Publius Clodius Pulcher (c. December 93 BC - 52 BC, on January 18 of the pre-Julian calendar) was a Roman politician. As tribune, he pushed through an ambitious legislative program, including a grain dole, but he is chiefly remembered for his feud with Marcus Tullius Cicero and Titus Annius Milo, whose bodyguards murdered him on the Appian Way. 
Clodius was a Roman nobilis of the patrician Claudian gens and a senator. He was known as an eccentric, mercurial and arrogant character. He became a major disruptive force in Roman politics during the First Triumvirate, of Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar (59-53 BCE). He passed numerous laws in the tradition of the populares known as the Leges Clodiae, and has been called "one of the most innovative urban politicians in Western history".
Born Publius Claudius Pulcher in 93 BC, Clodius was the youngest son of Appius Claudius Pulcher. 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 Quintus Servilius Caepio, or a Caecilia Metella, sister of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Celer. Clodius affected the "plebeian" spelling of his nomen after his controversial adoption into the plebeian Fonteii in 59 BC.
Clodius' father married twice and had numerous children, but only Claudia, the wife of Quintus Caecilius Metellus (better known as Clodia), and Claudia, the wife of Lucius Licinius Lucullus, were Clodius' full siblings. Clodia is widely supposed to have been the Lesbia to whom the poet Catullus dedicated many of his poems, but the evidence is not conclusive. At various times, Clodius was accused of incestuous relations with both of his sisters; his scandalous reputation lent credence to the charges, but there is no doubt that the accusations were also politically motivated, and that they were never proven.
By his maternal bloodline, Clodius was closely enough related to be called frater of some notable figures of the time:
Clodius may have been married once before his marriage to Fulvia; Cicero refers to a certain Lucius Natta, the stepson of Lucius Licinius Murena, as Clodius' brother-in-law, but does not mention Natta's gentile name. In a passage of uncertain authenticity, Servius calls him Pinarius Natta. The surname Natta is known from the Pinaria gens, but is not found among the Fulvii. Drumann concludes that Clodius' first wife was a Pinaria, the sister of a Lucius Pinarius Natta, but because there is no concrete evidence of an earlier marriage, other scholars have supposed that Clodius' brother-in-law was an otherwise unknown Lucius Fulvius Natta.
Clodius was a legate in 68 or 67 BC. About 62 BC, He married Fulvia, heiress of the Sempronii Tuditani of Tusculum, a noble plebeian family that had become extinct in the male line a decade earlier. They had at least two children who survived to adulthood: a son, Publius Claudius Pulcher, and a daughter, Claudia, who was the first wife of Octavian. After Clodius' death, Fulvia married first Gaius Scribonius Curio, tribune of the plebs in 50 BC; and subsequently Marcus Antonius, the triumvir; both marriages produced children.
Clodius' son, Publius Claudius Pulcher, was probably born between 62 and 59 BC. He achieved little in public life: Valerius Maximus describes him as a lethargic nonentity, who rose to the praetorship only through the influence of the second triumvirate, and died amid scandals of luxurious excess and an obsessive attachment to a common prostitute, probably after 31 BC. An inscription of ownership on an expensive Egyptian alabaster vase once owned by Clodius' son has survived to attest his short official career. It includes an unusual triple filiation, which confirms the literary evidence to the effect that Clodius was the son of Appius Claudius Pulcher, consul in 79 BC, and grandson of Appius Claudius Pulcher, consul in 143.
Clodius' daughter, Claudia, was probably born between 57 and 55 BC. About 43 or 42, while still quite young, she was married to the young Octavian. This was a political marriage, arranged in order to reconcile Octavian to Claudia's stepfather, Marcus Antonius, as the two men and their followers contended with several other factions for the control of the Roman state. However, in 41 BC, Claudia's mother, Fulvia, joined her brother-in-law, the consul Lucius Antonius, in raising eight legions against Octavian, in what became known as the Perusine War. The resulting enmity between the triumvirs gave Octavian an excuse to divorce Claudia in 40 BC. She was still living in 36 BC, but her subsequent fate is unknown.
Clodius took part in the Third Mithridatic War, under his brother-in-law, Lucullus. However, considering himself to have been given insufficient respect, he stirred up a revolt. Another of Clodius's brother-in-laws, Quintus Marcius Rex, governor of Cilicia, gave him command of a fleet, but Clodius was captured by pirates. On his release, he repaired to Syria, where he nearly lost his life during a mutiny, which he was also accused of instigating.
While a captive of the pirates, a curious incident occurred which was to have ongoing consequences. The pirates sought a good ransom from Ptolemy of Cyprus, nominally an ally of Rome, although he was attempting to negotiate a 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 keeping any money. Clodius had greatly overestimated his worth, and the transaction filled him with hatred for the Cypriot ruler.
