Ancient Rome
Pompey the Great

Pompey the Great
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 8 to 10
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   8.27

     challenging words:    adulescentulus, animosity, brush-off, carnifex, mockery, pro-Marius, pro-Sulla, proconsul, quashed, re-examine, show-down, stand-off, following, stepdaughter, rout, aftermath
     content words:    Julius Caesar, Social War, Roman Republic, Pompey Strabo, Gaius Marius, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, When Sulla, After Sulla, First Mithridatic War, Quintus Sertorius

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Pompey the Great
By Vickie Chao

1     When it comes to famous generals of ancient Rome, many think of Julius Caesar.
2     True, Julius Caesar was a great military commander whose ambition knew no bounds. But before he established a name for himself, there was Pompey, another superb Roman general whose ambition also knew no bounds. Since the two were quite close in age and from the same era, it was inevitable that they would clash one day over power.
3     Who won?
4     Well, read on and find out.
5     Pompey (also spelled as Pompeius) was born in 106 B.C. at a northern Italian town called Picenum. When he was in his teens, he joined his father and fought the Social War. The Social War was essentially a struggle between the Roman Republic and its Italian allies over who could be considered Roman citizens. The view taken by the former insisted that only its residents could lay claim to that right, but its allies disagreed and, subsequently, revolted in 91 B.C. At the height of the conflict in 89 B.C., Pompey's father, Pompey Strabo, became consul, the highest elected post of the Roman Republic. Following the tradition, Pompey Strabo did not try to fight the war from Rome. Rather, he himself took his troops to the north and fought the rebels head-on and quashed them soundly. The young Pompey, serving under his father at the time, had ample opportunities to observe and learn various military strategies. Such first-hand knowledge helped to mold the teenager into an accomplished general later on. After the Social War ended in 88 B.C., Pompey Strabo retired to his hometown, Picenum, and died the next year. His army of three legions remained loyal to Pompey. They were instrumental in his success.
6     The Roman Republic during Pompey's youth had a lot of troubles. The Social War was merely one of them. Now with the Italian allies largely subdued, a power struggle between Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla grew quickly out of control. When Sulla took his soldiers to Rome, a move forbidden by law and ancient tradition, Marius tried to defend the city to no avail. Realizing that he was fighting a losing battle, he fled Rome to raise a new army in Africa. After Sulla left Rome for the First Mithridatic War, Marius returned from his exile and joined forces with Cinna to kill Octavius, a pro-Sulla consul. For the time being, Sulla did not do much to further his influence in Rome. But he did eventually have his revenge when he marched into Rome once again in 82 B.C. Pompey was among those who supported him and welcomed his return.
7     Recognizing the young man's talent and appreciating his loyalty, Sulla persuaded Pompey to divorce his current wife and marry Sulla's own stepdaughter instead. Needless to say, the marriage helped to strengthen the tie between the two. The binding called forth the former to send the latter first to Sicily and then to Africa to put down the opposing forces. The occasion was a perfect showcase of what a military genius Pompey was, for he did not even lose one battle! This amazing record of unbroken victories prompted his troops to proclaim him Imperator, an honorific title for capable commanders. It also, however, earned him a rather unsavory nickname, adulescentulus carnifex ("teenage butcher").
8     After spending nearly two years at the frontline, Pompey finally eradicated all that remained of the Marian (pro-Marius) party in Africa by 81 B.C. At last, he could return to Rome. Upon his arrival, Sulla (now a dictator for life) bestowed upon him another honorific title, Magnus ("the Great"). Some said that this was meant to be a cruel joke. Had that been the case, it appeared that Pompey did not mind the mockery too much because he used the title extensively later in his life.
9     In around 77 B.C., Pompey was itching for a new assignment. He wanted to be sent to Hispania (comprising modern-day Spain and Portugal) as a proconsul to suppress the revolt led by Quintus Sertorius. But his request was met with a lukewarm response as the Senate was wary of his growing ambition and popularity and did not want to give him any more authority than necessary. The brush-off certainly did not stop Pompey from trying. In the end, he managed to get exactly what he wanted and left for Hispania. There, he joined forces with Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, one of Sulla's ablest generals. The duo had many skirmishes with Quintus Sertorius, but their efforts produced small progress. Then, their luck changed in 72 B.C. when they heard the news that Quintus Sertorius was murdered by his own officer. The death of this remarkable commander was the breaking point of the long stand-off. Quickly, they put down the rebels and reclaimed Hispania for the Roman Republic. In the aftermath of the uprising, Pompey demonstrated another talent of his: administration. His fair and generous governing made him immensely popular among the locals in Hispania. Now with things under control, Pompey headed back to Rome.

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