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Forum LockedPompey - populist or conservative?

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    Posted: 02-Mar-2009 at 12:30
One of the most distinguished, yet poorly studies characters of the late Roman Republic was Pompey Magnus.
He is remembered mostly as Cesar's rival who represented the Optimates and was ultimately defeated, but in his early life his political intentions were not so clearly defined.
 
During the Civil War between Sulla and Marius, Pompey was known as the "Butcher Boy" for his ruthlessness in slaughtering Popularii supporters; yet later on in his career, he himself had adopted many traits of Popularrii politicians, such as distributing wealth to the masses, and creating a personality cult among the plebeians.  
Apparently he was a VERY popular figure among the proletarian class of Rome.
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Mar-2009 at 14:55
You can be populist and conservative.
 
Think Reagan.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote tullyccro Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Mar-2009 at 20:38
I absolutely agree and was just thinking about this the other day. Pompey was lauded as the best general of his era, maybe even of all time, by many, many, many people. The Senate was quite afraid of him long before Caesar's star was rising.

It's important to remember too, the tendency towards revisionism of Caesar and the historians of the early empire. Pompey's achievements against the Mediterranean pirates alone is absolutely amazing and I rank this above the subjection of Gaul, since Pompey faced an organized and centralized enemy and Caesar essentially surprise attacked a few million people, and faced no concentrated opposition until many years later.

Organizationally speaking, Pompey was the most intellectual commander since Alexander. His knowledge of organization, supply, as well as his knowledge of his enemy was never immature or clouded by conceit. He left little to chance whereas Caesar was a risk-taker. Pompey was a commander of citizens, republicans and free-men, who would not let their lives be tossed away in a gamble, Caesar led a bloodthirsty and desperate group of wild animals, who loved their general so much they would gladly die playing his hand in the game. Who is the better man by those standards? The romantic or the realist? Whom would you rather fight for in that case? 

I think Pompey knew that Caesar was not beatable in battle once he returned from Gaul, all of his actions point to this. I think he believed that starving Caesar and outlasting him would end the love affair between Caesar and his men, and the fanaticism of his partisans. This almost worked, and did work, until politicians convinced Pompey to give battle when it was unecessary.

Of course, there were those who wanted not only a victory, but a symbolic victory. A "Mission Accomplished" banner in the background. Pompey was defeated trying to do something he had never done, winning a battle symbolically rather than pragmatically and substantively. Caesar's wild beasts would have been better left to starve and tear themselves apart.

Pompey was neither populist or conservative; he was both. At times he forced through popular measures, often to the worry of the senate, but at times he backed senatorial prerogative, even when it was unnecessarily rigid. I think it's best to view Pompey as a liberal, in terms of how he viewed the operations of government, but a traditionalist, as he did respect the Senate and elements of the aristocracy, and that tradition. If anything, as an equestrian, he probably wanted to join those ranks more than anything, and be considered as a savior of Rome. He surely was.

It's telling that Caesar wept and flew into a rage when the Ptolemies presented Pompey's head. Some say he did this out of relief, but I don't think that's accurate. He still had unrest in Spain and Africa to deal with. Pompey wasn't merely a symbolic enemy nor was he the last hope of the resistance to Caesar.

They had been close friends. Pompey's marriage to Julia was much more than convenience. We're told by almost all authors that they were madly in love with one another, and Caesar, being quite close to his daughter, no doubt shared in this joy. I think Caesar wept for a great man and a great friend, who had been ignobly slain by cowardly degenerates because he, Caesar, was unable to honor their friendship or the standards of common decency and tradition. If there was anytime that Caesar displayed grief or guilt for his actions and motivations, I think this was it.

Anyway, here's to the "teenage butcher."


Edited by tullyccro - 02-Mar-2009 at 20:52
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote calvo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Mar-2009 at 21:46

I read that although Pompey had usually fought on the side of the Optimates, his support mostly came from the popular classes; while the hard-core aristocrats were suspicious of him. They only sided together in the end in order to stand up against Caesar who was a greater threat to the senate and the republic.

What made Caesar more popular than Pompey among the masses apart from his victory in Gaul?

 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote tullyccro Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02-Mar-2009 at 22:39
Originally posted by calvo calvo wrote:


What made Caesar more popular than Pompey among the masses apart from his victory in Gaul?

Caesar was a master of the public appearance and the public persona. He was, in that period, what JFK was in the age of early television.

Plutarch, Cicero and others tell us that he was hands-down the best orator of his day. Coming from Cicero, who was extremely vain and probably didn't really mean it, this is a huge compliment. Rhetoric was supremely important back then. Caesar also tended to support the people who could make the lives of the plebs easier, such as foreign businessmen, artisans, craftsmen, and what we would consider small-scale industrialists. Thus, he could provide them with jobs, credit, and a dignity and hope for the future. He also appeared to include them in his political decisions and considerations, whereas the Senators typically issued dictates. He was sympathetic to them, or he appeared that way, at least.

