Study Guide for Plutarch's Life of Pompey

Text taken from Thomas North and/or John Dryden
Study Guide by Anne White

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Pompey (106-48 B.C.) Part 1

Part I; Part II is here.


The study of Pompey extends over two terms. If you prefer, you could start the year with Themistocles (since it's shorter), and then read Pompey over the remaining months.

"But Pompey . . . was for many occasions beloved. As, for temperance of life, aptness to arms, eloquence of tongue, faithfulness of word, and courtesy in conversation: so that there was never man that requested anything with less ill will than he, nor that more willingly did pleasure any man when he was requested. For he gave without disdain, and took with great honour."

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (usually called Pompey in English) was a statesman and general in the first century B.C., during the years that Rome was shifting from a Republic to an Empire. It was a period of both economic and military upheaval. Overseas conquests had brought many captives into Italy, and small, family-run farms now competed with larger operations based on slave labour. Less opportunity for small land owners meant that many from the lower social classes joined the army instead, and expected to be paid for it. The loyalty of these soldiers was to their general, perhaps more than to Rome itself. Pompey grew up as the son of a military commander, but, as his father was somewhat unsatisfactory as a model of character, he took Alexander the Great as his lifelong hero.

Rome could also be a dangerous place in those years. In Pompey's early life, power shifted back and forth between Gaius Marius and his former lieutenant Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and their "enemies" were repeatedly punished by proscription: confiscation of property and a death warrant, or exile if they could escape. Early success in battle allowed Pompey to become consul (the first time of three) without meeting the usual age requirement. In his later years, he himself was the center of a similar struggle, as he became first an ally, and then a mortal enemy, of the rising Roman superstar Julius Caesar.

The Government of the Roman Republic

Commonwealth is a general term referring to a country or city/state (like Rome), and its colonies or associated territories or countries. There are also references in this story to the Roman empire. The Roman Empire did not formally exist until Octavian (Caesar Augustus) became Emperor in 27 B.C. However, though it was still the era of the Roman Republic, Rome did have an empire because of the large amount of foreign territory it was acquiring. For clarity, we will call it the small-e empire.

Social Classes

There were two different types of class divisions in ancient Rome. The first was family-based, between the patricians (the nobility) and the plebeians (common people).

The second type were property -- or wealth-based classes such as the senatores, the wealthiest citizens, who owned large amounts of land. The next level down, the equestrian class (in North's translation, the knights of Rome), was a "business class," made up of those who could afford horses and who made up the cavalry, or soldiers on horseback, in times of war. Besides the equestrian class, there were three classes of property owners; and then, lowest of all, the proletarii.

Were the senatores the same as the senators?

Often, but the two were not identical. Over the centuries, both the size of the Senate and the personal requirements for membership (age, wealth) changed. Some plebeians became senators along with the patricians. Those elected to magistracies (see below) were also included in the Senate.

What was an aedile, a quaestor, a consul?

The elected positions, or magistracies, in Rome were (starting at the bottom): quaestor, aedile, praetor, and consul. (The office of tribune was a separate position, explained below.) There were various numbers of each of these: for example, two consuls were elected each year. Ex-consuls could become censors; and a consul could become dictator if the need (usually a great emergency) arose.

Who were the tribunes?

The duty of a non-military tribune (sometimes called a tribune of the plebeians, or plebs; or a "tribune of the people") was to protect the liberties of the common people from any individual or group (such as the nobles) who might take advantage of them or suppress their rights. This position was not part of the junior-senior ranking of magistrates such as quaestor and consul; it was an office voted on by the common people (plebeians), who themselves were bound by oath to protect the tribunes from harm.

Other Notes

What were the bundles of rods, or rods and axes? What did it mean to "carry the axes?"

The fasces was a bundle of rods, usually with an axe head protruding from its side or top. It was carried before magistrates, as a symbol of power and authority in Rome. (It may have occasionally put to practical use as well.) Its use led to the political term fascism.

Is "valiantness" a word?

In this and other Lives, the English word used to describe one who is valiant is valiantness. Today we might prefer the word valour (or valor in American spelling). However, valiantness is still accepted by dictionaries, so I have left it as is.

Pompey's Wives

Antistia, Pompey's first wife, the daughter of Antistius

Aemilia Scaura, his second wife, the stepdaughter of Sulla

Mucia (or Mutia) Tertia, his third wife, the mother of three children: Gnaeus Pompeius (Pompey the Younger), Pompeia Magna, and Sextus Pompeius. They were divorced because of her alleged unfaithfulness.

Julia, his fourth wife, daughter of Julius Caesar

Cornelia Metella, his fifth wife, daughter of Metellus Scipio (#2)

A confusion of names

There are several people in this Life named Brutus, Domitius, Lepidus, Metellus, Piso, and Scipio; not to mention Metellus Scipio. I have tried to keep them straight by numbering them as they appear.

Top Ten Vocabulary Terms in the Life of Pompey

If you recognize these words, you have a head start on Plutarch's vocabulary. These definitions are not repeated in the lessons.

1. abroad: for us this usually means "out of the country"; but it can also mean "out of one's house," or simply "out there."

2. barbarous: foreign, not Roman. It is not meant to be an insult (or perhaps just a slight one).

3. divers: separate OR several

4. familiar: close friend, companion

5. levy: collect, gather together

6. practice, practise: plan, plot, scheme. British/Canadian spelling differentiates between the noun and the verb; Americans use practice for both.

7. spoil: rob, loot (spoils are treasures, loot)

8. stay: can mean to stop or hinder someone; sometimes means to hesitate, wait, or delay either them or yourself rather than stopping altogether. (Watch out for an opposite use in Lesson Three.)

9. suffer: allow

10. To tarry also means to delay, but it can also mean to wait, often to wait for someone.

Bonus Word: victuals: food or other supplies. Pronounced "vittles."

On the Map

Place names are listed under this heading. For consistency, I have used Dryden's spelling for places instead of North's. Charlotte Mason suggested using resources such as Dent's Atlas of Ancient & Classical Geography, which can be found online. A newer resource I have used is the Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome by Nick Constable (Checkmark Books/Thalamus Publishing, 2003).

The Pompey Podcast

For those looking for an extended narration activity, and/or one that can be used in group situations, we suggest creating a short, in-class "podcast," done either a) as if it were Pompey's era, or b) with Plutarch as commentator, looking back on history. This could include interviews, storytellers, or any other appropriate content.

Lesson One


Plutarch himself offers the best introduction to this lesson.

"Like as of a wrestler, who hath been counted very strong, and the chiefest in all games, having ever borne the prize away where he hath wrestled, they never record among them his childish victories and wrestlings, as things of no account: even so I am afraid to speak of the wonderful deeds that Pompey did in his youth, because they are obscured in respect of the infinite great wars and battles which he had won afterwards. For I am afraid that lest I should attempt particularly to acquaint you with his first beginnings, I should too lightly pass over his chiefest acts and most notable enterprises, which do best declare his natural disposition and singular wit."

However, he does open by describing Pompey's "first beginnings."


tragedy by Aeschylus: a Greek play

for many occasions: for many reasons

temperance: moderateness; restraint from extremes

being come to man's estate: as an adult

in the field: on the battlefield

against Cinna: see note in People

captain: Dryden translates it "general"; both refer to Strabo

discomposure: being disturbed

betaking themselves to their arms: grabbing their weapons

mutinous: refusing to obey orders

flatling: on his face

being his heir . . . : according to the law, he could be prosecuted for Strabo's crime

appropriator: thief

liked of the match: approved of the marriage

the parties were secretly assured: those involved agreed to the terms

discernible: obvious, visible


Marius, Sulla, Cinna: In 87 B.C., Marius and Cinna were leading troops to try to re-take the city of Rome from Sulla. The Senate requested the help of Strabo's army to try to stop them. A note on the spelling of Sulla: North and Dryden spell this name "Sylla," although other sources spell it "Sulla." The reason is that Plutarch wrote in Greek, and "Sylla" was his Greek version of the Latin name.

Strabo: Pompey's father

King Alexander: Alexander the Great

Antistius: a praetor who became Pompey's father-in-law

Historic Occasions

157 B.C.: Birth of Marius

138 B.C.: Birth of Sulla

115 B.C.: Birth of Crassus

106 B.C.: Birth of Pompey

100 B.C.: Birth of Julius Caesar

91-89 B.C.: The Social War, which was an internal revolt based on the issue of offering Roman citizenship to allied nations. Coincidentally, the uprising broke out in Picenum, the home region of Pompey.

88-85 B.C.: First Mithridatic War

87-84 B.C.: Cinna was elected consul four years in a row

87 B.C.: Beginning of the campaign against Cinna

87 B.C.: Death of Strabo

86 B.C.: Death of Marius

86 B.C.: Pompey married Antistia

On the Map

A map of Italy and the lands and seas around it, showing the era from approximately 90 to 80 B.C., would be helpful. If you are using Constable's Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome, there is such a map on pages 52-53, and, for comparison, another on pages 64-65.


Part One

The Romans seem to have loved Pompey from his childhood, with the same affection that Prometheus, in the tragedy by Aeschylus, expresses for Hercules, when he says,

So great a hate I bare not to the father,
But that I love the son of him much rather.

For the Romans never showed more bitter hate against any other captain than they did unto Strabo, Pompey's father. Contrarywise, never any other Roman but Pompey had the people's earnest goodwill so soon, nor that in prosperity and adversity continued longer constant than unto Pompey.

In Strabo, there was one great cause of their hatred, and that was his insatiable and greedy desire of money. But Pompey, his son, was for many occasions beloved: his temperance of life, aptness to arms, eloquence of tongue, faithfulness of word, and courtesy in conversation: so that there was never man that requested anything with less offense than he, nor that more willingly did pleasure any man when he was requested. For he gave without disdain; and took with great honour. Furthermore, being but a child, he had a certain grace in his look that won men's goodwill before he spoke: for his countenance was sweet, mixed with gravity; and being come to man's estate, there appeared in his gesture and behaviour a grave and princely majesty. His hair also stood a little upright, and the cast and soft moving of his eyes had a certain resemblance (as they said) of the statues and images of King Alexander. And because every man gave him that name, he did not refuse it himself: insomuch as there were some which sporting-wise did openly call him "Alexander."

