Cn. Pompeius Cn.f. Sex.n. Magnus or Pompey?

When I was in the university studying history, we were told to a point of boredom how flawed the Great Men History was. While methodological discussion is always very important, I couldn’t help asking myself then, what the heck lecturers meant by this attack. I didn’t recognise the phenomenon and I felt they were stucked into past decades discourses, into something that was way before my time. History professors stuck in the past, some irony there.

Now that I’m not attached into the academic world anymore I have come to appreciate their point of view more, and I’m taking a liberty of interpreting their meaning to be against history culture, not history students nor academic circles. History culture, or popular history, or representations of history in popular culture, whichever term is now in vogue, is still full of great men history. It’s not that it’s intentional violence against methodology, but popular productions need simple stories that focus into individual, and that’s all you need to lower yourself into the level of great men history.

The great men history means the quite flawed view of history, where historical events and developments are presented to be a consequence of will and actions of one individual, typically a well-born man. Usual hallmarks of this genre are idealizations of individuals, building saints over mortal men, forgetting their flaws or portraying their adversaries as thoroughly evil. Everyone surely agrees that this is wrong.

However, the question is more complicated than just evil Hollywood history vs. academic purity. History is not only facts, it’s interpretation. History is not a science where only facts exist or where the truth can be verified by numbers. History is part of our identity, so it’s also a psychological and cultural phenomenon – a past event can have very different interpretations depending on individual. Take any war for example: when you move on to make a historical interpretation on it, you’ll take a walk in a minefield.

Also it’s a question of the mission, role and meaning of history. Why do we create interpretations on past? What do we want to achieve by it? The ancient historians had a clear answer for this: to teach. There’s also the root of great men history, it originally meant to teach a moral lesson how to live your life and what to learn from the great leaders of past.

Now, for me as a history buff since something like 5 years old, the pedagogic value of history and great men history especially, has been there always. Like the characters of fictional literature, also the individuals of the past have been a source of contemplation, emulation and inspiration to me. A question that has been there ever since my pre-school years has been: why people do the things they do? As a school age kid I enjoyed immensely to read different presentations of great historical leaders. And I especially enjoyed the moments when I found something so compelling from a source I otherwise despised, that I had to update my own opinions. Without those moments I doubt very much I would have taken a life-long interest in history.

So when I went to the university, the over repeated condamnation of the great men history for me felt like the professors were stuck into the contemplations I had solved already in my pre-teen years: surely we were all adults (or thereabouts) as university students and didn’t need to dwell in the obvious: all men are mortal and have their traits seen as strengths or weaknesses depending on the interpreter. In fact, I felt that condamnation of the great men history was counter-productive. I felt strongly, and still do to a limit, that there is pedagogical value, or moral value, in the great men history. If we remove the moral lesson from history altogether, I think we remove a great deal of its value for humanity too. As humans, we have a great ability for abstract thinking and learning lessons from the past, without the need to necessarily make same mistakes again, and we should not waste that talent.

However, and now I’m finally coming to the point I try to make, the history is not just for moral upbringing, it needs its own ethical code as well. For me the prime ethical rule for making interpretations and representations of past is to make justice for the people of the past. The question I ask myself every time I write or speak about the past is that am I making the justice for the past people. Do I understood their view of the world, do I understand their culture, surroundings, their experience of events, their values? And if I do I think I do, then do I manage to translate this understanding in my own representations for my audience in my time and in my culture? Do I do justice to the past individuals as humans?

As a student of Roman noble families, the bulk of people I write about are very little known generally, and for these individuals fulfilling the ethical requirements of this work is quite easy, I don’t need to care about popular images of these people, as there are no such existing. However, the task is considerably more challenging with well-known figures of Roman history, who also tend to be controversial and loaded with meanings, motivations and interpretations of different kinds, piled up during the 2000+ years on these personae. How to approach individuals like Caesar or Pompeius, when whatever I say about them can be seen as taking a stand of some kind, a leaning into one camp of interpretators or another? With these over-used great men of history, the problem is how loaded their images are in the minds of my temporaries.

