Pompey the Great

But it concerns the glory of the Roman Empire, and not that of one man, to mention in this place all the records of the victories of Pompey the Great and all his triumphs, which equal the brilliance of the exploits not only of Alexander the Great but even almost of Hercules and Father Liber. After the recovery of Sicily, which inaugurated his emergence as a champion of the commonwealth in the party of Sulla, and after the conquest of the whole of Africa and its reduction under our sway and the acquisition as a trophy therefrom of the title of the Great, he rode back in a triumphal chariot though only of equestrian rank, a thing which had never occurred before.

Immediately afterwards he crossed over to the West, and after erecting trophies in the Pyrenees he added to the record of his victorious career the reduction under our sway of 876 towns from the Alps to the frontiers of Farther Spain, and with greater magnanimity refrained from mentioned Sertorius, and after crushing that civil war which threatened to stir up our foreign relations, a second time led into Rome a procession of triumphal chariots as an eques, having twice been commander-in-chief before ever having served in the ranks.

Subsequently he was dispatched to the whole of the seas and then to the far East, and he brought back titles without limit for his country, after the manner of those who conquer in the sacred contests—for these are not crowned with wreaths themselves but crown their native land. Consequently he bestowed these honors on the city in the shrine of Minerva that he was dedicating out of the proceeds of the spoils of war:

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, commander-in-chief, having completed a thirty years' war, routed, scattered, slain, or received the surrender of 12,183,000 people, sunk or taken 846 ships, received the capitulation of 1,538 towns and forts, subdued the lands from the Maeotians to the Red Sea, duly dedicates this offering vowed to Minerva.

This is his summary of his exploits in the East. But the announcement of the triumphal procession that he led on September 28 in the consulship of Marcus Piso and Marcus Messala was as follows:

After having rescued the seacoast from pirates and restored to the Roman people the command of the sea, he celebrated a triumph over Asia, Pontus, Armenia, Paphlagonia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, Syria, the Scythians, Jews and Albanians, Iberia, the Island of Crete, the Bastarnians, and, in addition to these, over King Mithridates and Tigranes.

The crowning pinnacle of this glorious record was (as he himself declared in assembly when discoursing on his achievements) to have found Asia the remotest of the provinces and then to have made her a central dominion of his country. If anybody on the other side desires to review in similar manner the achievements of Caesar, who showed himself greater than Pompey, he must assuredly roll off the entire world, and this it will be agreed is a task without limit.

Pliny Naturalis Historia VII. 26 [LCL]

Rome, October (?), 55 B. C. Cicero to Marcus Marius (at Cumae)
If it was ill health that kept you from the games, I congratulate you on your good fortune. But if it was your dislike for such diversions that detained you, I rejoice doubly: that you are well, and that you are sane enough in mind to scorn the silly admirations of the people. I say this, however, on the supposition that during the days of the games you were putting in your time profitably. You would withdraw, no doubt, to that den of yours, which looks out over the Bay of Naples, and in the seclusion of your charming retreat you would spend the morning hours in cursory reading; whereas we, who left you for the show, were going to sleep over the performance. The rest of the day you would be passing according to your fancy; whereas we had to put up with what could pass the Censors.
In fact, the offerings were most elaborate, but, to judge your taste by mine, not at all to your liking. For, first, to do honor to the occasion those actors returned to the stage from which they had retired to do honor to themselves. Why, the voice of your particular favorite, Aesop, failed him in an especially impressive passage.
Why should I say more? Being familiar with such programs, you know what events came next. These did not have the charm even of ordinary shows, for the elaborateness of the spectacle took away all delight. I am sure you missed the display with perfect equanimity. How could one be pleased with six hundred mules in the Clytamnestra, or three thousand punch bowls in the Trojan Horse, or varied paraphernalia of cavalry and infantry in some battle scene! These spectacles won popular approval, but they would have pleased you not at all. If during the days of the games you had heard your slave Protogenes read anything whatsoever except my orations, you would have had more delight than any one of us.
As to the Greek and the Oscan shows, I am sure you did not miss them; for you can see the Oscans show off any day in your town council, and as for the Greeks, you take to them so little that you will not take the Greek highway to your villa. Why should I suppose that you missed the athletic games when I know that you scorn gladiators? In these performances even Pompey acknowledges that he wasted his money and his pains. The final event consisted of hunting shows, two of them, continuing through five days, magnificent to be sure; but what pleasure can a gentleman take in seeing a puny man torn to pieces by a monstrous beast or a beautiful animal pierced by a spear? The last was the day of the elephant-baiting, which grought the crowd much wonder, but little pleasure. Nay rather the beasts aroused some sense of pity as if there were some community of feeling between them and man (so that the crowd rose up and cursed Pompey).
I have written you a longer letter than usual out of an abundance, not of leisure, but of affection, because in a certain letter, if you but remember, you gave me a half-way invitation to write you something that would console you for having missed the games. If I have attained my object, I rejoice; if not, I comfort myself with the reflection that hereafter you will come to the show and visit me and not stake your hope of enjoyment on a letter from me.

Cicero Ad Familiares 7. 1.
tr. A. P. McKinlay
Letters of a Roman Gentleman (NY 1926).


January 26, 2010 9:02 AM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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