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Marcus Aemilius Lepidus

Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (Latin: M·AEMILIVS·M·F·Q·N·LEPIDVS ),[1] (born c. 89 or 88 BC, died late 13 or early 12 BC)[2] was a Roman patrician who rose to become a member of the Second Triumvirate and Pontifex Maximus. His father, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, had been involved in a rebellion against the Roman Republic which led to his death.

Lepidus was among Julius Caesar's greatest supporters. He started his cursus honorum as a praetor in 49 BC, was placed in charge of Rome while Caesar defeated Pompey in Spain,[3] and was rewarded with the consulship in 46 BC after the defeat of the Pompeians in the East. When in February 44 BC Caesar was elected dictator for life by the senate, he made Lepidus "Master of the Horse", effectively deputy in the dictatorship.[4] Their brief alliance in power came to a sudden end, however, when Caesar was assassinated on March 15 44 BC (the Ides of March). One of the ringleaders of the conspiracy, Cassius Longinus, had argued for the killing of Lepidus and Mark Antony as well, but Marcus Junius Brutus had overruled him, saying the action was an execution and not a political coup.[5]

After Caesar's murder, Lepidus, despite assuring the senate of his loyalty, allied himself with Mark Antony in a joint bid for power. But Caesar had left an heir: Gaius Julius Caesar Octavian, his great nephew and adopted son in Caesar's will. Octavian, Antony and Lepidus met on an island in a river near Mutina (modern Modena), their armies lined along opposite banks,[6] and formed the Second Triumvirate, legalized with the name of Triumvirs for the Organization of the People by the Lex Titia of 43 BC. Unlike the First Triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus, this one was formally constituted. In effect, it sidelined the consuls and the senate and signalled the death of the republic.[6] The triumvirate's legal life span of five years was renewed in 38 BC by the treaty of Tarentum for an equal period of time.

After the pacification of the east and the defeat of the assassins' faction in the Battle of Philippi, during which he remained in Rome, Lepidus assumed rule of the western provinces of Hispania and Africa. For a while he managed to distance himself from the frequent quarrels between his colleagues Antony and Octavian; however, in 36 BC an ill-judged political move gave Octavian the excuse he needed: Lepidus was accused of usurping power in Sicily and of attempted rebellion and was forced into exile in Circeii. He was stripped of all his offices except that of Pontifex Maximus. He died peacefully in late 13 BC or early 12 BC.


Lepidus was the son of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus; his mother may have been a daughter of Lucius Appuleius Saturninus. His brother was Lucius Aemilius Lepidus Paullus and father to Marcus Aemilius Lepidus the Younger. He married Junia, sister of Marcus Junius Brutus and Junia Tertia, Cassius Longinus's wife. After the Battle of Philippi, Lepidus managed to protect Junia Tertia and her mother Servilia from execution.

Fictional depictions

  • The triumvir Marcus Aemilius Lepidus is the principal character of Alfred Duggan's 1958 historical novel Three's Company. As the novel's title implies, it is centered on the second triumvirate, but relates the period through the lens of Lepidus' life and experiences.
  • He has minor roles in the Shakespeare plays Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra.
  • In the BBC/HBO series Rome, Lepidus is portrayed by Ronan Vibert, although much of his involvement in the 2nd Triumvirate is not included in the series' plots, portraying him as an inadequate rival for the powerhouses of Octavian and Antony.

Notes and references

  1. ^ "Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, M(arci) F(ilius) Q(uinti) N(epos), son of Marcus, grandson of Quintus"
  2. ^ Weigel Lepidus: The Tarnished Triumvir pp. 9-10, 98
  3. ^ Holland, Tom, Rubicon.The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, Abacus, 2004, ISBN 0-349-11563-X, 316.
  4. ^ Holland, Rubicon, 346.
  5. ^ Holland, Rubicon, 347.
  6. ^ a b Holland, Rubicon, 360.
Political offices
Preceded by
Quintus Fufius Calenus and Publius Vatinius
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Gaius Julius Caesar
46 BC
Succeeded by
Gaius Julius Caesar without colleague
Preceded by
Aulus Hirtius and Gaius Vibius Pansa Caetronianus
Consul of the Roman Republic together
with Lucius Munatius Plancus
42 BC
Succeeded by
Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus and Lucius Antonius
Religious titles
Preceded by
Gaius Julius Caesar
Pontifex Maximus of Roman polytheism
44-13/12 BC
Succeeded by


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