25. Sex. Pompeius
Magnus, the younger son of the triumvir [No. 22] by his third wife Mucia, was born B. C. 75, since he was forty at the time of his death in B. C. 35. (Appian, App. BC 5.144
.) During the campaign of his father against Caesar in Greece, Sextus was with his mother at Mytilene ; and after the loss of the battle of Pharsalia in B. C. 48, he and his mother accompanied the elder Pompey to Egypt, and saw him murdered before their eyes. From thence they fled to Cyprus, and shortly afterwards joined Cn. Pompey and Cato. Sextus remained in Africa, while his brother Cneius went to Spain; but after the battle of Thapsus B. C. 46, which ruined all the hopes of the Pompeians in Africa, Sextus quitted that country, and repaired to his brother in Spain, together with Labienus and others of their party. In Spain he kept possession of Corduba till the defeat of his brother at the battle of Munda in March, B. C. 45.
As soon as he heard of the loss of this battle, he fled from Corduba, and lived for a time in concealment in the country of the Lacetani, between the Iberus and the Pyrenees. Here he supported himself by robbery, and gradually collected a considerable band of followers, with whom he penetrated into the province of Baetica.
The governor of the province, C. Carrinas, was unable to offer any effectual opposition to him; he was generally supported by the natives and the veterans of his father settled in the province; Carteia, and other towns, fell into his hands.
The death of Caesar still further favoured his enterprises. Asinius Pollio, who had succeeded Carrinas in the government of the province, did not possess much military talent, and was on one occasion surprised and defeated by Sextus.
This victory gave Sextus the command of almost the whole of Baetica, and turned towards him the attention of the parties that were now struggling for the supremacy at Rome.
But as none of them were yet prepared for open war, Lepidus, who had the command of the Nearer Spain and of Narbonese Gaul, was commissioned to make terms with Sextus.
The latter agreed to lay aside hostilities on condition of his being allowed to return to Rome, and of receiving his patrimonial inheritance.
These terms were assented to, and the senate voted a large sum of money to Sextus as an indemnification for that portion of his property which had been sold. So far matters seemed quiet, but they did not long continue so. Antony and the aristocratical party soon came to an open rupture; Antony marched into Cisalpine Gaul to oppose Dec. Brutus, and the senate used every effort to obtain assistance against Antony. For this purpose they applied not only to Lepidus, but also to Pompey, who had come to Massilia with a fleet and an army in order to be nearer the scene of action, and to determine what course he should adopt.
The senate, on the proposition of Cicero, passed a laudatory decree in his honour, and likewise appointed him to the command of the republican fleet : he did not, however, advance to the relief of Mutina, but remained inactive. Shortly after this Octavian threw off the mask he had hitherto worn, wrested the consulship front the senate in the month of August (B. C. 43), and obtained the enactment of the Lex Pedia, by which all the murderers of Caesar were outlawed. Pompey was included among these murderers, although he had had no share in the deed, and on the establishment of the triumvirate in October was proscribed. His fleet secured him safety; but as the governors of Gaul and Spain had declared in favour of the triumvirs, he had no fixed station on the mainland.
He therefore cruised about, plundering the coasts both for the sake of support and with the view of injuring the triumvirs. His numbers gradually increased; many of those who had been proscribed by the triumvirs, and multitudes of slaves, flocked to him; and he at length felt himself strong enough to take possession of Sicily, which he made his head quarters.
The towns of Mylae, Tyndaris, Messana, and Syracuse fell into his power, and the whole island eventually acknowledged his sway. A. Pompeius Bithynicus, who was propraetor of Sicily, had at first repulsed Sextus in his attempts upon Messana, but had afterwards allowed him to obtain possession of the town on condition that they should rule together over Sicily; but this condition was never observed, and Sextus became the real master of the island. Sextus likewise received support from Q. Cornificius, the governor of Africa. Rome now began to suffer from want of its usual supplies, which were cut off by Sextus; and accordingly Octavian sent against him a fleet commanded by his legate Q. Salvidienus Rufus (B. C. 42).
The latter succeeded in protecting the coasts of Italy from the ravages of Pompey's ships, but was defeated in the straits of Sicily when he ventured upon a naval engagement against the main body of Pompey's fleet.
This battle was fought under the eyes of Octavian, who departed immediately afterwards for Greece, in order to prosecute the war against Brutus and Cassius. Pompey had now become stronger than ever. His naval superiority was incontestable ; and in his arrogance he called himself the son of Neptune. About this time he put to death Pompeius Bithynicus under pretence of a conspiracy.
While the war was going on in Greece between the triumvirs and the republican party, Pompey remained inactive.
This was a fatal mistake.
