Innumerable as the Starrs of Night,
Or Starrs of Morning,
Dew-drops, which the Sun
on every leaf and every flouer
NGC3132 ©
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all
ye need to know.

E = M

Energy is eternal delight.
William Blake

Impearls: 2004-05-23 Archive

Earthdate 2004-05-29

Magnetars and Pulsars

Earthdate 2004-04-23's issue of the journal Science (typically requires subscription or pay-per-view) has a special section on pulsars, which is chock full of interesting information.  There are eight parts to the series, but we'll only consider three of those articles here — scroll down or click on the following index:

Magnetars and Pulsars
→  The Pulsar Menagerie
→  The Physics of Neutron Stars
→  Crushed by Magnetism
→  References

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The Pulsar Menagerie

Scores of extrasolar planetary bodies have been discovered over the past dozen years or so, but it somehow had escaped my notice anyway that the very first such planetary system beyond our own to be discovered orbits round a pulsar.  As Robert Irion points out in his piece “The Pulsar Menagerie” in Science's pulsar special: 1  “Indeed, more than 100 other planets are now known, although PSR B1257+12 is still the only burned-out corpse of a dead star known to have a planetary system.  […]  The masses and relative positions of the three planets are ‘shockingly similar to our inner solar system.’”  Shades of Arthur C. Clarke's most poignant short story “The Star”!

Impearls has featured several articles recently discussing the testing of Einstein's general relativity (here, here, and here), and it's worth mentioning in this context the pair of neutron stars (one pulsing, one not) orbiting round each other known as the “Hulse-Taylor binary” (PSR B1913+16), discovered in 1974.  “[T]he team showed that the two bodies inexorably spiral together, at exactly the rate predicted by Einstein 60 years earlier.  Gravitational waves carry away the lost orbital energy.  ‘It's indirect, like showing that radio waves exist because you know the radio transmitter uses power,’ Hulse says.  ‘But it was the first evidence for the existence of gravitational waves.’”

Just earlier this year came the sequel:

The latest stunner was anticipated for years: two pulsars deadlocked in a tight orbit.  The new system, detected by the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia and announced in January, will likely provide even more stringent tests of general relativity than the Hulse-Taylor binary (Science, 9 January, p. 153).

Already, astrophysicists are mystified by the energetic interplay between the neutron stars.  Intense winds from the faster rotating pulsar create a tear-shaped shock wave around the slower pulsar.  Teams are probing this process as one pulsar dips behind the other, every 2.4 hours.

In one interpretation of the data, the fast pulsar is churning out 100,000 to 1 million times more charged gas than expected from the seething region above its surface, says theorist Jonathan Arons of UC Berkeley.  “The physics is not quite incredible, but it's close,” he says.

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The Physics of Neutron Stars

Continuing review of the Science series on pulsars, in the article “The Physics of Neutron Stars,” J. M. Lattimer and M. Prakash reveal some of the mind-boggling physics employed by neutron stars (the physical core of pulsars). 2

Neutron stars may exhibit conditions and phenomena not observed elsewhere, such as hyperon-dominated matter, deconfined quark matter, superfluidity and superconductivity with critical temperatures near 1010 kelvin, opaqueness to neutrinos, and magnetic fields in excess of 1013 Gauss.  […]

The term “neutron star” as generally used today refers to a star with a mass M on the order of 1.5 solar masses (M[Sun]), a radius R of ∼12 km, and a central density nc as high as 5 to 10 times the nuclear equilibrium density n0 ≅ 0.16 fm−3 of neutrons and protons found in laboratory nuclei.  A neutron star is thus one of the densest forms of matter in the observable universe.  Although neutrons dominate the nucleonic component of neutron stars, some protons (and enough electrons and muons to neutralize the matter) exist.  At supranuclear densities, exotica such as strangeness-bearing baryons, condensed mesons (pion or kaon), or even deconfined quarks may appear.  Fermions, whether in the form of hadrons or deconfined quarks, are expected to also exhibit superfluidity and/or superconductivity.

