Fall of the Roman Republic 78-31 BC

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Pompey's extraordinary commands and the Eastern Settlement

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

Assess: you need to go beyond description of his commands. “...in Pompey’s career”: how did they affect the development of his career.

What were the commands?
  • There were the early ones against the Marians, Lepidus, Sertorius and Spartacus.
  • Then came his consulship (70BC)
  • Then there were the great commands of the 60s against the pirates (lex Gabinia) and Mithridates (lex Manilia)

What power did he have and why was it extraordinary on each occasion?

  • Against the Marians and Lepidus he was granted propraetorian imperium. He was not old enough even to be a quaestor and had not held any magistracy. He had no legal right to be given command of an army.
  • Against Sertorius he was granted proconsular imperium, the highest power which could be bestowed on a Roman, while still not old enough to enter the senate. He had still not held any magistracy. He held this power for five years. This and the previous command were granted by the senate.
  • He was granted triumphs over the Marians and then over Sertorius. These honours were only granted to praetors or consuls.
  • After his consulship he did not take the usual proconsulship.
  • The great commands of the 60s against the pirates and Mithridates provided Pompey with greater power than a single Roman had previously enjoyed. These commands were granted through tribunes’ laws approved by the people and were opposed by most of the senate.

What was the importance of these commands in his career?

Pompey’s whole career was extraordinary. He did not follow the customary path to power through the cursus honorum. There was no precedent for a person gaining power the way he did. His success with each command led to further honours and commands being granted. This led to his being awarded the consulship despite being under the required age and having not held any previous magistracy. He relinquished the opportunity of the usual proconsular position. Instead, having restored the tribunes’ powers during his consulship, he waited for a crisis worthy of his attention and for a friendly tribune to propose new extraordinary commands. His early commands had been granted by a senate desperate to confront a crisis, however his great commands of the 60s were opposed by the senate which by this time realised the personal power which would accrue to him.

How do you use sources?

Don’t use Bradley as a source. Her book is regarded as a text book for students rather than a scholarly treatment of the period. She quotes many sources which you can use.
Use ancient and modern sources. Plutarch is particularly important for this period with biographies of Pompey, Caesar, Crassus, Cicero, Sertorius, Cato the Younger, Brutus and Antony. Seager is the definitive modern source for Pompey.

Quote from or refer to sources which are relevant to your topic and to the specific point being made. Two examples:
  • Seager states that Pompey’s support for the consulship of Lepidus may have been with an eye to his own future career in the event that Lepidus were to cause trouble.
  • Plutarch contends that following the defeat of the Marians, Pompey could have been made a member of the senate had he wished. However he was more concerned with greater honours and demanded a triumph. As Plutarch states, “The really dazzling honour was to have a triumph when he was not a senator at all.”

From booklet 1:
pp. 3-6 "Pompey's spectacular rise to power and the breakdown of the Sullan constitution"
pp. 8-13 "Piracy and the lex Gabinia"; "Mithridates and the lex Manilia"; "Contemporary opinions: Catulus and Cicero"; "Pompey's campaign against Mithridates"; "Pompey's eastern settlement"

  • the early commands and the extraordinary (and illegal) rise of Pompey through his commands against Lepidus, Sertorius and Spartacus
  • the first joint consulship of Pompey and Crassus
  • the threat posed by piracy
  • the nature of the command given to Pompey by the lex Gabinia
  • the support and opposition to the lex Gabinia
  • the success of Pompey against the pirates
  • the threat posed by Mithridates, and the efforts of Lucullus
  • the nature of the command given to Pompey by the lex Manilia
  • the support and opposition to the lex Manilia
  • the success of Pompey against Mithridates
  • the changes made by Pompey in his eastern settlement
  • the response of the senate on Pompey's return