POMPEIUS, Gnæus Magnus, commonly known as Pompey, or Pompey the Great (106–48 b.c.). A famous Roman general and statesman. He was a son of Gnæus Pompeius Strabo. At the early age of 17 he began to learn the military art under his father by service in the field against the Italians in the Social War (q.v.). Though so young, he gave proof of extraordinary valor and of remarkable energy of character. On the death of his father, in 87 b.c., Pompeius, then only 19 years of age, was left without a protector, and during the temporary triumph of the Marian party he was for some time in considerable danger. When Sulla (q.v.), to whose side he was attached, returned from Greece to Italy to oppose Marius (q.v.), Pompey hastened into Picenum, where he had considerable estates and influence, and there raised an army of three legions, with which he successfully opposed the forces of the Marian party, compelling them to quit the district and effecting a junction with Sulla. During the rest of the war he conducted himself with great prudence and valor and with such remarkable success that, on the restoration of peace in Italy, the conduct of the war against the remains of the Marian faction in Africa and Sicily was intrusted to him. He speedily performed this commission and on his return to Rome was honored with the name of Magnus (i.e., the great) and with a triumph which, for one who had not yet held any public office and was merely an eques, was an unprecedented distinction. His next exploits were the reduction of the followers of Lepidus, whom he drove out of Italy, and the extinction of the Marian party in Spain, led by the brave Sertorius (q.v.). This latter work was one of no small difficulty. Pompey suffered some severe defeats at the hands of Sertorius, and it was only after Sertorius had been assassinated that Pompey was able to put an end to the war. In returning to Italy he fell in with and defeated the remnants of the army of Spartacus (q.v.) and thus claimed the credit of concluding the Servile War.
He was now the idol of the people and, though legally ineligible to the consulship, was elected to that important office for the year 70, the Senate preferring to relieve him of his disabilities rather than provoke him to extreme action. Hitherto Pompey had belonged to the aristocratic party; but as he had of late years been looked upon with suspicion by some of the leading men of the Optimates (q.v.), he now publicly espoused the people's cause. He carried a law restoring the tribunician power to the people and aided largely in the passage of the bill of Aurelius Cotta (lex Aurelia), directing that the judices should for the future be taken from the Senate, the equites, and the tribuni œrarii; instead of from the Senate alone. In 67–66 b.c. Pompey performed a noble service for the Republic in clearing the Mediterranean of the Cilician pirates who had infested it in vast numbers (see Cilicia; Gabinius, Aulus), and during the next three years (65–63) he conquered Mithridates, King of Pontus, and Tigranes, King of Armenia, annexed Syria to the Roman dominions, took Jerusalem, and made Judæa tributary to Rome. On his return to Italy he disbanded his army and entered Rome in triumph for the third time, in 61. After his return he was desirous that his acts in Asia should be ratified by the Senate and that certain lands should be apportioned among his veteran soldiers. But the Senate declined to accede to his wish, and he therefore formed a close intimacy and mutual alliance with Cæsar. Crassus, who possessed enormous wealth, and who exercised a wide influence at Rome, was induced to forego his grudge against Pompey, and thus these three men formed among themselves that coalition which is commonly called "the first triumvirate" and which for a time frustrated all the efforts of the aristocratic party. This small oligarchy carried all before it.
Cæsar's daughter, Julia, was given in marriage to Pompey, and private relationship was thus made to bind tighter the tie of political interest. And now, for some years following, Cæsar was reaping laurels in Gaul and rising higher in popular esteem as a warrior and a statesman, while Pompey was idly wasting his time and his energies at Rome. But Pompey could not bear a rival. Jealousies sprang up; Julia died in 54. Pompey returned to his former friends, the aristocracy, whose great desire was to check Cæsar and to strip him of his command. Cæsar was ordered to lay down his office and return to Rome, which he consented to do, provided Pompey, who had an army near Rome, would do the same. The Senate insisted on an unconditional resignation and ordered him to disband his army by a certain day; otherwise, the Senate threatened, he would be declared a public enemy. To this resolution two of the tribunes in vain objected; they therefore left the city and cast themselves on Cæsar for protection. It was on this memorable occasion that Cæsar crossed the Rubicon and thus defied the Senate and its armies, which were under Pompey's command. The events of the civil war which followed have been recorded in the life of Cæsar. It remains only to mention that, after being finally defeated at Pharsalus in 48, Pompey escaped to Egypt, where, according to the order of the King's ministers, he was treacherously murdered by a former centurion of his own, as he was landing from the boat. His head was cut off and afterward presented to Cæsar on his arrival in Egypt. But Cæsar was too magnanimous to delight in such a sight and ordered that the murderer be put to death. Pompey's body lay on the beach for some time, but was at length buried by a freedman, Philippus, who had accompanied his master to the shore.
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XIX (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 29-30.