Fulvia (c. 85/80–40 BCE)

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Fulvia (c. 85/80–40 bce)

Ambitious Roman aristocratic woman who engaged in political and military activities normally reserved exclusively for Roman men. Pronunciation: FULL-vee-ya. Born around 85/80 bce; died in Greece in 40 bce; daughter of Marcus Fulvius Bambalio and Sempronia; married Publius Clodius, in 62 bce (died, January 18, 52 bce); married Gaius Scribonius Curio, in 52 or 51 bce (died, August 49 bce); married Mark Antony, in 47 or 46 bce; children (first marriage) Publius Clodius Pulcher; Clodia (b. around 60 bce); (second marriage) Gaius Scribonius Curio; (third marriage) Marcus Antonius Antyllus; Iullus Antonius.

Made first public appearance on the political scene (52 bce), testifying in court; led active political life (44–40 bce); led troops against Octavian at Praeneste (41 bce).

The daringly ambitious, sometimes outrageous, Roman aristocrat, known to history as Fulvia, lived during the Late Roman Republic, a chaotic era lasting from 130 bce to 31 bce that was characterized by turmoil and strife. During Fulvia's youth, Rome experienced the terror of a cruel dictatorship under Sulla as well as the tumult of the Catalinarian conspiracy, which left the fate of the people subject to politicians divided along the lines of two opposing factions—the populares, who looked out for the good of the people, and the optimates, who were out for the good of the leaders. The resulting rivalries would culminate in full-blown civil war. Fulvia was not only an active participant in these rivalries, she also led troops in a military siege against one of Rome's most historic leaders.

Writers of the period assert that Fulvia was not the traditional Roman woman of the Late Republic. In his Life of Mark Antony, Plutarch refers to Fulvia as a "woman who gave no thought to spinning or housekeeping"; on the contrary, he goes on to say, she preferred to accompany her husbands everywhere, even into their army camps. Another Roman writer of the 1st century bce claimed that "Fulvia had nothing womanly about her except her body," and that "she mixed everything with arms and commotion." On the other hand, the men around Fulvia had reason to fear and despise the power that she achieved through her determined control of the careers of three husbands, and some of the denigrating accounts of her, written in her lifetime, were undoubtedly biased. Thus, it is not known how much of her behavior is concocted or if the stories that support such behavior are apocryphal.

Although highborn women of the Late Republic were exerting increasing influence in society, they were still having difficulty breaking out of the traditional domestic duties that had ruled the life of a Roman matron since the Early Republic. As the central figures in their households, such women had long been able to affect political endeavors through male relatives, particularly their sons, without attaining any public rights and generally receiving no recognition for their roles.

Fulvia's position in politics began with her links to two old Roman families—the Fulvii and the Sempronii Tuditani—both of whom had been active in government during the Middle Republic but had lost their political clout. Fulvia's father, Marcus Fulvius Bambalio, was a nobody in the scheme of politics, and her maternal grandfather, Gaius Sempronius Tuditanus, was recognized as insane, known for his habit of mounting the platform for public speaking in the Roman forum, dressed in tragic costume, to scatter coins among the people. His father, however, Gaius Sempronius Tuditanus, had served as consul—the highest political office in the Roman Republic—in 129 bce and had written one of the earliest works on Roman law. The way had therefore been prepared for Fulvia to find a role in public life in a male-dominated society. But for her to achieve a first marriage to a man with political influence, she also needed something more to offer him.

In the Roman Republic, marriages were not made for love, but were a means of political manipulation, to cement alliances between influential families. When such an alliance was no longer beneficial, the marriage usually ended in divorce. Since Fulvia had no recent male blood relatives of political stature, scholars have suggested that she probably had money, inherited as the last in the family line on both sides. But wealth alone was not reason enough to marry a woman in Roman times.

Fulvia wished to rule a ruler and command a commander and she schooled Antony to obey women.