He should either have attacked Italy and caused there a diversion in favour of Brutus and Cassius, or he should have supported the latter in Greece; for it was evident that if they fell, he must sooner or later fall likewise.
But the fall of Pompey was delayed longer than might have been expected. Octavian on his return to Italy was engaged with the Perusinian war (B. C. 41), and Pompey was thus enabled to continue his ravages upon the coasts of Italy without resistance.
The continued misunderstandings between Octavian and Antony, which now threatened an open war, were still more favourable for Pompey.
In the beginning of B. C. 40 Antony requested the assistance of Pompey against Octavian. Pompey forthwith sent troops into the south of Italy, but was obliged to withdraw them shortly afterwards, upon the reconciliation of the triumvirs at Brundisium.
The triumvirs now resolved to make war upon Pompey ; but as he was in possession of Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica, and his fleets plundered all the supplies of corn which came from Egypt and the eastern provinces, the utmost scarcity prevailed at Rome, and a famine seemed inevitable. The Roman populace were not content to wait for the conquest of Pompey; they rose in open insurrection and demanded of their new rulers a reconciliation with the master of the sea. Octavian thought it more prudent to yield, and accordingly a peace was negotiated between the triumvirs and Pompey, through the mediation of Scribonius Libo, the father-in-law of the latter.
By this peace, which was concluded at Misenum in B. C. 39, the triumvirs granted to Pompey the provinces of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, and Achaia, and promised him the consulship, the augurate, and an indemnification of seventeen and a half millions of denarii for his private fortune : Pompey, on his part, promised to supply Italy with corn, to protect commerce in the Mediterranean, and to marry his daughter to M. Marcellus, the son of Octavia, the sister of the triumvir.
But this peace was a mere farce. Antony refused to give up Achaia; and Pompey, therefore, recommenced his piratical excursions.
A war was ineviitable : the only thing that could save Pompey was a quarrel between Octavian and Antony. In B. C. 38 Pompey sustained a severe loss in the desertion of one of his principal legates, Menas or Menodorus, who surrendered to Octavian Sardinia and Corsica, together with a large naval and military force [MENAS].
This important accession determined Octavian to commence war immediately.
He appointed C. Calvisius Sabinus to the command of his fleet, with Menas as his legate.
This campaign was unfavourable to Octavian. His fleet was twice defeated by Pompey's admirals, first off Cumae by Menecrates, who, however, perished in the battle, and next off Messana, where his fleet was likewise almost destroyed by a storm. Pompey, however, did not follow up his success; he remained inactive, and lost, as usual, the favourable moment for action. Octavian, on the contrary, made every effort to equip a new fleet.
He saw that it was absolutely necessary for him to crush Pompey before he ventured to measure his strength against Antony and Lepidus.
He accordingly spent the whole of next year (B. C. 37) in making preparations for the war, and obtained assistance from both his colleagues, Antony and Lepidus.
He appointed M. Vipsanius Agrippa to the supreme command of the whole fleet. Just before the breaking out of hostilities, Menas again played the deserter and returned to his old master's service, dissatisfied at having merely a subordinate command assigned to him.
By the summer of B. C. 36, all the preparations of Octavian were completed, and the war commenced.
He had three large fleets at his disposal; his own, stationed in the Julian harbour, which he had constructed near Baiae; that of Antony, under the command of Statilins Taurus, in the harbour of Tarentum; and that of Lepidus, off the coast of Africa. His plan was for all three fleets to set sail on the same day, and make a descent upon three different parts of Sicily.
But a fearful storm marred this project; Lepidus alone reached the coast of Sicily, and landed at Lilybaeum; Statilius Taurus was able to put back to Tarentum; but Octavian, who was surprised by the storm off the Lucanian promontory of Palinurum, lost a great number of his ships, and was obliged to remain in Italy to repair his shattered fleet.
This was a reprieve to Pompey, who offered sacrifices to Neptune for his timely assistance, but he still remained inactive. Menodorus, who had been already of considerable service to Pompey, again played the traitor and went over to Octavian.
As soon as the fleet had been repaired, Octavian again set sail for Sicily. Agrippa defeated Pompey's fleet off Mylae, destroying thirty of his chips; but the decisive battle was fought on the third of September (B. C. 36), off Naulochus, a seaport between Mylae and the promontory of Pelorum. The Pompeian fleet was commanded by Demochares, and that of Octavian by Agrippa, each consisting of about 300 ships. Agrippa gained a brilliant victory; most of the Pompeian ships were destroyed or taken. Polmpey himself fled first to Messana, where he straightway embarked together with his daughter, and set sail for the East with a squadron of seventeen ships. Octavian did not pursue him, as his attention was immediately called to the attempts of Lepidus to make himself independent of his colleague [LEPIDUS, p. 768a.]. Pompey was thus enabled to reach Mytilene in safety, where he began to form schemes for seizing the eastern provinces of Antony, who had just returned from his disastrous campaign against the Parthians, in which he had barely escaped with his life. For this purpose he entered into negotiatios with chiefs in Thrace and the north-eastern coast of the Black Sea, and even opened a communication with the Parthians, thinking that they might, perhaps, trust him with an army, as they had done T. Labienus a few years previously.
