Ego enim sīc exīstimō, in summō imperātōre quattuor hās rēs inesse oportēre, scientiam reī mīlitāris, virtūtem, auctōritātem, fēlīcitātem. Quis igitur hōc homine scientior umquam aut fuit aut esse dēbuit? quī ē lūdō atque pueritiae disciplīnīs, bellō maximō atque ācerrimīs hostibus, ad patris exercitum atque in mīlitiae disciplīnam profectus est; quī extrēmā pueritiā mīles in exercitū fuit summī imperātōris, ineunte adulēscentiā maximī ipse exercitūs imperātor; quī saepius cum hoste cōnflīxit, quam quisquam cum inimīcō concertāvit, plūra bella gessit quam cēterī lēgērunt, plūrēs prōvinciās cōnfēcit quam aliī concupīvērunt; cuius adulēscentia ad scientiam reī mīlitāris nōn aliēnīs praeceptīs, sed suīs imperiīs, nōn offēnsiōnibus bellī, sed victōriīs, nōn stīpendiīs, sed triumphīs est ērudīta. Quod dēnique genus esse bellī potest, in quō illum nōn exercuerit fortūna reī pūblicae? Cīvīle, Āfricānum, Trānsalpīnum, Hispāniēnse, servīle, nāvāle bellum, varia et dīversa genera et bellōrum et hostium, nōn sōlum gesta ab hōc ūnō, sed etiam cōnfecta, nūllam rem esse dēclārant in ūsū positam mīlitārī, quae huius virī scientiam fugere possit.

    28: The perfect general, Pompey the kid, and Mr. Experience

    Cicero now explicates the reasons for his judgement that Pompey has outperformed both his contemporaries and the Romans of old. To do so, he briefly switches registers: he theorizes...[full essay]

    Study Questions:

    • What kind of construction does existimo govern?
    • Explain how scientiam rei militaris, virtutem, auctoritatem, felicitatem fit into the syntax of the sentence.
    • What kind of ablative is hoc homine?
    • Explain the construction of qui (3x) and cuius.
    • What kind of ablative is extrema pueritia?
    • What construction is ineunte adulescentia?
    • maximi ipse exercitus imperator: which words are in the nominative, which in the genitive?
    • Parse saepius.
    • What is the difference between a hostis and an inimicus?
    • What kind of ablative are alienis praeceptis, suis imperiis, offensionibus, victoriis, stipendiis, and triumphis?
    • What is the subject of the relative clause in quo illum non exercuerit fortuna rei publica? Discuss its placement in the clause.
    • Parse exercuerit and explain the mood.
    • What are the subjects of declarant (the main verb of the last sentence)?
    • declarant introduces an indirect statement: identify the subject accusative and the infinitive.
    • What is the antecedent of the relative pronoun quae?
    • Parse possit and explain the mood.

    Stylistic Appreciation:

    What are the rhetorical devices Cicero uses to convey a sense of Pompey’s comprehensive knowledge of military matters?

    Discussion Point:

    Consider the four qualities that Cicero views as essential attributes of the perfect general: scientia rei militaris, virtus, auctoritas, felicitas. Are they still relevant qualities for military commanders today? Which qualities would your perfect general have?

    Ego enim sic existimo, in summo imperatore quattuor has res inesse oportere: scientiam rei militaris, virtutem, auctoritatem, felicitatem: the sic sets up the indirect statement in summo imperatore quattuor has res inesse oportere: see OLD s.v. 4b. One could say in English ‘as follows’, but this would be a bit cumbersome. scientiam rei militaris, virtutem, auctoritatem, felicitatem stand in apposition to quattuor has res. has is thus best translated ‘the following’. res here means something akin to ‘qualities’.

    scientiam rei militaris, virtutem, auctoritatem, felicitatem: an asyndetic list that is arranged climactically. Cicero moves from knowledge based on experience (scientia rei militaris) to innate ability/personal qualities/overall excellence (virtus) to impact on/perception by others in socio-political settings (auctoritas) to endorsement/support from the gods (felicitas). After setting out his ideal, Cicero proceeds to look for it in reality. He does so from here on out by means of a systematic ‘compare and contrast’ that pitches Pompey against an anonymous collective of ‘everyone else’. Accordingly, watch out for comparative forms: they make a frequent appearance! In § 28 alone, there are four: scientior, saepius, plura, and plures – all designed to illustrate Pompey’s unparalleled knowledge of military matters.

