Marcus Aemilius Lepidus (consul 6)
Origin and early career
Lepidus was the son of Cornelia and Lucius Aemilius Lepidus Paullus (who served as a censor) and brother-in-law to Augustus' granddaughter Julia the Younger. Thus, he was a descendant of one of the oldest patrician families, the Aemilii.
He became consul in 6 AD. He then distinguished himself as legate in charge of an army during the Illyrian War (6 – 9 AD) under the command of Tiberius, the later emperor. After the end of the war he served as governor of Dalmatia (modern day Croatia and Bosnia) or Pannonia (modern day Hungary).
At the time of Augustus' death, in 14 AD, he was governor of Northern Spain in charge of an army of three legions. Interestingly, while there were serious riots in the armies in Germany and Pannonia after Augustus' death, Lepidus army gave no trouble.
Activities during the reign of Tiberius
In 21 AD, Tiberius offered him the governorship of Africa Province. He rejected the offer, however, because of ill-health and his children, but more likely to leave the position to Quintus Junius Blaesus, uncle of Lucius Aelius Sejanus the powerful pretorian prefect. Although these episodes may seem a flattery towards the emperor Tiberius, Lepidus' activities in the senate show an independent mind. In 21 AD he made a strong speech against the death penalty for an irreverent poet. Nevertheless, the poet was executed by order of the senate: this allowed Tiberius to praise Lepidus' moderation (as well as the senate's zeal in persecuting any offence against the emperor).
Modern scholars have suggested that Marcus Lepidus also restored the Basilica Aemilia in the Roman Forum in 22 AD and served as governor of Asia in 26. Apparently, Lepidus was one of the few aristocrats obtaining high positions (including command of large armies) in this troubled time without ever being accused of plotting against the emperor. Although in 32 an important senator (Cotta Messalinus) openly attacked him because of his excessive influence in the senate, this accusation had no consequences. Lepidus died in 33 AD. Tacitus described him as "wise and noble" for his actions as a senator. According to Tacitus his actions could be taken as an example for independent aristocrats living under tyranny.
Although it is uncertain, some historians believe that he was also father to that Marcus Aemilius Lepidus who became Caligula’s lover and brother-in-law, husband to Julia Drusilla, and about whom there were rumors that Caligula had indicated him as his successor. However, the younger Lepidus was probably involved in a conspiracy in 39 AD, along with the emperor's sisters Agrippina the Younger and Julia Livilla. Whether the conspiracy was real or not, Caligula so accused him and Lepidus was executed in the same year.
- Barrett, Anthony, Caligula: the Corruption of Power, Transaction, 1989, see pp. 81-83.
- Barrett, pp. 106-107.
- Tacitus: Annals
- Syme Ronald: The Augustan Aristocracy. Oxford University Press 1986
Lucius Valerius Messalla Volesus
and Gnaeus Cornelius Cinna Magnus
|Consul of the Roman Empire
with Lucius Arruntius the Younger
Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus Silanus
and Aulus Licinius Nerva Silianus