One problem I face with writing about Pompeius is then that am I writing about Cn. Pompeius Cn.f. Sex.n. Magnus or Pompey the Great? If I’m writing about the Pompey, then I’m writing about an individual, almost like a biographist, trying to find individuality and characterisations of an individual there, or perhaps I’m not writing just life, but life and times, in any case, the focus is on individual and more or less great men history. If I write about Cn. Pompeius Cn.f. Sex.n. Magnus, then I’m writing about an individual member of moderately influental late-republican Roman plebeian family.

With Pompeius this problem of great men history vs. making justice to the individual is markedly present: all seems to hint to that Pompeius didn’t want to conform to be just a typical member of gens Pompeia, or a typical member of Roman upper class. So, while typically one would make most justice (considering the historical individual) to a member of Roman upper class by emphasising the meaning of family networks, as the historical individual would have himself been very aware of the limitations of this cultural setting and conforming to it, one struggles to do this with Pompeius. Pompeius did practically almost everything he could to break free from these limitations and cultural traditions, he was a rebel, and did everything he could to build an exceptional image for himself. To make justice for such a person, wouldn’t great men history approach be ideal? It would represent him in a way he would himself like. However, doing so would also mean to make counter-justice to his family, and to other Roman families as well. This problem is very manifest in countless Pompey-biographies one finds everywhere.

The core of the problem is that Pompeius wished to be, and to be seen, as exception, but in reality he was as deeply tied into the surrounding time and culture as every other Roman was. His own family was as little exceptional as every other family. I’m not saying we should see gens Pompeia as without individual characteristics, but what I’m saying is that we should see Pompey in the setting where Cn. Pompeius Cn.f. Sex.n. Magnus was, as a member of Roman family and its networks, and that we should understand Pompey in the setting of gens Pompeia provided him, not as an idealised or exceptional individual. In this way, we will have both much more deeper understanding of the individual as well as do most justice to the people of the past.

pompeii

Looking at the family tree of Pompeii during the republican period, one notices two things immediately: there are two main branches of the family, whose common ancestor, should one exist, cannot be traced and that the family on the whole has been active in forming alliances through marriages. The latter note shouldn’t come as surprise as it seems to be tendency of the lesser families to align themselves with more established families through marriages.

The strong alignment to the party of Sulla is also very evident through the marriage connections. Mucii, Licinii Crassi and Caecilii Metelli are abundantly also present. Also one notices some cumbersome (for us, but probably pretty straightforward for Romans themselves) multi-generational family relationship arrangements.

For example: Pompeius Magnus (cos 70, 55, 52) had a daughter with his wife Mucia tertia. This daughter Pompeia married first Faustus Cornelius Sulla and then L. Cornelius Cinna (cos 32). Cornelia and Cinna had a daughter Cornelia Pompeia Magna, who married L. Scribonius Libo (pr 80), and they had a son L. Scribonius Libo (cos 34). This younger Libo had a daughter Scribonia, who became the wife of Sex. Pompeius Magnus Pius (cos 33). This Pompeius Magnus Pius was of course brother of Pompeia Magna, who married cos 32 Cinna – so we jump some three generations and come back again almost to the starting point.

When we add here the fact that sister of cos 32 Cinna married C. Julius Caesar (the Caesar), who also married a Pompeia from the other branch of the Pompeii, we also get a sense of broader Pompeian family coordination. That makes one presume common ancestor for all Pompeii.

The image of the gens Pompeia starts to emerge where we can find very strong marriage connections to many of the leading families of their era: Cornelii Sullae, Marii, Julii Caesari, Licinii Crassi, Caecilii Metelli, Aemilii Scauri and Claudii Pulchri, within a relative short span of time few decades. While this speaks obviously about the importance of marriage connections, it also raises an observation about the importance of the Pompeii family. If they would have been an irrelevant family, they wouldn’t have managed to build such connections. Shear number of consulships before the Caesar’s civil war is not exceptional, but of course the achievement of three consulships for Pompeius Magnus is exceptional, while added to them there’s only his father consulship and consulships of father-son pair from the other branch of the Pompeii. The Pompeii must have had something valuable to offer for other more established families.