Returning to Rome in 66 BC, Clodius was in serious need of protection from his brother-in-law because of the treason that he had committed in Lucullus' army and his incestuous relations with Lucullus' wife, which Lucullus had discovered upon his return the same year, prompting 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 because of his extended service in the east), Clodius wed Fulvia, the daughter of Sempronia of the Tuditani that year or the next year. At about the same time, Lucullus' very close relative (probably nephew) Lucius 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 assisted as well.
Catiline's defeat at the same elections was the signal to begin his attempt at a violent coup d'état to slaughter most of the nobility, especially the plebeian nobles and senators, and setting up a small patrician-dominated oligarchy. Although Clodius was still a 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 to marry her instead. That made Terentia furious with the Claudia in question and, by association, with the wider family.
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, lent to him as pontifex maximus. They were hosted by his wife, Pompeia and his mother, Aurelia, and they were supervised by the Vestal Virgins. It was a cult from which men were excluded and they were not permitted to speak or even know the goddess's name: the euphemism "Good Goddess" was used. Clodius intruded on the rites, disguised as a woman and apparently intent on finding and seducing Pompeia but 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 damaging prosecution in 73 of her half-sister, the Vestal Fabia, on a charge of incestum with Catiline. Caesar's mother Aurelia and sister testified to Clodius' offense.[i] Caesar did his best to help Clodius by claiming that he knew nothing. When asked why, if he knew nothing, Caesar 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 but 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. At home, Terentia demanded to give his testimony and ensure the destruction of her subversive rival's brother and lover. Cicero did so, but Marcus Licinius 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 leaders of his prosecution, owing to the wrongs he had done them. However, 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 Lucullus, his brother, and Cicero.
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' 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 Marcus Antonius, 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") show a certain fascination that masqueraded under rebuke. Leach calls Cicero's description of Clodius' 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 his incestuous relations with his sisters fail to enlarge in scope over time, as Clodius' 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.
On his return from Sicily, where he had been quaestor between 61 BC and 60 BC, Clodius sought to hold a tribunate of plebs with the stated intention to get revenge on his bitter enemy, Cicero. However, to be elected as a tribune, he had to renounce his patrician rank since that magistracy 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, who was much younger than him. 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 to bind as much of the community as possible to his policies as beneficiaries.
Nonetheless, the legality of Clodius' transfer, and all his acts and laws with it, remained contentious for many years. Most seriously, 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) Clodius himself had turned 34 in 59 BC, and Fonteius, his adopter, was even younger, something both 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, such as changing his name to that of the adopter, and an additional cognomen was normally appended to indicate the clan or the family of his birth.
Instead, Clodius violated that essential convention and simply gave a plebeian spelling to his clan name, from Claudius to Clodius, turning the act of adoption to an open farce. He emphasised thus that his sole interest in the enactment of this public socioreligious farce was to obtain a semblance of technical permission to hold the key plebeian magistracy, with its extensive legislative powers and protective sacrosanctity.
As tribune, Clodius introduced a law that threatened exile to anyone who executed a Roman citizen without a trial. Cicero, having executed members of the Catiline conspiracy four years before without a trial, had had a public dispute with Clodius and was clearly the intended target of the law. Cicero argued that the senatus consultum ultimum indemnified him from punishment and attempted to gain the support of the senators and consuls, especially of Pompey. When help was not forthcoming, Cicero went into exile and arrived at Thessalonica, Greece, on May 29, 58 BC. The day that Cicero left Italy into exile, Clodius proposed another law which forbade Cicero to approach within 400 miles (640 km) of Italy and confiscated his property. The bill was passed, and Cicero's house 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. Clodius had a temple of Libertas (Liberty) built on the site of Cicero's house so even if Cicero returned, he would not be able to take the site back. Clodius also tried to sell Cicero's other property, but there were no takers.
Clodius became exhilarated with his power and importance and so wasted no time enacting a substantial legislative programme. The Leges Clodiae included setting up a regular dole of free grain, which had been distributed monthly at heavily discounted prices but was now to be given away at no charge, increasing Clodius' political status. Clodius also abolished the right of taking the omens on a fixed day, if they were declared unfavourable, to prevent the assembly of the comitia, which had been possessed by every magistrate by the terms of the Lex Aelia et Fufia. He also prevented the censors from excluding any citizen from the Senate or inflicting any punishment upon him unless he had been publicly tried and convicted.
