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[22] Thus Gaius Gracchus became tribune a second time. Having bought the plebeians, as it were, he began, by another like political manœuvre, to court the equestrian order, who hold the middle place between the Senate and the plebeians. He transferred the courts of justice, which had become discredited by reason of bribery, from the senators to the knights, reproaching the former especially with the recent examples of Aurelius Cotta, Salinator, and, third in the list, Manius Aquilius (the one who subdued Asia), all notorious bribe-takers, who had been acquitted by the judges, although ambassadors sent to complain against them were still present, going around uttering hateful accusations against them. The Senate was extremely ashamed of these things and yielded to the law, and the people ratified it. In this way were the courts of justice transferred from the Senate to the knights. It is said that soon after the passage of this law Gracchus remarked that he had broken the power of the Senate once for all. This saying of Gracchus has been even more confirmed by experience in the course of events. This power of sitting in judgment on all Romans and Italians, including the senators themselves, in all matters as to property, civil rights, and banishment, exalted the knights like rulers over them and put senators on the same level with subjects. Moreover, as the knights voted in the election to sustain the power of the tribunes, and obtained from them whatever they wanted in return, they became more and more formidable to the senators. So it shortly came about that the political mastery was turned upside down, the power being in the hands of the knights, and the honor only remaining
B.C. 122
with the Senate. The knights went so far that they not only held power over the senators, but they openly flouted them beyond their right. They also became addicted to bribe-taking, and having once tasted these enormous gains, they indulged in them even more basely and immoderately than the senators had done.1 They suborned accusers against the rich and did away with prosecutions for bribe-taking altogether, partly by concert of action and partly by force and violence, so that the practice of this kind of investigation became entirely obsolete. Thus the judiciary law gave rise to another struggle of factions, which lasted a long time and was not less baneful than the former ones.

1 Cicero in his first oration against Verres (xiii.) says that there was no bribery of judges while the knights held that office, but inasmuch as he was trying to shame the senators against taking Verres' money, it would not be safe to accept the statement as literally true.

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  • Cross-references to this page (3):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), JUDEX
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), LEX
    • Smith's Bio, Aqui'llius
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