[omission for mature content]

Part Two

Now Pompey being a young man, and in the field with his father, that was in arms against Cinna: there was a companion of his, called Lucius Terentius, who being bribed with money, had promised Cinna to kill him (Pompey); and other confederates also had promised to set their captain's tent afire. This conspiracy was revealed unto Pompey as he sat at supper, he showed no discomposure at it, but he drank freely, and was merrier with Terentius than of custom. So, when it was bedtime, he stole out of his own tent, and went unto his father to provide for his safety. Terentius, thinking the hour come to attempt his enterprise, rose with his sword in his hand, and went to Pompey's bed where he was wont to lie, and gave many a thrust into the mattress. After he had done that, all the camp straight was in an uproar ; and the soldiers in all haste would needs have gone and yielded to their enemy, all tearing down their tents and betaking themselves to their arms. Strabo, for fear of this tumult, dared not come out of his tent: notwithstanding Pompey his son ran amongst the mutinous soldiers, and humbly besought them with the tears in his eyes, not to do their captain this villainy, and in fine threw himself flatling to the ground across the gate of the camp, bidding them march over him if they had such a desire to be gone. The soldiers, being ashamed of their folly, returned again to their lodging, and changing their minds, reconciled themselves with their captain, eight hundred only excepted, which departed.

Part Three

Immediately upon the death of Strabo, Pompey being his heir, was accused for the father of robbing the common treasure. Howbeit he confessed, and avowed, that it was Alexander, a freed slave of his father's, that had stolen the most part of it; and he proved before the judges that he (Alexander) had been the appropriator. But he himself was accused of having in his possession some hunting tackle, and books, that were taken at Asculum. He confessed to having them, and said that his father gave him them when the city was taken; howbeit that he had lost them since, when Cinna returned unto Rome with his soldiers; who, breaking into his house by force, spoiled him of all that he had.

His matter had many days of hearing before definitive sentence, in which time Pompey showed himself of good spirit and understanding, more than was looked for in one of his years: insomuch he won such fame and favour by it, that Antistius, being praetor at that time, and judge of his matter, fell into such a liking with him, that secretly he offered him his daughter in marriage. Then that matter being by friends broken to Pompey, he liked of the match, and the parties were secretly assured. However, the secret was not so closely kept as to escape the multitude, but it was discernible enough, from the favour shown him by Antistius in his cause. Insomuch, when the judges gave judgement, and cleared him: all the people together, as if they had been agreed, cried out with one voice, "Talassio, Talassio," it being the usual and common cry they used of old time at marriages in Rome.

[omission for mature content]

Narration and Discussion

What were some of Pompey's early "life lessons?"

Plutarch gives a list of five reasons that Pompey was "beloved." Which of those talents and character qualities would you most like to be known for?

How did Pompey show intelligence and courage a) when he heard that there was a plot on his life, and b) when he was accused because of his father's wrongdoing?

For older students: There is a recurring theme in this lesson about leaders, loyalty, and the respect due to those in authority. Do all leaders deserve respect, or only those who are "virtuous?"

Creative narration #1: See "The Pompey Podcast" in the introductory notes for this study. This may be done regularly, or only when it seems to suit the lesson.

Lesson Two


Marius died in 86 B.C., and his chief ally Lucius Cornelius Cinna was killed two years later. Sulla's enemy Carbo had been co-consul with Cinna, and he now took full control over Rome. (Plutarch describes him as a senseless tyrant.) Sulla gathered a large number of troops (with the help of supporters such as Pompey), and headed back to Rome.


After that: Cinna's death was in 84 B.C., so this was some time after the events of Lesson One

somewhat: something or other

maliced: disliked

did set upon him . . . : took the opportunity to attack him

slew him presently: Plutarch's version of Cinna's death, involving the disappearance of Pompey, differs from others. What is known is that Cinna was killed in a mutiny or fight by his own soldiers.

felt the goodwill: inquired to see if there was support

which came from school . . . : who had barely left his school days

tribunal: place of judgement, or, in this case, more of an army recruitment center

yielded unto him: joined his army

three several places: there were three battles fought

darts: javelins

Word Trivia

centurions: officers commanding a hundred men. But only eighty of those were counted as soldiers: the rest were auxiliary officers.

legion: approximately five thousand soldiers and their officers


Carbo: Gnaeus Papirius Carbo, co-consul with Cinna at the time of his death. He was elected consul again two years later, along with Marius the Younger. Carbo continued to fight against Sulla (and Pompey); but in 81 B.C. he was arrested and sentenced to death.

Marius the Younger: the son of Gaius Marius, who tried to carry on his father's legacy until his own defeat and death in 82 B.C.

Carinna, Caelius, and Brutus (#1): Gaius Carrinas, Gaius Coelius Caldus, and Brutus Damasippus, supporters of Marius

Scipio the consul (#1): Lucius Cornelius Scipio Asiaticus, consul in 83 B.C.; a supporter of Marius. He was exiled after Sulla's victory.

Historic Occasions

84 B.C.: death of Marius' ally Lucius Cornelius Cinna

84 B.C.: Sulla returned to Italy after the First Mithridatic War. He landed first at Brundisium, and there gathered additional troops (including those led by Pompey). He eventually marched on Rome, where he was declared dictator in 81 B.C.

83-81 B.C.: Second Mithridatic War

82 B.C.: Battle(s) of the Aesis River. The historian Appian gives a different account of the battle than Plutarch; but it is enough to know that Carbo surrendered and that Pompey got the credit.

On the Map

Picenum: home region of Pompey

Auximum: Vetus Auximum, a colony and city in Italy

Gaul: a northern territory which included parts of France, Germany, and northern Italy

River Aesis: the northern boundary of Picenum. (Note: Plutarch's text says the River Arsis (or Arsia), which causes confusion.)


Part One

After that, going unto Cinna's camp, they wrongfully accused him (Pompey) for somewhat; whereupon he, being afraid, secretly stole away. Now when they could not find him in Cinna's camp, there ran straight a rumour abroad that Cinna had put him to death. Thereupon, they that of long time had maliced Cinna did set upon him for this occasion. But he (Cinna), thinking to save himself by fleeing, was straight overtaken by a private captain that followed him with his sword drawn in his hand. Cinna seeing him, fell down on his knees before him, and took his seal from his finger wherewith he sealed his letters, which was of great price, and offered it to him. "Tush," said the captain, "I come not to seal any covenant, but to chastise a villainous and cruel tyrant." And therewithal he thrust his sword through him, and slew him presently.

Thus Cinna being slain, Carbo, a tyrant yet more senseless than he, took the command and exercised it; while Sulla, meantime, was approaching, much to the joy and satisfaction of most people, who in their present evils were ready to find some comfort if it were but in the exchange of a master. For the city was brought to that pass by oppression and calamities that, being utterly in despair of liberty, men were only anxious for the mildest and most tolerable bondage.

At that time Pompey was in Picenum in Italy, where he spent some time amusing himself, as he had estates in the country there, though the chief motive of his stay was the liking he felt for the towns of that district, which all regarded him with hereditary feelings of kindness and attachment. He saw that the noblest men of Rome forsook their houses and goods to flee from all parts unto Sulla's camp, as unto a place of safety; but he would not go to him as a fugitive and cast away to save himself, without bringing him (Sulla) some power to increase his army. So he felt the goodwill of the Picentines, who willingly took his part, and rejected the messengers sent from Carbo. Among them there was one Vindius, that stepping forth, said: that Pompey which came from school the last day, must now in haste be a captain. But they were so offended with his speech, that they fell forthwith upon this Vindius and killed him.

Part Two

After that time, Pompey being but three and twenty years old, tarrying to receive no authority from any man, took it upon him himself; and, causing a tribunal to be set up in the midst of the marketplace of Auximum, a great populous city he expelled two of their principal men, brothers of the name of Ventidius, who were acting against him in Carbo's interest; commanding them by a public edict to depart the city; he so began to levy men, and to appoint captains, sergeants of bands, centurions, and such other officers, according to the form of military discipline. Then he went to all the other cities of the same district and did the like. They that took part with Carbo fled, every man; and all the rest willingly yielded unto him; whereby in short space he had gotten three whole legions together, and provisions, carts, and all manner of beasts for carriage. In this sort he took his journey towards Sulla: not in haste, or desirous of escaping observation, but by small journeys, staying still where he might hurt his enemy, causing the cities everywhere as he came to revolt from Carbo.

Three commanders of the enemy encountered him at once, Carinna, Cloelius, and Brutus (#1); and drew up their forces, not all in the front, not yet together on any one part, but in three several places they compassed him with their armies, thinking to have made him sure at the first onset. This nothing amazed Pompey, but putting his force together in one place, he first marched against Brutus, having placed his horsemen (among the which he was himself in person) before the battle of his footmen. Now the men-at-arms of the enemy, which were Gauls, coming to give charge upon him, he ran one of the chiefest among them through with his lance, and slew him. The other Gauls, seeing him slain, turned their backs and broke their ranks: so that at length they all fled for life. Thereupon the captains fell out among themselves, and some fled one way, some another way, the best they could. Then the towns round about, thinking that they were dispersed for fear, all came to Pompey, and yielded themselves.

Afterwards Scipio (#1) the consul, coming against Pompey to fight with him, when both armies were in manner ready to join: before they came to throwing of their darts, Scipio's soldiers saluted Pompey's men, and went on their side. So Scipio himself was driven to flee. And finally, Carbo himself having sent after him divers troops of horsemen by the River Aesis: Pompey made towards them, and did so fiercely assail them that he drove them into such places as was almost impossible for horsemen to come into. Whereupon they, seeing no way to escape, yielded themselves, horse and armour, all to his mercy.

Narration and Discussion

How did Pompey plan to impress Sulla?

Why were the Romans willing to accept forced rule by Sulla? Do you think they might regret this decision later on?

Lesson Three


Pompey was a rising star, saluted even by Sulla; but according to Plutarch, he still did not "glory in himself." However, he was less bashful about the power he held by the sword of Rome.


miscarry: fail

environed: surrounded

lighted afoot: got off his horse and walked, as a sign of respect

resaluted: paid him the same respect

faction: political party

entertainment: treatment

put away: divorce

relics: remnants

adverse party: opposition, enemy

For when they protested: The Mamertines had been exempted from direct Roman rule; but the new rulers did not honour the old treaty.

prattle: chatter, talk meaninglessly

Word Trivia

Emperor, or Sovereign Prince: North adds this translation of Imperator, but Dryden does not. Imperator comes from the word imperare, to command. Sulla seems to have been greeting Pompey as "Commander" or "Captain" rather than giving him royal status.

stay: A stay usually means a hindrance, but it can also mean something or someone stable, to be depended on; this seems to be what is meant here. (Those familiar with the hymn "My Hope is Built" will recognize the phrase "He then is all my hope and stay.")


Metellus (#1): Metellus Pius, or Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius Scipio Nasica (c. 130 BC-63 BC), Roman general. He was the adoptive father (and uncle by marriage) of Metellus Scipio (#2).

Perpenna: Roman general and supporter of Marius; executed in 72 B.C.

Domitius (#1): Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, a Roman politician and supporter of Marius; Cinna's son-in-law; died in 81 B.C.