Neutron stars encompass “normal” stars, with hadronic matter exteriors in which the surface pressure and baryon density vanish (the interior may contain any or a combination of exotic particles permitted by the physics of strong interactions), and “strange quark matter” (SQM) stars.  An SQM star could have either a bare quark-matter surface with vanishing pressure but a large, supranuclear density, or a thin layer of normal matter supported by Coulomb forces above the quark surface.  The name “SQM star” originates from the conjecture that quark matter with up, down, and strange quarks (the charm, bottom, and top quarks are too massive to appear inside neutron stars) might have a greater binding energy per baryon at zero pressure than iron nuclei have.  If true, such matter is the ultimate ground state of matter.  Normal matter is then metastable, and compressed to sufficiently high density, it would spontaneously convert to deconfined quark matter.  Unlike normal stars, SQM stars are self-bound, not requiring gravity to hold them together.  It is generally assumed that pulsars and other observed neutron stars are normal neutron stars.  If SQM stars have a bare quark surface, calculations suggest that photon emission from SQM stars occurs primarily in the energy range 30 keV < E < 500 keV.

After a discussion of how neutron stars form (fascinating, with an illuminating diagram), Lattimer and Prakash go on to discuss a proto-neutron star's possible collapse into a black hole.

The proto-neutron star, in some cases, might not survive its early evolution, collapsing instead into a black hole.  This could occur in two different ways.  First, proto-neutron stars accrete mass that has fallen through the shock.  This accretion terminates when the shock lifts off, but not before the star's mass has exceeded its maximum mass.  It would then collapse and its neutrino signal would abruptly cease.  If this does not occur, a second mode of black hole creation is possible.  A proto-neutron star's maximum mass is enhanced relative to a cold star by its extra leptons and thermal energy.  Therefore, following accretion, the proto-neutron star could have a mass below its maximum mass, but still greater than that of a cold star.  If so, collapse to a black hole would occur on a diffusion time of 10 to 20 s, longer than in the first case.  Perhaps such a scenario could explain the enigma of SN 1987A.  The 10-s duration of the neutrino signal confirmed the birth and early survival of a proto-neutron star, yet there is no evidence that a neutron star exists in this supernova's remnant.  The remnant's observed luminosity is fully accounted for by radioactivity in the ejected matter, meaning that any contribution from magnetic dipole radiation, expected from a rotating magnetized neutron star, is very small.  Either there is presently no neutron star, or its spin rate or magnetic field is substantially smaller than those of typical pulsars.  A delayed collapse scenario could account for these observations.

Lattimer and Prakash proceed to discuss neutron stars' internal structure and composition (also including an illuminating diagram).

A neutron star has five major regions: the inner and outer cores, the crust, the envelope, and the atmosphere.  The atmosphere and envelope contain a negligible amount of mass, but the atmosphere plays an important role in shaping the emergent photon spectrum, and the envelope crucially influences the transport and release of thermal energy from the star's surface.  The crust, extending about 1 to 2 km below the surface, primarily contains nuclei.  The dominant nuclei in the crust vary with density, and range from 56Fe for matter with densities less than about 106 g cm−3 to nuclei with A ∼ 200 but x ∼ (0.1 to 0.2) near the core-crust interface at nn0⁄3.  Such extremely neutron-rich nuclei are not observed in the laboratory, but rare-isotope accelerators hope to create some of them.

Within the crust, at densities above the neutron drip density 4 × 1011 g cm−3 where the neutron chemical potential (the energy required to remove a neutron from the filled sea of degenerate fermions) is zero, neutrons leak out of nuclei.  At the highest densities in the crust, more of the matter resides in the neutron fluid than in nuclei.  At the core-crust interface, nuclei are so closely packed that they are almost touching.  At somewhat lower densities, the nuclear lattice can turn insideout and form a lattice of voids, which is eventually squeezed out at densities near n0.  If so, beginning at about 0.1 n0, there could be a continuous change of the dimensionality of matter from three-dimensional (3D) nuclei (meatballs), to 2D cylindrical nuclei (spaghetti), to 1D slabs of nuclei interlaid with planar voids (lasagna), to 2D cylindrical voids (ziti), to 3D voids (ravioli, or Swiss cheese) before an eventual transition to uniform nucleonic matter (sauce).  This series of transitions is known as the nuclear pasta.

For temperatures less than 0.1 MeV, the neutron fluid in the crust probably forms a 1S0 superfluid.  Such a superfluid would alter the specific heat and the neutrino emissivities of the crust, thereby affecting how neutron stars cool.  The superfluid would also form a reservoir of angular momentum that, being loosely coupled to the crust, could cause pulsar glitch phenomena.