Caesar was a charmer. They loved him because he consciously worked hard to seduce them. He put on lavish games as Aedile, ensured that he kept their costs down and their spirits up. From a young age he was also reknowned as a war hero, since he was awarded the civic crown. They would have seen him sitting in places of honor during public spectacles. As a proest in the college of pontiffs he also was entitled to a special ceremonial retinue and dress. He was not just another Senator, in their eyes. Also, we have to remember that Caesar was just about the sole inheritor of the Marian faction. He was one of the few left alive. Like today, when things go badly, people like to look back to a golden age or speculate about those currently in power. No doubt, there was a great deal of talk to the effect of, "if only Marius and his kind had won out and not Sulla, then we would _____." Caesar represented those possibilities.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Knights Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03-Mar-2009 at 02:02
In response to the topic:

I think Pompey was merely a political opportunist. He sided with whatever who whoever served him the most benefit in the short term. To explain my opinion, let's have a look at his life.

- sides with Sulla (seemingly in support of the optimates) despite being of plebiean birth. The optimates appreciated his support but never accepted him into their established clique
- supports Lepidus (Marian/popularis) for 78 consulship, a man who pledged to deconstruct the reforms enacted by Sulla whilst dictator (Sulla had retired and Pompey saw this as an opportunity to further his own career by supporting Lepidus)
- in 77 Lepidus revolted and was declared an enemy of the state. Pompey, on the hunt for glory, sided with the optimates who granted him propraetorian imperium, and even reluctantly grant him proconsular imperium against Sertorius in Spain (he kind of used indirect threat of force to get the latter...)
- against the will of the senate (at the request of the people) he was made Crassus' colleague against Spartacus. The optimates grudgingly granted him a triumph (despite Crassus doing most of the work, he only received an ovation)
- illegally made consul for 70 with Crassus; the consulship saw Crassus and Pompey further tear the Sullan constitution to shreds, all with the contempt of the optimates. Popular reforms included restoration of tribune powers, allowed equites rather than just senators to preside in law courts
- Pompey used his popular support to have tribunes nominate him for military commands in the 60s (lex Gabinia and lex Manilia), which he succeeded in attaining. Not only did he assume major commands, but he also had optimate representatives removed from them (ie. Lucullus). At this point the optimates and Pompey were at knife-edge, one may say
- to add to this, his successes in the East and against the Pirates made him into a cult-hero figure, loved by the people - the optimates grew further jealous and fearful, and rejected the ratification of his Eastern settlements and veteran land plots
- by 60 he had been alienated completely by the optimates, and formed the first triumvirate with Crassus and Caesar, to centralise power away from the optimates; this myopic agreement spiralled down and Pompey began to regret his role in it
- in an attempt for optimate-reconciliation Pompey returned Cicero from exile whilst Caesar was away - Cicero in turn suggested Pompey for the position of 'curator of the grain supply' which granted Pompey proconsular imperium. He was starting to get back on the side of the optimates
- by Luca in 56 Pompey was in between popularis (Caesar) and optimate (good deal of the senate). This allowed him to get the best of both worlds in a sense
- deaths of Julia (his beloved wife) and Crassus saw Pompey shift towards the optimates, cementing this by marrying the daughter of Metellus Scipio
- optimates relied on Pompey to retain order in the tumultuous years leading up to civil war; they even made him sole consul illegally in 52
- Caesar and Pompey, by 49, had severed ties and Pompey sided with the optimates in the civil wars - in an attempt to defeat/oppose Caesar whilst further gaining their support

Please note, I'm not at all trying to have a go at Pompey! Just trying to point out the opportunistic political career of Pompey. He never had any firm ideological loyalty - he just went with whatever side could propel him further to glory. And who could blame him? It's the late republic after all...

I will try and respond to tullyccro if time permits.

Regards,

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Parnell Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03-Mar-2009 at 08:37

What about with the Catiline conspiracy, where he worked with Cicero to save the Republic? Or with Sulla it looked like he was playing a double game, biding his time to resume the Republic.

I think he will go down as true Republican, which in some sense made him a representative of the Patrician classes. Nevertheless, this is what he stood for. He certainly wasn't a populist but hardly a conservative either?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote tullyccro Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 03-Mar-2009 at 17:40
Originally posted by Knights Knights wrote:

I'm not at all trying to have a go at Pompey! Just trying to point out the opportunistic political career of Pompey. He never had any firm ideological loyalty - he just went with whatever side could propel him further to glory. And who could blame him? It's the late republic after all...
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I can't remember who, but some historian (maybe Mommsen) has described Pompey as the boy in school who tries to please his superiors and fit in with the popular crowd. I think this fits, to a degree. He was a people pleaser, he took on any task put before him, this above all else he loved (the idea that only he could handle a job) but his loyalties between "the people" and "the Senate" were quite flexible and by no means fixed.
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