Historic Occasions

82 B.C.: Pompey married Aemilia Scaura (second wife)

82-81 B.C.: Pompey overcame Marian rebels in Sicily

On the Map

Sicily: the large island at the toe of Italy's "boot"

Messina: a city in the northeastern corner of Sicily


Part One

Sulla, all this while, heard no news of these overthrows; but as soon as he understood of it, fearing least Pompey should miscarry, being environed with so many captains of his enemies, he made haste to march towards him, to aid him. Pompey, understanding of his approach, commanded his captains to arm their men and to put them in battle array, that their general might see them bravely appointed when he should present them unto him: for he looked that Sulla would do him great honour; and indeed he did him more honour than Pompey looked for. For when Sulla saw him afar off, coming towards him, and his army marshalled in so good order of battle, and such goodly men that so bravely advanced themselves, being courageous for the victory they had obtained of their enemies: he lighted afoot. When Pompey also came to do his duty to him, and called him Imperator (as much as "=Emperor, or Sovereign Prince"), Sulla resaluted him with the same name, beyond all men's expectation present, little thinking that he would have given so honourable a name unto so young a man as Pompey, who had not yet been senator; and considering that he himself did contend for that title and dignity with the faction of Marius and Scipio (#1). Furthermore, the entertainment that Sulla gave him every way was answerable to his first kindness offered him. For when Pompey came before him, he (Sulla) would rise and put off his cap to him, which he did not unto many other noblemen about him. All this notwithstanding, Pompey gloried nothing the more in himself.

[omission for length]

Part Two

Now when Sulla had overcome all Italy, and was proclaimed dictator, he did reward all his lieutenants and captains that had taken his part, and did advance them to honourable place and dignity in the commonwealth, frankly granting them all that they requested of him. But for Pompey: Sulla reverencing him for his valiantness, and thinking that he (Pompey) would be a great stay to him in all his wars: he sought by some means to ally himself to him. Metella, his wife, being of his opinion, they both persuaded Pompey to put away his first wife Antistia, and to marry Aemilia, the daughter of Metella and of her first husband. (But Aemilia also was another man's wife, and with child by her husband.)

[omission for content]

This marriage fell out into a miserable tragedy, by means of the death of Aemilia, who shortly after miserably died in childbirth.

Part Three

Then came news to Sulla that Perpenna was fortifying himself in Sicily, that the island was now become a refuge and receptacle for the relics of the adverse party; that Carbo also kept the sea thereabouts with a certain number of ships: that Domitius (#1) also was gone into Africa: and divers other noblemen that were banished, that had escaped his proscriptions, were also in those parts. Against them was Pompey sent with a great army. Howbeit he no sooner arrived in Sicily, but Perpenna left him the whole island, and went his way. Pompey favourably dealt with all the cities which had survived great trouble and misery; and set them again at liberty, the Mamertines only excepted, which dwelt in the city of Messina. For when they protested against his court and jurisdiction, alleging their privilege and exemption founded upon an ancient charter or grant of the Romans, he replied sharply, "What do ye prattle to us of your law, that have our swords by our sides?"

[omission for length]

Narration and Discussion

When Pompey went to re-take Sicily for Sulla, he is said to have dealt with the people there graciously and "favourably," except for those who objected! How was his response typical of Roman rule?

In Lesson One, Plutarch listed reasons that Pompey was "beloved" or admired: "his temperance of life, aptness to arms, eloquence of tongue, faithfulness of word, and courtesy in conversation." Have you seen examples of this in the story so far?

Lesson Four


Pompey had shown his bravery in battle, and his toughness with Sicilian holdouts; so he was now ordered to quench a rebellion in Africa, led by Cinna's son-in-law Domitius.


galleys: ships powered mainly by oars

engines of battery: war machines

craggy: rocky, rough

torrent: rushing water

discern one another: tell each other apart


Domitius (#1): see Lesson Three

Memmius: Gaius Memmius, one of Pompey's commanders, and also his brother-in-law. He was killed in battle in 75 B.C. (A cousin of Gaius Memmius the poet and tribune who later opposed the triumph of Lucullus; see Plutarch's Lucullus and Cato the Younger.)

Historic Occasions

82-81 B.C.: Pompey's campaign in Africa

On the Map

Utica, Carthage: cities in northern Africa. Utica was the capital city of the Roman province called Africa.


Part One

Pompey, being busy about these matters in Sicily, received orders to go immediately into Africa and to make war upon Domitius (#1). Domitius had already levied more men of war than Marius had, not long before, when he came out of Africa into Italy; and when he caused a revolution in Rome, and himself from a fugitive outlaw became a tyrant. Pompey thereupon having speedily put himself in readiness to take the seas, left Memmius, his sister's husband, as governor of Sicily; and so he himself embarked, and hoisted sail with six score galleys, and eight hundred other vessels to transport their victuals, munition, money, engines of battery, and all other carriage whatsoever.

Part Two

After he was landed with all his fleet, part at Utica and part at Carthage, there straight came to him seven thousand soldiers from the enemy, and yielded themselves, besides seven whole legions that he brought with him. They say moreover, that at his arrival he had a pleasant chance happened unto him to be laughed at: for it is reported that certain of his soldiers stumbled on a treasure by chance and got thereby a great mass of money. The residue of the army hearing that, thought sure that the field where this treasure was found, was full of gold and silver, which the Carthaginians had hidden there long before in time of their calamity. Pompey hereupon, for many days after, could have no rule of his soldiers; neither could he choose but laugh, to see so many thousand men digging the ground, and turning up the field: until in the end they wearied themselves, and came and prayed him then to lead them where he thought good, for they had paid well for their folly.

By this time Domitius had prepared himself and drawn out his army in array against Pompey; but there was a watercourse betwixt them, craggy, and difficult to pass over; and this, together with a great storm of wind and rain pouring down even from break of day, seemed to leave but little possibility of their coming together; so that Domitius, not expecting any engagement that day, commanded his forces to draw off and retire to the camp. Now Pompey, who was watchful upon every occasion, making use of the opportunity, ordered a march forthwith; and having passed over the torrent, fell in immediately upon their quarters. The enemy was in great disorder and tumult, and in that confusion attempted a resistance; but they neither were all there, nor supported one another; besides, the wind having veered about beat the rain full in their faces. Neither indeed was the storm less troublesome to the Romans, for that they could not clearly discern one another, insomuch that even Pompey himself, being unknown, escaped narrowly; for when one of his soldiers demanded of him the word of battle, it happened that he was somewhat slow in his answer, which might have cost him his life.

In fine, when he had overthrown his enemies with great slaughter (for they say, that of twenty thousand of them, there were but three thousand saved), Pompey's soldiers saluted him by the name of Imperator. But he answered them that he would not accept the honour of that name so long as he saw his enemies' camp yet standing; and therefore, if they thought him worthy of that name, that first they should overthrow the trench and fort of the enemies, wherein they had entrenched their camp. The soldiers when they heard him say so, went presently to assault it. There Pompey fought bareheaded, to avoid the like danger he was in before. By this means they took the camp by force, and in it slew Domitius.

After that overthrow, the cities in that country came and yielded themselves, some willingly, and others taken by force. But Pompey, being desirous further to employ his power, and the good fortune of his army, went many days' journey into the mainland; and still conquered all where he came, making the power of the Romans dreadful unto all the barbarous people of that country, the which made but small account of them at that time. He said moreover, that the wild beasts of Africa also should feel the force and good success of the Romans: and thereupon he bestowed a few days in hunting of lions and elephants. For it is reported, that in forty days' space at the uttermost, he had overcome his enemies, subdued Africa, and had established the affairs of the kings and kingdoms of all that country, being then but four-and-twenty years old.

Narration and Discussion

List some of the ways Pompey showed courage and skill in leadership.

Creative narration: Tell the story of the men who "stumbled on a treasure," and its aftermath.

Lesson Five


When Pompey was ordered to disband his army and return to Rome, his soldiers tried to force him to start his own revolution. Pompey was unswerving in his loyalty to Sulla; and as a reward he was given a particularly honourable nickname. He also believed he had earned a triumph, although he had to do some negotiating to make it happen.


discharge: dismiss

mutinies: rebellions

appease: do something to restore goodwill

required the honour of triumph: requested an official victory parade

through his young years . . . : Senators at that time had to be at least 32 years old.

blanked: daunted, bothered

Roman knights: see introductory notes

brought Lepidus to be consul: see note below

Word Trivia

importunate: persistent and annoying. Something "opportune" is convenient and useful (like a harbour or portus); "importunate" is the opposite. To "importune" someone usually means to harass them.


Scipio (#3): Scipio Africanus, also called Scipio the Great, who fought against Hannibal in 202 B.C.

Lepidus (#1): Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, father of Lepidus (#2) (Lesson 24), and Paullus (Lesson 19); elected consul with the support of Pompey. Sulla warned that Lepidus would cause trouble.

Historic Occasions

81 B.C.: Sulla declared dictator in Rome

81 B.C.: Pompey's first triumph, at the age of 25

80 B.C.: Pompey married Mucia (third wife)

79 B.C.: Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (#1) and Quintus Lutatius Catulus elected consuls for 78 B.C.

79 B.C.: Pompey fought against Lepidus

78 B.C.: death of Sulla at the age of 60

On the Map

Spain: Spain, at this time, was a Roman province called Hispania. It was divided into two provinces, "Nearer Spain" and "Farther Spain."


Part One

So when he returned unto the city of Utica, letters were brought from Sulla, willing him to discharge all his army, and to remain there with one legion only, tarrying the coming of another captain that should be sent to succeed him in the government of that country. This commandment grieved him not a little, though he made no show of it at all: but his soldiers showed plainly that they were offended. For when Pompey prayed them to depart, they began to give out broad speeches against Sulla, and told directly that they were not determined (whatsoever became of them) to forsake him, and they refused that he should trust unto a tyrant. Pompey, seeing that he could not persuade them by any reason to be quiet, rose out of his chair, and retired into his tent, weeping.

But the soldiers followed him, and brought him again to his chair of state, where he spent a great part of the day, they entreating him to remain there and command them; and he, desiring them to obey Sulla, and leave their mutinies. But in fine, seeing them importunate to press him to it, he swore he would kill himself rather than they should compel him, and scarcely even thus appeased them.

Hereupon it was reported unto Sulla, that Pompey was rebelled against him. Sulla, when he heard that, said to his friends: "Well, then I see it is my destiny, in mine old days to fight with children." He meant so, because of Marius the Younger, who had done him much mischief, and had besides put him in great danger.

Part Two

[Plutarch jumps quickly to Pompey's arrival at the gates of Rome.]

But afterwards understanding the truth, and hearing that all generally in Rome were determined to go and meet Pompey, and to receive him with all the honour they could: because he would go beyond them all in showing goodwill, he went out of his house to meet him, and embracing him with great affection, welcomed him home, and called him Magnus, that is to say, "Great"; and commanded all them that were present to give him that name also. This notwithstanding, some say, that it was in Africa this name was first given him by a common cry of all his whole army, and that afterwards it was confirmed by Sulla.

