Publius Clodius Pulcher
Publius Clodius Pulcher (c. December 93 BC – 52 BC, on January 18 of the pre-Julian calendar) was a Roman politician known for his popularist tactics. As tribune, he pushed through an ambitious legislative program, including a grain dole, but is chiefly remembered for his feud with Cicero and Milo, whose supporters murdered him in the street.
A Roman nobilis of the patrician gens Claudia, and a senator of "bold and extreme" character, he became a major, if disruptive, force in Roman politics during the rise of the First Triumvirate of Pompey, Crassus and Caesar (60–53 BC). He passed numerous laws in the tradition of the populares (the Leges Clodiae), and has been called "one of the most innovative urban politicians in Western history." Recent scholarship, especially the 1999 biography by W. Jeffrey Tatum, has tried to counteract a largely hostile tradition based on the invective of his opponent Cicero and to present a more balanced picture of Clodius's politics.
- 1 Beginnings and rise
- 2 Prominence and demise
- 3 Clodius in popular culture
- 4 Notes
- 5 References
Beginnings and rise
Family and early career to 67 BC
Born as Publius Claudius Pulcher in 93 BC, the youngest son of Appius Claudius, he became known as Publius Clodius after his controversial adoption into the plebeian family of Fonteii in 59 BC.
He was sibling of two brothers and apparently five sisters (some historians think four). The identity of his mother's family continues to be one of the most disputed issues of 1st century BC Roman social history. Most likely she was a Servilia of the patrician Caepiones, daughter of Q. Servilius Caepio, or a Caecilia Metella sister of Q. Metellus Celer pater. It is certain that he was close enough by maternal bloodline to be called frater of some notable figures of the time:
- Q. Metellus Celer (consul 60 BC), the husband of his elder full sister;
- Q. Metellus Nepos (consul 57 BC);
- Mucia Tertia, the wife, successively, of Pompeius Magnus (c. 80–62 BC) and M. Aemilius Scaurus (praetor 56 BC), and mother of their children;
- and Mucia's brothers P. Scaevola the pontifex (c. 92–61/60 BC) and Q. Scaevola the augur, tribune of plebs in 54 BC (born c. 90 BC).
It appears that his father married twice and that among his numerous Claudian brothers and sisters, Clodius was a full sibling of only the two youngest girls, Claudia Metelli and Claudia Luculli. At various times he was accused of incestuous relations with all his sisters, both of whom were known as Clodia in consequence of his transfer to plebeian status in 59 BC. Claudia Metelli is usually identified as Lesbia, to whom the poet Catullus dedicated many of his poems, but the evidence is not conclusive.
Between 68 BC and 67 BC he was a Legatus. In 62 BC or later he married Fulvia of Tusculum, daughter of Sempronia the formidable principal heiress of the plebeian high noble family of Semproni Tuditani, which had died out in the male line with her father (70s BC). Fulvia bore him at least one son and one daughter who survived to adulthood, and following his death she married C. Scribonius Curio, tribune of plebs in 50 BC, and then Marcus Antonius the Triumvir (47–40 BC), also producing children by both of those important politicians.
Their daughter Claudia (c. 57 BC or c. 55 BC – aft. 36 BC) was wed to the young Caesar heir for political reasons in 43 BC or 42 BC, when she was barely of age, and soon divorced in 40 BC after the imperious Fulvia joined with the consul Lucius Antonius in stirring up the Perusine War in 41.
His homonymous son, Publius Claudius Pulcher (born c. 62–59 BC – aft. 31 BC), turned out badly: a lethargic nonentity who only rose to the praetorship after 31 BC under the Second Triumvirs and died amid scandals of luxurious excess and an obsessive attachment to a common prostitute. An inscription of ownership on an expensive Egyptian alabaster vase once owned by the son has survived to attest the latter's short official career, and includes an unusual triple filiation which confirms the literary evidence to the effect that Clodius' own filiation was: Ap. f. Ap. n. (son of Appius cos.79, grandson of Appius cos.143).
