According to historians:

Marcus Aemilius Lepidus* was the head of the cavalry in Julius Caesar's army at the time of his master's assasination in 44 BC, but had also been appointed as praetor of Narbonese Gaul in 49 BC and consul of Hither Spain in 46 BC by Caesar in the past. He was generally a well respected commander.

Lepidus had made a deal with Brutus and Cassisus that upon Caesar's death he would be made Chief Priest (Pontifex Maximus) of Rome like his grandfather before him. When Mark Antony claimed the throne for himself Lepidus switched sides and aided he and Octavian in defeating the traitors.

The three formed the second triumvirate and Lepidus was appointed governor of Africa in 42 BC. In 36 BC Lepidus invaded Sicily. The alliance was waning and it became clear that Octavian desired to rule the entire empire, and Lepidus was accused him of trying to keep Sicily for himself. He was stripped of all his powers save that of Pontifex Maximus. Which is all he wanted in the first place, really. He died in 13 BC.

* His father and grandfather have the same name and also were significant in Roman Politics, so if you're looking for information about them, go here.

second triumvirate by evilrooster

According to William Shakespeare:

The way Lepidus is portrayed in William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra would very likely displease the man.

As the play begins Lepidus, Mark Antony and Octavius Caeser each rule one-third of the Roman Empire, together forming the second triumvirate. As in reality, Lepidus is far less powerful than the other two and plays the role of the peacemaker, coming across as a nice fellow and even a bit of a bumbling, trusting fool. He knows that if war should again break out between the other two he would be forced to take sides, eventually dooming him. In the end he is certainly no match for the ruthless Caesar who (falsely) accuses him of breaking their agreement by attacking Sicily and has him arrested. We don't learn what happens to him, and his official titles are never mentioned.

Though the character of Lepidus may not seem significant his cruel treatment by Octavius Caesar, and the ambiguity over his fate, serves once again to swing our sympathy Antony's way. We might not like Lepidus but it is impossible not to feel revulsion at the manner in which Caesar uses him and disposes of him when done.

Lepidus appears in the following scenes, all of which take place in Rome. For each, I give a brief summary of what takes place, concentrating on Lepidus' actions.

  • Act 1
    • Scene 4 - A room in Caesar's house: Lepidus protests that Caesar is too harsh in his condemnation of Antony for "the news (that) he fishes, drinks, and wastes / The lamps of night in revel", saying that "his faults (are) hereditary/Rather than purchas'd" and that he therefore cannot help himself. A messenger enters informing the pair that Pompey and some pirates are preparing to wage war against the Triumvirate; Caesar laments Antony's demise and implores him return from Egypt. Lepidus tells Caesar that he will know by the next day what forces he can muster in order to counter the new threat, asking Caeser if he will kepp him abreast of new developments. It is made clear from his first appearance that Lepidus is easily manipulated by Caesar, eager to please both he and Antony and make peace between the two.

  • Act 2
    • Scene 2 - A room in Lepidus' house: Lepidus tries to convince Enobarbus to "entreat (Antony) to soft and gentle speech", putting aside his differences with Caeser for the good of the triumvirate. This Enobarbus refuses to do, so when Antony and Caeser enter, Lepidus has no choice but to appeal to them directly. Naturally, they claim to be open to this suggestion but it is clear that their competitiveness cannot be ignored. Eventually however they discuss their problems and it is resolved that Antony shall marry Caesar's sister Octavia as insurance. Lepidus is mostly absent from this discussion and at the end Antony's special invitation to Lepidus ("Let us, Lepidus, Not lack your company") can be read as a slight, unintented perhaps, but demonstrating that he is the least influential of the three and not necessary.

    • Scene 4 - A street: Lepidus tells Maecenas and Agrippa to "trouble (them)selves no further" about the stability of the truce, wishing them well for the campaign against Pompey.

    • Scene 6 - Near Misenum: The triumvirate meets with Pompey in order to negotiate. Once again, Lepidus plays only a peripheral role with Antony and Caesar doing most of the talking. Although at first Pompey is "put to some impatience" by Antony, eventually a deal is struck - Pompey can have Sicily and Sardinia as long as he "rid(s) all the sea of pirates" and sends "measures of wheat to Rome". All praise one another, though of course the others have little to say regarding Lepidus. They retire to Pompey's yacht to celebrate the truce.

