Publius Clodius Pulcher

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Publius Clodius Pulcher (born around 92 BC, murdered January 18, 52 BC), was a Roman politician, chiefly remembered for his feuds with Milo and Marcus Tullius Cicero. Clodius was the son of Appius Claudius Pulcher and Caecilia Metella Balearica. Born into a wealthy and patrician family, he chose, as did his sister Clodia, to spell his ancient name with an -o-, a spelling indicative of the lower classes.

His military career was generally undistinguished. He took part in the Third Mithradatic War under his brother-in-law, Lucius Licinius Lucullus. However, considering himself treated with insufficient respect, he stirred up a revolt. Another brother-in-law, Q. Marcius Rex, governor of Cilicia, gave him the command of his fleet, but he was captured by pirates. On his release he repaired to Syria, where he nearly lost his life during a mutiny he was accused of instigating.

Returning to Rome in 65 BC, Clodius turned to a cursus honorum. He prosecuted Catiline for extortion, but was bribed by him to procure acquittal. There seems no reason to believe that Clodius was involved in the Catilinarian conspiracy; indeed, according to Plutarch (Cicero, 29), he rendered Cicero every assistance and acted as one of his bodyguards.

The affair of the mysteries of the Bona Dea, however, caused a breach between Clodius and Cicero in December 62 BC. Clodius, dressed as a woman (men were not admitted to the mysteries), entered the house of Caesar (then pontifex maximus), where the mysteries were being celebrated. It was suggested at the time that Clodius wore the disguise in order to carry on an intrigue with Pompeia Sulla, Caesar's wife. He was detected and brought to trial, but escaped condemnation by bribing the jury. Cicero's violent public statements on this occasion may have led Clodius to seek revenge.

On his return from Sicily (where he had been quaestor in 61 BC), Clodius chose to renounce his patrician rank. After gaining the consent of the Roman Senate, and with the connivance of Caesar, he succeded in being adopted into the plebeian branch of his family by one P. Fonteius in 59 BC. On (December 10 59), he was elected tribune of the people, an office for which patricians were ineligible. His first act was to bring forward laws seemingly calculated to secure him popular favour. Grain, instead of being sold at a low rate, was to be distributed gratuitously once a month; the right of taking the omens on a fixed day and (if they were declared unfavourable) of preventing the assembly of the comitia, possessed by every magistrate by the terms of the Lex Aelia Fufia, was abolished; the old clubs or guilds of workmen were re-established; the censors were forbidden to exclude any citizen from the senate or inflict any punishment upon him unless he had been publicly accused and condemned.

Clodius then acted against Cicero and the younger Cato, who was sent to Cyprus as praetor to take possession of the island and the royal treasures. Cicero's property was confiscated by order of Clodius, his house on the Palatine burned down, and its site put up for auction. It was purchased by Clodius himself, who, not wishing his name to appear in the matter, had someone else place the bid for him. After the departure of Caesar for Gaul, Clodius practically became master of Rome with the aid of a personal gang, one of several who were active in the city at the time. In 57 BC, one of the tribunes proposed the recall of Cicero, and Clodius resorted to force to prevent the passing of the decree. His effort was foiled by Titus Annius Milo, who led an armed gang sufficiently strong to hold him in check. 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 brother Quintus Tullius Cicero.

In 56, while curule aedile, he impeached Milo for public violence (de vi) while defending his house against the attacks of Clodius' gang, and also charged him with keeping armed bands in his service. Judicial proceedings were hindered by violent outbreaks, and the matter was finally dropped. In 53 BC, when Milo was a candidate for the consulship, and Clodius for the praetorship, the rivals collected armed bands and clashed in the streets of Rome. On January 18 52 BC, Clodius was slain near Bovillae. His enraged clients used the senate-house as his funeral pyre.

His sister, Clodia, wife of Q. Caecilius Metellus Celer, was notorious for her numerous love affairs. It is now generally admitted that she was the Lesbia mentioned in the works of Catullus (Teuffel-Schwabe, Hist. of Roman Lit., Eng. tr., 214, 3). For her intrigue with Marcus Caelius Rufus, whom she afterwards pursued with unrelenting hatred and accused of attempting to poison her, see Cicero, Pro Caelio, where she is represented as a woman of abandoned character.


  • Cicero, Lettes (ed. Tyrrell and Purser), Pro Caelio, pro Sestio, pro Milone, pro Domo sua, de Haruspicum Responsis, in Pisonem;
  • Plutarch, Lucullus, Pompey, Cicero, Caesar; Dio Cassius xxxvi. 16, 19, xxxvii. 45, 46, 51, xxxviii. 12-14, xxxix. 6, if, xl. 48. See also I Gentile, Clodio e Cicerone (Milan, 1876);
  • ES Beesley, "Cicero and Clodius," in Fortnightly Review, v.; G Lacour-Gayet, De P. Clodio Pulchro (Paris, 1888), and in Revue historique (Sept. 1889);
  • H White, Cicero, Clodius and Milo (New York, 1900);
  • G Boissier, Cicero and his Friends (Eng. trans., 1897).




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