He took part in the Third Mithridatic War under his brother-in-law, Lucullus. However, considering himself treated with insufficient respect, he stirred up a revolt. Another brother-in-law, Q. Marcius Rex, governor of Cilicia, gave him the command of his fleet, but he was captured by pirates. On his release he repaired to Syria, where he nearly lost his life during a mutiny he was accused of instigating.
A curious incident took place during his time in pirate hands which was to have later consequences. The pirates sought a good ransom price from Ptolemy of Cyprus, a nominal ally of Rome who was then involved in negotiations for a potential marriage to a daughter of Mithradates VI of Pontus. Ptolemy sent a fairly trivial sum which so amused the pirates that they released Clodius without taking any money. He had evidently been overestimating his worth, and this transaction filled him with hatred for the Cypriot ruler.
In Rome and Gaul, 66–62 BC
Returning to Rome in 66 BC, Clodius was in serious need of protection from his brother-in-law because of the treason he had committed in Lucullus' army, and his incestuous relations with Lucullus' wife, which Lucullus had discovered upon his return the same year and prompted him to divorce her. Turning 27 in the year of his return (and already having exceeded the normal age for a first marriage, which was 20–26, owing to his extended service in the east), Clodius wed Fulvia the daughter of Sempronia of the Tuditani that year or the next. At about the same time, Lucullus' very close relative (probably nephew) L. Licinius Murena became Sempronia's third husband. He also collusively prosecuted Catiline in 65 on a charge of extortion from his African command, and so helped secure his acquittal.
In 64 BC Clodius went to Gaul on Lucius Murena's command staff. He returned to Rome with his commander in 63 in time for the elections at which Murena secured his family's first consulate, mainly with the help of Lucullus' army veterans and the consul Cicero, Clodius almost certainly having assisted as well. Catiline's defeat at the same elections was the signal to begin his attempt at a violent coup d'état, with the aim of slaughtering most of the nobility, especially the plebeian nobles and senators, and setting up a small patrician-dominated oligarchy. Although Clodius was still patrician and it later suited Cicero to portray him as a participant in the Catilinarian conspiracy, Clodius was not involved. On the contrary, he maintained his protective closeness to Murena and the cause of the optimates, rendering Cicero every assistance. As the great drama of the detection and arrest of the conspirators unfolded, Clodius appears to have joined the many other equestrian and noble youths who clustered about the consul as an informal but potent and intimidating bodyguard. In the same year one of Clodius' sisters (presumably Lucullus' former wife, since the other two were still married to Marcius Rex and Metellus Celer, respectively) attempted to persuade Cicero to divorce his wife Terentia and marry her instead. This made Terentia furious with the Claudia in question, and by association with the wider family.
Bona Dea scandal and trial for incestum
The rites of Bona Dea ("The Good Goddess") were held in December, at the house of Rome's leading magistrate. In 62, they were held in Julius Caesar's grace-and favour house in the Regia, loaned to him as pontifex maximus. They were hosted by his wife, Pompeia, and his mother Aurelia, and were supervised by the Vestal Virgins. This was a cult from which men were excluded, so completely that they were not permitted to know or even speak the goddess's name - hence the euphemism "Good Goddess". Clodius intruded on the rites, disguised as a woman and apparently intent on finding and seducing Pompeia; but he was discovered. The ensuing scandal dragged on for months, during which Pompey returned from the east, Caesar divorced his wife, and most public business was suspended. Lucullus was determined to use the opportunity to destroy Clodius' political career, and eventually brought him to trial on the capital charge of incestum. Three Corneli Lentuli prosecuted. Lucullus had numerous household slaves testify to Clodius' incest with his sister Clodia; Terentia, who had hosted the previous year's rites, almost certainly pressed Cicero to testify against Clodius in revenge for the latter's unsuccessful but still damaging prosecution in 73 of her half-sister, the Vestal Fabia, on a charge of incestum with Catiline. Caesar's mother Aurelia and sister Julia testified to Clodius' offense. Caesar did his best to help Clodius by claiming he knew nothing. When asked why, if he knew nothing, he had divorced his wife, Caesar made the famous response that Caesar's wife had to be beyond suspicion. Clodius perjured himself with a fabricated alibi that he was not in Rome on the day of the rites, which Cicero was in a position to refute, though he was uncertain whether he should do so. Eventually national and domestic politics forced his hand. He was most eager to forge a détente between Lucullus and Pompey, who were at loggerheads over the settlement of the eastern provinces, and wished to do Lucullus a favour in this matter, while at home Terentia demanded that he give his testimony and ensure the destruction of her subversive rival's brother and lover. Cicero did so, but Crassus decided the outcome of the trial by bribery of the jurors en masse to secure Clodius' acquittal.