The core constitutes up to 99% of the mass of the star.  The outer core consists of a soup of nucleons, electrons, and muons.  The neutrons could form a 3P2 superfluid and the protons a 1S0 superconductor within the outer core.  In the inner core, exotic particles such as strangeness-bearing hyperons and/or Bose condensates (pions or kaons) may become abundant.  It is possible that a transition to a mixed phase of hadronic and deconfined quark matter develops, even if strange quark matter is not the ultimate ground state of matter.  Delineating the phase structure of dense cold quark matter has yielded novel states of matter, including color-superconducting phases with and without condensed mesons.

Lattimer and Prakash end their review with a discussion of future prospects in neutron star and pulsar physics.

A new generation of neutrino observatories also hold great potential for studies of proto-neutron star evolution and neutron star structure.  Neutrino observations of supernovae, validated by the serendipitous observations of SN 1987A, which yielded about 20 neutrinos, should detect thousands of neutrinos from a galactic supernova.  This could yield neutron star binding energies to a few percent accuracy and provide estimates of their masses, radii, and interior compositions, as well as details of neutrino opacities in dense matter.  Neutrino fluxes from proto-neutron stars with and without exotica (hyperons, Bose condensates, and quarks) have been investigated […].

Gravitational radiation is expected from asymmetric spinning compact objects, from mergers involving neutron stars and black holes, and from gravitational-collapse supernovae.  Depending on the internal viscous forces in rotating neutron stars, gravitational radiation could drive an instability in r-modes of nonradial pulsations to grow on a time scale of tens of seconds.  Mergers can be observed to great distances.  Detectors due to begin operation over the next decade, including LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), VIRGO (Italian-French Laser Interferometer Collaboration), GEO600 (British-German Cooperation for Gravity Wave Experiment), and TAMA (Japanese Interferometric Gravitational-Wave Project), could see up to hundreds of mergers per year.  Binary mergers can yield important information, including the masses and mass-to-radius ratios of the binary's components and possibly details of their inspiraling orbits.

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Crushed by Magnetism

Perhaps the oddest pulsar phenomena which Science's pulsar series delves into is that of those entities known as “magnetars.”  As Robert Irion writes in his piece “Crushed by Magnetism”: 3

Some of the strangest mutations in space create superenergetic but short-lived cousins of pulsars, called magnetars.  Like a pulsar, a magnetar is a neutron star forged at the center of a supernova when a massive star explodes.  But something odd happens during a magnetar's birth.  An unknown process — perhaps ultrafast rotation within the dying star's collapsing core — endows each magnetar with a crushing magnetic field.  This magnetism, up to 1000 times more intense than that of a typical pulsar, is the strongest known in space.

As the magnetic forces subside, they rupture the brittle crust of the neutron star and drive fierce bursts of gamma rays and x-rays.  But the pyrotechnics takes a toll.  The magnetism acts as a brake, grinding each magnetar to a near-halt within thousands of years and short-circuiting its spin power.  In contrast, an ordinary pulsar can sweep the galaxy with rotation-powered beams of radio waves for millions of years.

Astrophysicists have found just 11 magnetars, but their brief lives and sporadic tantrums point to a far larger population that we can't see.  “There probably are hundreds of thousands of these dead relics, undetected and undetectable, now spinning in our galaxy,” says x-ray astronomer Chryssa Kouveliotou of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama.  Indeed, some proponents think the objects might not be mutants at all but common offspring of supernovas.  “It's quite possible that a majority of neutron stars are magnetars rather than radio pulsars,” says astrophysicist Robert Duncan of the University of Texas, Austin.

It was theoreticians who first came up with the concept of neutron stars possessed of magnetic fields of stupendous magnitude.

Duncan and fellow theorist Christopher Thompson of the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics in Toronto, Ontario, have swayed skeptics before.  They first calculated that powerful magnetic fields could lace through newborn neutron stars in 1987, when Duncan was a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University and Thompson was a graduate student.  But their solution for the strengths of such fields — 1015 gauss — was so startling that they weren't sure what to make of it for several years.

For perspective, Earth's global magnetic field is about 0.6 gauss.  Magnetic resonance imagers for medical scans attain 10,000 gauss.  Radio pulsars cluster around 1012 gauss, a deduction based on magnetism's gradual braking effect on their spins.  Such fields are impressive, but a radio pulsar's main power comes from its rotation, not its magnetism.  The magnetic fields act as conveyor belts to carry radiation spawned as the neutron star slows down and sheds rotational energy.  No one expected the fields to soar much higher.

