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Clodius Pulcher


Clodius Pulcher Timeline

Publius Clodius Pulcher (c. 92 - 52 B.C.) was a Roman patrician, from the last half century of the Roman Republic, connected with the major figures of the time, including Julius Caesar, Catullus, and Cicero. Attracting scandals, Clodius was the focus of lawsuits. Prosecuted three times, Clodius was never convicted. In 65, Clodius unsuccessfully, but probably half-heartedly, prosecuted Catiline, who was defended by Cicero. Besides scandals and a violent death, Clodius is known for overcoming his high status origins to become a tribune of the plebeians.

The Name Claudius / Clodius Pulcher:

The name of the patrician gens from which Claudius (Clodius) Pulcher came is the gens Claudia. Traditionally, it has been assumed that Clodius was the plebeian version of the name, but Clodius had used the spelling with an "o" before 59 B.C. when he was adopted, and when Clodius was adopted it was into a different plebeian gens. Also, his sister Clodia (once, Claudia, and thought to be the Lesbia about whom Catullus composed poems) was not adopted, so this assumption seems doubtful. In defense of the tradition, however, Lintott says that in 60 B.C. Clodius tried (and failed) to be made a plebeian via a plebiscitum, so the thought of being plebeian was already there. Clodius may reflect the pronunciation he preferred. Pulcher means beautiful and Clodius Pulcher's family seems to have been blessed with good looks. Earlier Claudians had included extraordinarily good and bad men.

See: "Clodius / Claudius"
Andrew M. Riggsby
Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol. 51, No. 1 (1st Qtr., 2002), pp. 117-12

Other People in the Claudius Family:

  • Publius Clodius Pulcher was the youngest of the 6 children of Appius Claudius Pulcher.
  • He is described as having been treacherous to his brother-in-law, Mithridates-fighter Lucius Licinius Lucullus.
  • Clodius married Fulvia, daughter of Sulla, on whom he fathered a daughter, Claudia, who briefly married Octavian (Augustus), and a son, Publius Claudius Pulcher.
  • Clodius was accused of incest with his sisters, especially the Clodia married to Q. Caecilius Metellus Celer, who is thought to be the Lesbia of Catullus' poems. Catullus alludes to incest between Clodius and Clodia (as Lesbius and Lesbia) in his carmen 79.
  • To become a tribune of the plebs, Clodius had to become a plebeian, so he was adopted by P. Fonteius in 59 B.C. and became tribune in 58.

In the Military:

Clodius (at the time, still Claudius) served under his brother-in-law Lucullus during the Mithridatic Wars, but is said to have stirred up trouble and helped cause a mutiny of the Fimbrian Legions in 69/8. (Marking this as a suspicious accusation, Clodius was not executed for this act of treason or prosecuted when he returned to Rome.) Then Clodius linked up with Marcius Rex who had also failed to support Lucullus. Then Clodius was taken by pirates. After his release, he went to Antioch to pledge Roman support for the Seleucids against the Arabs. Once again, he caused military trouble, and was almost killed.

Cassius Dio on Clodius and Marcius in the Military:

2 As for Marcius, the pretext which he gave for not assisting Lucullus was that his soldiers refused to follow him. Instead, he went to Cilicia, where he received one Menemachus, a deserter from Tigranes, and also Clodius, who had left Lucullus out of fear because of the occurrence at Nisibis; the latter he put in command of the fleet, for he, too, had married one of Clodius' sisters. 3 Now Clodius, after being captured by the pirates and released by them in consequence of their fear of Pompey, came to Antioch in Syria, declaring that he would be their ally against the Arabians, with whom they were then at variance. There, likewise, he stirred up a sedition and all but lost his life.
Cassius Dio 36.17.2-3

The Bona Dea Scandal:

The Bona Dea scandal marked the start of the enmity between Cicero and Clodius. Clodius (at the time, still called Claudius Pulcher) had violated the sanctity of the festival in 62 B.C. when it was under the control of the wife of Julius Caesar. Clodius infiltrated the women-only event by coming dressed in the diaphanous garb of a female musician. This act of sacrilege meant the sacrifices had to be re-done and led to Clodius' prosecution and trial. Clodius claimed to have been away on official business, but Cicero testified against him. Clodius bribed the jurors and was acquitted.