When it was all over Clodius' politics had been transformed and became more deeply personal than ever before. He clung to Crassus as his chief benefactor, and was grateful to Caesar for his attempt to help him. He even appears to have borne no serious grudge against the leading princes who had engineered his prosecution, owing to the wrongs he had done them. But he had risked interfering with Lucullus' army in the east directly in the interests of Pompey, who had not lifted a finger to help him, despite being locked in serious political dispute with the Luculli brothers. And he had assisted Cicero against Catiline.
Sex and politics in late Republican Rome
If the Republic must be destroyed by someone, Cicero fulminates against Clodius in mock resignation, let it at least be destroyed by a real man (Latin vir). Clodius's transvestitism in the Bona Dea incident was to supply Cicero with invective ammunition for years. Like other popularist politicians of his time, as embodied by Caesar and Antony, Clodius was accused of exerting a sexual magnetism that was attractive to both women and men and enhanced his political charisma: "The sexual power of Clodius, his suspected ability to win the wife of Caesar, might be read as indicating the potency of his political influence."
Eleanor Winsor Leach claimed, in her Lacanian analysis "Gendering Clodius", that the frequency and intensity of Cicero's word plays on the cognomen Pulcher ("handsome, lovely") a certain fascination masquerading under rebuke. Leach calls Cicero's description of Clodius's attire when he intruded on the rites amounts to a verbal striptease, as the privative Latin preposition a ("from") deprives the future tribune of his garments and props one by one:
|“||Publius Clodius, out from his saffron dress, from his headdress, from his Cinderella slippers and his purple ribbons, from his breast band, from his dereliction, from his lust, is suddenly rendered a democrat.||”|
Cicero's accusations of sexual profligacy against Clodius, including the attempt to seduce Caesar's wife into adultery and incestuous relations with his sisters, fail to enlarge in scope over time, as Clodius's marriage to the formidable Fulvia appears to have been an enduring model of fidelity until death cut it short. At the same time, even devotion to one's wife could be construed by the upholders of traditional values as undermining one's manhood, since it implied dependence on a woman.
Adoption into plebeian family of the Fonteii
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On his return from Sicily (where he had been Quaestor between 61 BC and 60 BC), Clodius chose to renounce his Patrician rank in order to hold a tribunate of plebs, which was not permitted to patricians. In 59 BC, during Caesar's first consulship, Clodius was able to enact a transfer to plebeian status by getting himself adopted by a certain P. Fonteius, probably a distant relative. The process violated almost every proper form of adoption in Rome, which was a serious business involving clan and family rituals and inheritance rights. On 16 November, Clodius took office as tribune of the plebs and began preparations for his destruction of Cicero and an extensive populist legislative program in order to bind as much of the community as possible to his policies as beneficiaries.
