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Publius Clodius Pulcher

?? - 52 BC

P. Clodius Pulcher is one of the most colorful characters from the annals of Rome's history. By today's standards he would be considered a rogue and even a criminal. But he got things done and had many accomplishments (although some were dubious). It is said that he and his sister Clodia changed the spelling of their names from Claudius to disassociate themselves from the aristocratic branch of their family and its respectable roots. Here are some of Clodius' (in)famous deeds:

68 BC Started a mutiny against Lucullus, with whom he served early in his career.
62 BC Disguised himself as a woman and infiltrated the rites of the Bona Dea which were held in the home of the Pontifex Maximus Julius Caesar.
Accused of illicit relationship with Pompeia, Julius Caesar's wife, from which arose the famous saying: "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion"; main accuser was Cicero, a staunch advocate of upright behavior in Roman citizens.
61 BC Bribed the jurors in the 'Bona Dea' case and won a narrow acquittal.
59 BC Became a member of the plebeian party with the help of Caesar so he could run for plebeian tribune in the following year against Cicero.
58 BC Elected tribune, possibly by bribing the people with free wheat (or, to give it a more favorable interpretation, with a wheat allocation to the poor).
Established guilds of tradesmen (Collegia) who in gratitude supported his political ambitions
Repealed the Leges Aelia and Fufia.
Passed a law outlawing anyone who put a Roman citizen to death without a trial. This last measure forced Cicero into voluntary exile for bringing about the deaths of some of the Catilinarian conspirators without a trial. Cicero claimed that the conspirators had forfeited citizenship rights by their own actions.
Angered Pompey by allowing the escape of Tigranes, son of the Armenian king, thus endangering Pompey's very life.
56 BC Lost Caesar's backing after the Luca accord between Caesar and Pompey; Clodius spent the remainder of his life in brawls against the rival gangs of T. Annius Milo, supporter and agent of the senatorial party.
52 BC On January 18, Clodius, now a candidate for the praetorship, was murdered by Milo while travelling on the Appian Way. His body was brought to the Senate House by his followers, where a frenzied mob cremated his body, using the building itself as his funeral pyre. Milo was subsequently defended by Cicero in a speech called "Pro Milone".

The life of Clodia, Clodius' older sister, is another vivid story. She shared her brother's flair for the devious but did not accomplish quite as much:

-- J. Jahnige, October 2003

Sources: Oxford Classical Dictionary, Penguin Dictionary of Ancient History


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