Jeffrey Beneker to Present

The Long, Glorious, and Unfortunate Life of Pompey the Great

Young Pompey was “great” in the way that mattered most to the Romans: on the battlefield. He earned his title at a relatively young age and became greater as he grew older, achieving military victories against a variety of opponents over a wide geographic area, and basking in the glory of three triumphal parades. In typical Roman fashion, he converted his military success into political capital, becoming a major benefactor of Rome and holder of its highest elected office. His life, however, ended in defeat and an ignominious death. As a result, ancient authors (including historians, biographers, and poets) usually told his story in tragic or ethical terms. They fit his life to a “rise and fall” trajectory, faulted him for relying too much on Fortune, or offered his demise to readers as a cautionary tale. Modern historians, however, typically synthesize these ancient accounts, using them as sources for historical information while muting the authors’ voices. In my biography of Pompey, I foreground the ancient accounts to show how the form of Pompey’s story became as important as the content. In this talk, I will demonstrate my method by examining two important moments in Pompey’s life: his third triumphal parade, which was typically seen as the apex of his rise-and-fall career, and his decision to seek refuge in Egypt, which fatefully led directly to his murder.

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