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Fulvia – first unofficial empress of Rome

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)


Third wife of Mark Antony. The woman who pronounced the verdict on Cicero. Contributed to the burning of the Roman senate building. She ordered to mint coins with her image, she headed the legions. She dared to challenge, Octavian himself.

Who was one of the most fascinating female figures of antiquity? A cold-blooded harpy who was the only woman present in the creation of prescription lists? Or maybe a seasoned, ambitious politician who tried to overcome the difficult situation of the Republic just before its fall?

Fulvia was born as the daughter of Fulvius Bambalio and Sempronia. Her mother’s origin is not entirely known. Until recently, the prevailing opinion was that she was related to the Grakch family.

Fulvia was the heir to a great estate and attracted the attention of the young and ambitious politician Publius Claudius Pulcher. He came from the old patrician family of Claudius, but as the third son, he needed money to develop his career. In addition to the advantage of origin, he was also distinguished by his beauty. Fulvia had to be delighted with her husband and it was with him that she took her first steps as a politician.

Soon Claudius proved to be an exceptional political demagogue. He stirred up turmoil in the turbulent period for the Republic. After the religious scandal of Bona Dea, where he sneaked into the sacred rites for women, disguised as one of the Roman matrons, he found himself in the crosshairs of the outstanding speaker Mark Tullius Cicero. Fulvia fiercely defended her husband during this period. And since then Cicero has become her enemy.

52 BCE brought the rivalry of Clodius (because that was his name after adoption by the plebeian family) with Titus Annius Milo. The competition ended tragically for Clodius – he was murdered by Milo’s supporters.

Fulvia, using her husband’s gangs, sparked riots in Rome that burned the Roman senate. She had to listen to and respect her husband’s supporters. During the trial, Milo testified with her mother. Her testimony was so convincing that Milo was sentenced to exile despite attempts to defend Cicero.

Before the mourning was over, Fulvia married another politician from her husband’s circle – Gaius Scribonius Curio. Thanks to her, he began to support Julius Caesar and make a brilliant career. During the war with Pompey the Great, Caesar sent him on a mission to Africa. Soon, Curio died, and Fulvia became a widow again.

The woman’s third husband was Mark Antony, at that time a politician also associated with Julius Caesar. She knew him before, he was in the same circles as her two previous husbands. Cicero maliciously claimed that Antony was a Lover of Fulvia during her first marriage.

And this time Fulvia contributed to the development of the career of another husband. This career gained momentum because they both supported Julius Caesar. The second son was named Iullus Antony, most likely in honour of the Dictator.

After the assassination of Caesar, Fulvia and Antony had to find themselves in a new reality. Soon a second triumvirate was formed to control Rome, which included Mark Antony, Lepidus and Gaius Octavius, the adopted son of Caesar. Together, they defeated the killers of Caesar and led to the death of many prominent politicians of the Republic, including Cicero. It was Fulvia and Antony who fought for his inclusion on the proscription lists. Fulvia could not forgive Cicero for treating her first husband, as well as for public ostracism of sister-in-law Claudia Metella, Klodius’s sister. Also, subsequent attacks of Cicero on Mark Antony (the famous speeches of the Philippines) were not without influence on this decision.

Apparently, it was Fulvia, who ordered Cicero to pierce the speaker’s tongue with a hairpin after the murder.

When Mark Antony left Rome, his brother Lucius Antony and a certain Servilius became consuls. But contemporaries said that Fulvia was the consul. She gained power that no other woman had. She did not take Lepidus seriously, and when Gaius Octavius ​​(later Emperor Octavian Augustus) warned her, she openly threatened him. In this situation, Octavius ​​divorced her daughter Fulvia from her first marriage – Clodia. He sent her away informing that the marriage had not been consummated.

Outraged Fulvia called for help from a brother-in-law, Lucius Antony, and caused a rebellion in the country. Besieged in Perusia, she was forced to surrender. Octavian sentenced her to exile, as did her brother-in-law Lucius Antony, and murdered most of the crew. Many officers loyal to Mark Antony died at that time.

Fulvia herself came to Greece, where in Athens she had a stormy meeting with Mark Antony. She already knew about his relationship with the Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. Antony had Fulvia for rebelling against Octavian. He did not listen to her translations and left her. Shortly afterwards she died in unclear circumstances. Some historians blame the death of people around Octavian (maybe himself) for her death.

After her death, another settlement was reached between Octavian and Mark Antony. As a result of this agreement, Mark married his opponent’s sister, calm and balanced Octavia. He stayed with her for several years and later returned to the Queen of Egypt, which ended tragically for him. He obviously needed a strong woman by his side.

It is significant that after the death of Fulvia Marcus never regained the influence in Rome he had in the past.

Today, Fulvia is rediscovered by historians. She was not a typical Roman matron after the example of Cornelia, mother of the Grakch. But she was a good mother, fighting for the rights of her children. She gave birth to each of her husbands: she had two sons with Antony: Mark Antonius Antyllus and Iullus Antonius mentioned earlier.

It is said not only as a woman who certainly had her share in the death of Cicero but above all a politician who understood the nuances of the last years of the Republic.

Today, Fulvia fascinates, both as a woman and a politician. Many historians believe that she was an example of later empire women such as Empress Livia or Agrippina the Younger.

Author: Joanna Morgan
  • Sarah B. Pomeroy, Women's History and Ancient History

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