Gnaeus Pompey Magnus

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Bust of Pompey in Paris , Musée du Louvre

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (German also Pompejus ; * September 29, 106 BC ; † September 28, 48 BC at Pelusium ) was a Roman politician and general, known as Gaius Julius Caesar's opponent . Until his defeat by Caesar he was considered the most brilliant military leader of his time (the nickname Magnus, German "the great", alludes to Alexander the great ), but failed again and again because of the domestic political mechanisms of Rome, into which he never fully integrated wanted and could. Some of his organizational measures, which anticipated the later empire, were significant beyond his time.



The Pompeii were a plebeian family that came from Picenum , northeast of Rome, and appeared relatively late in Roman politics. The first well-known representative was Quintus Pompeius , who lived in 141 BC. Was elected consul and thus rose to the nobility . He was not, however, an ancestor of Gnaeus Pompeius, who belonged to another branch of the family. Sextus Pompeius, the grandfather of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, was 118 BC. Chr. Governor of Macedonia, where he died before the ascent succeeded to the consulate. More is known about Pompeius' father: Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo was also active as governor in Macedonia, but above all his involvement in the war of allies should be mentioned. Strabo, who died during the war in 89 BC. BC Consul, although he had many enemies in the Senate, tried to expand and strengthen his own position in this conflict. On the one hand, his approach was brutal (after taking the city of Asculum, he had its population killed) and, on the other hand, extremely opaque. He also made himself unpopular when he put the booty he had squeezed out of Asculum into his private fortune and not the Roman treasury. There were riots in Strabo's army and an attack on him and his son Gnaeus, who was already 17 years old fighting alongside his father. 87 BC There was a mutiny which he and his son Gnaeus successfully put down. Strabo died in 87 BC BC, probably from an epidemic; the young Gnaeus Pompeius had to watch as the body of his father was dragged through the city by a crowd.

Ascent under Sulla

After the death of his father and the conquest of Rome by the Populares , Pompey was accused of misappropriating booty, but was acquitted by marrying Antistia , the judge's daughter. In the civil war that followed, he took the side of Sulla , whom he supported with a self-raised army. 82 BC Sulla married him to his stepdaughter Aemilia . This marriage with the daughter of the famous patrician politician Marcus Aemilius Scaurus meant for Pompey a family connection with the nobility . After Aemilias death that same year, Sulla arranged for him to marry Mucia Tertia , the widow of the younger Marius . Although Pompey was actually for a regular military command too young and the necessary offices could not demonstrate that he led, commissioned by Sulla, two campaigns against the remaining followers of the older Marius in Sicily , where he three-time consul Gnaeus Papirius Carbo kill let, and in North Africa. After his return, Pompey received against Sulla's initial resistance in 79 BC. Awarded a triumph .

Sertorius War and first consulate

After Sulla's death, Pompey obtained in 77 BC A proconsular empire connected with the governorship of the province of Hispania citerior , and fought against Quintus Sertorius in Spain . It was only when he fell victim to a conspiracy of his own followers that Pompey, together with Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius , was able to successfully end the costly war. On his return to Italy with his army in 71 BC. BC he defeated the scattered remains of Spartacus ' slave army. Pompey received another triumph and became the following year in 70 BC. BC together with Marcus Licinius Crassus , who had successfully waged the actual war against the main army of slaves, consul. Two important provisions of the Sullan restoration policy were subsequently to be reversed by the two consuls: on the one hand, the lifting of the political restrictions on the people's tribunate and , on the other, the occupation of the repetition courts .

Pirate War and 3rd Mithridatic War

Region of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East with political spheres of influence around 100 BC Chr.

In 67 BC BC brought the tribune Aulus Gabinius , a follower of Pompeius, a draft law ( lex Gabinia ) to appoint a general against the pirates who made the Mediterranean unsafe at that time. Pompey was given supreme command; based on overarching powers, he defeated the pirates in a few months. In order to prevent piracy in the future, Pompeius settled the conquered in various cities in Cilicia , Greece and Lower Italy, for example in Soloi , which was renamed Pompeiopolis for this reason, in order to provide them with a new livelihood. The following year he was replaced by Lucullus with the war against the Pontic king Mithridates VI by the lex Manilia . commissioned, which he was able to push back towards Crimea . After the victory, he arranged the east of the Mediterranean in the spirit of Rome. The former empire of Mithridates made Pompeius the province of Bithynia et Pontus as did the rest of the Seleucid empire (as the province of Syria in 63 BC). In the same year he conquered the kingdom of the Nabataeans , later the province of Arabia Petraea . He also intervened in Judea , which was not completely pacified . On his triumphant return to Rome in 62 BC. In BC Pompey dismissed his legions , relying on his already assured influence over the Senate .