Indeed it is true that Pompey himself, being sent proconsul into Spain a long time after that, was the last that signed all his letters and commissions with the name of Pompey the Great: for this name then was so commonly known and accepted, as no man did envy it.

[omission for length]

After that, Pompey required the honour of triumph, but Sulla denied it, alleging that none could enter in triumph into Rome but consuls or praetors. For since Scipio (#3), the first who in Spain had overcome the Carthaginians, never desired this honour of triumph, being neither consul nor praetor: much less should he (Pompey) stand upon demand of triumph into Rome, when that through his young years he was not yet a senator: and besides, it would purchase him envy of his honour and greatness. These reasons did Sulla allege against Pompey, and told him plainly that if he were bent to stand in it, he would resist him.

All this blanked not Pompey, who told him frankly again how men did honour the rising, not the setting of the sun: meaning thereby, how his own honour increased, and Sulla's diminished. Sulla heard him not very perfectly what he said, but perceiving by their countenances that stood by, that they wondered at it, he asked what it was he said. When it was told him, he marvelled at the boldness of so young a man, and then cried out twice together, "Let him triumph."

Many being offended therewith: Pompey (as it is reported) to anger them more, designed to have his triumphant chariot drawn with four elephants: for he had taken many of them from those kings and princes which he had subdued. Howbeit the gate of the city being too narrow, he was driven to leave the elephants, and was contented to be drawn in with horses.

[omission for length: further controversy over Pompey's triumph]

Pompey won much favour and goodwill amongst the common people: for they were glad when after his triumph they saw him in company amongst the Roman knights. On the other side it spited Sulla to see him come so fast forward, and to rise to so great credit: notwithstanding, being ashamed to hinder him, he was contented to keep it to himself; until that Pompey, by force and against Sulla's will, had brought Lepidus (#1) to be consul, by the help and good will of the people that furthered his desire.

[omission for length: the death of Sulla. Although the Lepidus incident had cooled Sulla's friendship for Pompey, to the point of leaving him entirely out of his will, it was Pompey that arranged an honourable burial for him.]

Narration and Discussion

Why was it so important to Sulla to outdo everyone else in praising Pompey? Why did he select that particular nickname?

Sulla once counted Pompey among his most loyal supporters. What changed their relationship?

Lesson Six


After having had such a powerful ruler as Sulla, the Roman citizens seemed unsure how to move forward after his death. Wealthy families and the "mob" (those of the lower classes who could be bribed or simply excited into committing violence) fought with and against each other, and largely ignored a series of weak elected leaders.

Pompey saw an opportunity, in such troubled times, to live up to his nickname "The Great." Unfortunately, he wasn't the only one with such plans. The Marian party had not entirely disappeared, and the new consul Lepidus (#1) intended to support those who were left.


exigency: urgent need

advertising: announcing

new devices: new plans, new tricks

propound: propose

meet: proper

proconsul: proconsul was the word for governor, but it could also be a pun with "for consul"

Fortune: Fortune was the Roman goddess of luck.

shut him in: besiege him

that he might have one alone . . . : because he wanted to beat Sertorius by himself

caparison: an ornamental covering for a horse

booty: loot

watchword: password

Word Trivia

by colour of: a phrase often meaning "using the excuse of" or "under cover of"; here it seems to mean "by means of"


Catulus: Quintus Lutatius Catulus, consul for 78 B.C. with Lepidus (#1)

Brutus (#2): Marcus Junius Brutus the Elder, put to death in 77 B.C.

"that Brutus" (#3): Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger

Sertorius: Quintus Sertorius, instigator of the Sertorian War

Metellus Pius (#1): see previous lesson

Historic Occasions

78 B.C.: Lepidus (#1) led an uprising of the Marians and attempted to take over Rome

76-71 B.C.: War in Spain against Sertorius

75 B.C.: Battle of Sucro

On the Map

Gallia Cisalpina: or Cisalpine Gaul; the closest part of Gaul to Italy

Mutina: the area around the present-day city of Modena

Sardinia: an island in the Mediterranean

Look up the Roman province of Spain (Hispania). Can you find the cities of Lauron and Valentia?

Sucro: the present-day Spanish municipality of Albalat de la Rivera


Part One

Shortly after Sulla's death, his words of prophecy unto Pompey concerning Lepidus (#1) proved true. For Lepidus openly entered straight in arms, stirring up again those of Marius' faction whom Sulla could not be revenged of; and which lay lurking a long time, spying for occasion to rise again. True it is that his colleague and fellow consul Catulus (whom the best and soundest part of the people followed) was thought a marvellous honest man, both just and modest: howbeit, a better governor in peace than a good man of war, insomuch as this exigency required Pompey's skill and experience. So Pompey stood not doubtful which way he would dispose himself, but took part straight with the nobility and the most honest men; and was presently chosen captain of their army against Lepidus.

Lepidus had already won the greatest part of Italy, and with an army under the command of Brutus (#2), kept Gaul on this side of the mountains, called Gallia Cisalpina. And for the rest, Pompey easily overcame it: howbeit he lay a long time before Mutina, besieging of Brutus.

In the meantime Lepidus marched in all haste against Rome; and, being hard at the walls, demanding the second consulship, made them afraid in the city with the great numbers of men he had about him, gathered together of all sorts. Howbeit this fear was cooled straight by a letter which Pompey wrote to Rome, advertising how he had ended this war without any bloodshed. For Brutus, either betraying his army, or being betrayed of it, yielded himself unto Pompey, who gave him a certain number of horsemen that conducted him to a little town upon the Po River: where the next day after, Geminius, being sent by Pompey, slew him. But hereof Pompey was greatly blamed, for that he had written letters to the Senate from the beginning of the change, how Brutus had put himself into his hands: and afterwards wrote letters to the contrary, which burdened him for putting of him to death. (This Brutus was father of "that Brutus" (#3) which afterwards with the help of Cassius slew Julius Caesar: howbeit the son shewed not himself so like a coward, neither in wars nor in his death, as his father did; as we have declared more at large in his Life.)

Furthermore, Lepidus, being driven to forsake Italy, fled into Sardinia, where he died.

Part Two

There remained at that time Sertorius in Spain, who was another manner of warrior than Lepidus, and one that kept the Romans in great awe: for that all the fugitives of the recent civil wars were fled to him, as if from the last disease of the wars. He had already overthrown many inferior captains, and was now wrestling with Metellus Pius (#1), who in his youth had been a noble soldier, but now being old, made wars but slowly; and who would not courageously take present occasions offered him, which Sertorius by his nimbleness and dexterity took out of his hands. For he (Sertorius) would ever hover about him (Metellus), when he thought least of him, like a captain rather of thieves than of soldiers; and (Sertorius) would lay ambushes in every corner, and round about him: whereas the good old man Metellus had learned to fight in battle array, his men being heavy armed.

Hereupon Pompey, keeping his army always together, practised at Rome that he might be sent into Spain to aid Metellus. Although Catulus had commanded him to disperse his army, Pompey still kept them together by colour of new devices, and was continually about Rome in arms, until that by Lucius Philippus' means he had obtained the government of that province. They say that one of the senators, marvelling to hear Philip Lucius Philippus propound that matter to the Senate, asked him: ‘How now Philip, dost thou then think it meet to send Pompey as proconsul (to say, "for a consul") into Spain?" "No, truly" said Philip, "not proconsul only, but pro consulibus" (to say, "for both the consuls" or "as good as two consuls"): meaning that both the consuls for that year were men of no value.

Part Three

Now when Pompey was arrived in Spain, men began straight to be carried away (as the manner is commonly where new governors be) with the hope of a thing that they had not before. Thereupon Sertorius gave out proud, bitter words against Pompey, saying in mockery, he would have no other weapon but rods to whip this young boy, if he were not afraid of this old woman (meaning Metellus, the old man).

[omission for length]

In this war Fortune changed diversely, as it is commonly seen in wars: but nothing grieved Pompey more than Sertorius' winning of the city of Lauron. For he, thinking to have shut him (Sertorius) in, and having given out some glorious words of the matter: he wondered, when he (Pompey) saw himself straight compassed in so that he could not stir out of the camp where he lay; and was driven besides to see the city burnt before his face. But afterwards, at a set battle by the city of Valentia, he slew Herennius and Perpenna, both notable soldiers and Sertorius' lieutenants, and with them ten thousand men.

Part Four

This victory so encouraged Pompey, that he made haste to fight with Sertorius alone, because Metellus should have no part of the honour of the victory. So they both met by the river of Sucro, about sunset, both being in fear lest Metellus should come: Pompey, that he might have one alone to engage with.

The issue of the battle proved doubtful, for a wing of each side had the better; but of the generals, Sertorius had the greater honour, for that he maintained his post, having put to flight the entire division that was opposed to him; whereas Pompey was himself almost made a prisoner; for being set upon by a strong man-at-arms that fought on foot (he being on horseback), as they were closely engaged hand to hand the strokes of their swords chanced to light upon their hands, but with a different success; for Pompey's was a slight wound only, whereas he cut off the other's hand. However, it so happened that, many now falling upon Pompey together, and his own forces there being put to the rout, he made his escape beyond expectation, by quitting his horse and turning him out among the enemy. For the horse being richly adorned with golden trappings, and having a caparison of great value, the soldiers quarrelled among themselves for the booty, so that while they were fighting with one another, and dividing the spoil, Pompey made his escape.

The next morning by break of day, both of them again brought their bands into the field, to confirm the victory, which either of them supposed they had gotten. But Metellus came to Pompey at that present time; whereupon Sertorius went his way, and dispersed his army. When Metellus came near, Pompey commanded his sergeants and officers to put down their bundle of rods and axes which they carried before him, to honour Metellus withal, who was a better man than himself. But Metellus would not suffer them, but showed himself equal with him in that, and in all things else, not respecting his seniority, nor that he had been consul, and Pompey not (saving when they camped together, Metellus gave the watchword to all the camp).

[omission for length]

Narration and Discussion

How did Pompey attempt to show honour to Metellus after the Battle of Sucro?

How did his understanding of human nature help him escape from a tight spot? (Look up Luke 12:15.) What previous event might have inspired this "Trojan horse" strategy? (Hint: see Lesson Four.)

Lesson Seven


Through slave rebellions and military triumphs, we see Pompey's increasing maturity and power.


procure: obtain or arrange something

cohort: about 500 soldiers

disperse themselves abroad: spread themselves out

sedition and stir: uprisings

even in sport: even as a joke

tribuneship . . . office of the tribune: See introductory notes

Knights of Rome: see introductory notes to this study

Pompey's goodwill: Pompey's backing in the election (Pompey planned to run for one consul seat, and he wanted the other one)

pulpit for orations: place to make speeches

give place (to someone): to take second place behind someone. In this case it seems to mean "be the one to give up first."

