Roman Republic

Roman Italy (1st century BC)

Pompey’s Eastern Command (67 - 62 BC)


Pompey’s Early Career (83-71 BC)      Pompey’s Eastern Commands (67 - 60 BC)

Prior History

Earlier Phase of the 3rd Mithridatic War (73 - 67 BC)

Eastern Mediterranean in 89 BC (adapted from the web page in Wikipedia)

Prior to Pompey’s arrival in the east, the on-going war against King Mithridates VI of Pontus, an inveterate enemy of Rome, which had been the provincia of L. Licinius Lucullus: as consul of 74 BC, he had arranged for his allotted province to be changed so that he could replace the recently-deceased proconsul of Cilicia and (perhaps while he was in Cilicia), he received the command of the war.   According to Robert Broughton (referenced below) we find him in command against Mithridates as:

  1. proconsul of Asia and Cilicia in 73 BC (p. 111);

  2. proconsul of Asia, Cilicia Bithnyia and Pontus in 72 BC (p. 118); 71 BC (p. 123); and 70 BC (p. 129);

  3. proconsul of Cilicia Bithnyia and Pontus in: 69 BC (p. 131); and 68 BC (p. 139); and

  4. proconsul of Bithnyia and Pontus in 67 BC (p. 146 and p. 144, note 7).

According to Charles Williams (referenced below, at p. 33), although Lucullus:

  1. “... had conducted a largely successful war against Mithridates ... , he was never able to capture him, and, by 67 BC, the war seemed far from over.  Some plebeian tribunes in Rome even voiced concerns that he would never lay down his command.”

He cited Plutarch, who recorded that, at this time, Lucullus’ soldiers:

  1. “... followed him reluctantly and rebelliously, while the popular tribunes at Rome raised an outcry against him, and accused him of seeking one war after another, ... so that he might be in perpetual command and never lay down his arms or cease enriching himself from the public dangers.  And, in time, these men accomplished their purpose ...” (‘Life of Lucullus’, 24: 3-4).

According to Robert Broughton (referenced below, at p. 144), one of the tribunes of 67 BC, Aulus Gabinius, carried a law that assigned Lucullus’ remaining provinces (Bithnyia and Pontus) to one of the serving consuls, Manlius Acilius Glabrio.   Frederik Vervaet (referenced below, at p. 273) characterised this law as:

  1. “... one of the highlights of popularis agitation against Lucullus.”

He observed (at pp. 279-80) that it:

  1. “...  must have been passed in 67 BC (perhaps, in February).  Since Acilius subsequently departed for Bithynia at his earliest convenience, he had probably arrived in his province by May at the latest.  By analogy with the scope of  [later tribunician laws] that notoriously authorised Caesar to govern his provinces from 1st March 59 BC to 1st March 54 BC and then again from from 1st March 54 BC to 1st March 49 BC, it is quite possible that this Gabinian law entitled Acilius to exercise his imperium in Bithynia and the war against Mithridates from, for example, 1st April 67 BC to 1st  April  64 BC.  This generous term would give him ample opportunity to end the war in eastern Asia Minor, and so to secure a public triumph, to reorganise the region in accordance with the best interest of the forces that had backed him, and (last but not least) to enrich himself.”

John Rich (referenced below, at p.  237), three participants in this phase of the war

  1. “... found their triumphal prospects hampered by the political turbulence of the late Republic: Lucullus, Metellus Creticus [see below], and Q. Marcius Rex all returned from eastern commands in 66 BC and were awarded triumphs by the Senate, but prevented from holding them by [plebeian] tribunes opposing the required law granting them imperium for the day of their entry into the City. Lucullus eventually succeeded in holding his triumph in 63 BC and Metellus in 62 BC, but Marcius died first. All three commanders had been replaced by or otherwise clashed with Pompey, and the tribunes appear to have been acting on his behalf, or at least seeking his favour.”