Then, in 62 bce, her mother Sempronia married the Roman consul. It was an opportune time for Fulvia to marry the first of her husbands, Publius Clodius Pulcher. Clodius was a politically ambitious young man, known for his spendthrift nature, so the marriage to a stepdaughter of a consul was a good move for him financially and politically. According to ancient sources, Fulvia accompanied Clodius everywhere, and in the ten years of their marriage she organized a collegia, or group of supporters, on his behalf. But Valerius Maximus wrote that the dagger Clodius wore was a sign of his subjection to a woman's imperium (absolute control).

In 52 bce, Clodius was murdered, and Fulvia joined the Roman tribunes in making public speeches that exhorted others to avenge his murder. When a man named Milo was accused of the murder, Fulvia appeared in court as a witness against him, thus gaining both the recognition and the enmity of the famous orator and lawyer, Cicero. Cicero was the defense attorney for Milo, and he blamed Fulvia for his failure to acquit his client. Cicero made a practice of using verbal attacks against the female relatives of his enemies to make the enemies look bad, and he was an adversary of all three of Fulvia's husbands. He would continue to slander Fulvia and publicly deride her until his death in 43 bce.

Fulvia's second marriage was to Gaius Scribonius Curio, a man of some influence and military ambitions, but described by contemporary Roman authors as disorganized and weak. Cicero once wrote a letter to Curio, advising him to exercise more decisiveness and control. Since Curio's political career progressed upward in ways similar to Clodius', it is probable that Fulvia was behind the scenes, applying all that she had learned about political mastery during the years she was married to her first husband. The benefits of her forceful personality were short-lived, however, as Curio was killed in battle in 49 bce.

Fulvia then married Mark Antony in 47 or 46 bce. At that time, the command of the Roman state had passed into the hands of the first Triumvirate, or three-man rule, under Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. Far from resulting in a stronger government, the triumvirate had disintegrated into continual fighting among political factions divided at least three ways, and when Crassus died, the simmering opposition between Caesar and Pompey came to a head. Mark Antony and Fulvia were both supporters of Caesar against Pompey, and Mark Antony attempted to have Caesar declared the king of Rome. But the Romans had been ruled by kings some 600 years earlier and eschewed all talk of monarch. On March 15, 44 bce, Caesar was brutally assassinated, setting off a struggle for succession to the position that under Caesar had become a dictatorship. Three men were contending for this power: Mark Antony, Octavian (the future Caesar Augustus), and Lepidus.

In the period of the Early Republic, the state was run by the people of Rome through their representatives in the Senate, and armies were loyal to the Roman state. By the Late Republic, however, soldiers gave their loyalty and devotion to their generals. Thus, individual Roman military leaders, seeking control of the state, built up their armies and took on other Roman military leaders, causing enormous civil strife. At the same time, the Romans were still involved in expanding their territories, meaning that the military leaders were also fighting foreign peoples they were out to subdue. Against this tumultuous backdrop, Rome was plagued with political back-stabbing, murders, treason, and other criminal activities, which may help to explain some of the events, following the assassination of Julius Caesar, described by both Cicero and Cassius Dio.

In one episode, Fulvia was with Antony at the port of Brundisium, on the Adriatic, where a mutiny of soldiers had occurred. According to Cicero and Cassius Dio, Fulvia watched as the mutinous soldiers were executed. Cicero's narrative went one step further, describing Fulvia as "that most avaricious cruel woman" who looked on while the blood of the men's loppedoff heads was spattering over her face. Later in that year, Cicero refers to Fulvia's influence in Antony's political affairs during the trial of Deiotarus, who had been governor of the Roman province Galatia. Because Deiotarus had been accused of planning to murder Caesar, his province had been taken from him. When Mark Antony restored Galatia to Deiotarus, Cicero wrote that "Deiotarus was worthy of any kingdom, but not of one bought through Fulvia."

Between September 2, 44 bce, and March 20, 43 bce, Cicero delivered his orations known as the Philippics. The second of these, in which Cicero expressed his resentment against Antony and Fulvia, was never actually delivered orally, but was spread by means of a political propaganda pamphlet during Antony's absence from Rome in November 44. As a supporter of Octavian, Cicero used his writing to slander the absent Antony and to persuade the Roman Senate to declare Mark Antony a public enemy of the state. While Cicero, Octavian, and other enemies of Antony were canvassing support for the declaration of Antony as a public enemy, Fulvia turned to the law in her husband's defense, raising a constitutional question that had been controversial since her great-grandfather wrote his law book. The issue was whether a person could be declared a public enemy without having an opportunity to present a defense.

