An vērō ūllam ūsquam esse ōram tam dēsertam putātis, quō nōn illīus diēī fāma pervāserit, cum ūniversus populus Rōmānus refertō forō complētīsque omnibus templīs, ex quibus hic locus cōnspicī potest, ūnum sibi ad commūne omnium gentium bellum Cn. Pompēium imperātōrem dēpoposcit? Itaque, ut plūra nōn dīcam neque aliōrum exemplīs cōnfīrmem, quantum auctōritās valeat in bellō, ab eōdem Cn. Pompēiō omnium rērum ēgregiārum exempla sūmantur; quī quō diē ā vōbīs maritimō bellō praepositus est imperātor, tanta repente vīlitās annonae ex summā inopiā et cāritāte reī frūmentāriae cōnsecūta est ūnīus hominis spē ac nōmine, quantam vix ex summā ūbertāte agrōrum diūturna pāx efficere potuisset.

44: Case study I: the socio-economics of Pompey’s auctoritas

After the introductory paragraph on auctoritas, Cicero now offers the circumstances surrounding the passing of the lex Gabinia (the bill proposed by the tribune Aulus Gabinius in the previous year, which gave Pompey the extraordinary command against the pirates) as an illustration of Pompey’s auctoritas...[full essay]

Study Questions:

  • oram: why does Cicero use this particular word as opposed to, say, regionem? What kind of implications does it have?
  • What kind of construction does putatis introduce?
  • Specify and explain the mood of pervaserit.
  • What kind of construction are referto foro and completis omnibus templis?
  • hic locus: what place in Rome is Cicero talking about?
  • What kind of clause is ut plura non dicam neque aliorum exemplis confirmem?
  • What kind of clause is quantum auctoritas valeat in bello?
  • Specify and explain the mood of sumantur.
  • Explain the syntax of qui.
  • What kind of ablative is a vobis?
  • On what words does the genitive unius hominis depend and what kinds (! plural intended) of genitive is it?
  • What kind of ablatives are spe and nomine?
  • Parse potuisset and explain the mood.
  • illius diei fama: how does Cicero convey the atmosphere in Rome on this day?

Stylistic Appreciation:

Discuss the ways in which Cicero relates Pompey to the Roman commonwealth (and the world as a whole) with reference to the comprehensive, superlative, and extreme expressions in the paragraph (e.g. ullam ... oram, tam desertam, universus populus Romanus omnibus templis, ad commune omnium gentium bellum, omnium rerum egregiarum exempla, summa ubertate agrorum, diuturna pax).

Discussion Point:

Explore the correlation between the appointment of Pompey as general in the war against the pirates and the ensuing drop in the price of corn in Rome. Why is this ‘cause-and-effect’ relationship between a political decision and its economic consequences such a brilliant illustration of Pompey’s auctoritas?

An vero ullam usquam esse oram tam desertam putatis, quo non illius diei fama pervaserit, cum universus populus Romanus referto foro completisque omnibus templis, ex quibus hic locus conspici potest, unum sibi ad commune omnium gentium bellum Cn. Pompeium imperatorem depoposcit?: Cicero again challenges his audience with a rhetorical question, introduced by an, that calls for a resounding ‘no, we don’t’ as an answer. The main verb is putatis, which governs an indirect statement with ullam ... oram as subject accusative and esse as infinitive. (tam) desertam is the predicative complement. What follows is a consecutive relative clause, set up by tam (hence the subjunctive) and introduced by quo and a fairly intricate temporal cum-clause that works as follows:

  • Subject: universus populus Romanus
  • Two ablative absolutes linked by -que: referto foro + completis omnibus templis
  • Relative clause: ex quibus hic locus conspici potest
  • Accusatives: unum (agreeing in predicative position with) Cn. Pompeium (the accusative object, leading up to the predicative accusative) imperatorem
  • A dative of advantage: sibi
  • A prepositional phrase: ad commune omnium gentium bellum
  • The verb: depoposcit

ullam usquam ... oram tam desertam: the adjective attribute ullam and the adverb usquam are pleonastic – any coast anywhere. The phrasing recalls §§ 31-32, where Cicero traced the entire Mediterranean world to illustrate the extent of the pirate problem (31: Testes nunc vero iam omnes orae atque omnes exterae gentes ac nationes, denique maria omnia cum universa, tum in singulis oris omnes sinus at portus....; 32: quam multas existimatis insulas esse desertas?).

quo: the relative pronoun in the ablative, which introduces the consecutive relative clause, stands for ut (= the normal conjunction to introduce result clauses) + the ablative of is, i.e. eo, used adverbially (‘to that place’, ‘thither’): ut eo > quo.