He gave out that he was making preparations to carry on the war against Octavian.
In B. C. 35 Pompey crossed over from Lesbos to Asia. Here he soon disclosed his real designs by seizing upon Lampsacus. Thereupon C. Furnius, the legate of Antony, declared open war against him ; and Antony likewise sent Titius, with a fleet of 120 ships, to attack his naval forces. Unable to cope with so large a force, Pompey burnt his ships and united their crews to his army. His friends now recommended him to make terms with Anthony ; but, as their advice was not attended to, most of them deserted him, among whom was his father-in-law, Scribonius Libo. Thereupon he attempted to fly to Armenia, but he was overtaken by the troops of Antony, deserted by his own soldiers, and obliged to surrender.
He was carried as a prisoner to Miletus, where he was shortly afterwards put to death (B. C. 35) by order of Titius. Titius, undoubtedly, would not have put Pompey to death on his own responsibility.
It is probable that Plancus, the governor of Syria, to whom the execution of Ponpey was attributed by many, had received orders from Antony to instruct his legates to execute Pompey, if he were seized in arms; but, as many persons lamented the death of Pompey, the son of the great conqueror of Asia, Antony was willing enough to throw the blame upon Plancus or Titius.
Sextus did not possess any great abilities.
He took up arms from necessity, as he was first deprived of every thing by Caesar, and then proscribed by the triumvirs. His success was owing more to circumstances than to his own merits : the war between the triumvirs and the republicans, and subsequently the misunderstandings between Octavian and Antony, enabled him to obtain and keep possession of Sicily.
He seems never to have aspired to supreme power.
He would have been contented if he could have returned in safety to Rome, and have recovered his patrimony, and he carried on war for that purpose, and not for dominion.
He ought, however, to have seen that he could never have returned to Rome except as the conqueror of Octavian, and that his personal safety could only have been secured by his becoming the master of the Roman world.
He was personally brave, but was deficient in refinement, and possessed scarcely any knowledge of literature. Velleius Paterculus says (2.73) that he could not speak correctly, but this is doubtless an exaggeration; for Cicero saw little to alter in the letter which Sextus sent to him for correction before it was given to the consuls (Cic. Att. 16.4
). Sextus assumed the surname of Pius,
to show that he was an avenger of his father and brother.
This surname appears on his coins [see below]. (Auct. B. Hisp.
3, &100.32; Cic. Att. 12.37
xiii. passim; Appian, App. BC 2.105
; Dio Cass. lib. xlvi.--xlix,; Vell. 2.73
; Liv. Epit. 123
The coins of Sex. Pompey are numerous. On the obverse the head of his father is usually represented ; and writers on numismatics state that the head on the obverse of his coins is always that of the triumvir; but we are tempted to think that it is in some cases that of Sextus himself. We subjoin a few specimens of some of the most important coins.
The head on the obverse of the first two coins is Supposed to be that of the triumvir. On the obverse of the former of these we have the legend SEX. MAG. PIVS. IMP. SAL. (the interpretationof which is doubtful), and on the reverse a female figure with the legend PIETAS. It has been already remarked that Sextus assumed the surname of Pius,
to show that he wished to revenge the death of his father and brother; and for the same reason we find Pietas on the obverse of the coin.
The obverse of the second coin has the legend MAGNVS IMP. ITER, with a lituus before the head of the triumvir, and an urceus behind; and the reverse has the legend PRAEF. CLAS. ET ORAE. MARIT. EX. S. C. He is called on this coin imperator a second time (iterum
), because his victory over Asinius Pollio in Spain first gave him a claim to this title, and his defeat of the fleet of Augustus off Sicily enabled him to assume it a second time.
The legend on the obverse, PRAEFECTUS CLASSIS ET ORAE MARITIMAE EX S. C., which appears on many of the coins of Sextus, has reference to the decree of the senate which conferred upon him the command of the fleet shortly after the death of Julius Caesar, as has been already related.
The third coin is intended to indicate Pompey's command of the sea.
It represents on the obverse a war-galley with a column, on which Neptune is standing, and on the reverse Scylla holding an oar in her two hands, and in the act of striking. (Eckhel, vol. vi. pp. 26-33.)