One hint can be found from the life of Pompeius Magnus’ father, consul of 89, Pompeius Strabo. He had won important victories during the civil war and after his consulship (cos 89) ended, he was ordered to disband his armies. However, he was reluctant to do so, and Pompeius Rufus (cos 88) was given order to get the troops of Pompeius Strabo under his command. Strabo refused and eventually was murdered. His son, the future triumvir Pompeius Magnus was also given order of give up his wife and marry according to the command of Sulla. Pompeius Magnus did so as he wad told. The fact was that the Pompeii were useful henchmen of much more important families and got their payment in the form of marital connections and thus growing influence of the family. However, this meant also great sacrifices and loss of freedom of action. I think this is the background one needs to understand about the character of Pompeius Magnus and why he wanted to break free from traditional limits of Roman statesman. One can only guess the pressure he must have felt in conforming the role the family had.

In fact, one perhaps finds same kind of pressure of family position in Pompeius Magnus as one finds in the younger Scipio. Both were obviously very talented, but also very troubled individuals, who were rebels, if not reformers in their setting. Against this background of very strong, if still quite different kind of, family pressure on them, one can find ideas and insights for their exceptional careers and exceptional deeds.

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The rise and fall of the Valerii Flacci

The life and careers of two identically named, but about 130 years apart lived Valerii Flacci are very good examples of what the careers and lives could be in the Roman nobility at the late republic. The consul of 195 L. Valerius was great-great grand father of praetor of 63, so they were from the same direct family line.

A coin by a L. Valerius Flaccus from 108.

L. Valerius Flaccus (cos 195)

The consul of 195 already belonged into nobility: his father and grand father had been consuls at 261 and 227. Despite this illustrious lineage he was also an open-minded for plebeian contacts, something of which Valerii in general have always been known. His most famous protege, even friend, was M. Porcius Cato (the elder Cato).

The career of L. Valerius expanded for over 30 years:

-Tribunus militum 212, Second Punic War
-Aedilis curulis 201
-Legatus 200, in Gallia under the command of praetor L. Furius Purpurio
-Praetor 199, commanding Sicily
-Consul 195, command area: Italy against invading Gauls
-Proconsul 194, continued consular year command against Gauls in Italy
-Legatus 191, in Greece against Aetolians under the command of consul M´Acilius Glabrio
-Triumvir coloniae deducendae 190 and 189, founded Bologna and supplied Cremona and Placentia
-Censor 184
-Princeps senatus 184
-Pontifex 196-180

Map of the First Punic War.

Valerius met Cato during the Second Punic War and it was a start for lifetime friendship and political alliance, of which more later. In the war itself Valerius took part into important Roman victory at Beneventum, where Romans captured Carthaginian commander Hanno’s camp thus preventing Hanno aiding other Carthaginian troops. However the war that had last up to this point 6 years already would still continue for another 11 years and end only at 201, the year of Valerius’ curule aedileship.

We don’t have a record of Valerius’ offices during the rest of the war, but considering his office as legate of L. Furius Purpurio in Gallia, we might guess that he was not idle. Purpurio had a mission to defend the Roman Gallia against Gallic tribes, but he had only 5000 troops against 40 000 Gauls, who were lead by Carthaginian Hamilcar against the peace treaty with Rome.

M. Porcius Cato the elder.

Next year, 199, Valerius was praetor in Sicilia and his ally Cato was an aedile. The men shared liking for traditional Roman values against new breed of hellenised Romans like Scipio and Flamininus. Valerius and Cato both supported frugality even to a point of ascetism. Thus 198 Cato as praetor in the province Sardinia followed his ideals and was remarkably frugal in all expenses.

At 195 Valerius and Cato held consulship together and enacted laws against luxury as to be expected. Valerius was sent as commander to protect Italy against invading Gallic tribes and Cato was sent to wage war against Hispanic tribes. Valerius continued war against Gauls also as proconsul after his consular year.

The next command for Valerius was under consul M’ Acilius Glabrio and this time too, Cato was there. Both men were present at the battle of Thermopylae, where Roman forces achieved a devastating victory over Antiochus III of Seleucids and the Roman commander Glabrio gave Cato the credit of the decisive maneuver as of result of which the Greeks decided to flee from the battleground.

