caesar, an alliance now known as the First Triumvirate. In fact, Pompey ended up marrying Caesar's daughter, Julia, making her his fourth wife. Although you may know Caesar best, at this point in time it was actually Pompey who was the more powerful of the three in terms of his connections, known military prowess, and relative wealth.

However, this wasn't to last for long. Caesar was slowly gaining his own fame, power, and military might as he campaigned successfully in Gaul, now France. The two men had their strains and differences but they managed to patch them up in the past. However, when Julia died in 54 B.C., the last and probably strongest bond between the two men was broken. This led to a gradual deterioration between the two men's relationship. This wasn't helped by the fact that the relative balancing power of Crassus' influence was dissipated in 53 B.C., when he was killed in battle fighting Roman enemies.

Death

Various political machinations on behalf of both Caesar's and Pompey's parts in their quest for sole power ultimately led to a break in any positive relationships between the two. Pompey informally aligned himself with a large portion of the Roman Senate against Caesar and the two went to war.

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