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Fulvia, Wife of Mark Antony

Feisty, assertive, violent, Fulvia definitely deserves an article of her own. She is not quite so well-known as the imperial women, such as Livia, the two Agrippinas, and Livilla, or Rome’s belligerent female opponents, Cleopatra and Boudicca.

Poor Fulvia did not have a great deal of luck in the marriage stakes. Her first husband was Clodius (yes, the infamous demagogic tribune), with whom she had a daughter, Claudia, who was Augustus’ first wife. Clodius was murdered by rival tribune Milo in 52 BC. She was no passive observer, however. She made a great show of grief in Rome about her husband’s murder, inflaming the angry people, who favoured Clodius, even more. She was next married to Curio, but not for long, as he died in the civil war in North Africa in 49 BCE. She married Antony in 44 BCE, was very much in love with him, and stuck loyally by him during the proscriptions and the tussles between Octavian and Antony that followed soon after.

Before the battle of Mutina, Octavian had been making favourable overtures to Cicero and his pro-Republican group. But when the consuls were both killed at Mutina, Octavian changed sides in favour of Antony, more likely out of opportunism or because he had always been intending to, rather than because he did not get a triumph after the victory at Mutina. Cicero was in trouble. His vitriolic Philippics against Antony (modelled on those of Greek orator Demosthenes) had certainly not been forgotten by the angry general. Cicero ended up on the proscription list; I have often wondered whether Cicero was Antony’s price for agreeing to collude with Octavian. No less angry with Cicero was Fulvia. It is said that she not only revelled in seeing Cicero’s severed head, placed between his severed hands on display in Rome, but also stuck her brooch pin through his tongue, presumably for speaking such vicious attacks against her beloved Antony.

Cracks soon appeared in the working relationship between Antony and Octavian (the third triumvir Lepidus was a silent partner in so many ways) and Fulvia took matters into her own hands in cahoots with Antony’s brother, Lucius, in a bid to secure soul power for Antony in Italy. Another view suggests that she did this to force Antony to return from Egypt, where he was living with Cleopatra (like I said above, she wasn’t overly lucky when it came to marriage). Fulvia and Lucius launched a rebellion but ended up besieged in the town of Perusia, which surrendered. Octavian blamed Fulvia. Lucius was spared and given a command in Spain, and Fulvia was exiled to Greece. There she met Antony who spurned her for the rebellion, despite evidence showing his initial approval (that’s gratitude for you!). She died soon after.

Fulvia was clearly a feisty, determined, and loyal (although very misguidedly) woman. And I think she deserves a place in the history of strong women of the ancient world.

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