Antiochus III of Seleucids.

After these military missions Valerius served as member of three men commissions of first strengthening the Roman colonies of Placentia and Cremona and then to establish Roman colony of Bononia (Bologna).

After couple of years during which we have no record of either Valerius or Cato holding a public office we see them winning the elections for censor for term starting at 184. This most dignified of Roman public offices was a Roman peculiarity. They were in some matters below of even praetores in rank, but still fully independent within their own office and the office was regarded as sacred. Added to census the public moral was their regimen.

One could say that Valerius and Cato were obvious choices from their generation for this special office: both being stern moralists and very conservative in their views. Their censorship indeed is still famous (or notorious, from another perspective) of the severity. It can be said that their censorship was a conservative reaction against the deep changes happening in Roman society after frist Punic Wars. Valerius and Cato expelled many notable men of their time from the Senate and imposed tight restrictions against luxury.

Censorship was the last office Valerius and Cato shared. Cato was younger than Valerius and continued being active in the society without ever having any public office anymore. He continued to have great influence due his remarkable career and personal qualities. Valerius still had one public office to climb. He was appointed as princeps senatus at 184.

Princeps senatus was the first speaker in Senate and while having no imperium (command authority), the post was regarded as ultimate honour that a Roman statesman could achieve. Usually one had to have been both consul and censor, have a long career in politics and to be generally respected amongst senators. The power the office holder had was very political in nature: he was to have first speech in all matters and this way princeps could have great influence in tone and contents over all ensuing discussion of the matter in the Senate.

Valerius was first of his family line to achive this dignified position and indeed there was only one other, L. Valerius Flaccus (cos 100), his great grandson, who achieved this position from their family. Valerius died at 180 as one of the leading statesman of his era.

In the life and career of Valerius we can see many many typical Roman attributes of the era.

His career was like a model of ideal Roman career of military commander statesman, who took succesfully part into the great wars of his times.

Valerius was also an ideal conservative Roman, frugal, stern but just, respected also by his opponents.

We can also see typical Roman way of strong personal alliances in his career. Sharing of several magistracies is far from atypical in Roman system, where one needs strong allies to win elections. Valerius choose Cato as his ally and this obviously was a very successful choice, Cato being able to gather great support from different groups and individuals.

Also e.g. Valerius’ legateship under L. Furius Purpurio in Gallia in year 200 bore fruit five years later as Purpurio was consul in 196 and thus responsible for the elections of consuls of 195, where Valerius and Cato were victorious. This too is typical pattern in Roman politics: the current consuls had great influence in the outcome of the elections for next year and we see many alliances between families working this way.

Valerius was also the leading member of his family and raised it even higher into nobility than his consular ancestors had done. He is third generation consul and there was to be three more generations of Valerian consuls after him, which is a rare achievement for Roman family.

Valerius was born in the decades after the First Punic War and lived his early adulthood during Second Punic War and this era with its very cruel wars probably had a great influence on how Valerius saw life in general and shaped his conservative views further. He belonged into generation of Roman military commander statesmen and while we know little of his private life, he was probably idolised also inside his family, if for nothing else, then being first princeps senatus of his family.

The life and times of his great-great grandchild L. Valerius Flaccus, praetor of 63, were very different.

Rome and Carthage at the beginning of the Second Punic War.

L. Valerius Flaccus (pr 63)

The father of this younger Flaccus was the consul of 86 and belonged to last golden generation of Valerii Flacci. Valerius Flaccus, consul of 195 above, had one son, consul of 152, who in turn had two sons, consul of 131 and another rather unknown son. Son of consul 131 was to become consul at 100 while his cousins, the two sons of otherwise unknown C. Valerius Flaccus mentioned before, were to become consuls at 93 and 86. Younger, consul of 86, was father of our younger Flaccus. So with 7 generations of consuls, with three consuls in his fathers generation, there must have been an enormous pressure for young Flaccus to match the success of previous generations.

C. Marius.

To understand his life we need to first take a look into his father’s career. His advance in the cursus honorum was typical of Roman of his status. He was a military tribune at year 100, when his uncle was consul with C. Marius (his sixth consulship). He then proceeded to be elected as aedile and praetor. He was designated with one of the most richest provinces, Asia, and this can be taken as a sign that Valerii Flacci were strongly allied with Marius and his followers. He also continued his term as propraetor of Asia after praetorship.