War with the Pirates of the Mediterranean (73 - 67 BC) 

Robert Broughton (referenced below, at p. 101) recorded that M. Antonius Creticus, a praetor in 74 BC:

  1. “... was invested by special enactment with an imperium infinitum, almost certainly pro consule, in order to combat piracy throughout the Mediterranean area.  His operations in [73 BC] were limited to the west (Liguria, Spain and Sicily).”


  1. he began preparations for an operation against the Cretan pirates in 72 BC (p. 117); and

  2. he suffered a major defeat at the hands of the the Cretan pirates in 71 BC and  and forced to make a treaty with them.  He died soon  after, without returning to Rome (p. 123).

The nature of Antonius’ an imperium infinitum has been much debated: in a recent study, Tatyana Kudryavtseva (referenced below, at p. 949) concluded that it was:

  1. “ ... a novel type of emergency powers that had materialised by the end of the 70s BC.  The usage of the word infinitum in informal description of [Antonius’ imperium] can be attributed ...  to the impression that its vast territorial span (from Spain to Crete and the Aegean archipelago) made on the contemporaries.  [The lessons of its initial deficiencies were learned, and] ... in less than ten years, a similar imperium was given to [Pompey, but, unlike Antonius] he was allowed to ‘take as much money as necessary from the treasury’ and to demand ‘ships, money and army’.  The [de facto] imperium infinitum of [Pompey] would prove its effectiveness as the means of combatting piracy.” 

Lex Gabinia de Piratis Persequendis (67 BC)

In 67 BC, growing dissatisfaction in Rome with the apparently never-ending saga that was Third Mithridatic War (see below) was compounded by the growing problem of piracy in the Mediterranean.  As Charles Williams (referenced below, at p. 30) observed:

  1. “Although [most of the pirates] were based in Cilicia, ... [others] had joined... [them] in operations that involved large fleets and spanned the [whole] Mediterranean.  ... Mithridates ... had been supporting the pirates financially and directing them against Roman interests.  Unlike simple brigands, [they] were highly mobile and difficult to track.  Travellers at sea and inhabitants of the coastlines were [all] in grave danger. The port of Ostia (Rome’s own harbour) had been attacked, and several other Italian cities had been burned.  A favourite tactic of the pirates was to seize important Romans or even entire coastal cities and demand a large ransom for their surrender.  Perhaps, most ominous of all, Rome was being steadily cut off from its supplies of corn and other commodities.”

According to Velleius Paterculus, in 67 BC:

  1. “... when the pirates were terrifying the world, not, as previously, by furtive marauding expeditions but now with fleets of ships in the manner of regular warfare, and had already plundered several cities of Italy, Aulus Gabinius, a [plebeian] tribune, proposed an enactment, to the effect that [Pompey] should be sent to crush them, and that in all the provinces he should have a power equal to that of the proconsular governors to a distance of 50 miles from the sea.  By this decree, the command of almost the entire world was  entrusted to one man”, (‘Roman History’, 2: 31: 2-3).

Robert Broughton (referenced below, at p. 144) recorded that this bill, which:

  1. “... created for one commander, Pompey, an unlimited imperium ... for at least three years, over the [entire coast] of the Mediterranean and for 50 miles inland, equal to that of the respective governors [of the coastal provinces], with the right:

  2. to appoint 15 (or 24) legates with imperium pro praetor;

  3. to raise a navy of 300 (or 500) ships; to levy recruits as desired; and

  4. to draw on public funds.”

According to Plutarch, although Gabinus’ bill was popular with the Roman people:

  1. “... the chief and most influential men of the Senate thought that such unlimited and absolute power, while it was beyond the reach of envy, was yet a thing to be feared.  Therefore, they all opposed the law, with the exception of Caesar; he advocated the law, not because he cared in the least for Pompey, but because ... he sought to ingratiate himself with the people and win their support.  The rest [of the Senate] vehemently attacked Pompey. ... Moreover, when [Q. Lutatius] Catulus came forward to speak against the law, the people had regard enough for him to be quiet for some time; but after he had spoken at length in Pompey's praise and without any disparagement of him, and then advised the people to spare such a man and not expose him to successive wars and perils, asking,

  2. ‘Whom else will you have if you lose him?’;

  3. all with one accord replied:

  4. ‘You, Catulus’. 

