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fulvia in the chariot

by zahra hasanian, california jcl editor

Roman women are often characterized as either unbelievably conniving or extremely docile. There’s no doubt that, just like other humans, they were more complex, not completely corrupt or pure. That’s a fact which has been hard to comprehend throughout history, but the passing of time doesn’t make it any less imperative to remember today. And perhaps the best way to begin telling the stories of Roman women truthfully is to tell the story of Fulvia, one of the greatest Romans of all.

Born of a noble Plebeian family, Fulvia was quickly married off to Publius Clodius Pulcher, a popularis and an influential politician. She ran a collegia during this time, which meant she was definitely prominent in Roman society. After Clodius Pulcher was murdered, Fulvia dragged his corpse through the street in an act of mourning, stirring the blood of his supporters and rallying their anger. Clodius Pulcher's assassins were eventually exiled, in large part because of Fulvia’s efforts to make a martyr out of her husband. Her methods are strikingly similar to Antony’s after Caesar died, but Antony is the only one whose pleas were immortalized. Fulvia probably gave tragic speeches, maybe laced with some underlying political

motives, but nonetheless powerful. Yet no catchy Shakespearian phrases were written for her.

Somehow, even after her husband’s death, Fulvia managed to keep his political gangs loyal to her, a feat that even 1920s New York gangsters struggled with. In fact, she used her new position as an eminent popularis to convince her second husband, Curio, a former optimate, to become a popularis. She managed to flip the stereotype of women switching their politics to that of their husbands after marriage completely on its head. It’s unfortunate that the stages of Fulvia’s life are usually outlined by her three different marriages, but nonetheless, the 3rd stage, her marriage to Mark Antony, was when she was most active.

Fulvia again took the reins in her relationship with Antony. When Cicero attacked her husband, Fulvia threw sharp words back at him. Legend has it that when Cicero died, Fulvia stuck her golden hairpin through his tongue, to silence him once and for all. That was the crazed part of Fulvia, but her enemies most definitely exaggerated her insanity.

As Octavian and Antony fought Julius Caesar’s killers, two consuls were elected back in Rome. But according to historian Cassius Dio, they were just figureheads. It was really Fulvia controlling the state, becoming not only the most powerful woman, but the most powerful politician in

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At left: A coin minted in Fulvia's honor.

Image source: Encyclopedia Britannica.

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