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Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (120 BC – 77 BC) was a Roman statesman. After the death of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, he attempted to undermine the Sullan constitution and revive the populares faction.[1] This brought him into conflict with the optimates whom Sulla had put back in power.[2] In 77 BC when he was recalled from his proconsulship of Gaul he returned to Rome at the head of an army and an armed conflict erupted. Lepidus' forces were defeated and as a result his rebellion failed. He was the father of the triumvir Marcus Aemilius Lepidus and of one of the consuls for 50 BC Lucius Aemilius Lepidus Paullus.


Earlier careerEdit

During the Social War Lepidus fought in northern Italy under Gnaeus Pompeius Strabo, who was consul in 89 BC. He was probably aedile while Sulla was in Greece fighting the First Mithridatic War.[3] In 82 BC, during Sulla's second civil war, he fought for Sulla. He captured Norba, in Latium, which had sided with Sulla's enemies, the Marians. Appian wrote that after a long resistance, he was let in the town by treachery. This usually happened when a town could no longer endure a siege. Angered by the betrayal, some inhabitants killed themselves and some set fire to the town.[4]

Lepidus was the first governor of Sicily under Sulla’s regime. This was probably in 81 BC. We do not have any information about what he did when he was there. He had family ties to this province. Two members of his family had been governors in Sicily in 218 BC and 191 BC respectively.[5] Cicero wrote that he had not committed fraud in regard to the grain supply.[6]

Pliny the Elder noted that Lepidus divorced his wife Appuleia.[7] We do not know when this happened. She was related to Lucius Appuleius Saturninus. He enriched himself during Sulla's proscriptions.[3] Pliny the Elder thought that he had the most beautiful house in Rome, with marble thresholds and shields with the battle scenes of Troy.[8]


Lepidus was elected consul for the year 78 BC. According to Plutarch, this was with the support of Pompey, who canvassed for him against the wishes of Sulla, who did not trust Lepidus. When Sulla died in the same year, he tried to stop his burial and the public burial honours. Pompey intervened and ensured that the burial and honours went ahead. Lepidus gathered the remnants of the weakened Marian faction, who had fought civil wars against Sulla (see Sulla's first civil war and Sulla's second civil war) and who had escaped the executions Sulla had ordered when he persecuted them.[9]

In Florus' account, Lepidus also wanted to repeal Sulla's acts. Florus thought that this would have been fair if he had done this without destabilising Rome. However, in his opinion, he did not because he recalled the survivors of Sulla's enemies which, he felt, he did for no other purpose than for a war. He also wanted to return the estates which had been confiscated from the men Sulla had executed and sold to private individuals (the proscriptions). Such a demand would destabilise Rome.[10] Presumably the men who bought the confiscated property would resist such a measure.

Granius Licinianus wrote that Lepidus passed a corn law without opposition (it provided a corn allowance of five modii for the people) and made many other promises: to recall the exiles, to rescind the acts of Sulla, and to restore to its owners the land which had been used for military colonies. However, he refused to restore the power of the plebeian tribunes which had been curbed by Sulla's laws (see article on Sulla).[11] With regard to the land, before retiring form political life in 79 BC, Sulla confiscated land from the locals in Campania and Etruria to grant allotments to his veterans who then established a colony (a Roman settlement outside Roman territory). Appian was also referring to this when he wrote that Lepidus, wanted to restore the land which Sulla had taken from the Italians to gain their favour.[12] The colony Sulla established in Etruria was at Faesulae.[13]

Something Julius Exsuperantius wrote suggests that Lepidus probably wanted to restore the land confiscated both from the Italians and with the proscriptions. He wrote that "Lepidus gathered together the dispossessed, whose land had been taken over by Sulla after his victory to make new colonies for his soldiers, and also the children of the proscribed. In this way he collected a large army ..." He also wrote that Lepidus "also made himself popular with the common people, as the defender of the people's freedom, by bestowing many gifts on them, both publicly and individually."[14]

In one of the fragments of the work of Sallust which have survived, he wrote that there were suspicions that Lepidus was stirring Etruria to revolt and in another passage he mentioned a Tuscan (Etruscan) conspiracy.[15] In the following year there were disturbances in Etruria. Licinianus wrote: "The inhabitants of Faesulae broke into the strongholds of the veterans. After killing many of the veterans and reclaiming their land, they defended their actions before the senate on the grounds that the rural population had been forced to do this after being driven from their homes. [11] In highly rhetorical passages, Sallust wrote that in Etruria there were smouldering fires of war and mentioned pillaging and burning.[16]