  5. Accordingly, since he could not persuade them, he retired.  When Roscius [then] came forward to speak, no one would listen to him.  He therefore made signs with his fingers that they should not choose Pompey alone to this command, but give him a colleague.   At this, we are told, the people were incensed  ... For the time being, then, the assembly was dissolved; but when the day came for the vote upon the law, Pompey withdrew privately into the country.  On hearing, however, that the law had been passed, ... he appeared in public and offered sacrifice.  At an assembly held for him, he managed to get many other things besides those already voted, and almost doubled his armament. ... And, when the price of provisions immediately fell, the people joyfully exclaimed that the very name of Pompey had put an end to the war”, (‘Life of Pompey’, 25:1 - 26:2).

Velleius Paterculus mused on why there was so much opposition in 67 BC to the granting of a type of imperium that had been uncontroversial in 74 BC:

  1. “... sometimes, the personality of the recipient of such power ... [determines the reaction].

  2. In the case of [the praetor M.] Antonius, people had looked upon his position with no concern.  For it is rare that we begrudge honours to those whose power we do not fear.

  3. On the other hand, men shrink from conferring extraordinary powers upon those who seem likely to retain them or lay them aside only as they themselves choose, and whose [personal] inclinations are their only check [against abuse]. 

  4. [For this reason, in 67 BC], the optimates advised against the grant to Pompey, but [their] sane advice succumbed to impulse [on the part of the plebeian tribunes]”, (‘Roman History’, 2: 31: 2-4).

Perhaps most significant was the fact that, unlike the praetor M. Antonius in 74 BC, Pompey held no magisterial office at the time of his appointment.

Pompey’s Conduct of the War

Robert Broughton (referenced below, at p. 146) recorded that Pompey’s:

  1. “... excellent organisation [of his legates] and his great concentration of ships, resources, and men, swept the Mediterranean from west to east, and during the summer [of 67 BC] and brought the war to an effective end in a great battle off Coracesium in Cilicia.”

According to Cicero, in a speech that he delivered in 59 BC in the trial of L. Valerius Flaccus, Pompey had previously:

  1. “... destroyed the fleets of the pirates, their cities, their harbours, their lairs, and brought peace to the sea with the utmost valour and unbelievable speed”, (‘Pro Flacco’, 29, translated by Coll Macdonald, referenced below, at p. 473)

[Q. Caecilius  Metellus Creticus triumphed in 62 BC as proconsul in Crete]

Pompey’s Eastern Campaign  (66 - 63 BC) 

Lex Manilia (early 66 BC)

L. Licinius Lucullus (cos 74 BC) had been in command in a war against Mithridates VI of Pontus and Armenia since 73 BC, as governor of Asia, Cilicia and Bithynia and Pontus,  However, public opinion turned against him when he failed to bring matters to a successful close:

  1. in 69 BC, the consul P. Cornelius Dolabella replaced him as governor of Asia;

  2. in 68 BC, the consul Q. Marcius Rex replaced him as governor of Cilicia; and

  3. in 67 BC, under another law promulgated by the plebeian tribune A. Gabinius, the consul M'. Acilius Glabrio replaced him as governor of Bithynia and Pontus and was also given command of part of Lucullus’ army.

According to Frederik Vervaet (referenced below, at p. 139), Glabrio’s :

  1. “... decision to stay in Bithynia instead of taking over from ... Lucullus [... in Pontus] prompted Pompeius and his allies to make another bold move, in the form of the Manilian Law, passed at some point early in 66 BC.  In addition to his ongoing Mediterranean command against the pirates, Pompeius now also received Bithynia and the war against ... [Mithridates and his son-in-law, Tigranes II of Armenia], creating a combined command second only to Sulla’s plenipotentiary dictatorship of 82-79 BC in terms of scope and resources.”

