Fulvia – c.83 – 40 BCE – Roman Republic

Ancient Rome

Content warning: Some swearing.

Politician, gang leader and general rabble rouser, Fulvia was not a woman you wanted as your enemy…

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The rise and fall of Fulvia is central to the end of the Roman Republic. An immensely ambitious woman, her power grew through her marriage to three of the most politically important men of her generation; Publius Clodius Pulcher, Gaius Scribonius Curio, and Marc Antony.

She was the first Roman non-mythological woman to appear on Roman coins.

First marriage: Pulbius Clodius Pulcher

15th Century Engraving of Fulvia

15th Century Engraving of Fulvia

From a wealthy family, Fulvia married aristocratic politician Clodius when she was 21. The marriage produced a son and a daughter as well as political stability.

Clodius was hugely popular with the common people of Rome, and he and Fulvia went everywhere together. However, their status was not without danger. The couple had a number of Roman gangs under their control and in 52 BCE Clodius was killed by rival Titus Annius Milo’s gang.

Fulvia grieved publicly for her husband, dragging his body through the streets of Rome – this incited an angry mob who took Clodius’ body and cremated it in the senate. As the widow of this popular man, Fulvia remained a symbol and reminder of him – transferring this power to her later husbands.

Second marriage: Gaius Scribonius Curio

Following the standard grieving period, Fulvia married her second husband, Gaius Scribonius Curio, in around 52-51 BC. Like the ill-fated Clodius, Curio was also very popular with the plebians of Rome, using Fulvia’s popularity and connection to her dead husband to gain favour with Julius Caesar.

Two years after marrying Fulvia, Curio had been elected as a tribune and sent to North Africa by Caesar to fight the army of King Juba I of Numidia. Unfortunately, Curio’s luck had run out and he was killed in battle.

Now a widow with three children (she had one son with Curio), Fulvia was once again on the marriage market.

Third marriage: Marc Antony

Fulvia meets Marc Antony

Fulvia meets Marc Antony

Fulvia’s final marriage was to Marc Antony a few years after Curio’s death. Antony himself was an established politician and military commander, while Fulvia had retained her wealth and gang connections. Together they were a force to be reckoned with.

Fulvia vocally defended Antony from attacks by the orator Cicero and gathered support for her husband using her marriage to Clodius as a draw. When Julius Caesar was assassinated, Antony suddenly became the most powerful man in Rome.

When Antony and Caesar’s nephew Octavian (later Augustus) formed their uneasy triumvirate with Marcus Aemillius Lepidus, Fulvia’s daughter Clodia was married to Octavian.

To further protect the alliance, Marc Antony sought out his long-time enemy Cicero and had him killed. One ancient source says that Fulvia pierced the tongue of the dead Cicero with one of her golden hairpins as revenge for all the things he’d said about her husband.

Fulvia With the Head of Cicero by Pavel Svedomsky

Fulvia With the Head of Cicero by Pavel Svedomsky

Later, Antony and Octavian left Rome to track down Julius Caesar’s assassins, leaving Lepidus in charge. Many sources say that as the most powerful woman in Rome, it was really Fulvia who ruled.

“She, the mother-in‑law of Octavian and wife of Antony, had no respect for Lepidus because of his slothfulness, and managed affairs herself, so that neither the senate nor the people transacted any business contrary to her pleasure.” – Cassius Dio

Opposition to Octavian

Eventually, the triumvirs distributed the provinces among themselves. Lepidus took the west and Antony went to Egypt, where he was to meet his fate in queen Cleopatra VII.

Octavian’s plans soon became clear once he returned to Rome in 41 BCE and divorced Clodia, accusing Fulvia of overreaching her power.

Thinking quickly, Fulvia gathered her children and began to tour the countryside meeting veterans, reminding them of their loyalty to Marc Antony. She gained an ally in Antony’s brother, Lucius, and began to promote her husband in opposition to Octavian.

Fulvia's coins

Fulvia’s coins

By 41 BCE Fulvia’s actions had escalated to war. She and Lucius raised eight legions, even occupying Rome for a short time, until Lucius had to retreat under siege to Perusia. It was known as the Perusine War, and Marc Antony was completely unaware.

During the siege, Octavian’s soldiers at Perusia began to sling bullets inscribed with insults directed at Fulvia personally and Octavian wrote a vulgar epigram directed at her in 40 BCE, referring to Antony’s affair with the courtesan Glaphyra:

“Because Antony fucks Glaphyra, Fulvia has arranged

this punishment for me: that I fuck her too.

That I fuck Fulvia? What if Manius begged me

to bugger him? Would I? I don’t think so, if I were sane

“Either fuck or fight”, she says. Doesn’t she know

my prick is dearer to me than life itself? Let the trumpets blare!”

The siege at Perusia lasted two months before Lucius surrendered. Fulvia fled to Greece with her children. By the time Marc Antony sailed back to Rome to deal with Octavian, Fulvia had died of an unknown illness in exile in Sicyon.

After her death, Antony and Octavian used it as an opportunity to blame their quarrelling on her.


References:

Encyclopedia of Women in the Ancient World Joyce E. Salisbury

Roman Women Augusto Fraschetti, Linda Lappin

On Wikipedia:


Image credits:

Fulvia Antonia” by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Svedomsky-Fulvia” by Pavel Svedomsky (1849-1904) – [1].

Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Glaspalast München 1891 088b” by S. Francisco Maura Montaner – Illustrierter Katalog der Münchener Jahresausstellung von Kunstwerken Aller Nationen im kgl. Glaspalaste 1891, 3. Auflage, ausgegeben am 24. Juli, München 1891 (Digitalisat der BSB).

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Fulvia-Clodius” by Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589) – “Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum”.

Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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