    • quis igitur hoc homine scientior umquam aut fuit aut esse debuit?
    • (i) qui
      • (a) e ludo atque e pueritiae disciplinis bello maximo atque acerrimis hostibus
      • (b) ad patris exercitum atque in militiae disciplinam profectus est;
    • (ii) qui
      • (a) extrema pueritia miles in exercitu fuit summi imperatoris,
      • (b) ineunte adulescentia maximi ipse exercitus imperator;
    • (iii) qui
      • (a) saepius cum hoste conflixit quam quisquam cum inimico concertavit,
      • (b) plura bello gessit quam ceteri legerunt,
      • (c) plures provincias confecit quam alii concupiverunt;
    • (iv) cuius adulescentia ad scientiam rei militaris
      • (a) non alienis praeceptis sed suis imperiis,
      • (b) non offensionibus belli sed victoriis,
      • (c) non stipendiis sed triumphis est erudita.

    Cicero starts by posing a rhetorical question (quis ... debuit?) that demands the obvious answer: ‘nobody’. What follows are four climactically arranged sentences, all starting with a connecting relative (qui, qui, qui, cuius) that pick up hoc homine. (i) and (ii) sketch Pompey’s rise from kindergarten to general; (iii) and (iv) step back and compare his overall achievement in (and hence empirical knowledge of) military matters to that of anyone else. The design of (i) and (ii) is essentially bipartite, here flagged up with (a) and (b) (though there is a whiff of a tricolon in (i) as well: see below): they outline Pompey’s progression from puer to miles (i) and from miles to imperator (ii). The basic organizing principle of both (iii) and (iv) is the tricolon, flagged up with (a) (b) (c).

    quis igitur hoc homine scientior umquam aut fuit aut esse debuit?: scientior, which picks up scientiam rei militaris in the previous sentence, is the comparative form, in the nominative masculine singular, of sciens, scientis (‘knowledgeable’). Cicero elides the objective genitive rei militaris that we need to understand with scientior. It can easily be supplied from the previous sentence.

    hoc homine: an ablative of comparison after scientior.

    qui e ludo atque e pueritiae disciplinis bello maximo atque acerrimis hostibus ad patris exercitum atque in militiae disciplinam profectus est: between the subject (the connecting relative pronoun qui = et hic) at the beginning and the verb (profectus est) at the end, Cicero includes three well-balanced phrases that gradually increase in length, each consisting of two elements linked by atque:

    • (i) e ludo atque e pueritiae disciplinis [from boy...]
    • (ii) bello maximo atque acerrimis hostibus
    • (iii) ad patris exercitum atque in militiae disciplinam [... to man]

    (i) and (iii) correlate closely: e ludo sets up ad patris exercitum; e pueritiae disciplinis sets up in militiae disciplinam. (ii) consists of two circumstantial ablatives that specify the historical context in which Pompey made his transition from ‘boy’ to ‘man’.

    e ludo atque e pueritiae disciplinis: the meaning of ludus covers a wide semantic range, from ‘sport, play, recreation’ to ‘show, entertainment, or, in the plural, public games’ to ‘fun, merriment, frivolity’. Here it refers to ‘a place of instruction or training’, more specifically, ‘elementary school’: OLD s.v. 6. disciplinae, in the plural, refers to different ‘branches of study’. In the singular, it means ‘teaching, instruction, training’, but also something more akin to the English derivative ‘discipline’, i.e. ‘orderly conduct based on moral training’ or ‘order maintained in a body of people under command’ (OLD s.v. 4), which is its meaning in the phrase in militiae disciplinam further on in the sentence. pueritia means ‘boyhood’, which in Rome tended to come to an end between the 14th and 17th birthday, with the donning of the so-called toga virilis (‘the toga of manhood’), which marked the beginning of adulescentia (‘adulthood’).

    bello maximo atque acerrimis hostibus: the ablatives indicate the attendant circumstances in which Pompey made the transition from being a boy at school to serving in the army. The use of two superlatives (maximo, acerrimis) and the chiastic design (noun – adjective – adjective – noun) underscore the severity of the conflict that initiated Pompey into military life. There are two ways to construe the atque: it can be taken to link (i) bello and hostibus (= ‘in a war of great significance and against the most bitter enemies’) or (ii) maximo and acerrimus hostibus, with both phrases being predicative specifications of bello (= ‘a war of great significance and involving the most bitter enemies’). The war in question is the Social War between Rome and her Italian allies in 91-87 BC (with the most intense fighting occurring in 90-89), which ended with Rome granting full citizenship to its ‘allies-turned-enemies-turned-citizens’. The details of the conflict are irrelevant for Cicero’s purposes. His main interest lies in Pompey’s precocious exposure to warfare. But our sources suggest that for once his ‘superlative idiom’ is true to the facts: the fighting was ferocious.8

    ad patris exercitum atque in militiae disciplinam: Pompey went straight from school (ludus) to military service (exercitus) under the command of his father Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo, one of the consuls of 89 BC, most likely as a member of his father’s consilium. Pompey was born on 29 September 106 BC, so he must have been 17 at the time. Cicero, too, earned his military spurs under Strabo. There is no evidence to suggest, however, that he was also part of the consilium or that Cicero and Pompey had ‘any close link’.9