It is possible that father Flaccus was also the commander of a cavalry unit near Rome in Ostia, which switched sides to Marius at 87 during the civil war between Marius and Sulla. In any case father Flaccus was elected as suffect consul next year when Marius died shortly after beginning his seventh consulship. Father Flaccus was faced with debt crises right away, with Rome’s economy in danger to collapse. He ordered immediate 75% write off of the debt (both private and government) and the financial situation eased considerably.

L. Cornelius Sulla Felix.

During his consulship Sulla was gathering strength in the east. Father Flaccus and his consular colleague Cinna decided to respond into Sulla’s diplomatic and military build up and Flaccus was sent to the province of Asia with two legions. His son (our praetor of 63) was with him. The campaign was ill-fated. Not only heavily outnumbered by Sulla, but also suffering from storms, and not nearly all of the troops even reached the area.

Father Flaccus’ elder cousin (consul of 100) was declared as princeps senatus and his policy was to try to find a solution to start negotiations with Sulla, if possible. One of the great mysteries we have about the Valerii Flacci family is that shared father Flaccus his cousins’ point of view in this. It might be, as otherwise it is difficult to find a motivation for events of winter 86-85. Then father Flaccus’ sub commander C. Flavius Fimbria mutinied and killed father Flaccus. Fimbria was a devout Marian, so his motivation could be to prevent Flaccus from negotiating with Sulla. A slight support for this theory also comes from the fact that while Flaccus was in command, Sulla did not commit into decisive battles against his troops.

In any case the death of his father in Asia was one of the defining moments of young Flaccus’ life. He was under 20 years old, on his first military campaign, and when his father was killed in mutiny, he had to flee for his life. Flaccus fled into his uncles (cos 93) camp in Gallia. His uncle was one of the strongest men at this time controlling both Gallic and Hispanic provinces.

The start of the official career of younger Flaccus then was under exceptional circumstances of Sullan-Marian civil war. It was also to be continued in similar vein with both of his powerful relatives, princeps senatus (cos 100) and uncle (cos 93) switching sides to Sulla. The murder of his father may have accelerated the run of events, but there are indications that both elder Flacci were already turning their allegiance into Sulla. Younger Flaccus in any case served in his uncle’s force in Gallia as military tribune still in 82.

With Sullan reforms of the state and Roman society returning into normal state of affairs, also the career of younger Flaccus was steered into more traditional direction. He served as military tribune also in Cilicia under Servilius Isauricus. At 76 he was a member of special commission of three to aquire surviving Sibylline books. He was elected as questor for 70. During his quaestorship he was sent into Hispania to serve with M. Pupius Piso and also got prolonged proquaestorship for 69 there. After this is immediately served as legatus during 68-66 in Crete in the forces of Caecilius Metellus (future Creticus).

As consul for 69 and proconsul 68 Metellus took up command against the Crete. Crete had been supporting king of Pontus Mithridates against Rome and also sponsoring several pirates of the area, which were great nuisance and even a danger for Rome. Metellus started a succesfull offensive and captured several Cretan cities. At the same time Pompeius had been given an extra ordinary mission against the pirates at whole mediterranean and was also making progress. The Cretans saw an opportunity themselves and declared surrender for Pompeius, not Metellus. Probably they believed to achieve more lenient terms of peace from Pompeius, for whom Crete was just one pirate base, whereas for Metellus Crete was the whole of his command. The plot was at first successfull and Pompeius accepted Cretan surrender and even ordered Metellus to leave the island with his troops. Metellus however declined and continued the war and swiftly subdued the whole island and declared it as province of Rome.

Cn. Pompeius Magnus.

Traditionally Metellus should have recieved a triumph for his victory, but Pompeius managed to prevent it until 62, when Metellus was finally a triumphator and recieved also cognomen Creticus. Metellus got his revenge by delaying the Senate approval for Pompeius’ reorganisation of Asia after pirate war until year 60.

