Fall of the Roman Republic 78-31 BC

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Pompey: significance of military and political career

Past HSC question: 2009
To what extent did the political ambitions of individuals contribute to the fall of the Republic?

Past HSC question: 2007
Assess the success of Pompey as a general and a politician during this period.

Past HSC question: 2006
Assess the importance of extraordinary military commands in Pompey’s career before the First Triumvirate.

Past HSC question: 2005
Evaluate the role of Pompey as a significant military leader during this period.

Past HSC question: 2001
Assess the significance of the career of EITHER Pompey OR Cicero.

from Booklet 1:
Quote on page 1 from Plutarch.
pp. 3-5: early extraordinary commands supporting Sulla, against Lepidus, Sertorius, Spartacus, his triumph.
The second phase of his extraordinary commands: pp. 8-13 - against the pirates and Mithridates.
from Booklet 2:
  • Pompey's role in the formation of the First Triumvirate
  • Pompey's marriage to Julia
  • Pompey's humiliation in the theatre during 59
  • Pompey's role in the exile and recall of Cicero
  • Clodius' attacks on Pompey
  • Pompey's new command: Curator of the Grain Supply - 57
  • The Conference at Luca
  • Pompey and Crassus' second joint consulship
  • The deaths of Julia and Crassus

Pompey's sole consulship, 52
  • In what ways was this another extraordinary command for Pompey?
  • How did Pompey deal with Milo?
  • How could Pompey's other laws affect Caesar?
  • What was Pompey's political position in 52?

Political manoeuvres by the optimates and Pompey
  • Summarise the events which led to the beginning of the Civil War.

The extraordinary nature of Pompey's career
  • Answer the six questions on p.15.

Pompey's changing relationship with the senate and the optimates
  • Using points 1-15, draw up a table illustrating the changing relationship between Pompey and the optimates throughout his career.

An evaluation of Pompey
  • Summarise, in your own words, this assessment of the various aspects of Pompey's career.

Cicero's views of Pompey
  • Answer questions 1-5 on p.21.
Bust of Pompey the Great

From ancient sources:
At the start of his campaign against Mithridates, Pompey met with the man he was replacing, Lucullus. Plutarch reports the following:
"To this Lucullus retorted that Pompey was going out to fight a war that was no war at all but was only the shadow of one, and that in so doing he was following his usual custom of settling down, like some crazy carrion bird, on the bodies that had been killed by others and tearing to pieces the scattered remains of wars. It was in just this way that he had appropriated to himself the victories over Sertorius, Lepidus, and the followers of Spartacus, though in fact these victories had been won by Metellus, Catulus, and Crassus. There was therefore no reason to be surprised at his present plan of seizing for himself the glory of the Pontic and Armenian wars; was he not a man who had somehow managed by hook or by crook to get himself a triumph on the strength of having defeated runaway slaves?"
Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 31

From modern sources:
The following is from the introduction by Robin Seager to Plutarch's "Life of Pompey" (p.157)
"He (i.e. Plutarch) recognizes Pompey's tendency to throw his weight around, as evidenced by his treatment of Lucullus and Metellus Creticus, and is aware of his extreme sensitivity to criticism and his constant yearning for popular approval... The extraordinary nature of Pompey's rise, the skill with which he developed his clientelae in Sicily, Africa and the East, and his brilliant capacity for organizing large-scale campaigns, as against the pirates, are all given due notice... he gives proper weight to the deaths of first Julia and then Crassus, and is excellent on Pompey's exploitation of growing anarchy and on the factors that secured him his third consulship... Plutarch is conscious that the boni were using Pompey and that, if Pompey once got rid of Caesar for them, he would find himself put on the shelf, if not liquidated."

On Pompey's support for Lepidus as consul, 78
"Pompeius had backed Lepidus for the consulship, perhaps in the belief that Lepidus would probably cause some sort of trouble, and that an unsettled situation of any kind was likely, in some way, to further his own rise."
Robin Seager, Pompey the Great, p.30

On entering the senate after his first consulship:
"The meteoric and military nature of his rise had deprived him of all experience of senatorial practice, and he lacked the web of connections, painstakingly spun, that would enable him to influence senatorial debates and manipulate popular assemblies... As a consular he could look forward to dignity, but less power than most of his nominal peers."
Robin Seager, Pompey the Great, p.39

Similarly, Gelzer comments on the impact of Pompey's lack of political experience:
"Now his career of defiance of the leges annales caught up with Pompey. Spoiled by his good fortune from his youth upwards, he despised the normal activities of the senator in the Curia and Forum, and so never learned how to further his own interests there; accordingly, now that the great military problems of the empire appeared to be settled, he saw himself forced to adopt a waiting role. Caesar's case was quite different: he had worked his way up by the regular route, and knew a way out of all the difficulties that were piled up against him."
Matthias Gelzer, Caesar: Politician and Statesman, p.69

Gruen argues that the various commands which Pompey was given throughout his career were not in fact extraordinary; similar commands had been used previously in Rome's history in times of crisis:
"In what sense were the great imperia of the late Republic really 'extraordinary'? ... One thinks naturally of Pompey's lengthy string of commissions, beginning when he under age even for a civil magistracy: imperium was already his in 82, then the command of armies in Italy and Spain during the 70s; there followed mandates with sweeping powers against the pirates and against Mithridates in the subsequent decade, a new imperium and control of the Mediterranean grain supply from 57. No less significant was Caesar's prolonged tenure in Gaul - nearly ten years at the head of Roman legions abroad. And in 55 came new legislation providing quinquennial terms in Spain and Syria for Pompey and Crassus respectively...
Extraordinary commands are by definition unusual - which is not at all the same as unconstitutional. Wherein lay the dangerous innovations of the late Republic imperia extra ordinum? Several sapects have been deemed troublesome: the appointment of privati, instead of duly elected magistrates, to important military tasks; the protracted tenure and broad powers accorded to the appointees; the increased involvement of the popular assemblies in provincial decisions previously disposed of by the senate...
First of all, the mater of privati cum imperio. Instances in the late republic are, in fact, few, most of them connected with the unusual career and abilities of Pompeius Magnus... he was called upon again to head government forces against Lepidus and then Sertorius in 77. The state faced an emergency situation in both instances, a more than adequate motive for waiving the normal cursus honorum... Similarly when discussion arose in 67 over measures to be taken against Mediterranean pirates, Pompey was the obvious choice to organize the campaign. By this time of course he possessed consular rank and boasted military laurels unmatched by his contemporaries. The fact that he happened to be a privatus in 67 was unimportant and irrelevant...
Conferral of imperium upon a private citizen had a long history."
Erich S. Gruen, The Last Generation of the Roman Republic, pp. 534-6