Fulvia, Lioness among Romans


A wealthy noblewoman, Antony's wife Fulvia was certainly an appropriate rival for Cleopatra. Both women were extremely capable, ambitious, and strong-minded. No Roman woman had ever been as politically active as Fulvia - or was a greater political force. Fulvia had gained experience through two marriages, the first to the notorious Clodius. With Antony, however, she set a precedent for spouses of Roman leaders to be fully involving herself in her husband's affairs. Antony's cause became her cause. She provided a daughter (Antony's stepdaughter) from her marriage to Clodius for Octavian to marry to help seal the "Second Triumvirate" (Octavian would later returned her "untouched" when problems erupted with Fulvia in Italy) and went to war with Octavian to protect Antony's interests while he was in Egypt. She was also the first Roman woman ever portrayed on coins.

The surviving tradition about Fulvia is a negative and uncomplimentary one. How closely it resembles the real person is hard to tell. Rome was a male-dominated society, and Fulvia's political activism would have been considered an undesirable quality. Cicero disliked her husbands Clodius and Antony and also sniped at her. The poet Martial was very uncomplementary. Since she was involved in a losing cause, it was only natural that her reputation would suffer after Octavian's victory. As the following passage from Plutarch indicates, she was regarded as another woman who had weakened and misguided Antony:

"At any rate, [Antony] now reformed his whole manner of living, turned his thoughts towards marriage, and chose Fulvia, the widow of Clodius the demagogue. She was a woman who took no interest in spinning or managing a household, nor could she be content to rule a husband who had no ambition for public life: her desire was to govern those who governed or to command a commander-in-chief. And in fact Cleopatra was indebted to Fulvia for teaching Antony to obey a wife's authority for by the time he met her, he had already been quite broken in and schooled to accept the sway of women."

During the proscriptions that accompanied the creation of the "Second Triumvirate", Fulvia was depicted by her detractors as particularly bloodthirsty even going so far as having a man proscribed because he would not sell his house to her. This tradition was elaborated, perhaps by apologists who wished to excuse Antony from some of the blame by placing the blame on Fulvia. Even in death, Fulvia got little respect although Antony is depicted as having some remorse for his contribution to her demise:

"While these events were in progress the news came that Fulvia was dead. It was said that she was dispirited by Antony's reproaches and fell sick, and it was thought that she had become a willing victim of disease on account of the anger of Antony, who had left her while she was sick and had not visited her even when he was going away. The death of this turbulent woman, who had stirred up so disastrous a war on account of her jealousy of Cleopatra seemed extremely fortunate to both of the parties who were rid of her. Nevertheless, Antony was much saddened by this event because he considered himself in some sense the cause of it."

Appian, Civil Wars