He had noticed that violence and physical force had become the main means of maintaining dominance in Roman politics. Therefore, he abolished the restrictions on establishing new collegia, the old social and political clubs or guilds of workmen, and had them set up by his agents. The guilds were essentially organized and trained as gangs of thugs, and Clodius used them to control the streets of Rome by driving off the supporters of his political opponents. The men were attacking any politician who dared confront their patron by means of various forms of harassment, including accosting and beating in the streets, loud booing, showering with filth at the games, besieging houses by throwing rocks or even weapons and even attempting to burn them. Thus the opposition to Clodius was muted, and he became the "king of the Roman streets".
Out of personal hatred for the Lagid king Ptolemy of Cyprus, the younger brother of Pharaoh Ptolemy XII Auletes, he passed a bill terminating his kingship and annexing Cyprus to Rome. Complying to the wishes of the First Triumvirate, 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 to preside over the administrative incorporation of Cyprus into the Roman province of Cilicia. The measure was planned both to remove Cato, potentially a serious and difficult opponent, from Rome for some time (he would be away for more than two years) and to turn him into an advocate for the legitimacy of Clodius' adoption and tribunate, which happened, later causing a great deal of friction between Cato and Clodius' bitterest enemies, especially Cicero.
However, Clodius' good relationship with the triumvirate deteriorated when Pompey criticised his policies and started contemplating recalling Cicero from exile. The infuriated Clodius turned against Pompey, starting to harass him, reputedly with the secret approval of Crassus. When Pompey discussed, with one of the tribunes, the possibility of recalling Cicero, Clodius culminated his harassment by organising an attempt to assassinate him in August 58 BC. His gangs set up a blockade of his house, forcing Pompey to stay at home until the end of the year to avoid the attacks. Clodius, frustrated, turned against Caesar by declaring his consular legislation during the year 59 illegal. However, the act set the final motion for the recall of Cicero: when Clodius vetoed a bill for his recall, which was supported by eight tribunes, Caesar finally gave his agreement for a renewed attempt to pass the bill after Clodius' term of office expired in December 58. In January 57, one of the new tribunes tried to pass the bill, but his attempt was met by the usual violence and failed, making clear that the domination of the streets and public spaces of Rome by the gangs of Clodius had to be faced with similar violent methods. Pompey gave his approval for the tribunes Milo and Publius Sestius to raise their own gangs in order to oppose Clodius' thugs, with some gladiator trainers and ex-gladiators as leaders and trainers. Street fighting continued through the first half of 57, but Clodius lost the battle and the bill about Cicero was passed.
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, Quintus Tullius Cicero.
In 56 BC, while curule aedile, he impeached Milo for public violence (de vi) while the latter was defending his house against the attacks of Clodius' gang, and he also charged him with keeping armed bands in his service. Judicial proceedings were hindered by violent outbreaks, and the matter was finally dropped.
In the elections of 53 BC, when Milo was a candidate for the consulship and Clodius for the praetorship, violent clashes erupted in the streets of Rome between the gangs of Clodius and Milo, twice delaying the election.
On January 18, 52 BC, Clodius was returning to Rome by way of the Appian Way from a visit to Aricia, some 16 miles (25 km) south-east of Rome. Clodius was travelling lightly with a band of 30 armed slaves and, uncommonly for him, without his wife. By chance, Milo was travelling the other way with his wife as well as an escort which included gladiators, and the two groups passed each other near Bovillae, 11 miles from Rome. The encounter between the two groups passed without incident until the last pair at the back of each train began a scuffle. It was then believed that Clodius turned back and was wounded by a javelin thrown by one of the gladiators in Milo's party. He was brought to a nearby inn for his wounds, and his slaves were killed or driven off.
Milo made the decision that a live political enemy was more dangerous than a dead one and ordered his gladiators to kill the injured Clodius. The body was discovered by a passing senator and sent back to Rome. There, Clodius' wife and two tribunes rallied his supporters to use the Curia as Clodius' funeral pyre, which resulted in the destruction of the Curia Hostilia. That action and the need to restore order in Rome are cited as the key reasons for the Senate's appointment of Pompey as sole consul.
The later trial of Milo would become famous for Cicero's defense of the accused Milo with his famous speech, Pro Milone, which ultimately failed to save Milo from exile, since the interruptions and catcalls from Clodius's supporters made it difficult for him to be heard. Additionally, in the presence of the soldiers, the jurors were pressured to decide according to Pompey's wishes.
married c. 138
|Ap. Claudius Pulcher|
cos. 143, cens. 136
married c. 164
born c. 163
born c. 161
born c. 157
mint IIIvir c. 129
born 160s, married c. 143
(died c. 89 BC)
(c. 141-c. 74)
(c. 143-c. 105)
(born c. 98)
cos. 54, augur,
Q. Metelli Celeris
(born c. 94)
|P. Clodius Pulcher|
tr. pl. 58
(born c. 56)