17. M. Aemilius
Lepidus, M. F. Q. N., the triumvir, was the brother of the preceding [No. 16], and the son of No. 13.
He was a lineal descendant of the pontifex maximus, M. Aemilius Lepidus, consul in B. C. 187 and 175, though, as we have seen, it is doubtful whether he was the abnepos
or great-grandson of the latter, as Cicero calls him [see No. 7].
M. Lepidus is first mentioned in the year B. C. 52, when the senate appointed him interrex, after the death of Clodius, for the purpose of holding the comitia. Rome was almost in a state of anarchy; and because Lepidus refused to hold the comitia for the election of the consuls, on the ground that it was not usual for the first interrex to do so, his house was attacked by the Clodian mobs, and he himself narrowly escaped with his life. On the breaking out of the civil war between Pompey and Caesar, B. C. 49, Lepidus, who was then praetor, joined the party of the latter; and as the consuls had fled with Pompey from Italy, Lepidus, as praetor, was the highest magistrate remaining in Italy. Caesar accordingly, when he set out for Spain, to carry on the war against Afranius and Petreius, left Lepidus nominally in charge of the city, though he really depended upon Antony for the preservation of peace in Italy. During Caesars absence in Spain, Lepidus presided at the comitia, in which the former was appointed dictator, who was thus able to hold the consular comitia, which it would have been impossible for a praetor to have done.
In the following year, B. C. 48, Lepidus received the province of Nearer Spain, with the title of proconsul, and here displayed both the vanity and avarice which marked his character. Having compelled the proconsul Q. Cassius Longinus, in Forther Spain, and his quaestor M. Marcellus, who were making war upon one another, to lay down their arms, he assumed the title of imperator, though he had not struck a blow. On his return to Rome B. C. 47, Caesar gratified his vanity with a triumph, though the only trophies he could display, says Dio Cassius (43.1), was the money of which he had robbed the province.
In the course of the same year Caesar made him his magister equitum, and in the next year, B. C. 46, his colleague in the consulship.
He was likewise nominated magister equitum by Caesar for the second and third times in B. C. 45 and 44.
In B. C. 44 Lepidus received from Caesar the government of Narbonese Gaul and Nearer Spain, but had not quitted the neighbourhood of Rome at the time of the dictator's death.
He was then collecting troops for his provinces, and the conspirators had therefore proposed to murder him as well as Antony with the dictator; but this project was overruled. On the evening before the fatal 15th of March Caesar had supped with Lepidus (Appian, App. BC 2.115
), and he was present on the following day in the curia of Pompey, in the Campus Martius, and saw Caesar fall by the daggers of his assassins. (Plut. Caes. 67
; the statement of Appian, App. BC 2.118
, and Dio Cassius 44.22, that Lepidus was not present, is less probable). Lepidus hastily stole away from the senate house with the other friends of Caesar, and after concealing himself for a few hours, repaired to his troops, the possession of which in the neighbourhood of Rome, seemed almost to place the supreme power in his hands. Accordingly, in the night of the 15th of March, he took possession of the forum with his soldiers, and on the following morning addressed the people to exasperate them against the murderers of the dictator. Antony, however, dissuaded him from resorting to violence, and in the negotiations which followed with the aristocracy Lepidus adopted all the views of the former.
He was, therefore, a party to the hollow reconciliation which took place between the aristocracy and Caesar's friends.
In return for the support which Antony had received from Lepidus, he allowed the latter to be chosen pontifex maximus, which dignity had become vacant by Caesar's death; and, to cement their union still more closely, Antony betrothed his daughter to the son of Lepidus. As Antony had no further occasion for Lepidus in Rome, he now repaired to his provinces of Gaul and Spain, with the special object of effecting a reconciliation between Sex. Pompey and the new rulers at Rome.
This was proposed at Antony's suggestion, who was anxious to withdraw Pompey from Spain and induce him to come to Rome, that he might thus have deprived the senate of a considerable part of their forces, in case of the civil war breaking out again.
The senate did not see through Antony's design; Lepidus succeeded in his mission, and accordingly received marks of honour from both parties; the senate on the 28th of November, on the proposition of Antony, voted him a supplicatio.
Shortly afterwards an open rupture occurred between Antony and the senate. Antony had obtained from the people the province of Cisalpine Gaul, which D. Brutus then held, and which he refused to surrender to him [BRUTUS, No. 17]. Antony accordingly marched against him, and as the latter was unable to resist him in the field, he threw himself into Mutina, which was forthwith besieged by Antony.
The senate espoused the side of Brutus, and were now exceedingly anxious to induce Lepidus to join them, as he had a powerful army on the other side of the Alps, and could easily crush Antony if he pleased. Under the pretence, therefore, of showing him additional marks of honour on account of his inducing Pompey to lay down his arms, the senate, on the proposition of Cicero, voted an equestrian statue of Lepidus, and conferred upon him the title of imperator. Lepidus, however, hesitated what part to take, and seems to have been anxious to wait the result of the contest between Antony and the senate, before committing himself irrevocably to either party.
He did not even thank the senate for their decree in his honour; and when they requested him to march into Italy and assist the consuls Hirtius and Pansa, in raising the siege of Mutina, he only sent a detachment of his troops across the Alps under the command of M. Silvanus, and to him he gave such doubtful orders that Silvanus thought it would be more pleasing to his general that his soldiers should fight for rather than against Antony, and accordingly joined the latter. Meantime, Lepidus incurred the displeasure of Cicero and the aristocracy, by writing to the senate to recommend peace. Shortly afterwards, in the latter half of the month of April, the battles were fought in the neighbourhood of Mutina, which compelled Antony to raise the siege and take to flight.
