Marcus Tullius Cicero, Philippica II (excerpts): Fulvia

female head
Aureus (obverse): Victoria, possible portrait of Fulvia
(reverse) Soldier attacking a defended rampart
Moneyer C. Numonius Vaala, Rome, 41 BCE

Fulvia played a significant if brief role in the struggle that contributed to the constitutional crisis of the mid-first century BCE and in the chaos that followed the assassination of Julius Caesar (March 15, 44 BCE). She was born in Tarentum c. 80 BCE, possibly the sole descendant of two well-known plebeian clans, the Flavii and the Sempronii Tuditani. Both families had a tradition of political activity as consuls, senators, and military leaders, which ended before the first century BCE (Cicero mocks her immediate heritage in Philippics 3.16). As the only child of the wealthy Marcus Fulvius Bambalio and his wife Sempronia, Fulvia was heir to their fortune. Her first marriage, sometime before 58 BCE, was to P. Clodius Pulcher (c. 93-52 BCE), son of the ancient patrician gens Claudia who shifted alliances to become a tribune of the people and supporter of Caesar; she bore him a son, P. Clodius Pulcher, and a daughter, Clodia Pulchra. She entered history appearing in public lamentation over her husband's slain body in 52 BCE (Asconius, Pro Milone 32) and giving moving testimony at the trial of Titus Annius Milo for Clodius' murder (Asconius, Pro Milone 40). She contracted another advantageous marriage in 51 BCE to the orator C. Scribonius Curio, member of a wealthy new consular family who was elected plebeian tribune the following year; a commander in Caesar's army, Curio died in action in Africa in 49 BCE. By 46 BCE she became the wife of Mark Antony, good friend of both her husbands, bearing him two sons, Antyllus and Iullus Antonius. It is unclear to what extent Fulvia was the mind and will behind the careers of her first two husbands, but Plutarch describes her as the dominant partner in her marriage to Antony (Antony 10.3). From this time forward her defense of Antony's financial and political interests made her a target of public abuse unlike any experienced by a Roman noblewoman before her (see Cicero's Philippics, Octavian's epigram, inscribed sling bullets). In 44 BCE she, with her children and Antony's mother Julia in mourning garb, begged senators in their homes and on the streets to oppose Cicero's motion to declare Antony a public enemy; during this difficult time she was supported by Cicero's friend Atticus (see Nepos, Atticus 9). In 43 BCE the formation of the Second Triumvirate, the deadly proscriptions which followed, in which Cicero lost his life, and the betrothal of her daughter Clodia to Octavian made her the most powerful woman in Rome. During this time the Phrygian city of Eumeneia renamed itself Fulvia in her honor. In 42 BCE she repulsed the deputation of women seeking repeal of the war tax imposed on Rome's 1400 wealthiest women, forcing Hortensia to plead their cause before the triumvirs. In 41 BCE, while Antony campaigned in the East, Fulvia traveled with her children to Octavian's veteran resettlements, reminding the soldiers of their debt to Antony, and raised legions under the consul Lucius Antonius, Antony's brother, to oppose Octavian's autonomy. After Lucius' defeat in the Perusine War, Fulvia fled from Italy with her children to Greece to meet Antony, fell sick and died at Sicyon in 40 BCE (Plutarch, Antony 30.2-3). Antony and Octavian blamed their conflict on her, only months after her death cementing their alliance with Antony's marriage to Octavia, the sister of Octavian. Texts contemporary with Fulvia's life and accounts written generations later reveal negative biases: hostility toward Antony, resentment at Fulvia's assumption of male prerogatives, adherence to genre conventions, and reliance on Augustan propaganda. Typical of the late Republican leader vying with peers for personal power in every respect but gender and office, Fulvia offered future ambitious upper-class women an alternate paradigm for their sex. Although she is unique among Republican women for her prominence in the literary sources, not a word written by this complex and unknowable figure survives. Perhaps the most devastating criticism of her appears in the early first century history of the period by Velleius Paterculus, who described her as nihil muliebre praeter corpus gerens (Roman History 2.74).

Secondary Sources:

see Hallett in Fabre-Serris (2015), Myers (2003), Schultz (2021), Virlouvet in Fraschetti (2001), Welch (1995), Delia in Pomeroy (1991), Hallett (1977), Babcock (1965) in the Bibliography; for a critique of the evidence see Weir, "A Study of Fulvia."

Material evidence:

Victory coins with busts on the obverse considered to be portraits of Fulvia, making her the first living woman to appear on Roman coins (gold, silver and bronze coins were minted in Rome, Lugdunum, and Eumeneia-Fulvia, 43-40 BCE); a possible marble portrait head from the late Republican period; inscribed lead sling-bullets (glandes) from the Perusine War in 41 BCE.