Nonetheless the legality of Clodius' transfer, and therefore all his acts and laws, remained a contentious issue for many years. Most seriously, in order to be permitted to adopt a fellow citizen from another clan and its rites into his own, a Roman citizen was required to be at least middle aged (beyond adulescentia, i.e. 30 or older) and able to prove that he had tried but failed to produce children. In this case Clodius himself turned 34 in 59 BC and Fonteius his adoptor was even younger, something entirely illegal and unprecedented. Furthermore, once an adoption was made, the adoptee took his place within the adopting family with full rights and duties as the adopter's eldest son. This included changing his name to that of the adopter, to which an additional cognomen was normally appended, in order to indicate either the clan or the family of his birth. Thus P. Claudius Pulcher should have become P. Fonteius Claudianus or P. Fonteius Pulcher. Instead he also violated this essential convention and simply changed the spelling of his clan name from Claudius to Clodius, emphasizing that his sole interest in the enactment of this public socio-religious farce was to obtain a semblance of technical permission to hold the key plebeian magistracy, with its extensive legislative powers and protective sacrosanctity.
Prominence and demise
As tribune Clodius introduced a law threatening exile to anyone who executed a Roman citizen without a trial. Cicero, having executed members of the Catiline conspiracy four years before without formal trial, and having had a public falling-out with Clodius, was clearly the intended target of the law. Cicero argued that the senatus consultum ultimum indemnified him from punishment, and he attempted to gain the support of the senators and consuls, especially of Pompey. When help was not forthcoming, he went into exile. He arrived at Thessalonica, Greece on May 29, 58 BC. The day Cicero left Italy into exile, Clodius proposed another law which forbade Cicero approaching within 400 miles (640 km) of Italy and confiscated his property. The bill was passed forthwith, and Cicero's villa on the Palatine was destroyed by Clodius' supporters, as were his villas in Tusculum and Formiae. Cicero's property was confiscated by order of Clodius, his mall on the Palatine burned down, and its site put up for auction. It was purchased by Clodius himself, who, not wishing his name to appear in the matter, had someone else place the bid for him.
Clodius became exhilarated with his power and importance and wasted no time enacting a substantial legislative programme. The Leges Clodiae included setting up a regular dole of free grain, which used to be distributed monthly at variously and heavily discounted prices, but was now to be given away at no charge, thereby increasing Clodius' political status. Clodius also abolished the right of taking the omens on a fixed day and (if they were declared unfavourable) of preventing the assembly of the comitia, possessed by every magistrate by the terms of the Lex Aelia Fufia. He re-established the old social and political clubs or guilds of workmen, and the censors were forbidden from excluding any citizen from the Senate or inflicting any punishment upon him unless he had been publicly tried and convicted.
Out of personal hatred for the Lagid king Ptolemy of Cyprus, younger brother of Pharaoh Ptolemy XII Auletes, he passed a bill terminating his kingship and annexing Cyprus to the Empire. He cleverly selected Cato the Younger to be sent to Cyprus with a special grant of praetorian command rights to take possession of the island and the royal treasures, and preside over the administrative incorporation of Cyprus into the Roman province of Cilicia. This measure was planned both to remove Cato, potentially a serious and difficult opponent, from the City for some time (in the event he was away for more than two years), and to turn him into an advocate for the legitimacy of Clodius' adoption and tribunate, which it also effected, later causing a great deal of friction between Cato and Clodius' bitterest enemies, especially Cicero.
In 57 BC, one of the tribunes proposed the recall of Cicero, and Clodius resorted to force to prevent the passing of the decree. His effort was foiled by Milo, who led an armed gang sufficiently strong to hold him in check. Clodius subsequently attacked the workmen who were rebuilding Cicero's house at public cost, assaulted Cicero himself in the street, and set fire to the house of Cicero's younger brother Q. Tullius Cicero.
In 56 BC, while curule aedile, he impeached Milo for public violence (de vi) while defending his house against the attacks of Clodius' gang, and also charged him with keeping armed bands in his service. Judicial proceedings were hindered by violent outbreaks, and the matter was finally dropped.