The night before the Senate was to decide the issue, Fulvia, together with her son and Antony's mother Julia , visited the house of every senator in Rome. The next morning, Fulvia and her mother Sempronia stood in the road on the way to the Senate, wearing mourning clothes and wailing lamentations, following the practice used by relatives to arouse sympathy for persons accused of criminal charges. The Senate decided against Antony, however, and exiled him from Italy, while his enemies tried to rob Fulvia of her possessions and plotted to kill her children. Later in the same year, Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus restored peace among themselves and formed the Second Triumvirate. They divided the rule of the Roman provinces into three parts while they shared equal control in Rome.

Without Fulvia behind him, Antony did not stand a chance against Octavian. Historians of the time describe him as a playboy, who lacked the seriousness to be a military leader. It was Fulvia's strong will that was believed to be the cause of Antony's success. When Antony was on military campaigns in the East, Fulvia was in Rome gathering support for him against Octavian, acting as Antony's agent.

The months of November–December 43 bce were the time of the triumviral proscription lists. Joined again in power, Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus had drawn up lists of their enemies and hired agents to kill them. The head was brought back to the triumvir who contracted for the person's death, then impaled and displayed in front of the rostra (speaking platform) in the forum. The historian Appian relates a story that indicates the level of personal power that Fulvia had reached. A man named Rufus had refused Fulvia's offer to buy his house; in retaliation, Fulvia added his name to the proscription list. According to Appian, she refused to remove his name even after he offered her the house for free. When Antony's agents brought him the head of Rufus, Antony responded that it should be taken to Fulvia. Abrogating power to herself as a fourth leader of the Roman state, Fulvia had it impaled in front of the dead man's house instead of in front of the rostra.

The name of Cicero had also been included on the proscription lists. On December 7, 43 bce, Mark Antony's agents brought Antony the head of the dead senator. Fulvia was present. According to Dio Cassius, she spat on Cicero's head, pulled out his tongue and thrust a hairpin into it, and made cruel jokes against her longtime adversary.

In 42 bce, 1,400 women who had lost male relatives as a result of the proscriptions approached the female relatives of the triumvirs for help. Antony's mother Julia and Octavian's sister Octavia supported the women, who were being heavily taxed by the triumvirs, but Fulvia supposedly refused all help and treated the women rudely.

When Antony was drawn into a military campaign in Bithynia, and Octavian in Macedonia, Fulvia took a stronger hand in the affairs of Rome, despite the presence of Lepidus, the third member of the triumvir. The people of Rome, even members of the Senate, consulted Fulvia before acting. Dio Cassius remarks that Servilius Isauricus and Lucius Antonius were the consuls of the Roman Republic in name only, and that in reality Fulvia had taken on the powers of the consul. When Lucius Antonius requested a triumphal entrance into Rome to celebrate a military victory, Fulvia opposed the ceremonial event on the grounds that he had not killed the required 5,000 members of the enemy forces and convinced the Senate to deny his request. After Lucius Antonius personally persuaded Fulvia that he deserved the triumph, he brought the request before the Senate again, and this time a vote in favor of it was passed unanimously. Some historians speculate that Fulvia used the event to test her power over the Senate, and thus learned that she did indeed have control over the governing body.

Fulvia's apparent aim was to consolidate what power she could before Octavian returned to Rome. After his return, the two soon became embroiled over the issue of land distribution. Octavian's intention was to act on a triumviral plan that allowed confiscation of land in the areas of 18 cities of Italy for redistribution to military veterans as their reward for service. Fulvia opposed Octavian, claiming that she and Antony should be handling the land distribution. Dio Cassius reports that Octavian was so put out that he divorced Fulvia's daughter Clodia and supposedly returned her to her mother still a virgin. Antony, through the advice of Fulvia, then decided to back the landowners whose lands were being confiscated. Appian in his Bellum Civile says that Fulvia appeared with her children before Antony's troops to encourage them not to forget Antony, nor to give credit to Octavian for the lands they received.