    • Scene 7 - On board Pompey's galley off Misenum: The servants remark that there will be trouble for the alliance, and also that Lepidus appears "high colored" - intoxicated. Hilarity ensues, with Antony making a fool of the drunken Lepidus who ends up passing out and being carried off. Meanwhile, we see how Antony is at home is such hedonistic surrounds, in contrast to Caesar who is unwilling to let his guard down. Menas offers to kill the others for Pompey, but he, a man of honour, refuses - Menas leaves in a huff.

  • Act 3
    • Scene 2 - A room in Caesar's house: Agrippa and Enobarbus take the piss out of Lepidus for being sycophantic and basically useless, mocking his praise of Caesar and Antony who enter with Lepidus and Octavia in tow. Caesar delares his love for his sister and makes veiled threats towards Antony, who states that Caesar should have no cause for concern. Lepidus is silent but for his wishing the couple good luck, declaring that Octavia's beauty and the light of stars shall bless their union. This is a wildly optimistic statement which reveals that Lepidus either has no idea what is going on and/or is anxiously hoping for the best.

      This is Lepidus' last appearance - next we hear of him Caesar has broken their treaty, falsely accusing him of treason ("Lepidus was grown too cruel"), and imprisoned him. We assume he does not fare well.

Someone should node Lepidus according to Plutarch.
Marcus Aemilius Lepidus' role in Roman history is rather ambiguous. His actions are similarly obscure, as we are torn between historian's accounts and the almost unlimited amount of propaganda that was produced by Octavian and Antonius at this time. One thing, however, we can be sure of is that any allusion that Lepidus was a Republican, or any more of an oppurtunist than your average Roman, is simply not true.

From the Autocrat's perspective, Lepidus was a good guy, a bono homo. Indeed, Lepidus had goals that were with self interest in mind, but all good Romans did. Lepidus lived a relatively quiet life, and his career began reaching its peak in 49 B.C. with his appointment as governor of Narbonese Gaul. Later with his governorship of Hither Spain and his appointment as Dominus Equites (Master of the Horses), his career was about as good as it would get. He was unswervingly loyal to Caesar and truly belived in his ideals, but he was not advocative of this. Lepidus saw it fit to prove his loyalty by simply remaining silent and doing as he was told.

With Caesar's death in 44 B.C. Lepidus seemingly went behind his back to join Brutus and Cassius, with the promise of appointment as Pontifus Maximus. Yet this is not the case; Lepidus was still an Authoritarian through and through, and rather than simply allowing the situation to be wasted he exploited it, manipulating the two Republicans. Thus he had risen in station, and when Antonius seized control of the Rome he wasted no time in declaring his allegiance. This was oppurtunism, not betrayal - he remained an Autocrat.

Skipping over the next few years of war with the Republicans and the formation of the Second Triumvirate, Lepidus now controlled all of Spain and Narbonese Gaul, but after the Treaty of Misenium in 37 B.C. Lepidus was unoficcially relocated to Africa. Now the last stand against Autocracy in Rome was Sextus Pompeius, and Octavian requested Lepidus' aid in the war. Lepidus' legions landed on Sicily in 36 B.C., and they remained there until the end of the war in 33 B.C. They were invaluable in conquering Sicily, and Lepidus felt he deserved something for his hard work, and he therefore refused to leave Sicily and demanded governorship of it. His intention was not to sieze it, but simply to gain political control over it. Although, as his legions had already been stationed there for three years, they were weary and they defected to Octavian.

Lepidus was expelled from the Triumvirate and stripped of all his commands, under the accusation that he was collaborating with Sextus. This was not true, but Lepidus went without a fight. They were leniant on him, however, and they confirmed him as governor of Africa and allowed him to keep Pontifus Maximus. Lepidus now spent the rest of his life living off his accumulated wealth over the years, a life of quiet luxury in Africa. He stayed loyal to the Autocrats, and swore allegiance to Octavian when he ascended to power. Lepidus died in Africa, 13 B.C.

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