But Thompson and Duncan realized that ultrastrong fields could explain some mysteries.  Notably, astrophysicists were puzzled by soft gamma repeaters (SGRs).  These unidentified objects emitted erratic flares of soft gamma rays — a notch above the most piercing x-rays — then fell quiet.  In 1979, an SGR in a neighboring galaxy unleashed a giant flare that packed as much energy into its first 0.2 seconds as the sun produces in 10,000 years.  The source was close to the remains of a recent supernova.  However, the flare ebbed and flowed just once every 8 seconds as it gradually subsided, seemingly far too slow to come from a pulsar.

The theorists postulated that the bursts arose from a slow-spinning neutron star that had spun breathtakingly fast at birth.  Astrophysicists Adam Burrows of the University of Arizona in Tucson and James Lattimer of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, had shown that during a neutron star's first 10 seconds of existence, its hot nuclear fluid would convect about 100 times every second.  If the neutron star whirled between 100 and 1000 times each second during those birth pangs, Thompson and Duncan calculated, it would spark a furious dynamo — a self-sustaining generator of an intense magnetic field, 1015 gauss and beyond.

Once magnetism suffuses the dense superfluid of a neutron star, it's tough to disperse.  Still, the magnetic fields and the electric currents that support them try to shift into patterns that are less taut with pent-up energy.  “The magnetic field is strongly wound up in a tight spiral inside the star,” Thompson explains.  “It is the progressive unwinding of the field that drives the [SGR] flares.”  Each shift strains the solid crust of the neutron star.  At a critical point the crust snaps, creating faults that may span a kilometer.  Once the surface cracks, the magnetic fields above it whip into new positions as well.  The violent motions blast particles along the magnetic fields, triggering gamma rays and x-rays.

Duncan and Thompson published this scenario in 1992, discarding their initial “burstar” term for the more descriptive “magnetar.”  Three years later, they noted that the magnetic fields should confine a burst's energy in a fireball lasting a few minutes, exactly the pattern observed.

After initial skepticism from the physics community, Irion notes, “observations won the day.”

First, a team led by Kouveliotou used NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellite to measure pulsations once every 7.47 seconds in an SGR with frequent outbursts.  The periodic fluctuations were visible only during bright bursts; at other times the SGR did not emit ordinary pulsarlike beams.  The object's rotational “clock” was slowing down by an astonishing 0.26 seconds per century — an effect that could result only from the strong drag of a magnetic field around 1015 gauss.

Then on 27 August 1998 [Earthdate 1998-08-27], a wave of gamma rays and x-rays more intense than the 1979 flare swept through the solar system.  The source was an SGR across the Milky Way.  Despite the distance, the radiation was powerful enough to affect radio transmissions on Earth by strongly ionizing the upper atmosphere.  Slow, 5.16-second pulsations modulated the flare.  Kouveliotou's team also studied it with RXTE to show that the SGR's spin decelerated at a magnetar-like clip.

With those findings, magnetars passed into mainstream science.  Peers honored the work last year when Duncan, Thompson, and Kouveliotou jointly received the 2003 Bruno Rossi Prize, the top research award from the AAS High-Energy Astrophysics Division.

Since establishment of magnetars on a firm basis, observational studies have extended the classes of phenomena that magnetars have been invoked to explain.

In recent years, astronomers have broadened the magnetar family.  Most now agree that objects called anomalous x-ray pulsars (AXPs), which pulsate slowly in x-rays but not in radio waves, are another flavor of magnetar.  Astronomer Victoria Kaspi of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and her colleagues have shown that AXPs can spew impulsive bursts, although not quite as vehemently as SGRs.

Curiously, the 11 known SGRs and AXPs all spin at nearly the same rate: between 5 and 12 seconds for each rotation.  Magnetic fields stifle a young magnetar's spin so severely that its rotation stutters from a few milliseconds down to a few seconds within centuries — such a brief interval that astronomers would have to get lucky to see a furiously spinning magnetar.  “And if they were active for more than a few thousand years, we'd expect to see some with periods of tens of seconds, but we don't,” says astronomer Peter Woods of MSFC.  “So it appears to be a very short life cycle when they are x-ray bright.”