    [Extra information: A consilium is a typically Roman institution: it was in effect a group of esteemed and experienced persons who acted in an advisory capacity, but also included well-connected young men eager to learn the ropes of public affairs; any Roman in a position of power, whether in his role as pater familias or as a magistrate or pro-magistrate of the Roman people, was expected to consult his consilium before making an important or difficult decision. We know of the presence of Pompey filius in the consilium of his father because of an inscription, which provides us with ‘the single surviving list of a commander’s suite’.10 The inscription in question is ILLRP (= Inscriptiones Latinae Liberae Rei Publicae) 515. You can access the full text and a translation (as well as a photo of the inscription) at It’s worth checking out, just to get a sense of the sheer size of the consilium.]

    qui extrema pueritia miles in exercitu fuit summi imperatoris, ineunte adulescentia maximi ipse exercitus imperator: Cicero here uses an ablative of time (extrema pueritia) and a temporal ablative absolute (ineunte adulescentia) to underscore both Pompey’s precociousness and his comet-like ascent to the top: at the very end of his boyhood (extrema pueritia), he was already a soldier (miles), yet at the beginning of his adulthood (ineunte adulescentia), he was already a general (imperator). The emphasis on the end of one period in Pompey’s life (pueritia) and the beginning of another (adulescentia) underscores that he rose virtually overnight from common soldier (miles) to commander-in-chief (imperator). In reality, however, several years elapsed between his entry into military life under his father in 89 and 83 BC when he put himself in command of an army that he had raised by his own initiative, relying on family networks, in the turbulent years of civil war between Sulla and the Marians. In fact, Pompey’s comet-like (and unconstitutional) rise to the pinnacle of Rome’s politico-military hierarchy would have been inconceivable without the chaos of suicidal infighting within Rome’s ruling elite. Cicero glosses over the unsavoury enabling conditions of Pompey’s stunning success (and irregular curriculum vitae), choosing instead to focus on the truly extraordinary speed of his ascent to the top. The chiastic arrangement miles in exercitu summi imperatorismaximi ... exercitûs imperator enhances the effect: the shifts in case from the genitive summi imperatoris to the nominative ipse ... imperator and from the ablative in exercitu to the genitive maximi ... exercitûs underscore the transformation of Pompey from military novice to general, with the ipse emphasising that Pompey has become imperator himself. And even though he wasn’t yet the summus imperator that he is at the time of Cicero’s speech, the transference of the superlative from the general under which Pompey served (summi imperatoris) to the army he had under his command at a young age (maximi ... exercitûs) prefigures his own attainment of the attribute summus in due course. Cicero may here also be hinting at Pompey’s nickname Magnus (‘the Great’).

    [Extra Information: Plutarch records the moment when Pompey was first hailed as imperator – by none other than Sulla. See his Life of Pompey 8.2; the year is 83 BC, after Pompey had won several victories over Sulla’s Marian enemies:

    When Pompey learned that Sulla was near, he ordered his officers to have the forces fully armed and in complete array, that they might present a very fine and brilliant appearance to the imperator; for he expected great honours from him, and he received even greater. For when Sulla saw him advancing with an admirable army of young and vigorous soldiers elated and in high spirits because of their successes, he alighted from off his horse, and after being saluted, as was his due, with the title of Imperator, he saluted Pompey in return as Imperator. And yet no one could have expected that a young man, and one who was not yet a senator, would receive from Sulla this title.

    Two years later, after a decisive rout of king Iarbas’ troops in Africa, Pompey’s own soldiers hailed him as imperator – a stepping stone towards his first triumph (for which see below).11]

    summi imperatoris: most likely a complimentary reference to Pompey’s father Strabo (who celebrated a triumph in 89 BC for the siege and sack of Asculum and thus could be said to have earned the attribute summus), rather than Sulla: Pompey didn’t join Sulla’s side until several years later, and Cicero at any rate tries to downplay the Sulla-connection whenever possible.