In Plutarch's account, Lepidus was opposed by his fellow consul, Quintus Lutatius Catulus, who was supported by the Roman senate (in the civil wars Sulla had been a supporter of the senatorial aristocracy against the Marians who espoused the cause of the common people). He wrote that Catulus was more suited to "political than military leadership" and, thus, Pompey (Lepidus old benefactor) had to make a decision about who he would support. He sided with the aristocracy and was appointed as a commander of an army to confront Lepidus. Lepidus had mobilised support in a large part of Italy and sent Brutus to hold Gallia Cisalpina with an army.[17]

Appian wrote that there was a conflict between the two consuls and their two factions (the Sullans and the Marians), and that the senate was afraid of both factions. It got them to swear that they would not let their differences escalate to the point of war. Lepidus realised that in the following year his oath not to make war on the Sullans would no longer be valid because it was considered that it was binding only during the term of office (which lasted only one year). Lepidus was allotted the military command of the province of Gallia Transalpina.[12]


In Plutarch's account, Pompey undertook a long siege of Brutus in Mutina.[18] Brutus eventually surrendered. Plutarch wrote that it was not known whether Brutus betrayed his army or whether his army betrayed him and switched allegiance. However, a few sentences later he wrote that it was his army which switched sides. Brutus received a cavalry escort and withdrew to Regium Lepidi, a small town by the River Po, where he started to whip up further support for Lepidus. The next day Pompey sent Geminius to kill Brutus. Pompey was criticised because when the enemy surrendered he wrote to the senate that Brutus had surrendered to him of his own accord. Then he sent another letter “denouncing the man after he had been put to death.” Meanwhile Lepidus went to Rome to demand a second consulship, “terrifying the citizens with a vast throng of followers.” However, at that moment Pompey’s letter which announced that he had brought the war to an end arrived. Lepidus was expelled from Italy and went to Sardinia. He fell ill and “died of despondency, which was due, as we are told, not to the loss of his cause, but to his coming accidentally upon a writing from which he discovered that his wife was an adulteress.”[17] The Brutus in question was Marcus Junius Brutus the Elder, the father of Marcus Junius Brutus the Younger, one of the leaders of the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar.

In Appian's account there is no mention of Brutus, Pompey and Gaul. He wrote that Lepidus decided to bring his army to Rome because he knew why he had been recalled, namely to be stripped of his military command. He was prevented from entering Rome, so he prepared his army for battle. There was a battle with Catulus near Campus Martius. Lepidus was defeated and went to Sardinia, "where he died of a wasting disease."[12]

In Florus' account, which has survived only in fragments, after having destabilised the city when he was a consul, Lepidus went to Etruria, gathered an army and marched on Rome. However, Catulus and Pompey had already occupied the Milvian bridge and the Janiculum Hill. Lepidus was defeated in a battle at the Milvian bridge[19] and then declared an enemy of the senate. He fled to Etruria. He then retired to Sardinia, "where he died of disease and sorrow of mind."[10] In an entry in the chronological tables of St. Jerome Hieronymus, it is stated that Lepidus was declared a public enemy.[20]

There are also accounts by Licinianus and Julius Exsuperantius which are based on information from Sallust's work which was still extant in their days but has had been lost. Their works, too, have survived only in fragments.

Licinianus wrote that after the inhabitants of Faesulae attacked the veterans in the colony and reclaimed their land (see section above), "[t]he consuls were assigned an army and set off for Etruria, as the senate instructed." He also wrote: "Lepidus ...[missing text]... into the mountains ...[missing text]... led back his army." He added: "when weapons were brought together and Catulus was not slower ...[missing text]... Where anyone seemed to be near him as he went beside the coast and the lake, he avoided the tops of the mountains."[11] The mountains Licinianus referred to must have been in Etruria. It sounds like Catulus went to Etruria to pursue Lepidus. Exsuperantius also mentioned a battle which was fought in Etruria. Neither writers mentioned any battles near Rome.

Exsuperantius wrote that a battle was fought on the coast of Etruria. Lepidus had a large force because many people had joined him as they hated Sulla's regime. He was gaining the upper hand, but Pompey arrived form Gaul and crushed his enemy. Lepidus fled to Sardinia. There he rebuilt his forces and supplies and attacked merchant ships, which disrupted the grain supplies and caused hardship in Rome. However, this was brought to an end by Triarius, the governor of Sardinia, who fought Lepidus in several battles, defended his province effectively and cut off the towns. During these operations, Lepidus then fell ill and died. Perpenna, who had joined the rebellion, went to Spain (with the remnant of the rebel forces) to avoid punishment and joined Quintus Sertorius in the Sertorian War.[21]

Asconius Pedianus and an entry in Livy's Periochae also mentioned a conflict in Sardinia. In Asconius there is a mention that Triarius fought against Lepidus in Sardinia. He drew his information from one of the speeches of Cicero.[22] In the Perochiae, Lepidus was expelled from Italy by Catulus and died in Sardinia "where he had, in vain, tried to stir up a war."[23]