According to Robert Broughton (referenced below, at p. 153), in 66 BC, the plebeian tribune C. Manlius promulgated:

  1. “ ... the famous law that gave] Pompey command of the provinces of Cilicia and of Bithynia and Pontus and of the war against Mithridates.”

Conduct of the War (66 - 62 BC)

The following summary is taken from Robert Broughton (referenced below):

  1. In 66 BC (p. 155), Pompey secured the defeat of Mithridates and his expulsion from Pontus.  However, Mithridates managed to find refuge in Colchis after Tigranes denied him entry into Armenia and surrendered to Pompey.

  2. In 65 BC (p. 159), he compelled the Albanian and other Caucasian and Colchian peoples to sue for peace.  He also entered into the dispute between Tigranes and Phraates of Parthia and occupied Gordyene.

  3. In 64 BC (p. 163 ),  he advanced from Pontus into Syria, receiving the submission of  a number of  minor Hellenised kingdoms there  there and also arbitrated a boundary dispute between Tigranes and Phraates.

John Freely (referenced below, at p. 94)  recorded that, during this phase of the war, Pompey:

  1. “... received the submission of [the rulers of the Helenised kingdoms of Galatia, Paphlagonis, Cappadocia and Commagene in south eastern Anatolia] and recognised them as ‘friends and allies of the Roman people’.  He also reorganised the cities and provinces of Asia Minor, after which he went on to Syria ...”

Richard Evans (referenced below, at p. 110) recorded that:

  1. “... during the course of 64-3 BC, Pompey led his army south into Syria where, to end the chaos caused by Tigranes’ conquest of the area and the internecine strife among the previous dynasty, the kingdom was converted into a Roman province.  The pleas of its last [Seleucid] king, Antiochus XIII, to be restored to his kingdom were ignored since Pompey considered Syria a Roman prize won from Tigranes of Armenia.  While at Antioch he mediated a border dispute between Armenia and Parthia ... From Antioch, Pompey was drawn south into Coele-Syria (modern Palestine), which had once been the much disputed border between the Seleucids and the Ptolemies [of Egypt].  ... [The Hasmonaean kingdom of Judea here]proclaimed the first king of Judaea [here] ... achieved recognition by Rome in 139 BC, although its immediate overlord [had] remained the Syrian king.  In 64 BC,  Judaea was ruled by Aristobulus II but his brother Hyrcanus also sought the throne and a state of civil war between the two allowed the Romans to become involved.  In 63 BC,  Pompey had reached Judea when he heard of the suicide of Mithridates. ... [He] besieged Jerusalem for three months before it was sacked and Aristobulus captured.  Hyrcanus was allowed to become High Priest but not a king and Judaea was from then on to be supervised [by a Roman governor at] Antioch [see below] ...This brought Pompey’s campaigning in the East to a conclusion an end ...”

Pompey’s Reorganisation of the Eastern Territories (62 BC)

Pompey’s Settlement of the East (Josiah Osgood, referenced below, Map 6, at p. 119)

Josiah Osgood (referenced below, at p. 119) observed that:

  1. “Pompey, not bothering to wait for the traditional commission of 10 senators [decemviri], was able to reorganise the entire east on his own.”

Pompey seems to have spend much of 62 BC in completing his arrangements: according to Robert Broughton (referenced below, at p. 176), he probably arrived back at Brundisium in December of that year.   Josiah Osgood (referenced below, at p. 119 and Map 6 above) described the new arrangements:

  1. The western portion of Pontus (which had been the core of Mithridates’ kingdom) was  transformed into a province, to be joined with Bythynia.

  2. Cilicia was expanded and left with a permanent garrison.

  3. A new province of Syria was created (and, as we have seen, its governor was to be responsible for the erstwhile kingdom of Judea).

  4. The eastern portion of Pontus, the erstwhile territory of Armenia and the lesser kingdoms in the region (including Galatia, Cappococia and Commagene) became client states that formed a buffer between the Roman provinces and Parthia.

