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Death of Clodius and riots in Rome

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Death of Clodius
Death of Clodius

Publius Clodius Pulcher was a people’s tribune in Rome and at the same time the leader of plebeian movements supporting the Popular party. His greatest rival was Titus Annius Milo. He murdered Clodius in 52 BCE. This marked the beginning of strong unrest in Rome itself.

It all began in 53 BCE. This year, Clodius was a candidate for praetor, while Milo was a consul. Due to clashes between the bands of both candidates and the accompanying violence, the election was postponed several times. For this reason, no consuls were selected for the next year. On January 18, 52 BCE Clodius together with an escort of 30 people returned to Rome from Ariccia. On the contrary, he wanted the other way – to Lanuvium where he was to appoint a new priest for the local temple, Milo travelled. They met near Bovillae. Initially, this unexpected meeting seemed to end without bloodshed, but at one point Eudamus and Birria – gladiators on duty with Milo – got into a quarrel with the people of Clodius.

When Clodius joined her and began to threaten the slaves, Birria stabbed him with his spear. An immediate fight ensued, as a result of which Clodius’s people were chased away and the injured Clodius fell into the hands of Milo. Milo faced a dilemma. He could kill his rival, which could end up with a murder charge or let him go. Eventually, he decided that the living Clodius posed too much danger to him and killed him. His body was abandoned on Via Appia from where Senator Sextus Tedius took them to Rome in his litter. News of the death of Clodius caused a great commotion in Rome. Moods were additionally fueled by radicals closely related to Clodius – Gajus Sallustius, Munacjus Plankus and Quintus Pompey Rufus – among others exposing Clodius’s body to public view. It was they who led Clodius’s funeral procession to the building of the senate where they laid and set fire to his body. While the city’s inhabitants tried to extinguish the burning building, Clodius’s followers held a great feast.

After its completion, the crowd attacked Milo’s house but this attack was repulsed by his people. Then the crowd marched to the Temple of Libityna from where he took the Fasces – a symbol of the consul’s power. They were kept there because there was still no consul selected for this year. With Fasces, the crowd went to the houses of Publius Ipsenus and Quintus Scypion who competed with Milo in the election. They were offered immediate power, but they both rejected the offer. Then the crowd tried to force Marcus Lepidus, who at the time was an inter-clerk, temporarily exercising power if the consuls did not take office – to hold elections in which Ipsenus and Scipio would have to win because of the lack of other candidates. The crowd completely ignored the fact that the first interrex in a given year – and Lepidus was recently appointed – was not entitled to organize elections. In response, the crowd surrounded the house and broke into it wanting to force Lepidus to submit, but he was quickly dispersed by Milo’s people who came to help the interrex. When none of the next interrexes managed to bring order, the Senate appointed Pompey the Great a sole consul. It was only he who managed to bring order to the city. Thanks to the fact that Pompey calmed down the situation, it was finally possible to organize a trial of Milo accused by riot leaders of the murder of Clodius. Marcus Cicero undertook his defence. Ultimately, Milo was found guilty of murder and banished from Rome – mainly because viewers severely hampered Cicero’s speech. It was also important that the judges did not want to pass a sentence that would not be Pompey’s intention. An additional difficulty was Pompey’s shortening of the time given to the lawyer to give a speech. Only then did the situation in Rome finally calm down.

Events of the year 52 BCE have clearly shown how unstable the situation in the Republic is. Just a few years later, the civil war was about to start, which finally put an end to it.

Author: Kacper Walczak
  • Robert Harris, Dyktator
  • Claude Nicolet, Świat obywatela w republikańskim Rzymie
  • Joel Steele, Esther Steele, A Brief History of Rome
  • Steven Saylor, Morderstwo na Via Appia

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