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Marcus Aemilius Lepidus

(c. 89 - 12 BCE

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Coin with the image of Marcus Emilius Lepidus.
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Marcus Aemilius Lepidus was born around 89 BCE as Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. He was an important Roman patrician, politician and military commander, a supporter of Julius Caesar, later one of the triumvirs (next to Octavian Augustus and Mark Antony) during the so-called 2nd Triumvirate and the last Pontifex Maximus in the Roman Republic.

Lepidus belonged to the prominent Roman family of Aemilii. He was the son of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and Appuleia – the daughter of Lucius Apuleius Saturninus (Lucius Appuleius Saturninus). His brother – Lucius Aemilius Lepidus Paullus – was a consul for 50 BCE, and he received his nickname (Paullus) from his father in honour of Lucius Aemilius Paullus of Macedon, an outstanding ancestor of the Emilius family, a distinguished leader, famous for his victory under Pydna over the Macedonian king Perseus. Unlike his brother, Marcus Aemilius Lepidus was a supporter of the popular, just like his father.

Marcus Lepidus married Junia the Elder, half-sister of Marcus Junius Brutus – Caesar’s killer. She was the daughter of Decimus Junius Silanus, a consul in 62 BCE. and Servilla. After the victorious battle of Marcus Antony and Octavian Augustus at Philippi in 42 BCE, Lepidus defended his wife and her mother, thus protecting them from execution. They both had a son: Marcus Emilius Lepidus the Younger.

Political and military career

In 43 BCE Octavian, Antony and Lepidus formed the second triumvirate. After the Battle of Philippi, the Triumvirs divided the Roman Empire among themselves. The division changed several times. Eventually, Antony received the East, Octavian received the West, and Lepidus received Africa. Italy was to be a common province.
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As he came from gens Aemilia, he received a strict education. He began his “path of honours” (cursus honourum) as praetor in 49 BCE, when he took over the administration of Rome in the absence of Caesar, who struggled in the Civil War of Pompey the Great in Greece. In return for his effective actions, he was awarded in 46 BCE. consulate after Caesar defeated the “Pompeians” in the east. In February 44 BCE, when Caesar was elected for life dictator by the Senate, Lepidus was given the position of Magister equitum, which was bestowed and received (always) by a dictator. He was the most important of the dictator’s officials.

The momentary peace in Rome’s internal affairs ended with the murder of Caesar in the so-called “March ides” on March 15, 44 BCE. One of the ringleaders of the attack, Gaius Cassius Longinus, advocated killing also the supporters of the dictator – Lepidus and Mark Antony. Ultimately, however, Marcus Junius Brutus concluded that the entire murder was an execution, not a political coup.

After Caesar’s death, Lepidus, despite a promise made to the Senate of his loyalty, entered into an alliance with Antony in order to seize power. As it turned out, however, Caesar left a successor who the “Caesarians” had to reckon with. He was Gaius Octavian, the adopted son of Caesar – later emperor of Rome. All three of them met on the island of the Mutina River (present-day Modena) and announced the formation of the so-called 2nd Triumvirate, legalized with the name “College of Three for the Ordering of the State” (Triumviri Rei Publicae Constituendae Consulari Potestate) according to Lex Titia in 43 BCE.
Unlike the First Triumvirate, Caesar, Pompey and Crassus, this one was formally concluded. As a result of this agreement, the consuls and the Senate were marginalized, and the future death of the republican system was signalled. The agreement was valid for a period of five years. In 37 BCE consent was given in Tarentum for the continued operation of the triumvirate.

After defeating Caesar’s assassins in the Battle of Philippi in 42 BCE by Octavian and Antony, Lepidus, who was in Rome, took over the provinces of Hispania and Africa. He also decided to support the actions of the triumvirs in defeating the “Sicilian revolt” led by Sextus Pompey, the youngest son of Pompey the Great. With the help of an army of 14 legions, he defeated the rebel. After these events, he tried not to get involved in internal disputes between the other triumvirs. Ultimately, however, in 36 BCE Octavian accused Lepidus of usurping Sicily and preparing a revolt and therefore had to go into exile in Circeia. He was stripped of all offices, omitting the title of “High Priest” (Pontifex Maximus).

In October 42 BCE there was a battle at Philippi. Brutus, faced with defeat, decides to take his own life instead of being captured. (Picture of this moment)
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.


He died at the end of 13 or the beginning of 12 BCE. at the age of about 77, spending the rest of his life modestly, away from politics.

Marriage and children

  • Junia the Elder (Iunia Secunda) – daughter of Decimus Junius Silanus, consul in 62 BCE and Servilla. The half-sister of Caesar’s killer – Marcus Brutus;
    • Marcus Aemilius Lepidus the Younger – leader of the plot against Octavian, who was to be killed after his return to Rome after the Battle of Actium. A conspiracy in 31 BCE was detected and suppressed by the Patron, and Lepidus was captured and sent east to Octavian, who ordered him to be executed.
      Engaged in his youth with Antonia (daughter of the triumvir Marcus Antony and his second wife – Antonia Hibrida). He married Servilia. After discovering her husband’s plot, Servilia committed suicide by swallowing hot coals.
      Lepidus the Younger was probably the father of Manius Emilius Lepidus and Emilia Lepida.

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