We can only guess what Flaccus thought about these internal strifes between Metellus and Pompeius, but perhaps a hint can be taken from the fact that after two years with Metellus in Crete at 68-67, he took a post as legatus in Pompeius’ troops in Asia for 66-65 in war against Mithridates. His colleague there was Caecilius Metellus Celer who was distant relative (Creticus’ grandfather was great-grandfather of Celer). This Celer, btw, is famous of being Clodia’s husband and was probably eventually poisoned by Clodia at 59).

In any case after his legateship in the Pompeius’ troops Flaccus campaigned succesfully for praetor and was elected as such for the year of 63. We can safely assume that this was because of the support from Pompeius. It was Pompeius’ method to raise his supporters into power and advance his own career in this indirect way. At 63 we also see Cicero as consul, and he was also sponsored by Pompeius. During his praetorship Flaccus naturally was involved as chairman of the court in the Catilinian conspiracy and probably as payment for his services recieved rich province of Asia as his propraetorian appointment after consulship.

Flaccus was accused of embezzlement of funds after his term of propraetor and was defended in the court by Cicero and Q. Hortensius, the two most prominent public speakers of their era (Ciceros’ speech is known as pro Flacco). The charges were dropped, but there is no doubt of Flaccus’ guilt. In fact, Flaccus is usually held as most obviously guilty of all Cicero’s defence cases, Asia was in poor shape after Flaccus. Cicero knew this fully well, as his own brother followed Flaccus as propraetor of Asia. For Cicero a complication in the trial was that his brother would be facing same sort of trial (for good reasons too) when he would return from the province into Rome. Perhaps one should however give credit to Cicero in geniousness in the way he managed to successfully to defend Flaccus but also leave some ammunition of eloquence for the coming defence of his borther!

M. Tullius Cicero

For some reason Flaccus did not manage to gather enough support to be elected as consul in the coming years. Certainly he didn’t lack illustrious name nor probably money to run a successfull campaign, so probably the reason was that he didn’t have the final support from Pompeius, whose attention was directed into forming of the first triumvirate. Pompeius married Caesar’s daughter Julia in 59. Julia died in childbirth at 54 and the two men were drifted into civil war at 51.

Flaccus was sidetracked from the top political posts during this time and served as legatus of L. Piso in Macedonia in 57-56. Piso was consul of 58 and Cicero’s enemy: he allied with Clodius to have Cicero exiled, which was successul. Piso was rewarded with province of Macedonia for 57-55. Piso was also the father of Calpurnia, wife of Caesar. We know him also as probable owner of Villa dei Papiri at Herculaneum. In any case Flaccus served with him in Macedonia until the recall of Piso because of the influence of then returned Cicero. Perhaps we can see Flaccus selecting Piso as a sign of leaving the Pompeian camp.

Flaccus accepted a command in Crete for 54, but died shortly after. His son was about 25 years old at this time and served as legate in the troops of Ap. Claudius Pulcher in Cilicia at 53-51, but died at the battle of Dyrracheum in 48 at the side of Pompeius. This son of Flaccus was the last Valerius Flaccus.

Republican era provinces of Rome at 78.

The life and career of L. Valerius Flaccus (pr 63) was then much different than his great-great grand father, consul of 195. Even though there was only 130 years between them, the Rome could hardly have been more different. The Rome of elder Valerius was Rome that was struggling with Carthage for the mastery of middle Mediterranean area, relatively small and poor power. Rome of younger Flaccus was rich beyond imagination and having more dangerous internal enemies than any real external enemies.

Elder Valerius knew all his life who the enemy is, and sought to restore traditional values. Younger Flaccus switched sides, witnessed the struggle between Marius and Sulla as well as the rise of Pompeius. Elder Valerius was known for his frugality and stern justice, the younger Flaccus for his embezzlement of provincial funds.

Both elder Valerius and younger Flaccus still belonged into highest circles of Rome. Both knew personally the great men of their time and were friends and enemies with them. Both also had their not small role in shaping the history of Rome, even history of world. Elder Valerius saw his house to rise into highest prominence in Roman politics, whereas younger Flaccus never reached consulship and all but saw the end of his line and house of Valerii Flacci.