Word Trivia

the war of the bondmen and fencers . . . : an uprising of slaves led by Spartacus. Bondmen were slaves; enfranchised bondmen were something like serfs, those who were free-but-not-free. Fencers were gladiators, forced to fight for public entertainment.


Lucullus: Lucius Lucinius Lucullus, a Roman general who had been a confederate of Sulla; the subject of Plutarch's Life of Lucullus. Lucullus was known for his love of lavish banquets, so that the word lucullan is used to mean luxurious or gourmet. There is a story that Pompey, unable at one point to stomach common kinds of meat, was advised by a physician to eat a thrush (a small songbird). Thrushes were out of season, but it turned out that Lucullus bred them year-round for his table. Pompey mocked such luxury and said he would get by with common food.

King Mithridates: Mithridates VI of Pontus. See also Lesson 10.

Perpenna: see Lesson Four

Crassus: Marcius Licinius Crassus, the subject of Plutarch's Life of Crassus. Pompey and Crassus were co-consuls for the year 70 B.C.

Historic Occasions

75-63 B.C.: Third (and final) Mithridatic War. The Roman army was led by Lucius Licinius Lucullus (see above note), and then by Pompey during the final four years (see Lesson Ten).

74 B.C.: Lucullus was consul along with Marcus Aurelius Cotta, the uncle of Julius Caesar.

73-71 B.C.: Rebellion of slaves, called the Third Servile War

71 B.C.: Pompey's second triumph, at the age of 35

70 B.C.: Pompey's first consulship (with Crassus)


Part One

Pompey, having spent the most part of his goods in this war, sent to Rome for money to pay his soldiers, threatening the Senate that if they sent him no money, he would return with his army into Italy. Lucullus then being consul, though Pompey's enemy, procured they should send him money: for he (Lucullus) practised to be sent captain against King Mithridates; and therefore he was afraid to give Pompey any occasion to return (who desired nothing more than to leave Sertorius, to bend his force against Mithridates, whose overthrow should be more honourable to him, and also less dangerous).

In the mean space, Sertorius died, being betrayed by those whom he thought his friends, among the which Perpenna was the chief man. Pompey therefore marching directly towards him; and finding how ignorant Perpenna was in his affairs: he laid a bait for him of ten cohorts, with orders to range up and down and disperse themselves abroad. The bait took accordingly, and no sooner had Perpenna turned upon the prey and had them in chase, but Pompey appeared suddenly with all his army, and joining battle, gave him a total overthrow. Most of his officers were slain in the field, and he himself, being brought prisoner to Pompey, was by his order put to death.

But herein Pompey was not to be condemned of ingratitude nor oblivion (as some do burden him) of Perpenna's friendship which was shown to him in Sicily; but rather he deserved praise to have determined so wisely for the benefit of the commonwealth. For Perpenna had in his custody all Sertorius' writings (letters from the greatest noblemen of Rome, which were desirous of change of government), willing him to return into Italy. Pompey, upon sight of these letters, fearing least they would breed greater sedition and stir in Rome than that which was already pacified, put Perpenna to death as soon as he could; and burnt all his papers and writings, not reading any letter of them.

Pompey remained in Spain a certain time, till he had pacified all commotions and tumults.

Part Two

He then brought his army back again into Italy; and arrived there when the war of the bondmen and fencers, led by Spartacus, was in greatest fury. Upon his coming therefore, Crassus being sent captain against these bondmen, made haste to give them battle, which he won, and slew 12,300 of these fugitive slaves. Notwithstanding, Fortune seemed determined to give Pompey some part of this honour: five thousand of these bondmen, escaping from the battle, fell into his hands. Whereupon he, having overcome them, wrote unto the Senate that Crassus had overcome the fencers in battle, but that he himself had plucked up this war by the roots. The Romans receiving Pompey's letters, were very glad of this news for the love they bare him. But as for the winning of Spain again, and the overthrow of Sertorius, there was no man, even in sport, that ever gave any man else the honour, but unto Pompey only.

Part Three

For all this great honour and love they bare unto Pompey, yet they did suspect him, and were afraid of him, because he did not disperse his army, that he would follow Sulla's steps, to rule alone by plain force.

Hereupon, there were as many went to meet him for fear, as there were that went for goodwill they bare him. But after he had put this suspicion quite out of their heads, telling them that he would discharge his army after he had triumphed: then his ill-willers could blame him for nothing else but that he was more inclined to the people than to the nobility; and that he had a desire to restore the tribuneship of the people, which Sulla had put down, only to gratify the common people in all he could: the which indeed was true. For the common people at Rome never longed for anything more, than they did to see the office of the tribune set up again. Yea, Pompey himself thought it the happiest turn that ever came to him, to light in such a time, to do such an act. For, had any other man prevented him of that, he could never have found the like occasion possibly to have requited the people's goodwill unto him, so much as in that.

Now therefore, his second triumph and first consulship being decreed by the Senate: that made him nothing the greater, or better man. And yet was it a shew and signification of his greatness, the which Crassus (the richest man, the most eloquent and greatest person of all them that at that time dealt in matters of state, and made more estimation of himself than of Pompey and all the rest) never durst once demand, before he had craved Pompey's goodwill. Pompey was very glad of his request, and had sought occasion of long time to please him: and thereupon made earnest suit unto the people for him, assuring them he would as much thank them for making Crassus his colleague and fellow consul, as he would for making himself consul.

All this notwithstanding, when they were created consuls, they were in all things contrary one to another, and never agreed in any one thing while they were consuls together. Crassus had more authority with the Senate, but Pompey had more credit with the people. For he restored to them the office of the tribune; and passed by edict that the knights of Rome should have full power again to judge causes both civil and criminal.

[omission for length]

At the end of their consulship, when misliking increased further betwixt Pompey and Crassus, there was one Gaius Aurelius, of the order of knighthood, who till that time never spoke in open assembly; but he then got up into the pulpit for orations, and told the people openly how Jupiter had appeared to him in the night, and had commanded him to tell both the consuls, from him, that they should not leave their charge and office before they were reconciled together.

For all these words Pompey stirred not. But Crassus first took him by the hand, and spoke openly to him before the people: "My lords, I think not myself dishonoured to give place to Pompey, since you yourselves have thought him worthy to be called ‘The Great,' before he had any hair on his face; and unto whom you granted the honour of two triumphs before he came to be senator."

When he had said his mind, they were made friends together, and so surrendered up their office.

Narration and Discussion

In Lesson One, Plutarch listed reasons that Pompey was "beloved" or admired: "his temperance of life, aptness to arms, eloquence of tongue, faithfulness of word, and courtesy in conversation." Does one or another of these stand out at this point in his life?

How much credit should Pompey have taken for ending the slave rebellion?

Creative narration: Act out or retell the scene where Crassus and Pompey received "divine orders" to put aside their differences.

Lesson Eight


After so much excitement and attention, Pompey found life "in the robe of peace" somewhat boring. However, he was about to be offered a new challenge.


gave over to plead men's causes: stopped taking on legal cases

mean persons: common people

advocate: lawyer

obscure and depress him: decrease his power, put him down

arsenals: storehouses for weapons

sundry: various

havens and beacons: harbours and signal lights

iniquity: sin, crimes

insolent parts: rude acts

houses of pleasure: vacation homes of the wealthy

their bellies full: till they were satisfied

seignory: command

edict: proclamation, decree

venture: risk

lost his labour: lost his case

Word Trivia

furlong: 1/8 of a mile; 220 yards; about 201 meters. The word comes from a "furrow long," and it was originally used to measure the distance a team of oxen could plow without resting.


Gabinius: Aulus Gabinius, a tribune

Caesar: Julius Caesar, Roman politician and general

Historic Occasions

102 B.C.: Romans first began fighting back against Mediterranean pirates (often called Cilician Pirates)

78-74 B.C.: Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus led an intensive campaign against the pirates

75 B.C.: Julius Caesar kidnapped by pirates (see the Life of Julius Caesar)

67 B.C.: Gabinius proposed that Pompey be sent against the pirates

On the Map

Cilicia: a Roman province in what is now the southern part of Turkey

Hercules' Pillars: the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar


Part One

Now for Crassus, he held on his former manner of life which he had begun; but Pompey, as near as he could, gave over to plead men's causes anymore; and began little and little to withdraw himself from frequenting the Forum, and matters of judgement; coming seldom abroad, and when he did, he had always a great train following him. It was a rare thing also to see him anymore come out of his house, or talk with any man, without being accompanied with a great number; and he rejoiced to himself, to see that he had always such a train with him: for that made him to be honoured the more, and gave him greater countenance to see himself thus courted, thinking it a dishonour to him to be familiar with mean persons.

And life in the robe of peace is only too apt to lower the reputation of men that have grown great by arms, who naturally find difficulty in adapting themselves to the habits of civil equality. They expect to be treated as the first in the city, even as they were in the camp; and on the other hand, men who in war were nobody think it intolerable if in the city at any rate they are not to take the lead. And so when a warrior renowned for victories and triumphs shall turn advocate and appear among them in the Forum, they endeavor their utmost to obscure and depress him; whereas, if he gives up any pretensions here and retires, they will maintain his military honour and authority beyond the reach of envy. Events themselves not long after showed the truth of this.

Part Two

By such an occasion, the power of pirates on the sea began in the country of Cilicia; which was not reckoned of at the first, because it was not perceived, until they grew bold and venturous in King Mithridates' wars, being hired to do him service. And afterwards, the Romans being troubled with civil wars, one fighting with another even at Rome's gates, the sea not being looked to all this while; and by degrees enticed and drew them on not only to seize upon and spoil the merchants and ships upon the seas, but also to lay waste the islands and seaport towns. So that now there embarked, with these pirates, men of wealth and noble birth and superior abilities, as if it had been a natural occupation to gain distinction in.

Now they had set up arsenals or storehouses in sundry places; they had sundry havens and beacons on the land, to give warning by fire all along the sea coast; and fleets were here received that were well manned with the finest mariners, and well served with expert pilots, and composed of swift-sailing and light-built vessels adapted for their special purpose. They were so gloriously set out that men hated their excess as much as they feared their force. Their ships had gilded masts at their stems; the sails woven of purple, and the oars plated with silver as if their delight were to glory in their iniquity. All the seacoast over, there was no sight of anything but music, singing, banqueting, and rioting. Their ships were about a thousand in number, and they had taken above four hundred towns. They had spoiled and destroyed many holy temples that had never been touched before. They had also many strange sacrifices and certain ceremonies of religion amongst themselves: among others, the Mystery of Mithres, which is the sun.

But besides all these insolent parts and injuries they did the Romans upon the sea, they went a-land; and where they found any houses of pleasure upon the seacoast, they spoiled and destroyed them; and on a time they took two Roman praetors, Sextilius and Bellinus, being in their purple robes, with their sergeants and officers attending on them, and carried them quite away. Another time also they stole away the daughter of Antonius (a man that had received honour of triumph) as she went a-walking abroad in the fields, and she was redeemed for a great sum of money.

