Rumour and renown: Pompey’s auctoritas

Cicero here reaches the third of the four qualities that distinguish his perfect general: auctoritas. See the blueprint he gave his audience in § 28: Ego enim sic existimo, in summo imperatore quattuor has res inesse oportere: (i) scientiam rei militaris, (ii) virtutem, (iii) auctoritatem, (iv) felicitatem. After his lengthy treatment of virtus (§§ 29-42), Cicero devotes §§ 43-46 to his treatment of auctoritas before moving on to felicitas in §§ 47-48. Unlike scientia militaris and virtus, auctoritas is not an ‘innate’ quality. It captures the prestige and respect (and hence the ‘commanding influence’) that others accord an individual on the basis of his previous achievements – and the ‘commanding influence’ that he can therefore exercise. auctoritas, then, implies a socio-political context. It is a specifically Roman notion (and form of power). Yet unlike potestas or imperium, which are formalized modes of power linked to social roles (such as that of pater familias, ‘father of a household’, which comes with patria potestas) or public office (election to the consulship gives the individual consular potestas and the right to command an army, i.e. imperium), auctoritas is more diffuse, if no less potent: it enables those who have it to get things done without needing to flex their muscle, simply on the basis of the authoritative respect they command. In this and the following paragraph, Cicero argues that the auctoritas enjoyed by Pompey among friends and foes alike has no equal and illustrates its strategic value in warfare (and not least the ongoing war against Mithridates).