Portraits of the family of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus on a gold coin ( aureus , 8.17g 8h) of his son Sextus Pompeius , minted 42–40 BC. In Sicily . Front with portrait of Sextus Pompeius, reverse with profiles of the deceased father Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (left) and the deceased son Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus the Younger (right).

But a number of important nobiles were of the opinion that Pompey was threatening to break the framework of the republic, and so attempts were made to outmaneuver him politically, much like Gaius Marius once did . The Senate therefore initially refused Pompey's veterans the expected supply of land and then decided to deliberate individually on each of the countless decisions he had made in the East, which would have made Pompey ridiculous. To avoid his increasing isolation, Pompey concluded with Crassus and the for 59 BC. Gaius Iulius Caesar, who was elected consul in the 3rd century BC, established an informal alliance, a coitio (later referred to as the First Triumvirate , although in contrast to the Second Triumvirate it had no formal structure). As consul, Caesar carried out measures in the interests of Pompey and did not shy away from open breaches of the constitution; the bond between the two was strengthened by the fact that Pompey married Caesar's daughter Julia . 55 BC In BC Pompey had his own theater built, called the " Theater of Pompeius " or "Marble Theater". It was also used as a Senate building because it was outside the pomerium and thus military commanders could also attend meetings, which was not permitted in Hostilia Curia .

In the following years, when Caesar successfully waged war in Gaul , Pompey's position in Rome weakened and the union of the three politicians finally broke up after the deaths of Juliet and Crassus in a campaign against the Parthians in 53 BC. After serious internal unrest in 52 BC, Pompey settled down. Without appointing the usual colleague as consul ( consul sine collega ) and strengthened his army, which he gathered as proconsul of Spain and for a planned campaign of revenge against the Parthians. Pompey now moved closer to the majority of the Senate (Optimates). He married Cornelia, the daughter of the eminent aristocrat Metellus Scipio . He was a fanatical defender of the old republic and had taken a negative attitude towards Caesar, at least since his consulate. It was significant that Metellus was chosen by Pompey as a comrade for the consulate that he had previously led alone.

The break with Caesar and the road to civil war

Bust of Pompey in Copenhagen

On the other hand, Pompey first tried to calm Caesar down. According to the law ( lex annalis ) , Caesar could not apply for the consulate before ten years had passed after his first consulate, that was not before the year 48 BC. If his governorship had ended before then, an extremely uncomfortable interim period would have arisen, in which he, as a private citizen, was exposed to indictment in court and to ruin. As governor, however, he was protected from charges.

Pompey, for example, supported a draft law according to which Caesar could apply for the consulate in absentia , so that the terms of office of his governor and the consulate to be expected should overlap. To these laws, however, Pompey now added a number of other draft laws that withdrew precisely those concessions for Caesar. In the time that followed, Pompey bowed bit by bit to the conservative wing of the Senate. When Caesar's actions in Gaul were strongly attacked, Pompey protested weakly, if at all, and occasionally gave in to the pressure.

In May 50 BC Pompey suffered from a serious illness which he had contracted in Naples. Tied to the bed, he suggested that he and Caesar resign from their offices. But this did not happen. After Pompey had recovered, the great sympathy of the population as well as news of alleged mutinies in Caesar's army greatly strengthened his self-confidence. He confirmed two conservative consuls for the year 49 BC. Chr.

On December 10th, the consul Gaius Claudius Marcellus obtained that Caesar resign his supreme command, while Pompey should keep his. This decision did not last long, however, because Curio persuaded the Senate that Pompey and Caesar should resign at the same time. However, this decision was no longer implemented, as Caesar marched on Rome the following day.

On January 7, 49 BC A senate resolution proclaimed the state of emergency ( Senatus consultum ultimum ), and Pompey was commissioned to defend the republic against Caesar.

Civil war

Four days later, Caesar crossed the Rubicon , the border river of his province Gallia Cisalpina, with which he acted against the constitution of the republic and started the civil war . Pompey was commissioned by the Senate to protect the city of Rome . But Pompey knew that his forces in Italy were too weak. Ten legions were subordinate to him, but the majority of this army was stationed in Spain and not available quickly enough. He was also sure that Caesar would invade not just with a legion, but with his entire army. So he was forced to initiate an evocatio , which meant the reactivation of veterans as so-called evocati to supplement his legions, but was not accepted by all senators without objection.