illius diei fama: Cicero refers to the widespread fame of the day on which the Roman people passed the lex Gabinia that gave control of the war against the pirates to Pompey, together with extraordinary powers.

referto foro completisque omnibus templis: the -que after completis links two circumstantial ablative absolutes: referto foro and completis omnibus templis. In each case the participle (referto, completis) precedes the corresponding noun (foro, templis), perhaps in an enactment of the crowd flowing quickly into every available space to witness and celebrate the appointment of Pompey to a war of great concern to everybody, and especially the people of Rome, who relied on (cheap) corn imported from various places across the Mediterranean.

referto foro completisque omnibus templis ... hic locus: hic locus refers to the speaker’s platform, or Rostra, from which Cicero is addressing the people. In the very first sentence of the speech he calls it hic ... locus ad agendum [sc. cum populo] amplissimus (‘this place affording the amplest scope of action’). The platform was located on the forum, the big open space in the centre of the city, flanked by the Capitoline and Palatine Hills. There were several temples located on these two hills, which would have afforded a good view of the proceedings in the forum.

ad commune omnium gentium bellum: the preposition ad here expresses purpose (‘for a war...’). commune, which stands in predicative position to bellum (‘a war shared...’ and NOT ‘a shared war’), here governs the possessive genitive omnium gentium (its construction with dative is more frequent).

depoposcit: the verb governs two accusatives: the direct object unum ... Cn. Pompeium and the predicative accusative imperatorem, best coordinated with ‘as’ in English: ‘the people demanded Gnaeus Pompeius alone as general’ (and NOT ‘the people demanded the general Gnaeus Pompeius’). It picks up a passage from the beginning of the speech where Cicero imagines Rome’s allies in the region not daring to demand (deposcere) a specific general from the Roman people for the war against Mithridates (though implicitly hoping that Pompey would end up in charge). See § 12: civitates autem omnes cuncta Asia atque Graecia vestrum auxilium exspectare propter periculi magnitudinem coguntur; imperatorem a vobis certum deposcere, cum praesertim vos alium miseritis, neque audent, neque se id facere sine summo periculo posse arbitrantur (‘it is to you that every state in Greece and Asia is, by the magnitude of its peril, forced to look for help: to demand from you one particular general (especially as you have sent someone else) they neither dare nor do they think that they could do so without extreme danger’).

Itaque, ut plura non dicam neque aliorum exemplis confirmem, quantum auctoritas valeat in bello: the main verb – sumantur – is in the third person plural present subjunctive passive, with exempla as subject. The subjunctive is iussive: ‘let there be taken examples...’. ut introduces a result clause (‘so that...’), not a purpose clause (‘in order to...’), as the negations non and neque make clear. (Negated purpose clauses are introduced by ne.) quantum introduces an indirect question.

ab eodem Cn. Pompeio omnium rerum egregiarum exempla sumantur: a very compressed way of saying that Cicero intends to take his examples from the public career of Pompey.

qui quo die a vobis maritimo bello praepositus est imperator, tanta repente vilitas annonae ex summa inopia et caritate rei frumentariae consecuta est unius hominis spe ac nomine, quantum vix in summa ubertate agrorum diuturna pax efficere potuisset: another intricate sentence, best broken down into its constituent bits:

  • The opening relative clause: qui quo ... imperator
  • The main clause: tanta ... spe ac nomine
  • The quantum-clause (set up by tanta): quantum vix ... efficere potuisset

Cicero adduces an interesting phenomenon that interlinks political decision-making with economic behaviour as evidence of Pompey’s prestige. As soon as he was appointed general, the price of corn in Rome seems to have plummeted. Why? Because everyone just knew that Pompey would secure the supply routes and thereby alter the logic of supply and demand very much in favour of the former. It also suggests that the grain-merchants were using the pirates to raise their price for corn sky-high – much higher than necessary if the mere appointment of Pompey forced them to reduce their prices to the kind of bargain levels common in times of peace and agricultural fertility. There could thus be a subtle dig at those who profiteer from the misfortunes of others. But maybe this is a little too cynical. Perhaps grain prices would have fallen no matter who was appointed to the command, because of an expectation of an immediate glut based on the idea that someone was going to do something about the pirates (perhaps not necessarily that this was going to be a long-term solution, but at least that supply routes would be cleared in the short-term with negative results for anyone who had been keeping back grain against future shortages). Cicero, of course, makes it all about Pompey, but it could simply be a consequence of there being a command at all. One has to be sympathetic towards those merchants: transporting goods by sea is risky enough without adding pirates into the bargain.