But yet the greatest spite and mockery they used to the Romans, was this: that when they had taken any of them and that he cried he was a citizen of Rome, and named his name, then they made as though they had been amazed, and afraid of what they had done. For they clapped their hands on their thighs, and fell down on their knees before him, praying him to forgive them. The poor prisoner thought they had done it in good earnest, seeing they humbled themselves as though they seemed fearful. For some of them came unto him, and put shoes on his feet: others clapped a gown on the back of him after the Roman fashion, for fear (said they) lest he should be mistaken another time. When they had played all this pageant, and mocked him their bellies full: at the last they cast out one of their ship ladders, and put him on it, and bade him go his way, he should have no hurt: and if he would not go of himself, then they would cast him overboard by force. These rovers and sea pirates had all the Mediterranean Sea at their commandment: insomuch there durst not a merchant look out, nor once traffic that sea.

And this was the only cause that moved the Romans (fearing scarcity of victuals) to send Pompey to recover the seignory again of the sea from these pirates.

Part Three

Gabinius, Pompey's friend, was the first man that moved that Pompey should not be only admiral, or general-by-sea, but should have absolute power to command all manner of persons as he thought good, without any account to be made of his doings in his charge. The sum of this decree gave him full power and absolute authority of all the sea from Hercules' Pillars; and of the mainland, the space of four hundred furlongs from the sea. (For the Roman dominions at that time in few places went further than that: notwithstanding, within that compass were many great nations and mighty kings.) Furthermore, it gave him power to choose of the Senate fifteen lieutenants, to give unto every one of them several provinces in charge, according to his discretion: and also to take money out of the treasury to defray the charges of a fleet of two hundred sail, with full power besides to levy what men of war he thought good, and as many ships and mariners as he desired.

This law, when it had been read once over among them, the people confirmed it with very good will. Yet the noblemen and chief of the Senate thought that this authority did not only exceed all envy, but also that it gave them apparent cause of fear, to give such absolute power unto a private person. Whereupon, they were all against it but Caesar, who favoured the decree: not so much to pleasure Pompey as the people, whose favour he sought.

Finally, Catulus stood up to speak against this edict. The people at the first heard him quietly, because he was a worthy man. Then he began, without any shew of envy, to speak many goodly things in the praise of Pompey; and, in fine, advised the people to spare him, and not to venture in such dangerous wars (one after another) a man of so great account, as they ought to make of him. "If ye chance to lose him," said he, "whom have you then to put in his place?"

The people then cried out: "Yourself." Then perceiving that he lost his labour, seeking to turn the people from their determination: he left it there, and said no more.

Roscius rose next after him to speak, but he could have no audience. When he saw that he could not be heard, he made a sign with his fingers, that they should not give Pompey alone this authority, but join another with him. The people being offended withal made such an outcry upon it, that a crow flying over the marketplace at that instant was stricken blind and fell down amongst the people. Whereby it appeareth, that fowl falling out of the air to the ground do not fall because the air is broken or pierced with any force or fury; but because the very breath of the voice (when it cometh with such a violence, as it maketh a very tempest in the air) doth strike and overcome them.

Thus for that day, the assembly broke up, and nothing was passed; and at the day appointed when this decree should pass by voices of the people, Pompey went abroad into the country. There being advertised that the decree was passed for the confirmation of his charge, he returned again that night into the city, because he would avoid the envy they would have borne him to have seen them run out of all parts of the city unto him, to have waited on him home.

Narration and Discussion

Why is it hard for heroes to return to civilian life?

What were the arguments for and against sending Pompey against the pirates? What was the deciding point?

Creative narration: Act out the role of a "pirate employment counselor," assisting someone who is looking for a change of career.

Lesson Nine


The pirate story continues.


taking infinite pains: doing something very thoroughly and carefully

check: delay

change of victuals unlooked for: their markets were suddenly full of things to buy, since their town was the base for naval operations

deprived of his consulship: Piso (#1) was accused of hindering preparations for the campaign against the pirates, which would be grounds to have him put out of office.

rovers: pirates

use: treat

unmeet: unfit

manuring the ground: growing food

Word Trivia

shoals: Dryden uses the amusing metaphor here of a shoal, which usually refers to a large number of fish.


Piso (#1): Gaius Calpurnius Piso, consul for 67 B.C.

On the Map

Brundisium: Brindisi, on the coast of the Adriatic Sea

Athens: the capital city of Greece. In 88 B.C., Athens and other Greek city-states revolted against Rome, but their rebellion was put down by Sulla. The Roman civil wars caused damage and economic hardship in Greece.

Mount Taurus: the Taurus Mountains are in southern Turkey

Coracesium: now called Alanya, in southern Turkey

Armenia: a kingdom of western Asia, ruled at that time by Tigranes the Great

Achaea: a region of Greece, which later (22 B.C.) became a Roman province with Corinth as its capital. (Bible History: In 51/52 A.D., Paul was tried in Corinth under the Roman proconsul Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus.)


Part One

The next morning, Pompey came abroad, and sacrificed to the gods; and, audience being given him at an open assembly, he handled the matter so well, that they gave him many things besides to enlarge his power, almost doubling the preparation set down and appointed at the first decree. For he ordained that the commonwealth should arm him five hundred ships; and they levied for him six score thousand footmen, and five thousand horsemen; and chose besides four-and-twenty senators, which had every one of them been generals of armies; and two general treasurers also. Now it happened within this time that the prices of provisions were much reduced, which gave an occasion to the joyful people of saying that the very name of Pompey had ended the war. However, Pompey, in pursuance of his charge, divided all the seas and the whole Mediterranean into thirteen parts, allotting a squadron to each,, under the command of his officers; and having thus dispersed his power into all quarters, and encompassed the pirates everywhere, they began to fall into his hands by whole shoals, which he seized and brought into his harbours.

Now for them that had dispersed themselves betimes, or that otherwise could escape his general chase: they fled all into Cilicia, as bees into the beehive, against whom he would needs go himself in person with three score of his best ships. Howbeit he went not before he had scoured all the coasts of Libya, Sardinia, Sicily, and of Corsica of all the thieves which were wont to keep thereabouts: and this he did within forty days' space, taking infinite pains, both himself and his lieutenants.

Pompey met with some interruption in Rome, through the malice and envy of Piso (#1), the consul, who had given some check to his proceedings by withholding his stores and discharging his sailors; whereupon he sent his fleet round to Brundisium, himself going the nearest way by land through Tuscany to Rome; which was no sooner known by the people than they all flocked out to meet him upon the way as if they had not sent him out but a few days before. That which made the people more joyful to see him, was the sudden change of victuals unlooked for, that daily came to the town out of all parts. Piso was nearly deprived of his consulship because of this interference: for Gabinius had the decree written, and ready to present to the people. But Pompey would not suffer it.

So, having brought all to pass as he desired, he went unto the city of Brundisium, and there took sea, and hoisted sail.

Part Two

Now though his hasty voyage, and shortness of time made him pass many good cities without coming into them: notwithstanding, he would not so pass by the city of Athens, but landed there, and after he had sacrificed to the gods, returned to embark again. At his going out of the city, he read two writings that were made in his praise, the one within the gate which said thus:

The humblier that thou dost thyself as man behave.
The more thou dost deserve the name of god to have.

And the other writing was without the gate, which said:

We wished for thee, we wait for thee,
We worship thee, we wait on thee.

Part Three

Now because Pompey having taken certain of these rovers by sea that kept together, did use them gently when they required pardon, and having their ships and bodies in his power, did them no hurt at all: their other companions being in good hope of his mercy, fled from his other captains and lieutenants, and went and yielded themselves, their wives and children into his hands. Pompey pardoned all them that came in of themselves, and by that means he came to have knowledge of the rest, and to follow them where they went, whom he took in the end: but knowing that they deserved no pardon, they hid themselves. Yet the richest of the pirates had conveyed their wives, children and goods, and all others of their families unmeet for wars, into strong castles and little towns upon Mount Taurus; and such as were able to carry weapons embarked, and lay before the city of Coracesium; where they tarried Pompey, and gave him battle, first by sea, and there were overcome; and afterwards they were besieged by land. Howbeit shortly after, they prayed they might be received to mercy; and thereupon yielded their bodies, towns, and islands. Thus was this war ended, and all the pirates in less than three months driven from the sea wheresoever they were.


Pompey, believing that man by nature is not born a wild or savage beast, but contrarily becometh a brute beast when he falleth to vice: and again is made tame and civil in time, changing place and manner of life: (as brute beasts that being wild by nature do also become gentle and tractable, with gentler usage by continuance) he determined to draw these pirates from the sea into the upland, and to make them feel the true and innocent life, by dwelling in towns, and manuring the ground. Some of them therefore he placed in certain small towns of the Cilicians, that were scant inhabited, and were very glad of them, giving them land to keep them with. The city of the Solians, also in Anatolia, that not long before had been destroyed by Tigranes the king of Armenia: being desirous to replenish that again, he placed many of them there. He bestowed divers also in the country of Achaea, which at that time lacked inhabitants, and had great store of very good land.

[omission for length: the official end of the war of the pirates]

Narration and Discussion

What were the results of the victory over the pirates? Did anything surprise you?

The story about Pompey's visit to Athens may seem like a sidebar to more interesting events. Why might Plutarch have included it here?

Lesson Ten


Manius Acilius Glabrio was the new replacement for Lucullus (see Lesson Seven), who had been fighting Mithridates VI of Pontus and Tigranes the Great of Armenia in the Third Mithridatic War. Mithridates had won back some territory, but neither Lucullus nor Glabrio had done much to counter him (and Glabrio was, apparently, avoiding responsibility by staying in Bithynia); so Pompey was sent in to take command.


tribune of the people: see introductory notes

stuck not so much: were not so unhappy

too manifest an injury: too great an insult

inveigh: to speak with hostility

knit his brows: frowned, seemed irritated

one in the neck of another: one right after another

within precinct of his charge: within his jurisdiction

the penalties enjoined them: fines or other financial punishments

finding himself hardly handled: resenting this treatment

ado: trouble, fuss

disdain: scorn

buzzard: a bird of prey, vulture


Glabrio: see Introduction

Historic Occasions

74 B.C.: Rome acquired Bithynia as a legacy from its former king (in the hope that Rome would protect it from its enemy Pontus)

73-63 B.C.: Third Mithridatic War

69 B.C.: Lucullus won control of Syria

69 B.C.: The kingdoms of Pontus and Colchis rebelled against Rome

67 B.C.: Pompey sent to fight against Tigranes and Mithridates

67 B.C.: Battle of Zela (the Roman army was led by Lucullus, before the arrival of Pompey)

On the Map

Bithynia: kingdom and Roman province, located in present-day Turkey

Galatia: a region bordering on Bithynia and Pontus


Part One

When news came to Rome that the pirates' war was brought to good end, and that Pompey, having no other service in hand, went visiting the cities up and down: one Manilius, a tribune of the people, put forth another decree unto them of this effect:

That Pompey, taking all the army Lucullus had, and the provinces under his government; with all Bithynia (which was under the command of Glabrio); should go make war upon the two kings, Tigranes and Mithridates, keeping in his hands notwithstanding all his jurisdiction and army by sea, in as royal manner as he had it before.

