I dub this rant/series of related musings my pro-lepidus, it’s my third best pro piece……the one everyone forgets…….
So……..Marcus Aemilius Lepidus the triumvir I’ve thought for quite a while now that he gets a bad rap as he’s usually portrayed as the guy who’s just thier to make up the numbers (I mean otherwise you get I diumvirate and that’s just silly). You know because it needed to be a triumvirate…..only why? why did it need to be a triumvirate? because of the so-called first triumvirate? but the first triumvirate wasn’t a formal power-sharing alliance at all and it certainly wasn’t what it’s members called themselves nor how thier allies refferred to them. Thiers no symbolic or institutional reason why their need be 3 members. Which brings us to common reason given number 2: That Lepidus was put in as a third-party to counterbalance Antony and Octavian to prevent the two from going to war and resolve disputes, sort of like the role many imagine Crassus and Julia played between Pompey and Caesar to prevent civil war only people who say this tend to make him more like Julia than Crassus by maintaining that he of course had no power. But unless I’m mistaken Lepidus was neither the daughter, sister or wife of either man (that would certainly raise it’s own questions). His role was not familial or emotive and I don’t think anyone has seriusly argued that it was. Crassus was believed to be a potential peace keeper because he was a third powerful man that the others had to watch so they couldn’t afford to tie thier resources military or political up fighting each other because he could take advantage or so goes the logic. If Lepidus is a Crassus however he would much like Crassus need serious power and standing of his own to fulfill this role, not as much as his fellow triumvirs necesarily but enough to be a threat to one if he attempted to marginalize him.

In the end I suppose what it comes down too as to why Lepidus was chosen as triumvir is people are ignoring the obvious answer: because he was probably the third most important Caesarean and certainly one of the inner circle of faction power brokers but this answer goes unconsidered because it contradicts the assumption underlying the question. People don’t wonder why Octavian or Antony were triumvirs but they wonder about Lepidus (breifly that is, before they forget about him again), people ask the question because they assume lepidus didn’t matter and so their confused and answers have been based on that same assumption instead of questioning it.
Yes Lepidus was left behind for Phillipi but he was left behind to take care of ITALY and ROME and by extension much or all of the western med, this is not a position you give to a nobody, certainly no-one seems to use Antony being left to run Italy in Caesar’s abscence as an argument of Antony’s lack of importance, after Phillipi he was given control of Spain and Africa, hardly inconsequential territories and he was also the pontifex maximus. So why the assumption? Well I think it starts with the Romans and Greeks themselves, people innately like to think in binary, of opposites and dualities which to a lesser extent affects Crassus as well. A third party muddies the narrative particularly if thier not distinctive (and lepidus doesn’t seem to have been that) and his sidelining during the latter years of the triumvirate becomes retrospective in people’s perceptions of him.

He wasn’t at Phillipi, Cicero didn’t write a series of famous speeches against him and he didn’t make it to the final act, and when he goes out it’s with a whimper not a bang (though Antony doesn’t exactly go out in a blaze of glory either at least their’s a battle and a doomed romance and he dies), his army defects to Octavian without a battle and he is put under house arrest for the rest of his life. Lepidus basically gets outmaneuvered with contemptous ease and basically goes into a forced retirement, kinda underwhelming isn’t it. His career is also very peaceful, he didn’t fight a single battle as far as I’m aware against either of his triumviral partners or anyone else for that matter be it Sextus Pompey (late to the party) or Brutus and Cassius (he and Brutus’s fathers had died the two principal leaders in a breif civil war and he was married to his sister and his brother had joined the rebels (he had agreed to his brothrers proscription but hey water under the bridge) he may have chosen/been chosen to stay behind due to sympathy for his opponents) and there’s also no Parthian campaign or Italian land redistribution that he’s responsible for, things are peaceful and all the exciting, dramatic and important stuff the other guys are doing but thats not necesarily a sign of political unimportance at all and can even be a sign of the opposite (guys at the top of the political ladder often don’t have to do the hard and/or dirty work themselves, a true mark of political success is to have prestige, power and wealth without actually having to do anything, a parasite, a politician).
At the end of the day though he’s just not Caesar’s son or Caesar’s right hand man, the great general and man of action the hard partying Mark Antony. But thats the thing at the time of Caesar’s death Mark Antony may have been his co-consul but Lepidus was his master of the horse, which actually outranks consul. Indeed there’s little to suggest Antony’s seniority over Lepidus or for that matter some of Caesar’s other lieutenants, yes he was Caesar’s co-consul when he died but Caesar had both granted the consulship to other men (including Lepidus) and had other co-consul’s. Antony’s initial slight (and it was slight) pre-eminence after his death had to do with him happening to be consul when Caesar died, which unless Caesar planned to be assasinated that year (people have actually argued for it….weird…..) doesn’t really make Antony special.