qui quo die a vobis maritimo bello praepositus est imperator: the double relative qui quo at the start of the sentence is difficult. To make sense of the construction think of qui as a connecting relative (= et is), with is belonging to the relative clause introduced by quo, and quo as a relative pronoun with its antecedent (eo die) sucked into the relative clause. In other words, translate as if the Latin read: et eo die, quo is a vobis maritimo bello praepositus est imperator... (‘And on the day [in which] this man was put in charge by you of the war against the pirates as general...’).

tanta repente vilitas annonae ex summa inopia et caritate rei frumentariae consecuta est unius hominis spe ac nomine: the subject of the main clause is tanta ... vilitas, the verb consecuta est. The two genitives annonae (dependent on vilitas) and rei frumentariae (dependent on ex summa inopia et caritate) are virtually synonymous: both refer to the corn stored and sold in Rome.

unius hominis spe ac nomine: spe and nomine are causal ablatives. The genitive unius hominis goes with both, but is a different one in each case: unius hominis spe refers to ‘the expectations others have towards this one man’ (and not Pompey’s own expectations), so it is an objective genitive, whereas unius hominis nomine refers to the name Pompey himself has, so it is a possessive genitive.

quantum vix in summa ubertate agrorum diuturna pax efficere potuisset: quantum picks up tanta: such a low price ... followed as prolonged peace ... could hardly have achieved. The pluperfect subjunctive potuisset indicates an unreal condition in the past: ‘even if there had been a prolonged period of peace with rich yield of produce, the price of corn would hardly have dropped lower than it did after the appointment of Pompey.’


ūsquam, adv.: anywhere, at any place, in any place, to any place.

ōra, -ae, f.: edge, border; boundary, limit; coast, sea-coast; by metonymy, territory, region, country.

dēsertus, -a, -um, [dēserō], adj.: deserted, solitary; lonely, waste.

pervādō, -ere, pervāsī, pervāsum, [per + vādō], 3, n. and a.: go through, spread through, prevail; penetrate, pervade, extend, reach.

ūniversus, -a, -um, [ūnus + versus], adj.: all together, whole, entire; general, universal. As subst., ūniversī, -ōrum, m., pl., the whole body of men, all men.

Rōmānus, -a, -um, [Rōma], adj.: of Rome, Roman, Latin. As subst., Rōmānus, -ī, m., Roman.

refertus, -a, -um, [part. of referciō], adj.: crowded full, stuffed, filled; thronged, replete.

compleō, -ēre, -ēvī, -ētum, [com- + pleō, fill], 2, a.: fill up, fill; complete, fulfil, accomplish, finish; live through, pass.

cōnspiciō, -spicere, -spexī, cōnspectum, [com- + speciō], 3, a. and n.: observe, see, catch sight of, perceive, gaze upon; face towards; pass., be conspicuous, be distinguished.

possum, posse, potuī, [potis + sum], irr., n.: be able, can, have power; have influence, avail.

Gnaeus, -ī, abbreviated Cn., m.: Gnaeus, a Roman forename.

Pompēius, -a: name of a plebeian gens. The most distinguished person bearing the name was Cn. Pompēius Māgnus, born Sept. 30, B.C. 106. He was victorious over the pirates and over Mithridates, was a member of the first triumvirate, and was killed in Egypt, whither he had fled for refuge, after the battle of Pharsalia, Sept. 29, B.C. 48.

dēposcō, -poscere, -poposcī, —, [dē + poscō], 3, a.: demand, request earnestly, call for; request, claim.

cōnfīrmō, -āre, -āvī, -ātum, [com- + fīrmō], 1, a.: make firm, make strong, strengthen, reinforce; encourage, cheer; confirm, establish; assert, affirm, assure, prove.

maritimus, -a, -um, [mare], adj.: of the sea, marine, maritime.

praepōnō, -ere, praeposuī, praepositum, [prae + pōnō], 3, a.: place before; set over, put in charge, place in command, appoint; set before, prefer.

repente [repēns], adv.: suddenly, unexpectedly.

vīlitās, -ātis, [vīlis], f.: cheapness.

inopia, -ae, [inops], f.: want, lack; need, scarcity, poverty.

cāritās, -ātis, [cārus], f.: dearness, high price; love, affection.

frūmentārius, -a, -um, [frūmentum], adj.: of grain, of provisions, grain-.

ūbertās, -ātis, [ūber], f.: richness, fertility, fruitfulness, productiveness.

diūturnus, -a, -um, [diū], adj.: of long duration, long, lasting, protracted, prolonged.

Text Read Aloud
article Nav

Suggested Citation

Ingo Gildenhard, Louise Hodgson, et al., Cicero, On Pompey’s Command (De Imperio), 27–49. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-78374-080-2. DCC edition, 2016.http://dcc.dickinson.edu/cicero-de-imperio/44