Two new studies to appear in the Astrophysical Journal suggest that magnetars are more common than their measly statistics indicate.  In one report, astronomers led by Woods describe an AXP that flickered intensely for 4 hours in June 2002, then just as quickly faded.  Similar outbursts elsewhere in the galaxy might go undetected by current instruments, says Woods, because telescopes that monitor the whole sky aren't yet sensitive enough.  In another study, astronomers led by Alaa Ibrahim of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, exposed a “transient” magnetar.  The object was too faint to attract attention throughout the 1990s, but it suddenly grew 100 times brighter in early 2003.

In their quiet states, these misbehaving magnetars bear some resemblance to faint sources of x-rays in supernova remnants, called central compact objects.  They also look similar to another mysterious class of bodies called dim isolated neutron stars.  Kaspi, a collaborator on both studies, agrees that the magnetar family tree may include some of these branches.  “Dim isolated neutron stars could be dead magnetars with some residual heat,” she says.  “I think the numbers are consistent with half the neutron star population being born as magnetars.”  But better counts — and a firmer handle on the strengths of magnetic fields — are needed before anyone accepts that logic.

Fascinating theoretical work has continued as well.

On the theoretical side, several groups are probing possible links between magnetars and gamma ray bursts (GRBs), the most energetic explosions in the cosmos.  Many astrophysicists now think the most viable triggers of long-duration GRBs, lasting seconds to minutes, are powerful supernovas that create newborn black holes.  However, a magnetically dominated wind from a new magnetar makes more sense as a coherent driving force, says astrophysicist Maxim Lyutikov of McGill University.  “The dissipation of magnetic energy can be very efficient,” he notes.  In contrast, blasts of matter from close to a black hole might lose too much energy within violent shocks.

In related work, modeling by Hubble postdoctoral fellow Todd Thompson of the University of California, Berkeley, shows that a brand-new magnetar will sling matter into space along stiff magnetic “spokes” at nearly the speed of light.  This outpouring of mass expels so much momentum that if the magnetar spins 1000 times per second at birth, it takes merely 10 seconds to slam the brakes down to about 300 spins per second.  That deceleration releases a whopping 90% of the object's energy.  Thompson thinks all that energy can propel a hyperenergetic supernova or, under the right conditions, a GRB.

The heaviest elements in nature could arise in this turbulent setting as well, Thompson adds.  Astrophysicists haven't yet identified a convincing site for the “r-process,” the creation of heavy atomic nuclei by rapid bombardment with a fierce wind of neutrons.  Ultrastrong magnetic fields might keep a hot bath of neutrons and protons close enough to a new magnetar to push element synthesis up the periodic table to uranium and beyond.

Duncan, advocate of all things magnetar, loves the idea.  “It's possible that all elements heavier than bismuth are synthesized in magnetar winds,” he says.  “If that's true, nuclear bombs and reactors are running on magnetar energy.”  Since supernovas supply the iron in our blood, it's only fair that magnetars get in on the action as well.

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1 Robert Irion, “The Pulsar Menagerie,” Science, Vol. 304, Issue No. 5670 (Issue dated 2004-04-23), pp. 532-533 [DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5670.532].

2 J. M. Lattimer and M. Prakash, “The Physics of Neutron Stars,” Science, Vol. 304, Issue No. 5670 (Issue dated 2004-04-23), pp. 536-542 [DOI: 10.1126/science.1090720].

3 Robert Irion, “Crushed by Magnetism,” Science, Vol. 304, Issue No. 5670 (Issue dated 2004-04-23), pp. 534-535 [DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5670.534].

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Impearls: 2004-05-23 Archive

Earthdate 2004-05-26

Pompey and the Pirates

Note:  the so-called Gabinian Law, by which Pompey was granted extraordinary powers for dealing with piracy, was passed by the Roman popular assembly in the year 67 b.c.

Plutarch: 1  The power of the pirates first started in Cilicia {i.e., modern Turkey adjacent to the northeasternmost corner of the Mediterranean Sea} from precarious and unnoticed beginnings, but gained arrogance and boldness in the Mithridatic War, when they manned the king’s crews.  Then while the Romans were clashing in civil war with one another about the gates of Rome, the seas lay unguarded and they were little by little enticed and led on no longer merely to fall upon those plying the seas, but even to ravage islands and seacoast towns.  And now even men of great wealth, of noble birth, of outstanding reputation for good sense, embarked on and shared in these freebooting adventures as if this occupation brought honor and distinction.  The pirates had anchorages and fortified beacon-towers in many places, and the fleets encountered there were fitted for their special task with excellent crews, skilled pilots, and swift, light vessels.  But the envy they aroused and their ostentation were even more irksome than the dread they caused.  Their ships had gilded flagmasts at the stern, purple hangings, and silvered oars, as if they reveled and gloried in their evildoing.  There was music and dancing and carousal along every shore, generals were kidnaped, and cities were captured and freed on payment of ransom, to the disgrace of the Roman Empire.  The pirate ships numbered over 1,000, and the cities taken by them, 400.  They attacked and pillaged sanctuaries previously inviolate and unentered….

