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 http://samuelrunge.com/2013/07/13/sullas-shadow-the-proscriptions-and-the-defining-of-a-generation/ or http://samuelrunge.com/2016/02/10/the-life-of-saint-brutus-patron-saint-of-credulity-and-public-speaking/.
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.