|"A young lady called Cloelia, one of the hostages, evaded the vigilance of the guards, and, at the head of a band of her companions, swam across the Tiber, through a shower of darts discharged at them by the enemy, and restored them all, in safety, to their friends at Rome."|
- Livy, Ab Urbe Condita
Back before Rome was Queen Bitch of the Universe, she was just some town in Italy that constantly got its shit jacked-up by a group of people known as the Etruscans. Now, we don't really know a hell of a lot about the citizens of Etruria, but, that being said, it's still pretty safe to say that in the year 509 BCE they were more or less in the business of making all of Latium their bitches. These dudes would basically sit back, let Rome acquire a bunch of money and goods, and then they'd beat the hell out of the Romans and steal all their hard-earned shit. That's just how things worked back in antiquity.
Well, eventually the Romans got pissed off and overthrew the Etruscan tyrant, a dude known as Tarquinius Superbus. I only mention this guy, of course, because his name sounds like a 1970s funk album or a man-eating Transformer from Hell that morphs into a school bus with stinger missile launchers attached to those swing-out stop signs with the flashing lights. The Superbus was pretty much a giant raging bastard, but even though this guy got what was coming to him when he was deposed and forced into exile, the Etruscans were still a little sore about the prospect of the Romans trying to grow a pair of cojones and telling them to get bent.
The King of the Etruscans was Lars Porsena. While we're on the subject of names here, I'll mention that all I really know about this guy is based off of his moniker, so in my mind he's a seven-foot tall Viking who wears spiked epaulets, drinks rodent blood out of a Sigg bottle and plays his custom Warlock bass in an underground thrash metal band. Well Lars got pretty pissed off and decided he was going to march his armies on the Roman Republic, crush the pancreases (pancreii?) of everyone he found, and put an end to their wacky bullshit once and for all.
Well the Romans had other ideas. First, they prevented Porsena from crossing the Tiber River into Rome in the most badass way imaginable – by staging a fucking awesome Viking at Stamford Bridge-style defense of their homeland. A dude named Horatius Cocles (also known as Horatius the Cyclops), a one-eyed badass with nothing to lose, held off the entire Etruscan army while Roman sappers destroyed the only bridge across the Tiber. Amazingly, they fucking brought the entire bridge down while Horatius was still standing astride it, sending both the Roman hero and much of Porsena's army into the raging waters of the Tiber, but the Cyclops swam back to safety – in full armor, carrying a sword, and with a broken Etruscan spear sticking out of his thigh.
Horatius at the Bridge
But this face-cleaving hardass and his bloodbath clusterfuck of a last stand only afforded the Romans a brief respite – Lars was super ultra ripshit pissed, and it wouldn't be long before he built a new bridge, marched across it, and slaughtered everybody he could get his hands on by stabbing them in the brain with a corkscrew. The Romans finally decided to strike a deal with the rampaging, murder-hungry kill-maniac: They would give him twenty of their hottest young virgins if he would please leave and promise not to burn their entire city to embers and then urinate on the embers until they were no longer on fire. Lars, being a fan of hot young virgins, agreed to these terms.
And now, six hundred words into my article, we finally get to the main character - a teenage Roman girl named Cloelia who went from an obscure nobody to the badass Ancient Roman version of Steve McQueen riding around on a motorcycle and kicking Nazis in the nutsack. Unfortunately, history doesn't really give us a whole lot of insight into who this badass chick really was. Seeing as how she was ransomed off to Lars as part of the afore-mentioned deal, we can assume she was one of Rome's hottest young virgins, but aside from that she's pretty much a complete mystery wrapped in an enigma and then stuffed in the Shroud of Turin and thrown into a black hole of mysterious alien origin.
Cloelia was a badass, self-actualized woman who wasn't going to take fucking shit from anybody – least of all a dude named Lars – and she sure as fuck wasn't going to let herself be auctioned off like cattle or baseball cards or some shit just because some total jackass thought he was tough enough to stamp Rome underneath his giant man-sandals. Fuck that. One night, not long after her imprisonment, Cloelia decided she'd had enough of this bullshit. She was going home, and anybody who wanted to stop her could go fuck themselves with a power drill.