We are so used to the idea of Antony as Caesar’s right hand man and best freind that the symbolism of lieutenant and old retainer has become monopolised by Antony leaving only room for the upstart son Octavian. Caesar’s other lieutenants including but not limited to Lepidus are forgotten due to the fame of a man who Lepidus kinda outranked, barely served in the Gallic wars (isn’t mentioned by name in Caesar’s commentaries of said war) and doesn’t appear in his will (I don’t think Lepidus does either but you see my point). Antony would be very pleased by this, scholars I think are so busy looking for Augustus’s propaganda (which also would not be kind to the third man) that their blind to Antony’s, just because a man lost in the end doesn’t mean his branding didn’t have a serious impact, if you doubt me see Cato the younger and Brutus’s treatment in our sources or just take a look at  or

None of this is to imply that even after reading between the lines so to speak does Lepidus come across as an impressive and dynamic figure. I came to argue for Lepidus relevance (and to take potshots at Antony) not to praise him.

Regards, Samuel.

Damned by faint praise! I knew I should have hired Cicero instead!
Damned by faint praise! I knew I should have hired Cicero instead!

Adrianople, Amalasuntha and never letting the facts get in the way of the truth.

On the 9th of August 378AD (at least according to wiki) the East Roman emperor Valens lead an army of around 20,000 (estimates range both higher and lower according to wiki) to a crushing defeat at the hands of a Gothic force, the emperor himself dying during the battle’s course or in it’s immediate aftermath at the hands of said foe, the first ever emperor to die in battle against a non-Roman force. For this reason among others Adrianople was a disaster on a practically unprecedented scale for the empire, one from which it would never recover, one that presaged it’s doom. Adrianople was the turning point, how could it not be with it’s tale of hubris, corruption, mistreatment of refugees and the stunning first ever battlefield death of a Roman emperor at the hands of barbarians?

Of course it was not the East Roman Empire whose fall was presaged but it’s western counterpart, who had lost no soldiers, much less an emperor in this fight, nor did that final fall take place for more than another 80 years…………Nor was Valens the first emperor to fall in battle with Goths, he was the 2nd…….and probably the 4th to be killed in battle with non-Romans, and then there was the one that got captured by the Persians and lived the remainder of his life in captivity……….

Furtheremore the 20,000 or so (upper estimates) Roman casualties, while significant was not exactly an exceptionally large figure for a Roman defeat in pitched battle, Carrhae and Edessa were much larger defeats and Cannae and Aurasio positively dwarf it in terms of casualties.

But these are merely facts, easily forgotten. But the truth endures and the truth is that at the battle of Adrianople the death knell of the western Roman empire was sound with the defeat and death of the first Roman emperor to die in battle (with non-Romans) as just punishment for the empire’s ungenerous migration policy………….And that Justinian, East Roman/Byzantine emperor during the 6th century invaded Ostrogothic Italy to put queen Amalasuntha back on the throne.