Clodius was instrumental in forcing Cicero into exile after Cicero had members of the conspiracy of Catiline executed extra-legally. Incidentally, Lintott says Clodius learned the advantages of having a gang behind him from Catiline. After Cicero was gone, Clodius' men demolished Cicero's house and the adjacent portico of Catulus. There they consecrated a shrine to the personification of liberty, Libertas. Elaine Fantham points out that before Catulus, the house had belonged to Fulvius Flaccus who had been murdered along with Gaius Gracchus, a hero of the people.

For a look at the reasons for the hostility between Cicero and Clodius, see:
"Gendering Clodius"
Eleanor Winsor Leach
The Classical World, Vol. 94, No. 4 (Summer, 2001), pp. 335-359.

Clodius and His Rival Milo:

Clodius and Titus Annius Milo led bands of supporters that behaved much like violent, modern rival gangs. Their enmity started in 57 when Milo supported and Clodius opposed Cicero's recall from exile. In 53, they disrupted the election proceedings so no one was elected consul by January 52. Milo, Publius Plautius Hypsaeus, and Quintus Metellus Scipio had all sought the consulship. At the same time, Clodius had sought the praetorship.

Pompey was made sole consul for 52.

His Murder on January 18 52 B.C.:

Milo was going along the Appian Way (originally built and named for a member of Clodius' family -- Appius Claudius Caecus) to Lanuvium with his wife and a large entourage, including hired gladiators. They encountered Clodius returning from Aricia, with his gang of 30 armed slaves near Bovillae. A skirmish started, Clodius was wounded, perhaps accidentally, and then taken to an inn by his slaves. Milo's slaves dragged him out and beat him to death. Clodius' body was taken to Rome and burned in the Curia, with fire consuming the Curia and part of the adjacent Basilica Porcia.

Cicero unsuccessfully defended Milo in his pro Milone.


  1. Asconius on Cicero's Pro Milone tr. John Paul Adams
  2. "Clodius / Claudius"
    Andrew M. Riggsby
    Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 2002, pp. 117-12.
  3. "The Early Career of P. Clodius Pulcher: A Re-Examination of the Charges of Mutiny and Sacrilege"
    David Mulroy
    Transactions of the American Philological Association, 1988, pp. 155-178.
  4. "Gendering Clodius"
    Eleanor Winsor Leach
    The Classical World, Summer, 2001, pp. 335-359.
  5. "How Many Roman Senators Were Ever Prosecuted?: The Evidence from the Late Republic"
    Michael C. Alexander
    Phoenix, 1993, pp. 238-255.
  6. "Liberty and the People in Republican Rome"
    Elaine Fantham
    Transactions of the American Philological Association, 2005, pp. 209-229.
  7. "Monuments of Bronze: Roman Legal Documents on Bronze Tablets"
    Callie Williamson
    Classical Antiquity, Apr., 1987, pp. 160-183.
  8. "The Pattern of the Days in Ancient Rome"
    M. S. Broughall
    Greece & Rome, 1936, pp. 160-176.
  9. "P. Clodius Pulcher--'Felix Catilina?'"
    A. W. Lintott
    Greece & Rome, Oct., 1967, pp. 157-169.
  10. "Power and Ritual: The Crowd at Clodius' Funeral"
    Geoffrey S. Sumi
    Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 1997, pp. 80-102.
  11. "Clodius Pulcher, Publius" Oxford Dictionary of the Classical World. Ed. John Roberts. Oxford University Press, 2007.

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