Appian: 2  Thus, in a very short time, they increased in number to tens of thousands.  They dominated now not only the eastern waters, but the whole Mediterranean to the Pillars of Hercules.  They now even vanquished some of the Roman generals in naval engagements, and among others the praetor of Sicily on the Sicilian coast itself.  No sea could be navigated in safety, and land remained untilled for want of commercial intercourse.  The city of Rome felt this evil most keenly, her subjects being distressed and herself suffering grievously from hunger by reason of her populousness.  But it appeared to her to be a great and difficult task to destroy such large forces of seafaring men scattered everywhither on land and sea, with no heavy tackle to encumber their flight, sallying out from no particular country or visible places, having no property or anything to call their own, but only what they might chance to light upon.  Thus the unexampled nature of this war, which was subject to no laws and had nothing tangible or visible about it, caused perplexity and fear.  Murena had attacked them [84-83 b.c.], but accomplished nothing much, nor had Servilius Isauricus, who succeeded him [77-75 b.c.].  And now the pirates contemptuously assailed the very coasts of Italy, around Brundisium and Etruria, and seized and carried off some women of noble families who were traveling, and also two praetors with their very insignia of office.

Cicero: 3  Who sailed the seas without exposing himself to the risk either of death or of slavery, sailing as he did either in winter or when the sea was infested with pirates?  Who ever supposed that a war of such dimensions, so inglorious and so long-standing, so widespread and so extensive, could be brought to an end either by any number of generals in a single year or by single general in any number of years?  What province did you keep free from the pirates during those years?  What source of revenue was secure for you?  What ally did you protect?  To whom did your navy prove a defense?  How many islands do you suppose were deserted, how many of your allies’ cities either abandoned through fear or captured by the pirates?

But why do I remind you of events in distant places?  Time was, long since, when it was Rome’s particular boast that the wars she fought were far from home and that the outposts of her empire were defending the prosperity of her allies, not the homes of her own citizens.  Need I mention that the sea during those years was closed to our allies, when your own armies never made the crossing from Brundisium save in the depth of winter?  Need I lament the capture of envoys on their way to Rome from foreign countries, when ransom has been paid for the ambassadors of Rome?  Need I mention that the sea was unsafe for merchantmen, when twelve lictors fell into the hands of pirates?  Need I record the capture of the noble cities of Cnidus and Colophon and Samos and countless others, when you well know that your own harbors — and those, too, through which you draw the very breath of your life — have been in the hands of the pirates?  Are you indeed unaware that the famous port of Caieta [present-day Gaeta, c. 70 miles {115 km} southeast of Rome], when crowded with shipping, was plundered by the pirates under the eyes of a praetor, and that from Misenum the children of the very man [Marcus Antonius] who had previously waged war against the pirates were kidnaped by the pirates?  Why should I lament the reverse at Ostia {Rome’s own port}, that shameful blot upon our commonwealth, when almost before your own eyes the very fleet which had been entrusted to the command of a Roman consul was captured and destroyed by the pirates?

Appian: 4  When the Romans could no longer endure the damage and disgrace they made Gnaeus Pompey, who was then their man of greatest reputation, commander by law for three years, with absolute power over the whole sea within the Pillars of Hercules, and of the land for a distance of 400 stadia {perhaps 80 km or 50 miles 5} from the coast.  They sent letters to all kings, rulers, peoples, and cities, instructing them to aid Pompey in everything, and they gave him power to raise troops and collect money there.  And they furnished a large army from their own muster roll, and all the ships they had, and money to the amount of 6,000 Attic talents — so great and difficult did they consider the task of overcoming such great forces, dispersed over so wide a sea, hiding easily in so many coves, retreating quickly and darting out again unexpectedly.  Never did any man before Pompey set forth with such great authority conferred upon him by the Romans.  Presently he had an army of 120,000 foot and 4,000 horse, and 270 ships including hemiolii [these were swift vessels, lightly manned].  He had twenty-five assistants of senatorial rank, whom the Romans call legates, among whom he divided the sea, giving ships, cavalry, and infantry to each, and investing them with the insignia of praetors, in order that each one might have absolute authority over the part entrusted to him, while he, Pompey, like a king of kings, should move to and fro among them to see that they remained where they were stationed so that, while he was pursuing the pirates in one place, he should not be drawn to something else before his work was finished, but that there might be forces to encounter them everywhere and to prevent them from forming junctions with each other….