As we shall see on the following page, the reluctance of the Senate to ratify these arrangements led Pompey to his participation  with Crassu a nd Caesar in the so-called First Triumvrrate of 59 BC.

The situation of Ptolemaic Egypt  at the time of Pompey’s campaign in the east is uncertain: as Jacob Slaytor (referenced below, at pp. 51-2) observed, Ptolemy XII Auletes, who had sought good relations with Rome since his accession in 80 BC, sent financial and military support to Pompey during his Judaean campaign in 63 BC, but the relationship was not formally established until 59 BC, when he became a ‘friend and ally’ of Rome by law and by decree of the Senate.

Pompey Magnus and Alexander the Great

Pompey’s Aureus

However, the aurei are much rarer and also much more remarkable: as this extract from the CRRO database illustrates,  this was only the second coin of this denomination to be issued since RRC 381/1, which was issued for Sulla as dictator in 80 BC.  (As Kamil Kopij pointed out, the other earlier aureus, RRC 402/1 was issued by Pompey issued  as pro consul: Pompey was proconsul almost continuously from 76 BC and, while his aurei are usually dated to 71 BC, they could actually have been issued in almost any year in the period 76 - 48 BC).  It seems to me that RRC 452, which was the first of six aurei minted by or for Caesar, was probably minted to commemorate his victory at Pharsalus.

Kudryavtseva T. V., “Reconsidering the Imperium Infinitum of Marcus Antonius Creticus”, Vestnik of Saint Petersburg University: History, 64:3 (2019) 937–50

Williams C., Pompey and Cicero: An Alliance of Convenience” (2013), thesis of the Texas State University

Arena V., “The Consulship of 78 BC: Catulus Versus Lepidus: an Optimates Versus Populares Affair”, in:

  1. Beck H. et al. (editors), “Consuls and Res Publica: Holding High Office in the Roman Republic”, (2011)  Cambridge, at pp. 299-318

Vervaet F. J., “Reducing Senatorial Control over Provincial Commanders: A Forgotten Gabinian Law of 67 BC”, in:

  1. Hekster O. and Kaizer T. (editors), “Frontiers in the Roman World: Proceedings of the Ninth Workshop of the International Network Impact of Empire (Durham, 16-19 April 2009)”, (2011) Leiden and Boston, at pp. 265-90

Jameson S., “Pompey's Imperium in 67 BC: Some Constitutional Fictions”, Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 19:5 (1970) 539-60

Broughton T. R. S., “The Magistrates of the Roman Republic,Volume II (99 - 31 BC)”,  (1952) New York

Read more:

Slaytor J. W., “The Ochlos and Auletes: Alexandrian Autonomy in the First Century BC”, (2020) thesis of the university of Sidney

Kudryavtseva T. V., “Reconsidering the Imperium Infinitum of Marcus Antonius Creticus”, Vestnik of Saint Petersburg University: History, 64:3 (2019) 937–50

Kopij K., “The Context and Dating of the Pompey's Aureus (RRC 402)”, Numismatica e Antichità Classiche, 45 (2016) 109–28

Vervaet F. J., “‘Si Neque lLeges Neque Mores Cogunt’: Beyond the Spectacle of Pompeius Magnus’ Public Triumphs”, in:

  1. Lange C. H. and Vervaet F. J. (editors), “The Roman Republican Triumph Beyond the Spectacle”, (2014) Rome

Williams C., “Pompey and Cicero: An Alliance of Convenience (2013), thesis of the Texas State University

Evans R., “Roman Conquests: Asia Minor, Syria and Armenia”, (2011) Barnsley

Freely J., “Children of Achilles: The Greeks in Asia Minor since the Days of Troy”, (2009) New York

Macdonald C. (translator), “Cicero: In Catilinam 1-4; Pro Murena; Pro Sulla. Pro Flacco”, (1976) Cambridge, MA

Broughton T. R. S., “The Magistrates of the Roman Republic,Volume II (99 - 31 BC)”, (1952) New York

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