In 53 BC, when Milo was a candidate for the consulship, and Clodius for the praetorship, the rivals collected armed bands and clashed in the streets of Rome. Some sources state that on December 6, 53 BC, by chance Clodius and Milo (each accompanied by an armed escort) passed each other on the Appian Way near Bovillae. A fight erupted between members of the two groups, and Clodius died in the ensuing mêlée. His enraged clients built his funeral pyre in the Curia, which ignited the building and ultimately burned it down. The Senate then voted that Pompey be appointed consul without a colleague in order to restore order.
Clodius in popular culture
- Clodius plays a minor role in the Ides of March, a 1948 epistolatory novel by Thornton Wilder dealing with characters and events leading to, and culminating in the assassination of Julius Caesar. Clodius' possible involvement with Caesar's second wife Pompeia and his attempt to attend the secret rites of the Bona Dea are mentioned (though these events are shifted in time).
- Clodius is a key player in Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series books Caesar's Women and Caesar. His entire exploits from his time in the East to his death in 52 BC are chronicled as a subplot to the greater story.
- Clodius makes several appearances in Roma Sub Rosa, a series of novels by the American author Steven Saylor. A Murder on the Appian Way tells the story of his death.
- Clodius is a particular enemy of Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger in the SPQR series of mysteries by John Maddox Roberts.
- Clodius plays a key role similar to that of a crime lord in the Emperor series written by Conn Iggulden.
- Clodius also plays a central role in Robert Harris's novel Lustrum (published as Conspirata in the USA), the sequel to Imperium, which both chronicle the career of Marcus Tullius Cicero.
- The standard and most thorough biography is W. Jeffrey Tatum's The Patrician Tribune: Publius Clodius Pulcher (University of North Carolina Press, 1999); see p. 33 online for date of birth and pp. 239–240 on the date and circumstances of Clodius's death.
- Stephen L. Dyson, Rome: A Living Portrait of an Ancient City (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010), p. 7 online.
- T.P. Wiseman, Cinna the Poet and other Roman Essays, (Leicester University Press, 1974), ch.12 "The Last of the Metelli", pp.176-191, with stemma at 182-3
- Tatum places the wedding of Clodius and Fulvia within a time frame of 62–59 BC, but probably during Murena's consulship of 62; see The Patrician Tribune pp. 60–61 online.
- Tatum, Patrician Tribune p. 60 online.
- Roman women of the aristocracy were usually married at the age of 15 or 16, though particularly high-ranking and thus desirable brides might become engaged as early as 12; see Ronald Syme, "Marriage Ages for Roman Senators," Historia 26 (1987) 318–332.
- Suetonius Divus Augustus 62.1: "As a youth he had had a daughter of P. Servilius Isauricus for his betrothed, but reconciling with Antonius after their initial discord, when the troops of both men were insisting that they should additionally be joined by some form of close relationship, he took as his wife Antonius' step-daughter Claudia, Fulvia's child by Publius Clodius, although she was barely yet of marrying age; and after his clash arose with Fulvia the mother-in-law, he divorced her still intact and virgin."
- Tatum (Patrician Tribune p. 61) points out that in 44 BC, Claudius could still be called a puer, "boy", though granting that age categories such as puer, adolescens and iuvenis are fluid.
- Valerius Maximus III.5.3
- T. P. Wiseman, "Pulcher Claudius", HSCP 74 (1970), 208-221, at 210, with family stemma at 220. The inscription is CIL VI 1282 = ILS 882: P.CLAVDIVS P.F.AP.N.AP.PRON.PVLCHER Q. QVAESITOR PR. AVGVR
- Cicero de haruspicum responso 42: "Later after inciting Lucullus' army by unspeakable crime he fled from those parts and soon after his arrival in Rome made arrangements with his relatives not to prosecute them while he accepted cash from Catilina to prosecute him collusively in the most disgraceful manner."
- Cicero de haruspicum responso 42: "Next he took himself into Gallia with Murena, in which province he wrote all over the testaments of dead men, murdered orphans and arranged nefarious criminal contracts and partnerships with many."
- Plutarch Cicero 29.
