Pompey the Great

The Roman leader was born 29 September 106 BC.

The Triumph of Pompey, Gabriel de Saint-Aubin. Watercolour, c.1765. Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wiki Commons.

Triumvir Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, usually known as Pompey the Great, was the son of a Roman arriviste ‘New Man’, Gnaeus Pompeius, known less flatteringly as Pompeius Strabo – Pompey the Cross-Eyed.

His early career was marked out by good fortune. Having inherited his father’s estate and the devotion of his legions at the age of just 20, he found himself on trial for his father’s alleged crimes of stealing public property. Pompey was acquitted and the judge arranged for him to marry his daughter.

Pompey strategically divorced his first wife to marry the dictator Sulla’s step-daughter. In return Sulla set aside the rules requiring all consuls to be at least 41 years old and to have served in a more junior magistracy. Two consulships followed, bringing Pompey to the attention of Crassus and Caesar, who invited him to join their unofficial power-sharing alliance, the First Triumvirate. The deal was sealed by marriage once again, with Pompey marrying Caesar’s daughter Julia.

After the deaths of Crassus and Julia, rivalries between Pompey and Caesar flared. Defeated by Caesar at the Battle of Pharsalus (48 BC), Pompey fled to Egypt, hoping to rebuild his forces. Instead he was beheaded on arrival on the orders of the Pharaoh, who hoped for Caesar’s backing in his own war against his sister Cleopatra. Appalled, Caesar backed Cleopatra.