In fine, this was even to make one man monarch and absolute prince of all the Roman empire. For by this second decree, Pompey had all these countries not named in his former commission (Phrygia, Lycaonia, Galatia, Cappadocia, Cilicia, high Colchida, and Armenia) added to amplify his authority; along with all the armies and forces with which he already had; to overcome those two mighty kings. Then the Senate stuck not so much at the injury that was offered unto Lucullus, depriving him of the honour of his doings, to give it to another, that should rather succeed him in honour of triumph than in danger of wars, knowing that they did him too manifest an injury, and shewed themselves too unthankful: but that which most grieved them was to see Pompey's power established in a plain tyranny.

Hereupon therefore, the senators persuaded and encouraged each other stoutly to withstand this edict, and not to suffer their liberty to be lost in this sort. Notwithstanding, when the day came that the decree should pass, they were so afraid to anger the people, that their hearts failed them, and none durst speak against it but Catulus only: he earnestly inveighed against the passing of it a long time together, and greatly blamed the people. At the length, perceiving he had won never a man to take his part, he oftentimes cried out to the Senate, that they should look to seek out some mountain or high rock to retire safely unto, to defend their liberty, as their ancestors had done in old time before them. All this prevailed not, for the decree passed by the voices of all the tribes, as it is reported.

And thus was Pompey in his absence made lord almost of all that which Sulla, by force of arms and great effusion of blood (having made himself lord of Rome), had before in his power.

Part Two

When Pompey had received letters from Rome, advertising him what the people had passed in his behalf: some say that at the receipt of them (in the presence of his familiar friends that were about him, and rejoiced with him for congratulation) he knit his brows, and clapped on his thigh, as though it grieved him marvellously to have such great offices and charge laid upon him, one in the neck of another, and burst forth in these words:

"O gods, shall I never see an end of such a world of troubles as I have? Had it not been better for me to have been a mean man born and unknown, than thus continually to be in war with armour on my back? What, shall I never see the time, that breaking the necks of spite and envy against me, I may yet once in my life live quietly at home in my country, with my wife and children?"

But all this was looked upon as mere trifling, neither indeed could the best of his friends call it anything else, well knowing that his enmity with Lucullus, setting a flame just now to his natural passion for glory and empire, made him feel more than usually gratified. For he presently sent out proclamations into every quarter, commanding all sorts of soldiers to come to him immediately, and made also all the princes and kings within precinct of his charge to come unto him; and going through the countries, altered and changed all that Lucullus had established before.

Furthermore, he did release the penalties enjoined them, and took from them also the gifts that Lucullus bestowed of them. In fine, this was all his purpose and desire: to make them that honoured Lucullus know that he had no further power and authority to do anything: Lucullus finding himself hardly handled by Pompey, the friends of either side thought good they should meet and talk together: which came so to pass, for they met in the country of Galatia.

And because they both were great captains of the Roman armies, and had done many famous acts, they had their sergeants and officers that carried the bundles of rods before them, wreathed about with laurel boughs. When they met, Lucullus came out of a close and woody country, all covered with green trees, and Pompey on the other side had passed through a great sandy plain, where no tree was growing. Thereupon Lucullus' sergeants seeing the laurel boughs dry and withered away, which Pompey's sergeants carried, they gave them of their green and fresh boughs to beautify the rods and axes. This was a plain token that Pompey came to take Lucullus' honour from him. In truth Lucullus had been consul before Pompey, and so was he also an older man than he; yet the dignity of Pompey was greater, because he had triumphed twice.

At their first meeting, their entertainment and discourse was with great ceremony and courtesy as might be, one highly praising the other's deeds, rejoicing at each other's good success: but at parting, they fell to hot words together, Pompey upbraiding Lucullus' avarice, and Lucullus Pompey's ambition; so that their friends had much ado to part them.

Lucullus departing thence, divided the lands in Galatia which he had conquered; and bestowed them, and other gifts, on such as he thought good. Pompey, on the other side, camping near him, specially commanded the people in every part to obey him in nothing whatsoever he did: and besides, he took all his soldiers from him, leaving him only sixteen hundred, which he supposed were such, as for disdain and ill will they bare him, would do him but small service. Furthermore, to blemish the glory of his doings, he told everybody Lucullus had fought with the pomp and shadow only of these two kings, and that he had left him to fight with all their whole force and power, Mithridates being then prepared for wars, with shields, swords, and horses.

Lucullus, for revenge on the other side, said that Pompey went to fight but with a shadow of war; and that he was like a cowardly buzzard that preyeth upon dead bodies, which others have slain.

[Footnote: The Roman writer Pliny said that, on the other hand, Pompey called Lucullus "Xerxes in a toga."]

Narration and Discussion

Why were the Senators at first reluctant to offer Pompey such a powerful new command? Why was the proposal finally passed?

How did Pompey's actions show that he was not really as reluctant as he pretended to be?

Describe the "friendly meeting" between Pompey and Lucullus. (Christian students might consider 1 Corinthians 3:8-10; 22-23.)

Lesson Eleven


The war against Mithridates and Tigranes finally came to an end.


forthwith: immediately

choice of his army: best soldiers

impotent: weak

no shift: no other choice

embased: lowered, humiliated

Word Trivia

minas, talents: units of money. Other money words used later in the story: miriades, drachmas.


Hypsicratea: the sixth wife of Mithridates

Historic Occasions

66 B.C.: Lucullus returned to Rome, but was initially refused a triumph, and was allowed only limited involvement in state matters.

66 B.C.: Mithridates defeated at the Battle of the Lycus

66 B.C.: Surrender of Tigranes

On the Map

Phoenicia: a kingdom which had flourished in ancient times, but which had declined in power and which was now part of Syria

Bosporus: or Bosphorus. Now part of Turkey.

Euphrates River: a major river in the Middle East

Colchis: a region on the coast of the Black Sea; the legendary destination of the Argonauts

Sophene: a region of Armenia


Part One

Lucullus being now gone on his way, Pompey placed his whole navy in guard upon the sea, from the province of Phoenicia unto the realm of Bosporus. That done, he took his journey by land towards Mithridates; who had in his camp thirty thousand footmen, and two thousand horsemen, and yet durst not offer battle, but camped first upon a mountain of great strength, and hard to get up on: notwithstanding shortly after, he forsook it for lack of water. He was no sooner gone thence, but forthwith Pompey took it. Who, conjecturing by the nature of the plants and trees in that place which were very green, and also by divers holes he found, for that reason thereabouts should be some springs: he commanded them to dig wells in every corner, so that in a very short time all his camp had water enough; and he wondered at Mithridates, that he could not find that out in all the time he lay there.

In the end, he went and camped round about Mithridates, and entrenched him with a wall within his own camp: who, after he had abidden the siege five and forty days, fled away with all the choice of his army, unknown to Pompey; having first slain all the sick and impotent persons within his camp. After that, Pompey found him another time by the Euphrates River, and went and lodged hard by him. But fearing that Mithridates would pass over the river before he could prevent him in time, he raised his camp again, and marched away at midnight.

Part Two

[omission for length: Mithridates dreamed about being on a sinking ship]

As Mithridates was troubled with his ill-favoured dream, certain of his familiars came to him and told him that Pompey was come so near, that there was no shift but they must needs fight to defend their camp. Thereupon, his captains straight began to put his men in battle array, ready to fight. Pompey understanding they prepared to make defense, was in doubt to venture his men to fight in the dark, thinking it better to compass the enemy in to keep them from fleeing, and then in the morning to set upon them more easily, his men being the better soldiers. But Pompey's old captains were so earnestly in hand with him to persuade him they might fight, that in the end he was contented they should give charge.

Now it was not so dark but they could somewhat see, for the moon that was very low and. upon her setting, gave light enough to discern the body of a man: yet because the moon was very low, the shadow which gave out further far than their bodies, came almost even to their very enemies, which did let them that they could not certainly judge what space of ground was between them, but imagining that they were hard by them, they cast their darts at the Romans, but they hurt never a man, for their bodies were a great way from them.

The Romans perceiving that, ran upon them with great cries. But the barbarous people durst not abide their charge, they were so afraid; but turned their backs, and ran away for life, so that they were slain down right. Thus were there ten thousand of the barbarous people slain and more, and their camp also taken.

As for Mithridates himself, he at the beginning of the onset, with a body of eight hundred horse, charged through the Roman army, and made his escape. But before long all the rest dispersed, some one way, some another; and he was left only with three persons only, whereof Hypsicratea was one of the number, which had ever been valiant and had a man's heart: whereupon for that cause Mithridates called her "Hypsicrates." She at that time being arrayed like a man-of-arms of Persia, and mounted also on a horse after the Persian manner, was never weary with any long journey the king made, nor never left to wait upon his person, and to look to his horse: until such time as the king came to a strong castle called Inora, where was great store of gold and silver, and the king's chiefest treasure. Then Mithridates took of his richest apparel he had there, and gave it amongst them that were about him at that time, and a deadly poison besides to every one of his friends to carry about them, because they should not (unless they would themselves) fall into their enemies' hands alive.

From thence he thought to take his journey into Armenia, unto King Tigranes. Howbeit Tigranes sent to prevent him; and further proclaimed by trumpet, that he would give a hundred talents to anyone that could kill him. Thereupon, passing by the head of the river of Euphrates, Mithridates fled through the country of Colchis.

Part Three

In the meantime, Pompey invaded the country of Armenia, at the request of Tigranes the Younger, who had revolted against his father, and who went to meet with Pompey at the River of Araxes, which hath its beginning almost about the head of the Euphrates: but it runneth towards the east, and falleth into the Caspian Sea.

So they both together marched on further into the country, receiving such towns as yielded unto them. But King Tigranes (that not long before had been consumed and destroyed by Lucullus) understanding that Pompey was of a mild and gentle nature, he admitted Roman troops into his strongest forts and royal houses, and went himself with his friends and kinsmen to meet Pompey, and to yield himself unto him. When he came near to his camp, being a-horseback, there came out two sergeants of Pompey's, who commanded him to alight and go in afoot, for there was never man seen a-horseback within the Romans' camp. Tigranes did not only obey them, but further plucked off his sword and gave it them: and in fine, when he came almost to Pompey, taking of his royal hat from his head, he would have laid it at Pompey's feet, and falling down most shamefully on the ground, embased himself to embrace Pompey's knees. But Pompey himself prevented him, and taking him by the hand, made him to sit down by him on the one side of him, and his son on the other. Then he said unto them both: "As for the other losses you have sustained heretofore, you must thank Lucullus for them, who hath taken from you Syria, Phoenicia, Cilicia, Galatia, and Sophene; but for that you have left you till my coming, I will let you enjoy it, paying to the Romans a fine of six thousand talents for the injury you had done them; provided also that your son have the kingdom of Sophene for his part."

