Chapter IV

Pompeius And The East

Pompeius Suppresses Piracy

We have already seen how wretched was the state of the affairs of Rome by land and sea in the east, when at the commencement of 687 Pompeius, with an almost unlimited plenitude of power, undertook the conduct of the war against the pirates. He began by dividing the immense field committed to him into thirteen districts and assigning each of these districts to one of his lieutenants, for the purpose of equipping ships and men there, of searching the coasts, and of capturing piratical vessels or chasing them into the meshes of a colleague. He himself went with the best part of the ships of war that were available--among which on this occasion also those of Rhodes were distinguished--early in the year to sea, and swept in the first place the Sicilian, African, and Sardinian waters, with a view especially to re-establish the supply of grain from these provinces to Italy. His lieutenants meanwhile addressed themselves to the clearing of the Spanish and Gallic coasts. It was on this occasion that the consul Gaius Piso attempted from Rome to prevent the levies which Marcus Pomponius, the legate of Pompeius, instituted by virtue of the Gabinian law in the province of Narbo--an imprudent proceeding, to check which, and at the same time to keep the just indignation of the multitude against the consul within legal bounds, Pompeius temporarily reappeared in Rome.(1) When at the end of forty days the navigation had been everywhere set free in the western basin of the Mediterranean, Pompeius proceeded with sixty of his best vessels to the eastern seas, and first of all to the original and main seat of piracy, the Lycian and Cilician waters. On the news of the approach of the Roman fleet the piratical barks everywhere disappeared from the open sea; and not only so, but even the strong Lycian fortresses of Anticragus and Cragus surrendered without offering serious resistance. The well-calculated moderation of Pompeius helped even more than fear to open the gates of these scarcely accessible marine strongholds. His predecessors had ordered every captured freebooter to be nailed to the cross; without hesitation he gave quarter to all, and treated in particular the common rowers found in the captured piratical vessels with unusual indulgence. The bold Cilician sea-kings alone ventured on an attempt to maintain at least their own waters by arms against the Romans; after having placed their children and wives and their rich treasures for security in the mountain-fortresses of the Taurus, they awaited the Roman fleet at the western frontier of Cilicia, in the offing of Coracesium. But here the ships of Pompeius, well manned and well provided with all implements of war, achieved a complete victory. Without farther hindrance he landed and began to storm and break up the mountain-castles of the corsairs, while he continued to offer to themselves freedom and life as the price of submission. Soon the great multitude desisted from the continuance of a hopeless war in their strongholds and mountains, and consented to surrender. Forty-nine days after Pompeius had appeared in the eastern seas, Cilicia was subdued and the war at an end.

The rapid suppression of piracy was a great relief, but not a grand achievement; with the resources of the Roman state, which had been called forth in lavish measure, the corsairs could as little cope as the combined gangs of thieves in a great city can cope with a well-organized police. It was a naive proceeding to celebrate such a razzia as a victory. But when compared with the prolonged continuance and the vast and daily increasing extent of the evil, it was natural that the surprisingly rapid subjugation of the dreaded pirates should make a most powerful impression on the public; and the more so, that this was the first trial of rule centralized in a single hand, and the parties were eagerly waiting to see whether that hand would understand the art of ruling better than the collegiate body had done. Nearly 400 ships and boats, including 90 war vessels properly so called, were either taken by Pompeius or surrendered to him; in all about 1300 piratical vessels are said to have been destroyed; besides which the richly-filled arsenals and magazines of the buccaneers were burnt. Of the pirates about 10,000 perished; upwards of 20,000 fell alive into the hands of the victor; while Publius Clodius the admiral of the Roman army stationed in Cilicia, and a multitude of other individuals carried off by the pirates, some of them long believed at home to be dead, obtained once more their freedom through Pompeius. In the summer of 687, three months after the beginning of the campaign, commerce resumed its wonted course and instead of the former famine abundance prevailed in Italy.

Dissensions Between Pompeius And Metellus As To Crete

A disagreeable interlude in the island of Crete, however, disturbed in some measure this pleasing success of the Roman arms. There Quintus Metellus was stationed in the second year of his command, and was employed in finishing the subjugation-already substantially effected--of the island,(2) when Pompeius appeared in the eastern waters. A collision was natural, for according to the Gabinian law the command of Pompeius extended concurrently with that of Metellus over the whole island, which stretched to a great length but was nowhere more than ninety miles broad;(3) but Pompeius was considerate enough not to assign it to any of his lieutenants. The still resisting Cretan communities, however, who had seen their subdued countrymen taken to task by Metellus with the most cruel severity and had learned on the other hand the gentle terms which Pompeius was in the habit of imposing on the townships which surrendered to him in the south of Asia Minor, preferred to give in their joint surrender to Pompeius. He accepted it in Pamphylia, where he was just at the moment, from their envoys, and sent along with them his legate Lucius Octavius to announce to Metellus the conclusion of the conventions and to take over the towns.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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