Notable Woman of the Roman Republic: Fulvia Flacca Bambula

 

In the days of the late Roman republic, it wasn’t wise for a woman to involve herself in politics. (It probably wasn’t wise for a man to involve himself in politics either, but that’s another matter.) Fulvia Flacca Bambula was married to three politically prominent Romans at successive times and she was wielded more political influence than any other woman of her time. Eventually, however, events conspired to bring her to an ignoble end.

 

Fulvia’s parentage is somewhat dubious. Wikipedia states that her maternal grandfather was Gaius Gracchus, through his one surviving child Sempronia. Later in that same paragraph it states that her maternal grandfather was Sempronius Tuditanus, whom Cicero describes as “a madman who liked to throw his money to the people from the rostra.” It is difficult to understand how Fulvia could have had two maternal grandfathers, unless, perhaps, Sempronia was adopted by Sempronius Tuditanus after her father Gaius Gracchus was killed in civil discord. I could find no evidence of this one way or another.

 

Fulvia’s first husband was Publius Clodius Pulcher, a popularis politician. Clodius was a demagogue, a disreputable character even by Roman standards, and a libertine. He is most famous for having violated the sacred female rites of Bona Dea in an effort to gain access to Caesar’s wife Pompeia, with whom he was enamored. It was strictly forbidden for a man to be present at these rites. Clodius was brought to trial on charges of incestus, or sexual immorality. He claimed to be away from Rome on the night of the offense, but Cicero was able to successfully refute that claim. He and Cicero became implacable enemies until Clodius’ death.  (and Fulvia remained Cicero’s implacable enemy until Cicero’s death.)

Clodius was acquitted of the charge due to an alliance with Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest man of his time, who succeeded in bribing the jury. As a result of this scandal, Julius Caesar divorced his wife Pompeia, saying that, although he had no proof of her guilt in this matter, the wife of Caesar must be above suspicion.

 

Fulvia was very devoted to Clodius and bore him two children. Clodius went on to become tribune of the plebes and promulgated laws for the benefit of the plebeians. He was even successful in getting  his enemy, Cicero, banished from Rome for a time. In 52 B.C., however, he died in a street conflict with Titus Anius Milo, one of his political rivals. Fulvia publicly grieved over his death and had his body dragged through the streets of Rome and publicly cremated in the senate house.

 

Shortly after the mourning period for Clodius was over, Fulvia married Gaius Scribonius Curio. Curio was originally from the optimate party but upon marrying Fulvia he switched allegiance to the popularis faction and aligned himself with Julius Caesar. He successfully ran for tribune of the plebs in 50 B.C. He fathered one child with Fulvia before being killed in action with Julius Caesar’s army in Africa while fighting King Juba I of Numidia.

 

Several years after the death of her second husband, Curio, Fulvia married Mark Antony. Fulvia had retained much of her influence acquired as the wife of Clodius and she and Anthony made a formidable pair. They had two sons.  After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Antony became the most powerful man in Rome, and Fulvia most certainly the most powerful woman. Her old adversary Cicero now became Anthony’s principal adversary and undertook a series of orations against Antony that he called “The Philipics.” While Antony was away in the east, Cicero attempted to have him declared an enemy of the state. Fulvia used her influence to block any such action.

 

In 43 B.C. Antony formed the second triumvirate with Octavius Caesar and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and the three of them embarked upon a program of proscriptions in which their political enemies were eliminated and their properties confiscated. First on Antony’s list was Cicero. Cicero attempted to flee but Antony’s agents caught up with him. They brought him Cicero’s head and hands, which he then had nailed to the rostra. According to Cassius Dio, Fulvia took out Cicero’s tongue and repeatedly jabbed it with her hair pin in revenge for all the insults he had leveled against her when he was alive.

 

As part of the reconciliation between Antony and Octavian, Octavian married Fulvia’s adolescent daughter Clodia Pulchra. Octavian divorced her a few years later after he and Antony had another falling-out.

 

In 42 BC, while Antony and Octavian were away in Greece  persuing Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius, Fulvia pretty much ruled Rome. No official business was conducted without her approval.

 

After destroying Brutus and Cassius at the battle of Philippi, the triumvirs distributed the provinces among themselves. Lepidus took the west while Antony took the east. Octavian stayed in Rome. Antony went to Egypt and fell hopelessly under the spell of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra VII.

 

Poor Fulvia was apparently unaware of the alienation of Antony’s affections and continued to devote herself to his interests. Thinking that Octavian was trying to undermine Antony by controlling the distribution of land to retired soldiers, she traveled to new settlements to remind veterans of their debt to Antony, and tried to delay land settlement until Antony’s return. In 41 B.C. she allied herself with Lucius Antonius, Antony’s brother and helped him raise legions to fight Octavian. Octavian, however, defeated their forces in the battle of Perusia and Fulvia fled with her children to Greece. Antony met with her in Athens and vociferously made his displeasure with her conduct known. She died shortly threafter in Achaea of an unknown illness. Antony blamed Fulvia for his conflicts with Octavian and the two were once again reconciled, with Antony marrying Octavian’s sister Octavia. Fulvia’s young children were taken in and raised by Octavia.

