Pirates ante portas!

This section sees a continuation of the onslaught of questions Cicero began in § 31. They serve to illustrate how great the threat the pirates presented was and therefore how great Pompey must be as a general to have successfully defeated them. In the course of his geopolitical sweep, Cicero brings the enemy ever closer to home. He begins in the Eastern Mediterranean (Cnidus, Colophon, and Samos are located in Asia Minor and the Aegean Sea); then he moves to the West Coast of Southern Italy (Caieta and Misenum, both located south of Rome); and finally – and climactically – arrives at the mouth of the Tiber, the city of Ostia, and the harbour of Rome, a mere 15 miles from the capital. Other touches contribute to the (increasing) sense of danger. When he mentions Greek (and anonymous other) locations, Cicero makes no reference to eyewitnesses, but leaves no doubt that even distant places are of vital concern to Roman interests since they help to secure the supply of corn to the capital on which the populace depended for their daily bread (eloquently evoked by Cicero in the relative clause quibus vitam et spiritum ducitis). The sack of Caieta, however, occurred within sight of a Roman official (inspectante praetore) and the outrageous assault on Ostia virtually within eyeshot of the Roman people (prope inspectantibus vobis). These instances of enforced spectatorship find resolution in the final sentence, with the exclamation pro di immortales! functioning as pivot between tragedy and triumph. Cicero recalls once more the appearance of the pirates at Ostia, but only as foil for this conclusion that since then Pompey has dealt with the problem so thoroughly that now there is not even any hearsay of pirate activity anywhere in the Mediterranean. The phrase Oceani ostium refers to the straits of Gibraltar: in a sense, then, we traverse the entire Mediterranean from East to West in the course of this paragraph, in parallel with the concluding claim that Pompey has rid the entire Sea of pirates.

However, although Cicero is right to argue that Pompey had significant and considerable success against the pirates compared to many of his predecessors, he did not crush them entirely. Rather, he decided to resettle them at Soli in Cilicia (from then on called Pompeiopolis = ‘the city of Pompey’), where they were able to build up their strength again during the civil wars. Cicero later seems critical of Pompey’s decision not to punish the pirates harshly instead; in his de Officiis, written in 44 BC, he criticises the subjugation of morality to expediency in contemporary Rome (in contrast to the righteousness of their ancestors) by saying ‘we give immunity to pirates and make our allies pay tribute’ (3.49). It was not until Augustus held power long term that the threat of the pirates was completely removed.