Pompey had been too sure of the support of the Italian cities. But even many of his allies from the Optimate camp did not want to submit to him because they considered the concentration of military power on one person to be un-republican. Only at the end of 49 BC In BC Pompey was given the command, but the rift persisted in his own camp. The charismatic Caesar, on the other hand, was able to rely on the loyalty of his legions, which felt personally connected to him ( army clientele ). The disagreement between Pompey and the other senators and officials was to take revenge above all in the battle of Pharsalus .

Pompey evacuated the city of Rome and moved with some loyal senators to Brundisium to embark for Greece. Caesar was unable to prevent the crossing to Greece despite the siege. Pompey tried to reach the loyal troops in the east and to commit his clientele to himself. Caesar first turned to Spain and took the cities there largely without a fight. Meanwhile, Pompey was able to raise large troops. There were fears that he would end up in Italy to confront Caesar. However, this did not come true. Pompey spent the winter in Thessaloniki . He did not move west until Caesar was ready to cross the Ionian Sea. This was guarded by Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus , but Caesar successfully evaded. Caesar continued in January 48 BC. BC to Greece, and both armies marched to Dyrrhachium, where Caesar was on the verge of defeat in the Battle of Dyrrhachium .

Pompey, who had already proven his military skills several times, tried to avoid a decisive battle, but was forced to do so by the senators. In the battle of Pharsalus in Thessaly , Pompey suffered on August 9, 48 BC. A crushing defeat.

Assassination in Egypt

After the defeat at Pharsalus, Pompey fled to Egypt , where the courtiers of the child king Ptolemy XIII. murdered on September 28, one day before the general's 58th birthday. His severed head was later given to Caesar. Allegedly, Caesar wept when he saw the severed head. He had him buried as a token of his mildness (clementia) . A freedman of Pompey, Pompeius Lenaeus , accused the historian Sallust of portraying his former master as a shameless hypocrite after his death .


Pompey was married five times. At a young age he married Antistia . For political reasons he got divorced and married Aemilia , Sulla's stepdaughter. She too had to get a divorce before she married Pompey. She died a little later while giving birth to a child she was expecting from her first husband. 80 BC In BC Pompey married his third wife, Mucia Tertia . With this he had three children: Gnaeus Pompeius the Younger , a daughter Pompeia , who was only married to Faustus Cornelius Sulla and after his death probably to Lucius Cornelius Cinna , and Sextus Pompeius . Upon his return from the East, Pompey separated from Mucia Tertia for infidelity (62 BC). Three years later he was the fourth marriage to Iulia , the daughter of Caesar, who however died in childbirth (54 BC). His last wife was Cornelia Metella (52 BC).

While Gnaeus Pompeius the Younger, at Caesar's instigation, already 45 BC. Was executed in Hispania, Sextus survived and, with the help of the Pompeian party, was able to survive from 43 BC. BC to establish a strong position of power in Sicily, from where he campaigned for the restoration of family honor.


Posthumous coin portrait of Pompey on a coin of his son Sextus
Theater of Pompey (reconstruction drawing)
Pompey with his officers Servilius and Glaucia. Illumination in a manuscript from the late 15th century: Brussels, Bibliothèque royale, Ms. 10475, fol. 115r

The only inscribed portraits of Pompey are preserved on coins that his sons Gnaeus had minted in Spain and especially Sextus in Sicily. On this basis, a portrait head from the Licinier's grave from the early imperial period (now in Copenhagen) was identified, which combines the Alexander imitation in the form of a pathetic head of hair, which many viewers perceive as peasant and honest, in the form of a pathetic head of hair. A portrait head in Venice shows an apparently somewhat younger Pompey. Contemporary depictions of Pompey are likely to be small clay heads that reproduce his characteristic portraits in a simplified form. A portrait of the young Pompey at the time of his first triumph may have survived in a head in the Uffizi, but the identification is also contested.


The history of Theophanes of Mytilene , who also served as an important advisor to Pompey, has been lost except for a few fragments. The same applies to the histories of Gaius Asinius Pollio , whose work was used by several later authors (including Plutarch ).

