Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo (135–87 BC) was a Roman general and politician, who served as consul in 89 BC. He is often referred to in English as Pompey Strabo, to distinguish him from his son, the famous Pompey the Great, or from Strabo the geographer.
Strabo's cognomen means "cross eyed". He lived in the Roman Republic and was born and raised into a noble family in Picenum (in the south and the north of the modern regions of Marche and Abruzzo respectively) in Central Italy, on the Adriatic Coast. Strabo's mother was called Lucilia. Lucilia's family originated from Suessa Aurunca (modern Sessa Aurunca) and she was a sister of satiric poet Gaius Lucilius. Lucilius was a friend of Roman general Scipio Aemilianus Africanus. Strabo's paternal grandfather was Gnaeus Pompeius, while his father was Sextus Pompeius. His elder brother was Sextus Pompeius and his sister was Pompeia.
Strabo became the first of his branch of the gens Pompeia to achieve senatorial status in Rome, despite the anti-rural prejudice of the Roman Senate. After proving his military talent, Strabo climbed the cursus honorum and became promagistrate in Sicily 93 BC and consul in the year 89 BC, in the midst of the Social War.
The Social War
Despite Strabo's provincial roots he and his family were Roman citizens and therefore took up Rome's cause during the Civil War the Republic had to fight with its Italian Allies. He commanded his forces against the Italian rebels in the northern part of Italy. First he recruited three or four legions in his native Picenum then he marched them south against the rebels. In 90 BC, while marching his legions south through Picentum, he was suddenly attacked by a large force of Picentes, Vestini and Marsi. Although the battle favoured neither side Strabo was heavily outnumbered and he decided to withdraw. Eventually he found himself blockaded in Picenum, but in the Autumn of 90 he launched two sorties that successfully caught his enemies in a pincer. The remnants of the enemy army retreated to Asculum which Strabo decided to starve into submission. Through his successful counter-offensive he became very popular and he used his fame to get elected as one of the consuls for 89 BC, his consular partner being Lucius Porcius Cato. Strabo attacked and defeated a rebel column trying to march into Etruria killing 5,000 rebels. Another 5,000 died while trying to get back across the Apennines. Strabo's consular colleague Lucius Porcius Cato engaged the Marsi in battle near Fucine Lake (close to Alba Fucensis), he died in an attempt to storm the enemy camp; this left Strabo as sole consul. The exact details of the siege of Asculum and the reduction of the neighbouring tribes are obscured by History. We hear of a huge battle near Asculum, where Strabo defeated an Italian relief army of 60,000 men. Soon after Asculum fell, Strabo had the rebel leaders whipped and executed and auctioned off all of their belongings. He kept the proceeds of these sales, a fact which might explain his reputation for greed. At the end of his term as consul, Strabo apparently sought a second immediate consulship for the year 88 BC – an act that was not illegal, as the case of Gaius Marius demonstrates in the late second century, but highly irregular nonetheless. Strabo evidently failed in his attempt, as Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Quintus Pompeius Rufus were elected consuls.
Triumph and Civil War
Strabo celebrated a triumph for his victories against the Italian Allies on 27 December 89. After his consulship expired a few days later, he retired to Picenum with all of his veteran soldiers. He did not disband his army but kept it in the field. The Senate soon transferred command of his army to Quintus Pompeius Rufus, one of the new consuls. However, when Pompeius Rufus arrived, he was murdered by Strabo's soldiers. Strabo did not interfere when Sulla marched on an took Rome in 88 BC. He remained in Picenum until 87 BC, when he responded to the Senate's request for help against Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Cinna who were also marching their forces on Rome. Strabo took his army to Rome; he did, however, not decisively commit to either side, instead playing both against the other. For this, Rutilius Rufus referred to him as "the vilest man alive". When negotiations with the Cinna-Marian faction fell through he did, however, attack Quintus Sertorius, one of Cinna's commanders, who was positioned north of the city, but the attack was without success.
In 87 BC Strabo and his army encamped outside the Coline Gate. He kept an unhygienic camp which resulted in an outbreak of disease in his army. Strabo himself caught dysentry and died a few days later, still in his camp outside the Coline Gate. His avarice and cruelty had made him hated by the soldiers to such a degree that they tore his corpse from the bier and dragged it through the streets.
His son, Pompey the Great, took the legions back to Picenum. He would use them to support Sulla a few years later.
Strabo married an unnamed Roman woman. He had at least two children: a son, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey the Great, who married Julia (the daughter of dictator Gaius Julius Caesar) as his fourth wife; and a daughter called Pompeia.
- Lynda Telford, Sulla: A Dictator Reconsidered, p. 86.
- Tom Holland, Rubicon, p. 58.
- Philip Matyszak, Cataclysm 90 BC, p. 100.
- Philip Matyszak, Cataclysm 90 BC, p. 105.
- John Leach, Pompey the Great, p.15; Velleius Paterculus, Historia Romana, II. 21.
- John Leach, Pompey the Great, p. 19; Appius, Civil Wars, I.63; Sallust, Histories, II. 21.
- Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, p.27.
- Lynda Telford, Sulla, p. 112.
Lucius Julius Caesar III and Publius Rutilius Lupus
| Consul of the Roman Republic
with Lucius Porcius Cato
Lucius Cornelius Sulla and Quintus Pompeius Rufus