The struggle between Marius and Sulla, decided as it was
by the sword, marks a stage in the decline of the Roman Republic. The careers
of these two men showed how easily the state could be ruled by a successful
commander who had his soldiers behind him. After Sulla's death his friend
Pompey became the leading figure in Roman politics. Pompey's first service was
in Spain, where the adherents of Marius sought to humble the Senate and the
aristocratic party by encouraging the Spaniards to rise against Roman rule.
Having crushed this rebellion, Pompey returned to Italy in time to take part in
putting down a formidable insurrection of slaves, outlaws, and ruined peasants.
He was next intrusted with the war against the pirates, who swarmed in the
Mediterranean, preyed on commerce, and plundered wealthy cities near the coast.
Brilliant success in clearing the seas of these marauders led to his being sent
to the East to end the war with Mithradates, who was once more in arms against
Rome. Pompey drove the Pontic monarch from his kingdom and then annexed Syria
to the Roman dominions. When Pompey returned to Rome in 62 B.C., he brought
with him a reputation as the most successful general of his time.