Thus were the commands of the praetors arranged for the purpose of attacking, defending, and guarding their respective assignments, so that each might catch the pirates put to flight by others, and not be drawn a long distance from their own stations by the pursuit, nor carried round and round as in a race, thus dragging out the task.  Pompey himself made a tour of the whole.  He first inspected the western stations, accomplishing the task in forty days, and passing through Rome on his return.  Thence he went to Brundisium, and proceeding from this place he occupied an equal time in visiting the eastern stations.  He astonished all by the rapidity of his movement, the magnitude of his preparations, and his formidable reputation, so that the pirates, who had expected to attack him first, or at least to show that the task he had undertaken against them was no easy one, became straightway alarmed, abandoned their assaults upon the towns they were besieging, and fled to their accustomed peaks and inlets.  Thus the sea was cleared by Pompey forthwith without a fight, and the pirates were everywhere subdued by the praetors at their several stations.

Pompey himself hastened to Cilicia with forces of various kinds and many engines, as he expected that there would be need of every kind of fighting and siege against their precipitous peaks; but he needed nothing.  His fame and preparations had produced a panic among the pirates, and they hoped that if they did not resist they might receive lenient treatment.  First, those who held Cragus and Anticragus, their largest citadels, surrendered themselves, and after them the mountaineers of Cilicia, and finally all, one after another.  They gave up at the same time a great quantity of arms, some completed, others in the workshops; also their ships, some still on the stocks, others already afloat; also brass and iron collected for building them, and sailcloth, rope, and timber of all kinds; and finally, a multitude of captives either held for ransom or chained to their tasks.  Pompey burned the timber, carried away the ships, and sent the captives back to their respective countries.  Many of them found there their own cenotaphs, for they were supposed to be dead.  Those pirates who had evidently fallen into this way of life not from wickedness, but from poverty consequent upon the war, Pompey settled in Mallus, Adana, and Epiphania, or any other uninhabited or thinly peopled town in Cilicia Trachea.  Some of them, too, he sent to Dymae in Achaea.

Thus the war against the pirates, which it was supposed would prove very difficult, was brought to an end by Pompey in a few days.  He took 71 ships by capture and 306 by surrender from the pirates, and about 120 of their cities, fortresses, and other places of rendezvous.  About 10,000 of the pirates were slain in battle.


1 Plutarch, Life of Pompey, xxiv. 1-6.  Quoted from Roman Civilization Sourcebook, Volume I: The Republic, Edited with Notes by Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Harper Torchbooks: The Academy Library, Harper & Row, New York, 1966; p. 327.

2 Appian, Roman History, xii. xiv. 93; from LCL.  Quoted from Roman Civilization Sourcebook, Volume I: The Republic, Edited with Notes by Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Harper Torchbooks: The Academy Library, Harper & Row, New York, 1966; p. 327-328.

3 Cicero, In Favor of the Manilian Law, xi. 31 − xii. 33; from LCL.  Quoted from Roman Civilization Sourcebook, Volume I: The Republic, Edited with Notes by Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Harper Torchbooks: The Academy Library, Harper & Row, New York, 1966; p. 328-329.

4 Appian, Roman History, xii. xiv. 94-96; from LCL.  Quoted from Roman Civilization Sourcebook, Volume I: The Republic, Edited with Notes by Naphtali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold, Harper Torchbooks: The Academy Library, Harper & Row, New York, 1966; p. 329-330.

5 1 Greek stadium varied locally between 154 and 215 meters, according to this article:  “The Earth: Its Properties, Composition, and Structure: The figure and dimensions of the Earth: Determination of the Earth’s figure: a historical review,” Encyclopædia Britannica, CD 2002 Edition, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc.

Notes within curly braces {} are by Impearls editor Michael McNeil.


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