Terentia

Terentia

Terentia (lived from 98 BC to 4 AD) was the wife of the renowned orator Marcus Tullius Cicero. She was renowned in Rome for her persuasive tongue (which eventually got her family into trouble), intelligence, and strong will.

Family

Terentia was born into a wealthy Roman family of ancient lineage (known as the patrician class, which was the nobility of Roman society) by the name of Fabii. Her one known relative was her half-sister named Fabia, who was a Vestal Virgin. Terentia was not beautiful, but instead used her family's wealth, intelligence, and ambition to gain power. She was endowed with a huge dowry, which included at least two blocks of tenement apartments in Rome, a plot of woods in the suburbs of Rome, and a large farm. The apartments and farm generated a considerable annual income.

Marriage

Terentia took the unusual step in selecting her own husband before the paterfamilias (the male head of the family) could arrange one for her. She married Cicero in 79 BC, but insisted on maintaining control of her huge dowry. She managed her finances with the help of her steward named Philotimus. She was so economically astute that Cicero allowed her to manage his finances as well. Although Cicero was a New Man (someone in Roman social and political circles without noble ancestry), Terentia overlooked her husband's modest background as she believed in his potential. Much of Cicero's success as an orator and politician can be attributed to Terentia's name and wealth; without her prestigious family name and extreme wealth (money was essential in winning Roman political offices), Cicero might not have been elected consul. She was essentially Cicero's benefactor and partner, and he trusted her judgment and intelligence.

Terentia and Cicero had two children, a daughter Tullia Ciceronis in 79 BC, shortly after their marriage, and a son, Marcus Tullius Cicero Minor in 65 BC. Terentia and Tullia had a strong relationship that helped them persevere through the tumultuous time of the civil war.

Terentia was known to be a conservative woman both religiously and economically. As her half-sister was a Vestal Virgin, Terentia practiced and participated in traditional Roman religious ceremonies, such as the Bona Dea. During Cicero's consulship, there was a financial crisis involving liquidity compounded by inflation. The Romans had in place a tax on public lands, but Terentia refused to pay this tax and championed the idea that there should be free use of public lands.

In 58 BC, the marriage took a turn for the worse. Publius Clodius Pulcher enacted a bill that exiled any person who had put a Roman citizen to death. The bill was directed at Cicero for previous judicial dealings with Clodius. Terentia advised Cicero to challenge the bill because Terentia was jealous of Clodia, Clodius's sister (she was worried that Cicero may have been having an affair). Cicero was forced into exile in 58 BC, and Clodius had Cicero's home destroyed and property confiscated. Terentia was persecuted.

Divorce

While Cicero was away, the marriage grew further apart. Cicero joined forces with Gnaeus Pompeius (who was defeated by Julius Caesar) during the civil war. While Cicero was staying in Brundisium, he often found time to write Terentia. However, his letters were terse and ineloquent, which was unlike most letters between the two. He advised her not to come visit him (he had suspicions that she was mishandling his finances). Terentia, loyally and faithfully took care of their fortune and children, but once Cicero acquired sufficient funds to repay Terentia's dowry, he accused Terentia of fraudulently mishandling his funds, and divorced her in 46 BC. A few years before his death, Cicero married a younger woman named Publilia. This second marriage of Cicero also ended in divorce shortly afterwards. Terentia outlived her husband by many years, dying at the age of 103.

Notes

References

Salisbury, Joyce E. Encyclopedia of women in the ancient world. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Abc-Clio, 2001

Lightman, Marjorie, and Benjamin Lightman. Biographical dictionary of ancient Greek and Roman women: notable women from Sappho to Helena. New York: Facts On File, 2000.

Burns, Mary S.R., et al. "Chapter 17. Coolness towards Terentia." Introducing Cicero: A selection of pasages from the writings of Marcus Tullius Cicero. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2002.

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