Tigranes accepted the conditions of peace. The Romans then saluted him king. He was so glad thereof that he promised to give every soldier half a mina, to every centurion ten minas, and to every colonel of a thousand men, a talent. His son was very angry withal: insomuch as Pompey sending for him to come to supper to him, he answered again, that was not the friendship he looked for at Pompey's hands, for he should find many other Romans that would offer him that courtesy. Pompey, for his answer, clapped him up as a prisoner, and kept him to be led in triumph at Rome.

[omission for length: Pompey's other victories in that region]

Narration and Discussion

Contrast the reactions of Tigranes and his son over surrendering to the Romans. Do you think one or the other showed more honour?

For older students or further study: Tigranes had another son, Artavasdes II (or Artabazes), who reigned in Armenia from 55 to 34 B.C., and who appears several times in the Life of Crassus. He has been contrasted in character to his brother Tigranes the Younger. What else can you find out about him?

Lesson Twelve and Examination Questions


After claiming additional territory for the empire (including Judea), and attempting to settle disputes in those places, Pompey prepared to return to Italy himself. Some feared that he would enter Rome with an army and establish himself as dictator. He sent his soldiers home, however, with a reminder: "Come back for the triumph."


in the flank: Dryden says "into the joints of his breastplate."

arbitration: working out terms of agreement between those having conflict. One who manages such negotiations is an arbitrator.

importunate: persistent (see Lesson Five)

Word Trivia

turves: also spelled turfs. These are cut-out sections of earth and vegetation, which could be piled up to stand on, or even used to build a wall (such as the early versions of Hadrian's Wall).


Oroeses: king of the Caucasian Albanians

Afranius: Lucius Afranius, who had served in Pompey's army, and was elected consul for the year 60 B.C. (probably due to bribes).

King Aristobulus: Aristobulus II, Jewish High Priest and King of Judea from 66 B.C. to 63 B.C.; the younger brother of Hyrcanus II, who had become king in 67 B.C. but surrendered to Aristobulus after a civil war. This did not end the strife in Judea, however, and allies of Hyrcanus besieged Jerusalem for months. Pompey's deputy in that region, Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, was offered (and may have accepted) bribes to help Aristobulus hold on to the throne; but when the matter came before Pompey, he decided in favour of Hyrcanus (perhaps seeing him as weaker and more likely to cooperate with Rome). Aristobulus was imprisoned, but later escaped and led an insurrection against Rome. He died by suicide in 49 B.C.

Scaurus: See above. As a footnote, it seems that money was an ongoing temptation for him; and in later life he was exiled from Rome as punishment for taking bribes. (He also married Pompey's former wife Mucia.)

Historic Occasions

65 B.C.: Phoenicia became part of the new Roman province of Syria

63 B.C.: Judea captured by Rome after the Siege of Jerusalem

63 B.C.: death of Mithridates

On the Map

Maeotian Sea: now called the Sea of Azov; connected to the Black Sea by the Strait of Kerch

Cyrnus River: or Cyrus; now called the Kura. It runs through Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

Judea: the southern part of Palestine. You will also want to locate Syria.

Petra: a historic city in southern Jordan


Part One

The pursuit of Mithridates, who had thrown himself among the tribes inhabiting Bosporus and the shores of the Maeotian Sea, presented great difficulties. Furthermore also, he had news that the Albanians were rebelled again, which drew him back to be revenged of them. Thereupon he passed again over the Cyrnus River, with great pain and danger, because the barbarous people had made a strong defense a great way along the riverside, with a marvellous number of great trees, felled and laid across one over another. Furthermore, when he had with great difficulty passed through them, he fell into an evil-favoured country, where he should travel a great way before he could come to any water. Thereupon he caused ten thousand goatskins to be filled with water, and so went forward to meet with his enemies : being six score thousand footmen, and twelve thousand horsemen, but all (or the most of them) ill armed with wild beasts' skins. Their chieftain was a brother of Oroeses named Cosis. He, when the battle was begun, flew upon Pompey, and threw a dart at him, and hurt him in the flank. Pompey on the other side, ran Cosis through with his lance on both sides, and slew him stark dead.

[omission for length/content]

Part Two

He had a wonderful great desire to win Syria, and to go through the country of Arabia, even unto the Red Sea, specially because he saw Mithridates so ill to follow, and worse to overcome by force when he fled, than when he fought any battle; and that made him say that he would leave a sharper enemy behind him than himself (and by that he meant famine).

[omission for length]

Pompey now having by Afranius subdued the Arabians dwelling about Mount Amanus, he went himself in person into Syria, and made a government and province of it, being won to the Roman empire, for that it lacked a lawful king; and he conquered all Judea also, where he took King Aristobulus; and built certain cities there, and delivered others also from bondage, which by tyrants were forcibly kept, whom he chastised well enough. Howbeit he spent the most part of his time there deciding controversies, pacifying contentions and quarrels by arbitration, which fell out betwixt the free cities, princes and kings; and sent of his friends into those places where he could not come himself.

[omission for content]

Part Three

Now, the king of the Arabians, that dwelt about the castle called Petra, having never until that time made any account of the Roman army, was then greatly afraid of them, and wrote unto Pompey that he was at his devotion, to do what he would command him. Pompey thereupon to prove him, whether he meant as he spoke: brought his army before this castle of Petra. Howbeit this voyage was not liked of many men, because they saw it as an excuse to stop following Mithridates, against whom they would have preferred Pompey to use his force, being an ancient enemy to Rome; and that began to gather strength again, and prepared (as they heard say) to lead a great army through Scythia and Pannonia into Italy. But Pompey thinking he should sooner diminish Mithridates' power by suffering him to go on with wars, than that he should otherwise be able to take him flying: would not toil to follow him in vain. And for these causes he would needs make wars in other places, and linger time so long, that in the end he was put by his hope.

When he was not far from Petra, and had lodged his camp for that day: as he was riding and managing his horse up and down the camp, posts came flinging to him from the realm of Pontus, and brought him good news, as was easily to be discerned afar off by the heads of their javelins, which were wreathed about with laurel boughs. The soldiers, perceiving that, flocked straight about him; but Pompey would make an end of his riding first, before he read these letters. Howbeit they crying to him, and being importunate with him, he lighted from his horse, and returned into his camp, where there was no stone high enough for him to stand upon to speak unto them, and again, the soldiers would not tarry the making of one after the manner of their camp, which men of war do make themselves, with great turves of earth, laying one of them upon another: but for haste and earnest desire they had to hear what news there was in the letters, they laid together a heap of saddles one upon another, and Pompey getting up on them, told how Mithridates was dead, and had killed himself with his own hands, because his son Pharnaces did rebel against him, and had won all that which his father possessed: writing unto him that he "kept it for himself and the Romans."

Upon this news, all the camp ye may imagine, made wonderful joy, and did sacrifice to the gods, giving them thanks, and were as merry, as if in Mithridates' person alone, there had died an infinite number of their enemies.

Pompey by this occasion, having brought this war more easily to pass than he hoped for, departed presently out of Arabia, and having speedily in few days passed through the countries lying by the way, he came at length to the city of Amisus. There he found great presents that were brought unto him from Pharnaces, and many dead bodies of the king's blood, and amongst the rest, Mithridates' corpse. Pompey having ordered all things and established that province, went on his journey homewards with great pomp and glory.

[omission for length and content]

Part Four

So he thought at his return home into Italy, to have been very honourably received; and he longed to be at home, to see his wife and children, thinking also that they long looked for him; but the god that hath the charge given him, to mingle Fortune's prosperity with some bitter sop of adversity, laid a block in his way at home in his own house, to make his return more sorrowful.

[omission: the end of Pompey's marriage to Mucia]

Furthermore, there were rumours run abroad in Rome which troubled them sore, being given out that he would bring his army straight to Rome, and make himself absolute lord of all the Roman empire. Crassus thereupon, either for that he believed it indeed to be true, or (as it was thought) to make the accusation true, and the envy towards Pompey the greater: conveyed himself, his family, and goods, suddenly out of Rome.

So Pompey when he came into Italy, called all his soldiers together, and after he had made an oration unto them, as time and occasion required, he commanded them to sever themselves, and every man to repair home to apply his business (remembering to meet at Rome together at the day of his triumph). His army being thus dispersed, and straight reported abroad for news: a marvellous thing happened unto him. The cities seeing Pompey the Great without soldiers, having but a small train about him of his familiar friends only: they went all of them to meet him, not as though he were returned home from his great conquests, but from some journey taken for his pleasure. Such was the love of the people to him that they accompanied him to Rome, whether he would or not, with a greater power than that he had brought into Italy: so that if he had been disposed to have made any innovation in the commonwealth, he had not needed his army.

Narration and Discussion

How was Pompey's return to Rome both worse and better than he expected?

For older students: In an omitted passage, Plutarch makes this comment: "If Pompey's fame and renown were great, no less was his virtue, justice, and liberality, which indeed did hide many faults his friends and familiars about him did commit. For truly he was of so gentle a nature, that he could neither keep them from offending, nor yet punish them when they had offended. Notwithstanding, he did use them so well that complained unto him, or that had to deal with him in any matter, that he made them contented patiently to bear their covetousness and straight dealing." Pompey's general reputation in war and politics might not seem to agree with calling him "gentle," yet Plutarch makes the point that, with those he called friends, he could forgive much—even, perhaps, overmuch. When is it a virtue to "hide" the faults or sins of others, and when is it dishonest or conniving? See Proverbs 10:12, 12:22-23, and 17:9.

For older students or further study: What can you find out about the Siege of Jerusalem?

Examination Questions for Part One

Younger Students:

1. "Pompey was for many occasions beloved." Describe two of the reasons he was beloved (or admired). Also, tell anything you know about his personal appearance.

Older Students:

1. Describe the occasion when Pompey and Sulla each saluted the other as "Imperator." How did Pompey later make an enemy of Sulla?

2. (For high school) Why did the Romans make Pompey general by sea? Describe the scene that followed the decree, and Pompey's treatment of the pirates.

Part 2 of Plutarch's Life of Pompey continues here.


Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. Englished by Sir Thomas North. With an introduction by George Wyndham. First Volume. London: Dent, 1894. (Themistocles)

Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. Englished by Sir Thomas North. With an introduction by George Wyndham. Fourth Volume. London: Dent, 1894. (Pompeius)

Plutarch's Lives: The Dryden Plutarch. Revised by Arthur Hugh Clough, Volume 1. London: J.M. Dent, 1910. (Themistocles)

End of Part I; Part II continues here.

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