    qui saepius cum hoste conflixit quam quisquam cum inimico concertavit, plura bello gessit quam ceteri legerunt, plures provincias confecit quam alii concupiverunt: Cicero here identifies three related pairs of (unequal) challenges and asserts that Pompey has mastered the (vastly) more difficult one in each pair more frequently (see the three comparatives saepius, plura, plures, each followed by quam) than anyone else has mastered the one that requires comparatively little effort. The four composite verbs confligere, concertare, conficere, and concupescere endow the sentence with an alliterative beat, further enhanced by the absence of connectives.

    saepius cum hoste conflixit quam quisquam cum inimico concertavit: to begin with, Cicero contrasts the frequency with which Pompey has defeated an enemy of Rome with the frequency with which anyone else has engaged in strife with a personal enemy. Apart from the higher number (saepius), there is a contrast between decisive victories on the battlefield (conflixit) and indecisive encounters in a court of law (concertavit) and one between an outside (military) enemy (hostis) and a personal-political enemy (inimicus).

    plura bello gessit quam ceteri legerunt: the second comparison asserts that the deeds Pompey has performed in war outnumber the military deeds others have read of. We repeat here what we have already pointed out in the Introduction: depending on the reader, it could imply very few military feats indeed; if, on the other hand, the reader Cicero has in mind is someone like himself (who had surely perused all the major Greek and Roman historiographers and most of the minor ones as well: you can see him at it in V. Foppa’s painting on page 6) the praise turns into panegyric hyperbole. The distinction between acquiring knowledge of warfare through military service as compared to reading about it in books also occurs in the speech the historian Sallust (86-c.35 BC) puts in the mouth of Marius, a homo novus (‘new man’) who held the consulship seven times, in his Bellum Iugurthinum 85.13: Comparate nunc, Quirites, cum illorum superbia me hominem novum. Quae illi audire aut legere solent, eorum partem vidi, alia egomet gessi; quae illi litteris, ea ego militando didici. Nunc vos existimate, facta an dicta pluris sint (‘Compare me now, fellow citizens, a “new man”, with those haughty nobles. What they know from hearsay and reading, I have either seen with my own eyes or done with my own hands. What they have learned from books I have learned by service in the field; think now for yourselves whether words or deeds are worth more’). We are either dealing with a topos or, possibly, with a Sallustian reworking of a Ciceronian idea.

    plures provincias confecit quam alii concupiverunt: provincia can mean ‘province’, in the sense of ‘a territory outside Italy under the direct administration of a governor from Rome’ (OLD s.v. 3), but the English derivative is a ‘false friend’ here, where Cicero uses provincia in its original sense of ‘special function or task assigned to a magistrate’ (OLD s.v. 1). (The term imperium – see next sentence – underwent a semantic expansion analogous to provincia, from the ‘right to command’ to ‘empire’, i.e. the territory over which one has the right to issue orders.) The theme of Pompey’s qualities and achievements surpassing the wildest dreams of his contemporaries recurs in § 48.

    cuius adulescentia ad scientiam rei militaris non alienis praeceptis sed suis imperiis, non offensionibus belli sed victoriis, non stipendiis sed triumphis est erudita: the subject of the sentence is adulescentia, the verb is est erudita. The principle of praise here is the same as in the previous sentence: Cicero identifies three pairs of (unequal) sources of the scientia rei militaris that Pompey acquired at the outset of his adulthood (praecepta v. imperia; offensiones v. victoriae; stipendia v. triumphi) and argues that his knowledge derives from the superior ones. These – imperia, victoriae, triumphi – constitute the core of aristocratic ambition in republican Rome: military commands (imperia) were meant to result in victories (victoriae) and ideally the victories were of such magnitude that the general in charge could celebrate a triumph (triumphus).

    non alienis praeceptis sed suis imperiis: Pompey knows about warfare not because he was the recipient of instruction by someone else (alienis praeceptis), but because he was holding the right of command over Roman armies himself, and more than once (suis imperiis: note the plural). The contrast is twofold: alienis contrasts with suis, praeceptis with imperiis. Even though the grammatical subject of the sentence is adulescentia, Cicero uses the reflexive pronoun suis, which refers to the understood subject, i.e. Pompey.

    non offensionibus belli sed victoriis: Pompey did not have to learn from his mistakes (offensionibus belli means something akin to the ‘School of Hard Knocks’, i.e. the painful education one gets via life’s trials and tribulations, here specifically military defeats). Cicero implies that he always emerged from battle victoriously. This is not strictly speaking true, or at least not the whole truth: especially in his campaign against Sertorius in Spain, Pompey experienced major setbacks and outright defeats in battle before he gradually gained control of the situation. Cicero brushes over such nuances in panegyrical simplification.