That queen Amalasuntha was dead before the invasian had begun and that said death was used as a pretext by Justinian to commence said invasians would seem to be one of those pesky facts, but as I just told you the TRUTH this paragraph is pretty much redundant.

But to return to the matter of the first Truth: The emperor Decius was defeated in battle by Goths at the battle of Arbrittus during Rome’s third century crisis (so-called because it was a period of political instability or…..crisis that occurred during the 3rd century, crazy right?) and killed in the fighting, next up we have Gordian the so-called 3rd who according to Persian sources was killed in battle with the Persian army and according to some Roman sources who were hostile to his succesor he was murdered by his succesor (Emperor Phillip “the arab”). Both traditions have an obvious vested interest and historians tend to go with the Phillip did it tradition but I believe the Persian account to be considerably more likely.

Next up we have Julian “the apostate” who was emperor less than 2 years before Valens. So his death wasn’t exactly ancient history to emperor Valens. Julian died from a wound inflicted by a javelin while fighting in a heated skirmish with Persian forces and thier are two traditions as to who threw said javelin. The first funnily enough is that it was thrown by a Persian soldier, you know the people he was fighting at that exact moment but the second is that it was a christian soldier in Julian’s army angered by the pagan emperor’s hostile policies to said faith. Julian’s death is famous among late antique scholars (if that is not a tautology…..), and occured not long before the reign of Valens at all. Furtheremore the concensus seems to veer overwhelmingly in favour of the first tradition and justifiably so, unlike with Gordian III we seem content to give this one to the persians.

And yet…….the truth of Valens being the first emperor to meet such an end endures in spite of the preceding examples, none of which I should add are obscure among students and scholars of the middle and late Roman empire and while clashing traditions grant serious leeway with Gordian and a little (though not much) with the famous Julian there’s still Decius and as far as I’m aware the circumstances of his death are uncontested and is chiefly remembered for 2 things: A persecution of Christians AND FOR BEING THE FIRST ROMAN EMPEROR TO FALL IN BATTLE WITH BARBARIANS.

Despite this in the last year of my undergraduate degree I attended a lecture given by an extremely knowledgeable late antique scholar that if I recall correctly claimed just that and it got me thinking. Thing is I’m fairly confidant that wasn’t the first time I’d heard someone who would obviously be aware of Decius (and Julian) at the least say that. And I’m quite certain I’ve seen qualified scholars do the same on documentaries not just pop historians and narrators. In fact I’m fairly confidant I’ve said it and thought it long after hearing of some of the above examples myeself. So this can not be merely a matter of genuine ignorance.

But the truth is a powerful thing. We had all likely heard this detail repeated to us so often that when it comes time to talk of the significance of Adrianope dear old decius death is simply forgotten. Due to the power of Ammianus Marcellinus- our principal source for the battle and a figure many scholars hold in borderline reverence the prominence given to Adrianople is near assured, subsequently Adrianople would play a key role in the narrative of the barbarization of the Roman army and thier loss of control of immigration policy, which in these narratives is the key to West Rome’s subsequent fall. Adrianople was at one time seen as the turning point in military history that lead to the dominance of cavalry over infantry in the medieval era to come and now it is heavily utilized as a cautionary moralising tale about the dangers of racisim and harsh immigration policies, if only Rome had been kind to these Gothic refugees and embraced them this would not have happened, sound familiar? And somewhere in there the notion that Valens was the first emperor to die in battle with barbarians is given birth and takes root. For it’s symbolic value to whatever significance you wish to give Adrianople is too potent to be ignored and so is internalized and repeated frequently without question.

Thier are of course as hinted other issues with traditional or common views of the overhyped defeat at Adrianople, for one it’s difficult to see how a tale of refugees, many of whom entered the empire “illegally” and certainly against the wishes of the Roman government turning on their new government, killing it’s head of state, extorting privileges through violence and playing a key role in the West Roman empire’s decline & fall is an obvious morality tale in openness, cultural tolerance and why it’s silly to fear immigrants and refugees….so you know here’s a story about them destroying civilisation…….but from here I would like to move on to a more sinister case of not letting facts get in the way of the truth: the aforementioned matter of Amalasuntha and the small matter of her being dead.

