Historical Background: The Turbulent Roman Republic

In 53 BC, when Milo was candidate for the consulship (against nominees of Pompey) and Clodius for the praetorship, Milo set out for Lanuvium to appoint a priest. Meanwhile Clodius was returning to Rome after he had heard that Cyrus the architect had died. The two leaders met by accident on the Via Appia at Bovillae and Clodius was murdered (January 18, 52 BC) by one of Milo's slaves, probably on his orders.

The Murder of Clodius: Fausta's Perspective

The normally quiet atmosphere of the great house did not exist today. There was a considerable amount of work to attend to for the journey starting early afternoon, and the house was alive with constant bustling to and fro. Slave women scurried past me in the corridor, slaves carried baggage down the stairs, and gladiators stiffly paced outside the main entrance, weapons limp by their sides. I marked today's date off the Roman calendar hanging above the grand fireplace: January 18th, 52 B.C.—one of those superstitiously unlucky days, I mused. The sound of gates clanking shut outside snapped me out of my reverie. Titus Annius Milo, my husband of two years, was home at last, dismissed from the monotonous Senate meeting that had occupied his entire morning. At this point everyone within the vicinity of the entrance—several choir boys and the gladiators Birria and Eudamus—wholeheartedly greeted Milo as he removed his shoes and stepped inside. I strode halfway down the staircase, smiling at my husband as a cool acknowledgment of his return, and retired to my dressing room while he too left to change his garments to prepare for the journey.

Ten minutes later we gathered just in front of the gates, a large traveling group consisting of myself, Milo, slaves, slave women, choir boys, and several gladiators. It was time for my husband to make his annual mandatory journey to Lanuvium, where he ruled as chief magistrate, for the purpose of appointing a priest the next day. I gracefully climb onto the awaiting carriage with my heavily-clad husband and nodded curtly to the driver, a dependable middle-aged man who had been a chariot racer in his youth. And thus we set out from Rome to Lanuvium on the Appian Way, a broad road extending to the far reaches of the empire. At almost the eleventh hour we passed Bovillae, a small town where nearby, I shrewdly noted, was the farm of Clodius, my husband's primary political rival who had attempted to burn our house shortly after Cicero's return from exile. The moment this unpleasant thought flashed through my mind, I could just begin to make out the silhouettes of Clodius and his fellow company of travelers approaching us from the opposite direction on the Appian Way. I immediately nudged my husband beside me to beware of any tricks that the scoundrel might have up his toga today.

Clodius was riding on horseback, lightly armed but burdened by nothing else. He was accompanied by three comrades, one of them a Roman knight and the other two well-known plebeians, as well as a line of thirty or so slaves, all of whom were armed with swords. Such a party of travelers occurred to me as peculiar: why did he bring no carriage, no baggage at all? Where was Fulvia, that snobby wife of his who had always insisted on following her husband everywhere he traveled? Most importantly, wasn't Clodius supposed to be ranting at one of his infamously rowdy public meetings in Aricia? I was fully prepared to keep my side comments to myself, however, as our two parties began to pass each other on the Appian Way. I held my breath. Our carriage passed within several shoulder spans of Clodius on horseback, and our slave women and choir boys walked unimpeded past the first few rows of Clodius's slaves. But then some of Clodius's slaves and the gladiators at the rear of our column began a skirmish—all I could hear were muffled shouts and the light clash of weapons.

Following that, more commotion erupted: a number of men started attacking my husband from higher ground with their weapons. I screamed, ducked from a flying spear, and jumped off the carriage to stand behind the safe shelter of Birria, a skilled gladiator who often acted as my bodyguard. The next moment our carriage driver, obviously unarmed, was brutally attacked and killed by some of Clodius's slaves in front. I started to let out another scream, but Birria roughly covered my mouth with his outstretched hand and guided me to a safe zone behind a nearby tree. From there I witnessed Milo jumping down from our ruined carriage, flinging aside his heavy traveling cloak, and defending himself with vigorous courage. Some of Clodius's men began sneaking up behind Milo in preparation for attacking him in cold blood, while others—stupidly believing my husband already slain—began to attack our slaves behind him. Blood splattered the roadside as several of our slaves were helplessly killed by Clodius's rough brigade, and from a distance I saw the wicked Clodius proclaiming aloud that my husband was dead, when I could distinctly see from my vantage point that he was alive and hiding behind the carriage. From the corner of my eye I saw Birria, in a rage, piercing Clodius in the upper arm with his spear. Milo had ordered him to do no such thing, and was not even aware of this, but in my mind I was secretly praising Birria for teaching Clodius a lesson the hard way. When his comrades noticed Clodius was injured, they carried him away, presumably to the nearest inn in Bovillae.

Our initially placid journey was now ruined due to the turbulent encounter with Clodius and his men. Our surviving slaves and gladiators proceeded to drag away the bodies of the dead or wounded, and we had no choice but to settle for the night in Bovillae, as far as possible from the inn where Clodius was staying. We arrived at a small but well-kept inn on the outskirts of the town just after dusk, and Milo made arrangements with the innkeeper to book the entire building for the night. After a quick dinner of porridge, vegetables, and wine at the inn's tavern, Milo retired to his room, complaining of a headache but clearly deep in thought over the afternoon's disastrous events. A small group of our more audacious slaves clustered in a distant corner of the room, and upon noticing my husband's withdrawal, began whispering in hushed tones. After several minutes they took their scant belongings, including some weapons, and quietly left through the back entrance.

I was in no mood to brood in a dingy inn, and silently took my leave. Outside the inn the moonlight illuminated the secluded streets as I kept my pace behind the slaves. Fancy that, the daughter of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, legendary general and dictator, sneakily following her own slaves in the dead of night! I tossed my ginger hair with indifference and continued walking, noticing that the slaves had stopped outside an inn on the opposite outskirts of Bovillae, probably the one closest to the Appian Way. As they entered through the main door, I stepped back into the shadows, pressing myself against the trunk of an ancient oak tree. A few moments later I could hear the shouts of a struggle, and the slaves, some holding lanterns and others armed with swords, dragged out a brutally ugly and terrified man into the street. There they quickly beat him to a pulp and stabbed him in vital areas with their swords. Dusting off and mumbling amongst themselves, the slaves left the way they had come, a dullness in their voices and actions that did not correspond with the typical reactions of having killed someone.

I slowly emerged from behind the tree and stepped into the middle of the road, gazing at a dead man in a bloodstained toga whose face unmistakably identified him as Clodius. I had been curious, but now was not in the least bit surprised. I pitied the man, now bloody and dirty and lying in plain sight on an insignificant street. But my mind immediately whirled to the images of my house having been nearly burned down under Clodius's orders, my dead driver helplessly falling off my carriage, and one of my slave girls losing an arm due to the careless swinging of one of Clodius's men. Not a trace of sympathy for Publius Clodius Pulcher remained. I swiftly turned and left, thinking to myself: here lies a man who died by the hands of justice.