He crossed the Alps with the remains of his troops, and proceeded straight to Lepidus, who finding it impossible to maintain a neutral position any longer, united his army to that of Antony on the 28th of May.
The senate, therefore, on the 30th of June, proclaimed Lepidus a public enemy, and ordered his statue to be thrown down.
The young Octavian still continued to act nominally with the senate; but with his usual penetration he soon saw that the senate would be unable to resist the strong force that was collecting on the other side of the Alps, and therefore resolved to desert the falling side. For besides their own troops Lepidus and Antony were now joined by Asinius Pollio, the governor of Further Spain, and by L. Munatius Plancus, the governor of Further Gaul, and were preparing to cross the Alps with a most formidable army. In August Octavian compelled the senate to allow him to be elected consul, and likewise to repeal the decrees that had been made against Lepidus and Antony; and towards the latter end of October he had the celebrated interview at Bononia, between Lepidus and Antony, which resulted in the formation of the triumvirate. [AUGUSTUS, p. 425b.] In the division of the provinces among the triumvirs, Lepidus obtained Spain and Narbonese Gaul, which he was to govern by means of a deputy, in order that he might remain in Italy next year as consul, while the two other triumvirs prosecuted the war against Brutus and Cassius. Of his large army he was only tc retain three legions for the protection of Italy; the remaining seven were divided between Octavian and Antony. Thus Lepidus was to play only a secondary part in the impending struggle between the triumvirs and the senate; and with this he seems to have been contented, for he never displayed any love of enterprise.
In the proscription-lists which were published on the return of the triumvirs to Rome, Lepidus placed the name of his own brother Paullus, as has been already related. [See above, p. 766a.] Shortly afterwards, on the 31st of December, Lepidus celebrated a triumph as a consequence of the supplicatio which the senate had voted a year previously.
In B. C. 42 Lepidus remained in Rome as consul and in the fresh division of the provinces, made between Octavian and Antony, after the battle of Philippi at the close of this year, Lepidus was deprived of his provinces, under the pretext of his having had treasonable intercourse with Sex. Pompey; but it was arranged that, in case he should be proved innocent of the crime laid to his charge, he should receive Africa as a compensation for the provinces taken from him: so soon did Octavian and Antony make him feel that he was their subject rather than their equal.
The triumvirs were unable to prove anything against Lepidas, but it was not till after the Perusinian war in B. C. 40, that Octavian allowed Lepidus to take possession of his province, and he probably would not have obtained it even then, had not Octavian been anxious to attach Lepidus to his interests, in case of a rupture between himself and Antony. Lepidus remained in Africa till B. C. 36. On the renewal of the triumvirate in B. C. 37, for another five years, Lepidus had been included, though he had now lost all real power.
In the following year, B. C. 36, Octavian summoned him to Sicily to assist him in the war against Sex. Pompey. Lepidus obeyed, but tired of being treated as a subordinate, he resolved to make an effort to acquire Sicily for himself and regain his lost power.
He left Africa on the 1st of July, B. C. 36, and on his arrival in Sicily proceeded to act on his own account, without consulting Octavian.
He first subdued Lilybaeum and the neighbouring towns, and then marched against Messana, which he also conquered.
The eight Pompeian legions, which formed the garrison of the latter town, joined him, so that his army now amounted to twenty legions. Lepidus, therefore, felt himself strong enough to assume a threatening position, and accordingly, on the arrival of Octavian, claimed Sicily for himself, and an equal share as triumvir in the government of the state.
A civil war seemed inevitable. But Lepidus did not possess the confidence of his soldiers; Octavian found means to seduce them from their allegiance, and at length, feeling sure of support from a numerous body of them, adopted one day the bold resolution of riding into the very camp of Lepidus, and calling upon his troops to save their country from a civil war. Although this daring attempt did not immediately succeed, and Octavian was obliged to retire with a wound in his breast, yet it had eventually the desired effect. Detachment after detachment deserted Lepidus, who found himself at last obliged to surrender to Octavian. All his courage now forsook him.
He put on mourning, and threw himself before the knees of Octavian, begging for his life. This Octavian granted him, but he deprived him of his triumvirate, his army, and his provinces, and commanded that he should live at Circeii, under strict surveillance.
He allowed him, however, to retain his private fortune, and his dignity of pontifex maximus.
Thus ended the public life of Lepidus.
After the conspiracy of his son against the life of Augustus at the time of the battle of Actium (see below), Lepidus was ordered to return to Rome; and, though he had not been privy to it, he was treated by Augustus with the utmost indignity. Still the loss of honour and rank, and the insults to which he was exposed, did not shorten his life, for he survived till B. C. 13. Augustus succeeded him as pontifex maximus.
Lepidus was one of those men who have no decided character, and who are incapable of committing great crimes for the same reason that they are incapable of performing any noble acts.
He possessed great wealth, and, like almost all his contemporaries, was little scrupulous about the means of acquiring it. Neither in war nor in peace did he exhibit any distinguished abilities; but that he was not so contemptible a character, as he is drawn by Drumann, seems pretty certain from the respect with which he was always treated by that great judge of men, Julius Caesar.
It seems clear that Lepidus was fond of ease and repose, and it is not improbable that he possessed abilities capable of effecting much more than he ever did.
His wife was Junia, the sister of the M. Brutus who killed Caesar. [JUNIA, No. 2.]
The passages of Cicero referring to Lepidus are given in Orelli, Onom. Tull.
vol. ii. pp. 14, 15; Appian, B. C. lib. ii. iii. v.; Dio Cass. lib. xli--xlix.; Vell. 2.64
; Flor. 4.6
; Liv. Epit. 119
; Suet. Octav.
16, 31; Sen. de Clem.