Literary evidence

dates from writings contemporary with Fulvia to those written centuries after her death: M. Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE), Philippicae (44-43 BCE) 2 (below); 3.4, 10, 16; 5.11, 22; 6.4; 13.18; Pro Milone (52 BCE) 28, 55; Ep. ad Atticum 14.12.1 (Dec. 44 BCE); C. Nepos (c. 110-25 BCE), De Latinis Historicis: Atticus 9.2, 4 (before 32 BCE); C. Julius Caesar Octavianus (63 BCE-14 CE) [Martial, Epigrammata 11.20.3-8]; T. Livius (64/59 BCE-17 CE), Ab Urbe Condita: Periochae 125, 127.2; M. Velleius Paterculus (c. 19 BCE-31 CE), Historia Romana 2.74.2-3, 2.76.2; Q. Asconius Pedianus (9 BCE-76 CE), Pro Milone Ciceronis 32, 40; Valerius Maximus (14-37 CE), Facta et Dicta Memorabilia 3.5.3, 9.1.8; L. Mestrius Plutarchus (45-120 CE), Antony 10.3, 20.1, 28.1, 30.1-4, 32.1; C. Suetonius Tranquillus (c.69-122 CE), De Rhetoribus 5.1, Divus Augustus 62; L. Annaeus Florus (c. 74-130 CE), Epitome 2.16.5; Appianus Alexandrinus (c. 95-c.165 CE), Bella Civilia 3.51, 3.58, 4.29.1, 32.1 5.14.1-3, 19.1, 21.1, 33.1, 43.1, 50.1, 52.1, 54.1, 55.1, 59.1, 62.1, 66.1; Cassius Dio (155-235 CE), Roman History 45.13.2, 35.3, 47.8.2-5, 48.4-6, 10, 12-13, 15, 22, 28.

Philippica II. 11

Addressing Antony, Cicero warns him that his current wife has proven deadly for her husbands, as her two previous husbands both met violent ends. Fulvia was responsible for neither death: Publius Clodius Pulcher, who had engineered Cicero’s exile in 58 BCE, was murdered in an attack on the road outside Rome by Titus Annaeus Milo in 52 BCE, and C. Scribonius Curio, a Caesarian, died in 49 BCE leading an invasion of Africa during the Civil War.

Quis autem meum consulatum praeter te Publiumque Clodium qui vituperaret inventus est?

cuius quidem tibi fatum, sicut C. Curioni, manet, quoniam id domi tuae est, quod fuit illorum utrique fatale.

Philippica II. 48

Speaking of Antony in the third person, Cicero implies that Fulvia and Antony were lovers while she was still married to Clodius, an accusation which could have been believed because Antony and Clodius had been close friends since their youth and Antony had a reputation as a womanizer.

Intimus erat in tribunatu Clodio qui sua erga me beneficia commemorat;

eius omnium incendiorum fax, cuius etiam domi iam tum quiddam molitus est.

Quid dicam ipse optime intellegit.

Philippica II. 77

Here Cicero describes an incident that took place in March, 45 BCE, after Caesar defeated the last of Pompey's supporters. Hearing a rumor that Caesar was dead, Antony, as second in command, rushed back to Rome, stopping on his way to see his wife. Cicero deplores their meeting, narrating it as a plot from mime (note the reference to Antony's mistress Volumnia Cytheris) and condemning Antony for placing the Republic's plight second to his romantic intrigues (see Plutarch's very different interpretation in Antony 10.4-5). Cicero hints that Fulvia was the dominant partner in their marriage, portraying Antony as both sexually aggressive (in collum invasit) and subservient to his wife (catamitum). The time of night, the location in the home, the unexpected arrival of the disguised lover successfully fooling the doorkeeper to gain an erotic encounter with the mistress within recall the conventions of Roman elegy (see Catullus 37), in which Antony plays the role of the exclusus amator and Fulvia the controlling domina.

At videte levitatem hominis.


Cum hora diei decima fere ad Saxa rubra venisset, delituit in quadam cauponula atque ibi se occultans perpotavit ad vesperam; inde cisio celeriter ad urbem advectus domum venit capite obvoluto.

Ianitor, 'Quis tu?' 'A Marco tabellarius.'

Confestim ad eam cuius causa venerat, eique epistulam tradidit.

Quam cum illa legeret flens--erat enim scripta amatorie; caput autem litterarum sibi cum illa mima posthac nihil futurum;

omnem se amorem abiecisse illim atque in hanc transfudisse-- cum mulier fleret uberius, homo misericors ferre non potuit, caput aperuit, in collum invasit.

O hominem nequam! Quid enim aliud dicam? magis proprie nihil possum dicere.


Ergo, ut te catamitum, nec opinato cum te ostendisses, praeter spem mulier adspiceret, idcirco urbem terrore nocturno, Italiam multorum dierum metu perturbasti?

Philippica II. 95

Here Cicero substantiates his claim that the business of the Republic is carried out illegally in Antony's home. In April, 44 BCE, a decree, forged in Caesar’s hand, was sold to the agents of King Deiotarus of Galatia, returning to him the territory Caesar had taken from him in 47 BCE. Cicero doesn't blame the king's agents, but uses the episode to reveal Fulvia's role as power broker (attested to in Cicero, Atticus 14.12.1), reducing it to the sale of sexual favors by a Greek prostitute in her private quarters (gynaecio).

Syngrapha sestertii centiens per legatos, viros bonos, sed timidos et imperitos,

sine nostra, sine reliquorum hospitum regis sententia facta in gynaecio est, quo in loco plurimae res venierunt et veneunt.

Philippica II. 113

Again addressing Antony late in his speech, Cicero argues that better and more appropriate leaders stand ready to lead the Republic, darkly hinting that Antony's least greedy wife, of whom he ironically claims to speak no criticism, may owe Rome the payment of a third dead husband.

Eripiet et extorquebit tibi ista populus Romanus, utinam salvis nobis!

Sed quoquo modo nobiscum egeris, dum istis consiliis uteris, non potes, mihi crede, esse diuturnus.

Etenim ista tua minime avara coniunx, quam ego sine contumelia describo, nimium diu debet populo Romano tertiam pensionem.

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