  • Gaius Iulius Caesar: Civil War. Bellum Civile . Latin / German, 4th edition, edited and translated by Otto Schönberger, Artemis & Winkler, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-7608-1512-X .
  • Plutarch: Pompey . German translation: Great Greeks and Romans . Translated by Konrat Ziegler . Volume 3. dtv, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-423-02070-9 . (English translation)
  • Marcus Tullius Cicero: Speech about the supreme command of the Cn. Pompey . Translated by Otto Schönberger, Reclam, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-15-008554-3 .


  • Ernst Baltrusch : Caesar and Pompey. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 2004, ISBN 3-534-16490-3 ( review ).
  • Yasmina Benferhat: Pompey Magnus (Cnaeus). In: Richard Goulet (ed.): Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques. Volume 5, Part 2, CNRS Éditions, Paris 2012, ISBN 978-2-271-07399-0 , pp. 1264–1276 (overview)
  • Karl Christ : Pompey. The general of Rome. A biography. CH Beck, Munich 2004, ISBN 3-406-51543-6 ( review ).
  • Matthias Gelzer : Pompey. Life picture of a Roman. Reprint of the 1984 edition with a research overview and a supplementary bibliography by Elisabeth Herrmann-Otto . Steiner, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-515-08474-6 .
  • Christian Heller: Sic transit gloria mundi. The image of Pompey Magnus in the Civil War. Distortion - stylization - historical reality (= Pharos. Volume 26). Scripta Mercaturae, St. Katharinen 2006, ISBN 3-89590-167-9 .
  • Robert Klimek, Sonja Klimek: Pompeius. In: Peter von Möllendorff , Annette Simonis, Linda Simonis (ed.): Historical figures of antiquity. Reception in literature, art and music (= Der Neue Pauly . Supplements. Volume 8). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2013, ISBN 978-3-476-02468-8 , Sp. 773-780.
  • Joachim Losehand: The last days of Pompey. From Pharsalos to Pelusion. Phoibos, Vienna 2008, ISBN 978-3-901232-94-7 (version as dissertation Vienna 2005 online ).
  • Robin Seager: Pompey the Great. A Political Biography. 2nd, improved edition. Blackwell, Oxford 2002, ISBN 0-631-22721-0 .
  • Pat Southern : Pompey. Magnus, Essen 2006, ISBN 3-88400-434-4 ( review ).
  • Éric Teyssier: Pompée. L'anti-César. Perrin, Paris 2013, ISBN 978-2-2620-4014-7 .
  • Georg-Philipp Schietinger (Ed.): Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Exceptional careerist, networker and power strategist. Contributions from the Heidelberg Pompey Conference on September 24, 2014, Rahden, Westf .: Verlag Marie Leidorf 2019.

Web links

Commons : Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. Plutarch , Pompey 4.
  2. Cf. Kai Trampedach : Between Alexander and Augustus: Pompeius' Reorganization of the East . In: Hans-Joachim Gehrke et al. (Ed.): Roma e l'Oriente nel I secolo aC Cosenza 2009, pp. 393-416.
  3. Horst Callies: Pre and Early History, Antiquity, Middle Ages . In: Reinhard Elze, Konrad Repgen (Hrsg.): Study book history. Vol. 1, Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-608-91987-2 , p. 240.
  4. Daniel Bühler: Power and Loyalty. Publius Ventidius. A Roman career between republic and monarchy. Munich 2009, p. 73.
  5. On the portrait of Pompeius see Volker Michael Strocka : Caesar, Pompeius, Sulla. Portraits of politicians from the late republic . In: Freiburger Universitätsblätter 163, 2004, pp. 60–66 ( PDF, 7.4 MB ).
  6. ^ Coins depicting Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus on .
  7. Goettingen Virtual Antiques Museum: Portrait of the Cn. Pompey Magnus .
  8. ^ Goettingen Virtual Museum of Antiquities: Late Republic . - For the overall complex of imitation see Angela Kühnen: The imitatio Alexandri in Roman politics (1st century BC - 3rd century AD) . Rhema, Münster 2008, ISBN 978-3-930454-73-0 , pp. 53-75, and Luca Giuliani : Portrait and Message. Hermeneutic investigations into portrait art of the Roman Republic . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt a. M. 1986, ISBN 3-518-57818-9 .
  9. Strocka, Caesar, Pompeius, Sulla , pp. 62–63.
  10. Strocka, Caesar, Pompeius, Sulla , pp. 64–66.