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Useful Notes: Pompey the Great

Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, better known simply as Pompey or Pompey the Great ('Magnus' means 'great'), was an ancient Roman general, politician, and the most famous rival of Gaius Julius Caesar.

Pompey was born in 106 BC to a very rich but not very distinguished family—his father had managed to become consul, but otherwise the Pompeia were rural nobodies, and Pompey was very much an outsider in the Roman political world. At the age of twenty-three, he illegally raised a private army made up of his father's old clients and joined in the then-ongoing Roman civil war, siding with returning war hero Sulla. When the young Pompey met the middle-aged, famous and very powerful Sulla, he let the older man know that Pompey came as an equal ally rather than a subordinate, telling him: "More men worship the rising sun than the setting sun".

That was how Pompey would spend most of his career—sharp enough to pick the right side, but never afraid to tear up the rules to achieve his purpose. In a blatant breach of the Roman constitution, he became consul at the age of thirty-five without having ever been a senator.

While he was a skilled commander in his own right, Pompey acquired a not entirely undeserved reputation for 'finishing' wars that had already been won by other, less famous Roman generals. For instance, while returning from Spain (where he had fought a long war against a renegade Roman warlord), he ran into the surviving followers of the already dead Spartacus. Pompey's veteran soldiers easily defeated these remnants, and Pompey promptly claimed glory for having defeated the entire slave revolt, much to the anger of Marcus Crassus who actually did defeat Spartacus.

Regardless of his methods, and how much credit he did or did not steal, Pompey was incredibly popular in Rome, especially after a highly successful campaign against the pirates that plagued the Mediterranean and a war in the Near East that (amongst other things) firmly brought Judea under Roman domination. In his middle age, he was able to parlay his enormous clout and wealth into an alliance with two of his rivals - the ridiculously wealthy Marcus Crassus and the relatively poor but brilliant young aristocrat Gaius Julius Caesar. Between them, the three became unofficial rulers of Rome, dividing the best provinces between them. Caesar and Crassus both wanted and got wars so they could gain plunder and glory, while Pompey, Happily Married to Caesar's teenage daughter Julia, settled down in Rome for an extended honeymoon.

Soon, cracks began to appear in the triumvirate. Crassus was spectacularly defeated and killed fighting the Parthians, while Caesar unexpectedly proved a superb general, conquering the Gauls and winning vast new territories for Rome. Jealous and afraid, Pompey would probably have split from Caesar anyway, but the death of poor Julia in childbirth weakened the bond between the two. In the civil war that followed, Pompey - the old rule breaker - was ironically leader of the conservative, republican faction trying to stop Caesar.

When it finally came down to a Caesar versus Pompey battle at Pharsalus, Greece in 48 BC, the younger man proved the better general. Pompey fled with his wife to Egypt expecting sanctuary; instead, he was betrayed and murdered by a palace cabal, who sent his head as a gift to Caesarnote .

Relevant Tropes:

  • Antagonist in Mourning: Reportedly, Caesar wept when Pompey's head was brought to him.
  • Appeal to Force: He provides the page quote.
  • Former Teen Rebel: As a young man broke nearly every rule in Roman political life, then ended up leading the traditional Republican faction against Caesar.
  • Four-Star Badass
  • I Was Quite a Looker: According to Plutarch he was very handsome as a youth - even beautiful - even if his surviving statues show an average looking, overweight guy (see the bust at the top of the page.)
  • Magnificent Bastard
  • Name's the Same: Has nothing to do with Pompeii, the Roman city which infamously got an overdose of volcano.
  • Nothing Can Stop Us Now: Allegedly, at the Battle of Pharsalus, Pompey ordered beforehand a great feast to be prepared. He gathered his higher-ranking subordinates around the table, and as Caesar approached, told them that they would ride out to battle, defeat Caesar, then return to enjoy their feast. His army was routed, and he himself fled the battlefield. Caesar pursued him, came across the meal, and he and his soldiers sat down to enjoy Pompey's feast. (They returned to the battlefield when a messenger brought news that Caesar's armies were slaughtering Pompey's defeated ones; Caesar didn't want his soldiers spilling Roman blood, after all.)
  • Overshadowed by Awesome: He wasn't called Magnus for nothing. He was a Four-Star Badass on his own right, but Caesar was even better.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: He married his wives for political reasons, but came to like them genuinely soon thereafter. The biggest example was Julia.
  • Power Trio: The First Triumvirate with Caesar and the absurdly rich Crassus. Established during Pompey's heyday, Caesar - still a rising star - was the one who benefited the most from it.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Pompey and Julia (see below) fell very much in love and were very public about it in a way that scandalised Romans (marriage was a political union, not a love match, and Pompey's public affections made him look very undignified in Roman eyes).
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: As he returned from the Sertorian War (a major native-assisted mutiny of the Roman legions in Hispania, against which the Romans were losing until Pompey's intervention), Pompey stumbled on some survivors from Spartacus' recently annihilated army, and, after killing them, successfully claimed the glory of putting down Spartacus' rebellion, to the chagrin of Crassus (the one who had successfully kicked back into shape the Roman armies defeated by Spartacus and annihilated the rebelling slaves). To be fair, Pompey's message to the Senate admitted that Crassus had defeated the slaves and only claimed credit for finishing the job, but that was enough for the Senate and the people to give him most of the credit.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Married to the famously beautiful (and much, much younger) Julia.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Caesar and Pompey were very close associates during the First Triumvirate. They fell apart apart when Caesar's daughter and Pompey's wife died and the Senate persuaded Pompey to go against him.
  • Worthy Opponent: Caesar was his equal.

Depictions, Allusions, And Others:

Comic Books
  • Astérix portrays Pompey as The Starscream to Julius Ceasar in Asterix and the Actress, which is more or less accurate.

Literature
  • Several of William Shakespeare's plays reference Pompey:
    • Measure for Measure has a pimp named Pompey.
      Escalus: Troth, and your bum is the greatest thing about you; so that in the beastliest sense you are Pompey the Great.
    • And of course, Julius Caesar: One of the senators at the start of the play is upset that Rome is celebrating Caesar's victory over Pompey, when they were both great Roman generals.
    • Henry V, where Captain Fluellen can't stop talking about how slipshod the English army is compared to how Pompey the Great would have run things.
    • In Loves Labours Lost the lower characters put on a show of "The Nine Worthies" for the King and his lords (a la the Mechanicals Play Within A Play scene in A Midsummer Night's Dream). One of them plays Pompey.
    • In Antony And Cleopatra, one of the major characters is Sextus Pompey, the son of Pompey the Great, who has rebelled against the Roman Government.
  • Pompey is a major protagonist in Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series.
  • He appears in Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series.
  • Appears in the Robert Harris novels Imperium and Lustrum. He's portrayed as a capable general but not quite as adept in politics.

Live Action Tv
  • Shows up quite a bit in the first half of Rome as Julius Caesar's rival, a Worthy Adversary.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess lopped off his head.
  • As per history, Pompey shows up with his army in the series finale of Spartacus: War of the Damned. After he and his army have done away with the fleeing rebels, he proceeds to take credit for quelling the rebellion from Crassus. The series foreshadows his future alliance with Crassus and Caesar. Numerous characters refer to him as "The Butcher."

Gaius Julius CaesarUsefulNotes/ItalyEmperor Augustus
The Travels of Marco PoloHistorical-Domain CharacterQin Shi Huangdi

alternative title(s): Pompey; Pompey The Great; Pompeius
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