13. M. Aemilius
Lepidus, Q. F. M. N., the son of No. 11, and the father of the triumvir, was praetor in Sicily in B. C. 81, where he earned a character by his oppressions only second to that of Verres. (Cic. in Verr.
In the civil wars between Marius and Sulla he belonged at first to the party of the latter, and acquired considerable property by the purchase of confiscated estates; but he was afterwards seized with the ambition of becoming a leader of the popular party, to which post he might perhaps consider himself as in some degree entitled, by having married Appuleia, the daughter of the celebrated tribune Appuleius Saturninus.
He accordingly sued for the consulship in B. C. 79, in opposition to Sulla; but the latter, who had resigned his dictatorship in this year, felt that his power was too well established to be shaken by any thing that Lepidus could do, and accordingly made no efforts to oppose his election. Pompey, moreover, whose vanity was inflamed by the desire of returning a candidate against the wishes of the all-powerful Sulla, exerted himself warmly to secure the election of Lepidus, and not only succeeded, but brought him in by more votes than his colleague, Q. Lutatius Catulus, who belonged to the ruling party. Sulla viewed all these proceedings with great indifference, and contented himself with warning Pompey, when he met him returning in pride from the election, that he had strengthened one who would be his rival.
The death of Sulla in the following year, B. C. 78, soon after Lepidus and Catulus had entered upon their consulship, determined Lepidus to make the bold attempt to rescind the laws of Sulla and overthrow the aristocratical constitution which he had established.
There were abundant materials of discontent in Italy, and it would not have been difficult to collect a numerous army; but the victory of the aristocratical party was too firmly secured by Sulla's military colonies to fear any attempts that Lepidus might make, since he did not possess either sufficient influence or sufficient talent to take the lead in a great revolution.
He seems, moreover, to have reckoned upon the assistance of Pompey, who remained, on the contrary, firm to the aristocracy.
The first movement of Lepidus was to endeavour to prevent the burial of Sulla in the Campus Martius, but he was obliged to relinquish this design through the opposition of Pompey.
He next formally proposed several laws with the object of abolishing Sulla's constitution, but their exact provisions are not mentioned by the ancient writers. We know, however, that he proposed to recall all persons who had been proscribed, and to restore to them their property, which had passed into the hands of other parties. Such a measure would alone have thrown all Italy into confusion again. At Rome the utmost agitation prevailed. Catulus showed himself a firm and dauntless friend of the aristocracy, and appears to have obtained a tribune to put his veto upon the rogations of Lepidus.
The exasperation between the two parties rose to its height, and the senate saw no other means of avoiding an immediate outbreak except by inducing the two consuls to swear that they would not take up arms against one another. To this they both consented, and Lepidus the more willingly, as the oath, according to his interpretations only bound him during his consulship, and he had now time to collect resources for the coming contest.
These the senate itself supplied him with. They had in the previous year voted Italy and Further Gaul as the consular provinces, and the latter had fallen to Lepidus. Anxious now to remove him from Italy, the senate ordered him to repair to his province, under the pretence of threatening dangers, and furnished him with money and supplies. Lepidus left the city; but instead of repairing to his province he stopped in Etruria and collected an army.
The senate thereupon ordered him to return to the city in order to hold the comitia for the election of the consuls; but he would not trust himself in their hands.
This year seems to have passed away without any decisive measures on either side.
At the beginning of the following year, however, B. C. 77, Lepidus was declared a public enemy by the senate. Without waiting for the forces of M. Brutus, who had espoused his cause and commanded in Cisalpine Gaul, Lepidus marched straight against Rome. Here Pompey and Catulus were prepared to receive him; and in the battle which was fought under the walls of the city, in the Campus Martius, Lepidus was easily defeated and obliged to take to flight. While Pompey marched against Brutus in Cisalpine Gaul, whom he overcame and put to death [BRUTUS, No. 20], Catulus followed Lepidus into Etruria. Finding it impossible to hold his ground in Italy, Lepidus sailed with the remainder of his forces to Sardinia; but repulsed even in this island by the propraetor, he died shortly afterwards of chagrin and sorrow, which is said to have been increased by the discovery of the infidelity of his wife.
The aristocratical party used their victory with great moderation, probably from fear of driving their opponents to join Sertorius in Spain. (Sall. Hist.
lib. 1, and Fragm.
p. 190, in Gerlach's ed. min.; Appian, App. BC 1.105
; Plut. Sull. 34
15, 16; Liv. Epit. 90
; Flor. 3.23
; Oros. 5.22
; Eutrop. 6.5
; Tac. Ann. 3.27
; Suet. Jul. 3
; Cic. in Cat.
3.10; Plin. Nat. 7.36
; Drumann's Rom,
vol. iv. pp. 339-346.)