Fulvia's most daring act was to resist Octavian by military force. She first bribed his soldiers against him and then, together with Lucius Antonius, led an attack on his army, commanding her husband's troops while he was in Egypt. Cassius Dio relates that for this siege, "Fulvia girded on a sword, gave out the watchword, and even harangued the soldiers, although she relied on the advice of senators and knights to issue orders to the military network still ostensibly under Lucius' command."

Fulvia's prominence in the Late Republic cannot be doubted. Exactly what her role was cannot be fully determined, however, because two of her adversaries, Cicero and Octavian, wrote false and exaggerated stories to tarnish her reputation. Octavian wrote an obscene poem about her in which he claims that Fulvia acts the way she does because Mark Antony is elsewhere with other women. The poem even includes what he claims was her ultimatum, to "f——or fight." Octavian was very effective in the use of propaganda, and in 27 bce, long after the death of Fulvia, he had won the backing of the people enough to be declared Augustus, the first emperor of Rome.

Meanwhile, what had been written about Fulvia must be viewed to some extent as a measure of her prominence as a player in the events of her time. Archaeological evidence supports the extent of her influence in the military, social, and political arenas of the Late Roman Republic. Some coins minted in Rome during the triumviral period bore a likeness of Fulvia, appearing as the goddess Victory; the same face, matching Fulvia with Victory, has been found on coins minted in Eumeneia (later named "Fulvia"), a city of ancient Phrygia. It has been maintained that these coins were minted earlier than those bearing the likenesses of the triumvirs. The prominence and power that Fulvia held in Roman politics, paved the way for the role of a succession of powerful and manipulative empresses of the Roman Empire. In essence, Fulvia was the first empress of Rome, and Bauman states that none of the real empresses came close to achieving what Fulvia actually did politically.

Clodia (c. 60 bce–?)

Roman noblewoman. Name variations: Claudia. Born around 60 bce; daughter of Fulvia (c. 85/80–40 bce) and Publius Clodius; stepdaughter of Mark Antony (80–30 bce); became first wife of Octavian (63 bce–14 ce), later known as Augustus Caesar, emperor of Rome (divorced). His second wife was Scribonia ; his third was Livia Drusilla (58 bce –29 ce).

Whatever her motives, Fulvia devoted herself fully to the advancement of Antony and suffered great rebuffs. In 40 bce, Antony's relationship with Cleopatra VII had begun when Fulvia joined Antony in Athens, where she fell ill. When Antony was summoned back to Italy to meet with Octavian, he apparently did not even visit his wife on her death bed; he was at Brundisium when he learned that Fulvia had died, in Greece.


Babcock, Charles L. "The Early Career of Fulvia," in American Journal of Philology. Volume 86, no. 1, 1965, pp. 1–32.

Bauman, Richard A. Women and Politics in Ancient Rome. NY: Routledge, 1992.

Broughton, T. Robert S. The Magistrates of the Roman Republic: Volume II 99 BC–31 BC. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1984.

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Hallett, Judith P. Fathers and Daughters in Roman Society: Women and the Elite Family. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.

——. "Perusinae Glandes and the Changing Image of Augustus," in American Journal of Ancient History. Vol. 2, no. 2, 1977, pp. 151–171.

Hooper, Finley. Roman Realities. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1980.

Lefkowitz, Mary R., and Maureen B. Fant. Women in Greece and Rome. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Pomeroy, Sarah B., ed. Women's History and Ancient History. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Shackleton Bailey, D.R., ed. Cicero Philippics. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

White, Horace, trans. The Roman History of Appian of Alexandria: Volume II The Civil Wars. NY: Macmillan, 1899.

Woodman, A.J. Velleius Paterculus: The Caesarian and Augustan Narrative (2.41–93). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

suggested reading:

Roberts, John Maddox. SPQR II: The Catiline Conspiracy. NY: Avon Books, 1991.

Saylor, Steven. Roman Blood. NY: Ivy Books, 1991.

Syme, Ronald. The Roman Revolution. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1939.

Marjorie Dearworth Keeley , classics scholar and freelance writer, Amherst, Massachusetts