Pompey’s cruise control (II): ‘I have a fleet – and need for speed’

Cicero continues his account of Pompey’s war against the pirates. After securing the corn supply through quick visits to Sicily, Africa, and Sardinia, Pompey undertook a systematic sweep of the entire Mediterranean, from West to East, starting in Spain and ending in Asia Minor, more specifically Cilicia, the traditional stronghold of the pirates, which he ‘pacified’ and brought under permanent Roman control. The paragraph falls into three main parts. The first sentence (Inde cum ... Ciliciam adiunxit) retraces the various stages of the campaign with a broad brush, before Cicero focuses in on various details (omnes ... imperavit). He then pithily sums up Pompey’s main achievement: taking care of the seemingly intractable pirate problem within one single campaigning season (Ita tantum bellum ... confecit). Apart from Pompey’s supreme military achievement, Cicero begins to highlight the ‘soft’ qualities that characterize his approach to campaigning, in preparation for the next paragraph. Thus he stresses that Pompey did not simply kill all and sundry but accepted surrender and was in general willing to negotiate with enemies to reach a diplomatic solution to conflict. What Cicero fails to mention is the strategic rationale behind Pompey’s preference for quick-fix diplomacy over prolonged warfare in solving the pirate problem. Pompey tried to avoid at all costs getting bogged down in a protracted military campaign that might have ruled him out of consideration for the looming war against Mithridates – a much more appealing prospect than chasing after pirates and storming their strongholds. As it happened, Metellus, the Roman general in charge of military operations in Crete at the time, pushed for a complete military victory over the local communities, which resulted in the embassy to Pompey: the Cretans hoped to receive more favourable terms of surrender from him.