Pompey - Quintus Sertorius and Spartacus

Quintus Sertorius and Spartacus

Pompey's career seems to have been driven by desire for military glory and disregard for traditional political constraints. In the consular elections of 78 BC, he supported Lepidus against Sulla's wishes. In 78, Sulla died; when Lepidus revolted, Pompey suppressed him on behalf of the Senate. Then he asked for proconsular imperium in Hispania to deal with the populares general Quintus Sertorius, who had held out for the past three years against Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, one of Sulla's most able generals.

The Roman aristocracy turned him down – they were beginning to fear the young, popular and successful general. Pompey resorted to his tried and tested persuasion; he refused to disband his legions until his request was granted. The senate acceded, reluctantly granted him the title of proconsul and powers equal to those of Metellus, and sent him to Hispania.

Pompey remained there from 76 – 71 BC; he was for long unable to bring the war to an end due to Sertorius' guerrilla tactics. Though he was never able to decisively beat Sertorius (and he nearly met disaster at the battle of Sucro), he won several campaigns against Sertorius' junior officers in a war of attrition. Sertorius was significantly weakened, and by 74 BC, Metellus and Pompey were winning city after city.

Finally, Pompey managed to crush the populares when Sertorius was murdered by his own officer, Marcus Perperna Vento, who was defeated in 72 by the young general, at their first battle. By early 71, the whole of Hispania was subdued. Pompey showed a talent for efficient organisation and fair administration in the conquered province; this extended his patronage throughout Hispania and into southern Gaul. Some time in 71 BC, he set off for Italy, along with his army.

Meanwhile, Crassus was facing Spartacus to end Rome's Third Servile War. Crassus defeated Spartacus, but in his march towards Rome, Pompey encountered the remnants of Spartacus' army; he captured five thousand of them and claimed the credit for finishing the revolt, which infuriated Crassus.

Back in Rome, Pompey was wildly popular. On December 31, 71 BC, he was given a triumph for his victories in Hispania – like his first, it was granted extralegally. To his admirers, he was the most brilliant general of the age, evidently favoured by the gods and a possible champion of the people's rights. He had successfully faced down Sulla and his Senate; he or his influence might restore the traditional plebian rights and privileges lost under Sulla's dictatorship.

So Pompey was allowed to bypass another ancient Roman tradition; at only 35 years of age and while not even a senator, he was elected Consul by an overwhelming majority vote, and served in 70 BC with Crassus as partner. Pompey's meteoric rise to the consulship was unprecedented; his tactics offended the traditionalist nobility whose values he claimed to share and defend. He had left them no option but to allow his consulship.

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