- Valerius Maximus IV 3.5. The senior prosecutor is thought to have been L. Lentulus Crus; Gaius Curio pater, consul in 76, was the vigorous chief advocate.
- David F. Epstein, "Cicero's Testimony at the Bona dea Trial", Classical Philology, Vol. 81, No. 3, Jul., 1986, pp. 239 - 235.
- Plutarch, Caesar, 10.
- De Haruspicium Responso 20.42, as paraphrased and discussed by Eleanor Winsor Leach, "Gendering Clodius," Classical World 94 (2001), pp. 338–339. The original quote expresses vehemence through disjointed and repetitive syntax: quid est, quid valet, quid adfert, ut tanta civitas, si cadet — quod di omen obruant! — a viro tamen confecta videatur? ("What's the point, what's it worth, what's the relevance, if such a polity collapses — and may the gods overturn that doom! — unless it at least appears to have been brought about by a [real] man?").
- Catharine Edwards, The Politics of Immorality in Ancient Rome (Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 63–64 online et passim.
- Edwards, Politics of Immorality, p. 47 online.
- Eleanor Winsor Leach, "Gendering Clodius," Classical World 94 (2001) 335–359.
- Tatum, Patrician Tribune, p. 43 online.
- P. Clodius, a crocota, a mitra, a muliebribus soleis purpureisque fasceolis, a strophio, a psalterio, <a> flagitio, a stupro est factus repente popularis: Cicero, the speech De Haruspicium Responso 21.44, delivered May 56 BC. Translation and discussion by Leach, "Gendering Clodius," p. 338.
- Whether Clodius was already married to Fulvia in December 62 BC, at the time of the Bona Dea incident, is unclear; Tatum's chronological frame of 62–59 BC (Patrician Tribune pp. 60–61 online) allows for the possibility that Clodius was a newlywed at the time.
- Tatum, Patrician Tribune pp. 41–42.
- "Clodius was very capable in the fifties of adopting a posture of strict religiosity and old-fashioned rectitude"; even Cicero notes that Clodius rarely traveled without his wife (Pro Milone 28), and "the prevailing assumption … was that Clodius had become quite the family man" (Tatum, Patrician Tribune, p. 42).
- Tatum, Patrician Tribune p. 315; Edwards, Politics of Immorality p. 85 online, noting that Pompey's contentment in the early fifties was attributed to his happy marriage to Caesar's daughter.
- Haskell, H.J.: This was Cicero, 1924 200-1.
- Plutarch. Cicero 32.
||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (March 2009)|
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- Plutarch Roman Lives of: Lucullus, Pompeius, Cicero, Caesar, Cato
- L. Cassius Dio Roman History, books XXXVI-XL
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- White, H: Cicero, Clodius and Milo (New York, 1900)
- Lintott, Andrew W.: "P. Clodius Pulcher – Felix Catilina?", Greece & Rome, n.s.14 (1967), 157-69
- —: Violence in Republican Rome (Oxford University Press, 1968)
- Moreau, Philippe: Clodiana religio. Un procès politique en 61 av. J.-C. (Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 1982) ISBN 2-251-33103-4
- Tatum, W. Jeffrey. The Patrician Tribune: P. Clodius Pulcher. Studies in the History of Greece and Rome (University of North Carolina Press, 1999) hardcover ISBN 0-8078-2480-1
- Stanisław Stabryła, "P. Clodius Pulcher: a Politician or a Terrorist," in Jerzy Styka (ed), Violence and Aggression in the Ancient World (Kraków, Ksiegarnia Akademicka, 2006) (Classica Cracoviensia, 10),
- Wilfried Nippel: Publius Clodius Pulcher – "der Achill der Straße". In: Karl-Joachim Hölkeskamp, Elke Stein-Hölkeskamp (Hrsg.): Von Romulus zu Augustus. Große Gestalten der römischen Republik. Beck, München 2000. S. 279–291. ISBN 3-406-46697-4
- Fezzi, L: Il tribuno Clodio (Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2008) ISBN 88-420-8715-7
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