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Gnaeus Pompey Magnus
Rome character
First appearance "The Stolen Eagle"
Last appearance "Caesarion"
Portrayed by Kenneth Cranham
Title Patrician
Spouse(s) Cornelia Metella (wife)
Children Quintus Valerius Pompey (son)

Gnaeus Pompey Magnus is a character in the HBO/BBC2 original television series Rome, played by Kenneth Cranham. He is depicted as a legendary general, past the days of his prime, who tries to recapture the glories of his youth as much as to do what is right for the Republic. The real Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus was a Roman general and politician, who, while as ambitious as Caesar, and just as unorthodox in his youth, chose to ally himself with the optimates in opposing Caesar and supporting the traditional Roman Republic.


Staunch and somewhat shortsighted, Pompey Magnus feels that it is up to him to save the Republic. From a low-born common family, Pompey raised his status in Roman society with victories overseas, greatly expanding the dominion of the Republic. Although at first enjoying wide support and the favour of the people, Caesar's rise in popularity presents a political threat. With the death of his wife Julia, the proud Pompey is motivated to stand with the exiled Roman Senate in the ensuing civil war. His inability to cooperate with the senators and his hesitance to face Caesar directly force him to retreat to Greece. There, he is defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus despite holding a significant tactical and numerical advantage over Caesar. The defeat leaves him broken and demoralised.

Character history of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus

He is an elderly general who in his younger years was a Spanish and Syrian conqueror. He is a co-Consul and Interim leader of the Republic who chooses to side with the patricians. He is also a friend and mentor to Caesar. When Caesar defies the Senate and enters Rome, he retreats to southern Italy and later to Greece to gather reinforcements. After initially outwitting and trapping Caesar in Macedonia, his army is defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus and later disintegrates, with Cicero and Brutus surrendering and Cato and Scipio fleeing to Africa.

Pompey heads for Egypt with his family and some mercenaries, intending to raise a second army. Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo - who had escaped a desert island on a makeshift raft - are found by Pompey. Rather than capturing him and bringing him to Caesar, Vorenus is convinced by Pompey's demeanor that the general is broken and allows him to leave. Pompey reaches Egypt where he is greeted by a Roman soldier who promptly murders him in front of his family. His head is later presented to Julius Caesar by the Egyptians as a "gift"; Caesar is outraged, viewing it as an assault on a Roman consul, and demands that the head be given a proper burial and that the soldier who did the execution be delivered to him; this is historically accurate, as the real Gaius Julius is recorded as having desired that Pompey be recovered alive.

Comparison to the historical Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus

The Pompey of the show is one of its most historically accurate characters, matching closely what we know of the real Pompeius Magnus.

Rome's Pompey takes delight in recounting tales of his past victories, but Caesar's success has clearly begun to erode his self-confidence. The real Pompey's inability to effectively control his huge crowd of senatorial adherents is also well documented by Plutarch, his biographer. In fact, the historical Pompey was repeatedly goaded into fighting when he knew it was the wrong thing to do. When he fought, he seems to have done it well (Plutarch says "brilliantly" at times) but missed at least one crucial opportunity to destroy Caesar, who commented that "the enemy would have won... if they had a commander who was a winner".

The struggle between Caesar's and Pompeius' factions is portrayed as mere jealousy on Pompeius' part for Caesar "stealing the love of the people" from him, Pompeius having once been a champion of the Plebs. Historically, the conflict was far more intricate and complex.

While an accurate picture of the Pompey of the 40s BC, the show does not depict Pompey's early career, during which he showed himself a capable commander and a brilliant administrator. The show's timeframe may thus lead to a false view of Pompey as a total failure, when in fact he succeeded (where at least two others had failed) in largely ridding the Mediterranean of pirates, and doubled Rome's revenue by adding much of Anatolia and the Middle East to the Empire's territory.

The view of Pompey as a complete has-been by the time of Caesar's conquests is also not quite accurate. While Caesar was in Gaul, to a certain extent, Pompey was finally able to realise his goal of being formally acknowledged as the first man in Rome by the Senate. After long opposing Pompey, Cato and other senatorial were forced to reconcile with him in 52 B.C. when mob violence erupted out of control and resulted in the burning of the senate house. Pompey - who in an unprecedented step was appointed the sole consul - was able to quickly restore order. After finally being reconciled to the Senate, Pompey temporarily facilitated between his new allies and Caesar. Finally, eager to preserve his long craved popularity with the Senate and wary of Caesar's evident ambitions, Pompey threw his lot with the latter.

Contrary to his portrayal in the series, Pompey at the time was not a doddering old man. At 58, he was only six years older than Caesar. On an interesting side note, it was Caesar who had actually gone bald by the time of the events in the series.

An interesting note in comparing the real against the fictitious is that the real Pompey had already accomplished much building within the city before Caesar. The Theatre of Pompey, the first permanent stone theatre complex in the city and for centuries the largest theatre in the world was one of his greatest achievements. Although not mentioned in the series it is also the location of the Curia of Pompey, a large meeting house for the senate. Because Caesar was adding onto the forum and had demolished the senate house, the senate was meeting at the Curia of Pompey where the plan to assassinate the dictator took place.