The entry in Livy's Periochae also seems to indicate that it was Catulus who ended the conflict. There is no mention of Pompey. However, the Periochae was a collection of very brief summaries of the contents of Livy's works and its editor might have missed references to Pompey out. [Lucius Ampelius]] made a brief reference about this conflict in which he stated that Catulus ended the fight.[24]

It can be noted that this conflict was fought the year after the consulship of Lepidus and Catulus (the consuls were elected annually). There two men had military commands as proconsuls. There is no mention of any participation in the conflict by Decimus Junius Brutus and Mamercus Aemilius Lepidus Livianus, the consuls of that year (77BC), who also had military command. It is likely that the factional conflict that split Rome made the election of new consuls difficult. Sallust wrote that Lepidus' actions led to the interrex Appius Claudius and the proconsul Catulus to be ordered to protect the city.[25] The interrex was an official who was appointed when difficult disputes made holding elections exceedingly difficult. His task was to find solutions which made it possible to call an election. Therefore, it might be that at the beginning of this conflict Rome had no consuls and that they were elected late on during the conflict or afterwards

Pliny the Elder wrote that when Lepidus died, his body was ejected from the funeral pyre by the force of the flames and he was cremated naked on other faggots.[26]

Julius Caesar, who was a Marian and had fled Rome during Sulla's persecution, returned to Rome because of the rebellion Lepidus was planning. However, he refused to join him because the outlook was less promising that he had thought and because he did not think that Lepidus was a good leader. After Lepidus' death, Caesar used a law proposed by a certain Plotius, which he had supported, to recall his brother-in-law Lucius Cornelius Cinna, the son of Lucius Cornelius Cinna (who had been one of the leaders of the Marians when they seized power in Rome between 87 BC and 82 BC, and who was also Caesar’s father-in-law). He also had men who had taken part in Lepidus' rebellion and had fled to Sertorius in Hispania recalled.[27]


  1. ^ Philip Matyszak, Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain, pp.86-87.
  2. ^ Tom Holland, Rubicon, p.102.
  3. ^ a b Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2012
  4. ^ Appian, the Civil Wars, 1.94 [1]
  5. ^ Brennan, T.C., The Praetorship in the Roman Republic, p. 507
  6. ^ Cicero, Against Verres, 2.3.212 [2]
  7. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural History. 7.122
  8. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 35.12; 36.49,109
  9. ^ Plutarch, The Life of Pompey, 15-16 [3]
  10. ^ a b Florus, Epitome of Roman History, 23.11 [4]
  11. ^ a b c Licinianus, History, 36 [5]
  12. ^ a b c Appian, The Civil War, 1.107
  13. ^ Cicero, Against Catiline, 3.14
  14. ^ Julius Exsuperantius, On the civil Wars of Marius, Lepidus and Sertorius, 35 [6]
  15. ^ Sallust, Fragments of History, 64, 67.5 [7]
  16. ^ Sallust, Fragments of History, 67.7, 20
  17. ^ a b Plutarch, The Life of Pompey, 16
  18. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pompey, 16; John Leach, Pompey the Great, p.42
  19. ^ Chester A. Starr, A History of the Acient World, p.527.
  20. ^ St. Jerome Hieronymus, Chronological Tables, 1940 [8]
  21. ^ Julius Exsuperantius, On the civil Wars of Marius, Lepidus and Sertorius, 38-42
  22. ^ Asconius, Five detailed descriptions of speeches of Cicero, 19 [9]
  23. ^ Livy Periochae, 90.2-3 [10]
  24. ^ Lucius Ampelius, Liber Memorialis, 19.7
  25. ^ Sallust, Fragments of History, 67.22
  26. ^ Pliny the Elder, Natural History 7.186
  27. ^ Suetonius, Caesar, 3, 5 [11]


  • Appian, The civil Wars, Book 1, Kessinger Publishing, 2009; ISBN 978-1104035792
  • Asconius: Commentaries on Speeches of Cicero (Clarendon Ancient History), Oxford University Press, U.S.A., 1993; ISBN 978-0199290536
  • Florus, Epitome of Roman History (Loeb Classical Library), Loeb, 1929; ASIN: B01A6506H0
  • Granius Licinianus, Grani Liciniani Quae Supersunt (Classic Reprint)( inLatin), Forgotten Books, 2018: ISBN 978-0428903992
  • Plutarch, Parallel Lives: Agesilaus and Pompey, Pelopidas and Marcellus (Loeb Classical Library), Loeb, 1989: ISBN 978-0674990975
  • Sallust, Catiline's War, The Jugurthine War, Histories: WITH The Jugurthine War, Penguin Classics, 2007; ISBN 978-0140449488
Preceded by
Appius Claudius Pulcher and Publius Servilius Vatia
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Quintus Lutatius Catulus
78 BC
Succeeded by
Mamercus Aemilius Lepidus Livianus and Decimus Junius Brutus