    non stipendiis sed triumphis: the basic meaning of stipendium is the cash payment soldiers received; it is also used metonymically in the sense of ‘season of military service’, ‘campaign’. This is the meaning here: Cicero contrasts mere service in the army with the ultimate of achievement in Roman warfare, the celebration of a triumph.

    triumphis: most Roman aristocrats would have been over the moon to be awarded a triumph once. By the time of the pro lege Manilia in 66 BC, Pompey had already triumphed twice: in 81 (?) BC for his victory in Africa over king Iarbas, in the context of the civil war between Sulla and the Marians;12 and in 71 BC for his victory over Sertorius in Spain. He was to celebrate a third triumph in 61 BC, for his victories over the pirates and Mithridates. The highly coveted award of a triumph was supposed to follow strict regulations and was, in theory, reserved for senators who had reached at least the praetorship, which meant (again: at least) the age of 39. At the time of his first triumph, P


    adulēscentia, -ae, [adulēscēns], f.: youth, the period of life beyond pueritia, and reckoned ordinarily between the ages of 15 and 25 or 30 years; by metonymy, = adulēscentēs, young people, youth.

    Āfricānus, -a, -um, [Āfrica], adj.: of Africa, African. Used as a surname for the two Scipios who were victorious in Africa, P. Cornēlius Scīpiō Āfricānus, who defeated Hannibal at Zama, B.C. 202; and P. Cornēlius Scīpiō Aemiliānus Āfricānus, adoptive grandson of the elder Scipio, who destroyed Carthage, B.C. 146.

    bellicōsus, -a, -um, [bellicus], adj.: warlike, martial.

    cīvīlis, -e, [cīvis], adj.: of a citizen, of citizens, civil, civic; political, public.

    concertō, āre, -āvī, -ātum, [com- + certō], 1, n.: contend with, strive with; dispute, debate with.

    concupīscō, -īscere, -īvī, -ītum, [com-, cupiō], 3: itch., greatly desire, long for, eagerly desire, covet.

    cōnflīgō, -ere, cōnflīxī, cōnflīctum, [com- + flīgō], 3, a. and n.: dash together; be in conflict, contend, fight; be at war, be at variance.

    dēclārō, -āre, -āvī, -ātum, [dē + clārō], 1, a.: make clear, disclose; show, prove; declare, proclaim, announce.

    ērudiō, -īre, -īvī, -ītum, [ē, rudis], 4, a.: teach, instruct; educate, polish.

    fēlīcitās, -ātis, [fēlīx], f.: good fortune, good luck, success.

    Hispāniēnsis, -e, adj.: of Spain, Spanish, in Spain.

    ineō, -īre, -īvī or -iī, -itum, [in + eō], irr., a. and n.: go into, enter; come in, come on, begin; undertake, engage in, adopt.

    inimīcus, -a, -um, [in- + amīcus], adj.: unfriendly, hostile, inimical; hurtful, injurious. As subst., inimīcus, -ī, personal enemy, enemy.

    īnsum, inesse, īnfuī, [in + sum], irr., n.: be in, be on; exist in, belong to.

    lūdus, -ī, [cf. lūdō], m.: play, game, sport, pastime; joke, fun; pl. often public games, spectacles.

    mīlitāris, -e, [mīles], adj.: of a soldier, of war, warlike, military. rēs mīlitāris, art of war. sīgna mīlitāria, military standards.

    mīlitia, -ae, [mīles], f.: military service, warfare, service, war; by metonymy, soldiery.

    nātiō, -ōnis, [nāscor, nātus], f.: birth; breed, stock, kind; nation, people.

    nāvālis, -e, [nāvis], adj.: of ships, ship-, naval, nautical.

    offēnsiō, -ōnis, [offendō], f.: stumbling; aversion, dislike, disgust, hatred; mishap, misfortune, defeat.

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

    pueritia, -ae, [puer], f.: boyhood, childhood, youth.

    rēs pūblica, reī pūblicae, f.: see pūblicus.

    sciēns, -entis, [part. of sciō], adj.: knowing, intelligent, skilled, expert, versed; often used where the English idiom prefers an adv., knowingly, intentionally.

    servīlis, -e, [servus], adj.: slavish, servile, of a slave.

    stīpendium, -ī, [stips, gift, cf. pendō], n.: tax, tribute; income, pay, bounty; military service, campaigning.

    Trānsalpīnus, -a, -um, [trāns + Alpīnus], adj.: beyond the Alps, Transalpine. Cf. Gallia.

    triumphus, -ī, m.: triumphal procession, triumph, the ceremonial entrance of a commander into Rome in celebration of an important victory; celebration of victory.

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    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.