Lioness among Romans
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