Gothic immigrants: taking our jobs and taking our statues, but apparently not our clothes.......
Gothic immigrants: taking our jobs and taking our statues, but apparently not our clothes…….

The same proffesor previusly mentioned (this is going to come across as quite damning but despite our differences this is a man I deeply respect) during the same course as before in a tutorial claimed that as with Justinian’s invasian of the vandal kingdom in North Africa his invasian of Ostrogothic Italy was launched to effect regime change in the monarchy in question (granted the hereditary principle proved to be somewhat de facto and limited with the Ostrogoths in particular), namely the restoration to power of the deposed queen Amulasuntha. I was taken aback by this assertion and raised my hand, the proffesor allowed me to speak and I said words to the effect of “but Amalasuntha was dead”, the proffesor acknowledged that as a fact and said by way of explanation basically that he didn’t want to confuse the other students with extraneous detail. Wow. let’s not let little details like Amalusuntha’s death before the invasian had begun get in the way of the theory that said invasian was launched to put her back on the throne.

I mean props for commitment to the goth aesthetic, having a corpse queen and all but I think there may be issues with practicality there. I was so taken aback by this response that I had no idea what to say (and besides was reliant as ever on forbearence with extensions for passing……I’m not a good student….) and so trusting that I had sufficiently confused the narrative by that statement alone let the matter drop (the person I was queen-of-the-deadwhen I first got to university for better or worse would have been less likely to do so). To address any defences of this take in breif Amalasuntha’s assasination was known to Justinian and he used it as a pretext to start the war so there was no not knowing or pretending she was alive even from the outset. Amalasuntha’s assasination is no incidental detail, it kills this theory outright (much like Theodahad) and without assistance, that is fact.

But the truth is we don’t like big men in history, we find the notion that major actions and decisions in history are sometimes the result of ambitous and idiosyncratic plans by individuals to be naive and childish, we believe in the cautionary Iraq war parable against regime change and honestly we just don’t like Justinian very much…….and Valens was the first………and so we have the truth: Valens was the first emperor to die in battle and Justinian was George W. Bush if he had tried to replace the taliban with the charred corpse of Ahmad Shah Massoud.


Still…..might have been an improvement on Karzai.

Pointing dude: "This man can't be pope he's dead!" Guy behind stand: *scoffs* "a minor detail!"
Pointing dude: “This man can’t be pope he’s dead!”
Guy behind stand: *scoffs* “a minor detail!”



newsflash: states aren’t people

Read an article a while back that referred to states having “natural life cycles” yes all political institutions have a beginning, middle and end and I’m sure there’s an average length of time for a state to exist but then when dealing with any finite duration there is always a begining, middle and end but this talk of life cycles or natural cycles usually implies some kind of inevitable in-built use by date and average. many states don’t survive for a century, fewer still make 500 years, a select few like Rome, which is used in said article as an example of state’s having such a cycle manage to endure for more than a millenium. If states were people and the average life expectancy was say 80, Rome would probably shuffle off it’s mortal coil long after it’s 400th birthday, I shouldn’t have to tell you that thats not how people work. You may think I’m taking this too literally and quite likely for the reference that triggered this rant I am but many people seriously believe that there is some kind of consistent and anthropomorphic lifecycle for states and institutions, probably with a midlife crisis in there somewhere where they buy a motorcycle/invade Persia…..ok maybe that part happens……

FYI: They don’t work like F*cking seasons or days either.

Triumphal arch of Septimius Severus: "See I told you Rome's still got it. up yours Alexander!"
Triumphal arch of Septimius Severus. “See I told you Rome’s still got it. up yours Alexander!”