Pompey the Great returned to Rome in 71 b.c. , to celebrate his second triumph, and to be elected Consul for the following year.
The people were eager to see the great general return, yet they were afraid as well.
Suppose Pompey should do as Sulla had done, and bring his army to Rome! Suppose he should make himself Dictator, and destroy his enemies!
But these fears proved groundless, for no sooner had Pompey reached Italy than he disbanded his army, bidding his soldiers to go home until he recalled them to grace his triumph.
He was at once elected Consul, while his colleague was the wealthy Crassus. The two Consuls did not agree well, for Pompey's sympathies were, in these days, with the people, while Crassus was anxious to please the Optimates.
The general who had just returned victorious endeared himself to the populace in many ways, but in none, perhaps, more than by his respect for their ancient customs.
It was usual for each Roman knight, after having served his appointed time in the wars, to lead his horse to the Forum, and there, in the presence of two Censors, tell under what generals he had served and in what battles he had taken part. According to his achievements he was then discharged, either with praise or blame.
Pompey, as Consul, might easily have ignored this custom. But to the delight of the people he was one day seen among the other knights, clad in his Consul's robes, indeed, but leading his horse to the Forum.
As he drew near to the Censors, Pompey bade his lictors go aside, while he went to stand before the judges.
The Censors were well pleased to be thus honoured by the Consul, but they behaved as though he were like any other knight.
"Pompeius Magnus, I demand of you," said one of the Censors, "whether you have served the full time in the wars that is prescribed by the law?"
"Yes," answered Pompey, and his voice rang out clear in the Forum, "Yes, I have served all, and all under myself as general."
The citizens clapped their hands and shouted with pleasure at the answer of their favourite, while the Censors rose to accompany him to his house.
When his Consulship came to an end, Pompey spent two years quietly in his own home, and during this time he was seldom seen in the Forum. Those who admired him went often to his house, where he entertained his guests hospitably.
But at the end of two years Pompey was again called upon to serve his country.
The pirates, who for long years had ravaged the Mediterranean, were troublesome foes. Of late these sea-robbers had seemed more numerous than ever, and there was no doubt of their increasing boldness.
No vessel, unless its crew was armed, need hope to escape these desperate men. The coasts of Asia, Greece, Epirus, and Italy had all suffered from the attack of the pirates; no temple, no property was safe from their raids.
Two Roman prætors had been carried off by these same bold robbers, and even Roman ladies of high rank had been captured, and kept until a heavy ransom had been paid for their release. In recent days they had even been seen at the mouth of the Tiber, and in the harbour at Ostia Roman ships had been set on fire.
King Mithridates had sometimes employed these men, and encouraged them by gifts to plunder his enemies.
The pirates' ships were adorned with the spoils which they had stolen. Their sails were of costly silk, the colour of which was a rare purple which in time to come was used only for royal robes. Their oars as they dipped in the water shone as silver, their masts were gilded with gold. At their banquets the rough sailors sat down before dishes of silver.
To thus flaunt their booty before the eyes of those they had plundered was foolish, for it roused the Italian cities, at last, to demand revenge.
Besides, there was cause for alarm lest the supply of grain from Africa and Sicily should be captured, unless the pirates were banished, and if the grain supply were stopped, famine would stare Rome in the face.
One day a tribune proposed to the Senate that some one should be sent to the Mediterranean with absolute power to deal as he thought fit with the pirates. That the pirates might be finally banished, the appointment was to be made for three years, and be not only over the sea, but fifty miles inland as well.
The Romans would give such great powers to no one but to Pompey, who had already shown that he knew how to use them without crushing the people.
So, amid the cheers of the citizens, Pompey was appointed to this great trust. Julius Cæsar, of whom you are soon to hear, voted for the favourite, perhaps to gain the goodwill of the people.
With a large fleet Pompey set out to perform the task entrusted to him, and his success was speedy.
He divided the sea coast into separate districts, and sent his officers to sweep the pirates from these regions, while he himself went in pursuit of them to the shores of Sicily and Africa. Within the short space of forty days the pirates were scattered, and west of Greece their dreaded sails were no longer to be seen.
But in the Archipelago there were many useful inlets in which the pirates could seek shelter, and thither Pompey hastened and thoroughly searched and emptied these natural hiding-places.
Then the pirates assembled all that was left of their fleet at Cilicia, to make one last stand against the enemy. But there they were finally defeated by the great Roman general.
Those who were left alive after the battle surrendered, with their strongholds and islands. These had been so well fortified that Pompey would have found them difficult, if not impossible, to storm.
Many prisoners had been taken, and these the Romans did not kill. Pompey, indeed, spent the winter in Cilicia to look after their welfare. For he founded cities in which the pirates could settle, and, if so they willed, work honestly to earn their livelihood.