 

The virtuous Octavia could not compete with the charms of Cleopatra for Antony’s affection, and he abandoned all pretense of his marriage with her once he returned to Egypt. This precipitated another falling-out with Octavian with fatal consequences to both Antony and Cleopatra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                       

 

 

 

Comments

  1. This is a silly assignment, and under the clurute at the time, anyone spinning negativity about Julius would have been crucified. “I drove the men who slaughtered my father [Julius Caesar] into exile with a legal order, punishing their crime, and afterwards, when they waged war on the state, I conquered them in two battles.”- FROM DEEDS OF THE DIVINE AUGUSTUSAugustus Caesar of Rome was born with the given name Gaius Octavius on September 23, 63 B.C. He took the name Gaius Julius CaesarOctavianus (Octavian) in 44 B.C. after the murder of his great uncle, Julius Caesar. In his will Caesar had adopted Octavian and made him his heir.Octavian was a shrewd, brilliant and astute politician. Through cold, hard political calculation he was able to achieve ultimate power in Rome. At the time of Caesar’s assassination, Octavian held no official position. Only after he marched on Rome and forced the senate to name him consul, was he established as a power to be reckoned with.In 43 B.C., Octavian, Marcus Antonius (Marc Antony—one of Julius Caesar’s top lieutenants) and another Roman General, Marcus Lepidus, formed the second Triumvirate to rule Rome. After taking power, the Triumvirate proscribed and slaughtered thousands of political enemies, firmly establishing their control of the Roman government.In 40 B.C., Antony married Octavia, Octavian’s sister, and later deserted her for Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. When Antony gave Roman provinces to his children by Cleopatra, Octavian declared war on Antony. In 31 B.C. the Roman Navy under Agrippa defeated the combined fleets of Antony and Cleopatra, and within a year both had committed suicide.In 27 B.C., the Roman Senate granted Octavian the name Augustus, meaning “the exalted.” They also gave him the legal power to rule Rome’s religious, civil and military affairs, with the Senate as an advisory body, effectively making him Emperor.Rome achieved great glory under Octavian/Augustus. He restored peace after 100 years of civil war; maintained an honest government and a sound currency system; extended the highway system connecting Rome with its far-flung empire; developed an efficient postal service; fostered free trade among the provinces; and built many bridges, aqueducts and buildings adorned with beautiful works of art created in the classical style. Literature flourished with writers including Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Livy all living under the emperor’s patronage.The empire expanded under Augustus with his generals subduing Spain, Gaul (now France), Panonia and Dalmatia (now parts of Hungary and Croatia). He annexed Egypt and most of southwestern Europe up to the Danube River. After his death, the people the Roman Empire worshipped Augustus as a god.

  2. Hi NerriTha,
    You know a lot about Augustus and his era. I agree that he was one of the most remarkable leaders of all time. That is another reason that I believe that Livia was not the monster she was portrayed by her detractors. As brilliant and astute as he was, Augustus could not have been fooled so consistantly and for so long.

  3. Conn Iggulden provided me with many, many hours of eatirtnenment via his Emperor series covering the life of Julius Caesar, a part of history that has fascinated me for decades. From a young Julius running around getting into scraps with other idiot children, to his days captured by pirates, on to Greece, and eventually a long stint in Gaul, and finally Egypt and the birth of his son, and then Rome and his death. The four books in the series are worth the read (The Gates of Rome, The Death of Kings, The Field of Swords, The Gods of War).

  4. I’ve heard about Conn Iggulden, both favorable and unfavorable. I really should read him. Sounds interesting even if some say he stretches history a bit. Putting him on my list, thanks.

  5. What makes this source reliable?
    I have to do a school project and I need to list what sources I use and what makes them reliable

  6. Unfortunately, when it comes to ancient history, no source is totally reliable. The best you can do is cite your references: “According to Livy. . . “According to Plutarch. . .” “According to Tacitus. . .” Often the various sources will contradict each other.
    I would not site this source in an academic paper except with the caveat that it may not be reliable. I’m a writer of historical fiction, not an academic. I try to stick as close to historical data a possible but when writing about events that took place over 2000 years ago, the exact truth is elusive.

  7. Hi Ms Levin,
    Thanks so much for taking the time to write that response. It really helped and I totally agree with you. My history teacher thanks you as well for writing so honestly and taking the time to respond!

  8. Best of luck on your paper. The 1st century BC of the Roman era is a fascinating time with many colorful characters. If you enjoy historical fiction I highly recommend Coleen Mc Collough’s series starting with First Man in Rome. Her books cover the whole century from Marius to Augustus. You will find Fulvia as a character in some of her books. Of course you can’t use her as an academic source since she is also a writer of historical fiction, but it could give you an idea of how someone who writes fiction of that era sees Fulvia.
    If you are at all interested in the Second PUnic War, 218 BC to 202 B.C. you may want to Read The Death of Carthage. It is historical fiction but I try to be as exact on the history as possible given the available sources. Someone once said that the difference between history and historical fiction is that the historian tells you what happened, the writer of historical fiction tells you what it felt like.

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