In the middle of the night, Cloelia freed herself from her bonds. She snuck around, quietly rescued some of the other girls, evaded a couple of military patrols, and led them through the Etruscan camp. They stealthily made their way to the edge of the camp, and then sprinted the short distance towards the river bank.
Well you can be pretty fucking sure that the Etruscan sentries noticed a dozen teenage girls sprinting through the night in their petticoats or togas or whatever, and the guards weren't too excited about King Lars chopping their balls off for letting the hostages escape, so they ran after the fleeing women. The girls reached the river banks, and then, at Cloelia's urging, they dove into the freezing water of the Tiber River and began their desperate swim towards freedom.
Cloelia was the last woman in the river, waiting to make sure that all her compatriots had successfully made it out of the camp, and not long after she dove from the muddy bank into the swirling rapids the Etruscans showed up. Since the soldiers weren't suicidal enough to try breaststroking across the river in full suits of armor, they just decided to start launching arrows, darts, spears, and other large pointy objects at the fleeing hostages. Cloelia shouted pump-up words of encouragement to get these chicks totally psyched up out of their minds about not being impaled by arrows, and soon all the women made it across the river to safety. Cloelia lead them back to Rome and ensured that they reached the homes of their families.
Cloelia leads the jailbreak
Well, this badass virgin toga prison break was great and heroic and noble all, but there was still one little problem – Lars Porsena was still out there, and now he was even more fucking pissed off than he was before. He didn't even send a messenger to tell Rome how angry he was – he probably just fucking screamed so loud that his vocal chords doubled as a 500-watt megaphone that could rupture the eardrums of everybody within a five-mile radius. He let out a furious, over-acted primal scream, thumped his chest like an NFL player impersonating Tarzan, and demanded that the woman behind this escape be brought to him so that she might face his uncontrollable and terrible wrath.
Cloelia, being a teenage girl, simply shrugged her shoulders and said, "Whatever." She'd just had thirty fucking Etruscan archers whizzing arrows past her face for an hour while she struggled to fight the current of the fucking Tiber River, and she wasn't going to just roll over and beg for mercy because some impotent king thought he was the baddest motherfucker since Samuel L. Jackson. As soon as she heard that Lars was looking for her, she didn't even need to be asked – she just got on a horse and rode out there to give that motherfucker a piece of her mind.
We don't know what happened during the meeting between Lars Porsena and Cloelia the Ex-Hostage, but it's pretty safe to say that Lars got fucking told with the realness. When their meeting was over, the Etruscan King had been so thoroughly impressed with Cloelia's gigantic steel ovaries that he not only allowed her to return home unharmed, but he also let her bring half of the remaining hostages back to Rome with her. Apparently he had been verbally emasculated so thoroughly by this feminine badass that he could no longer manufacture testosterone, because after this event he never fucked with Rome again. He made peace with the Republic, went back to Etruria, and vanished into obscurity.
Cloelia, for her part, was now a hero of Rome who bitch-slapped the invading King back to his currently-non-existent civilization. When the Romans saw her riding back into town with even more liberated captives, they probably all put her on their shoulders and carried her around like the kid at the end of Rudy. Her fearless badassitude and complete teenaged disrespect for authority made her such a legend among her people that they built a giant statue of her clad in a toga and riding a horse and they placed it at the head of the Sacred Way.
She was the first woman to ever be honored this way by the citizens of Rome.
I'm pretty sure that this isn't her, but you get the idea.
(As a side note, never run a Google Image Search for "mounted roman girl" on your work computer.)
Story of Cloelia
Lefkowitz, Mary R., and Fant, Maureen B. Women's Life in Greece and Rome. JHU Press, 2005.
Livy. The History of Rome. Trans. Baker, George. J.M. Dent, 1921.
Plutarch. Life of Poplicola. Trans. Stewart, Aubrey. BiblioBazaar, 2007.
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