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Tiberius Sempronius, the father of the Gracchi, married Cornelia, daughter of Scipio Africanus the Elder. He died while his sons were young, having twice filled the office of consul, and, according to Plutarch, obtained two triumphs. He was censor in B.C. 169. As a soldier he carried on war with distinction against the Celtiberi in Spain (B.C. 181) and the Sardinians (177 B.C.). He had twelve children by Cornelia. After the death of her husband, Cornelia refused all offers of marriage, and devoted herself to the charge and education of her children, who, as Plutarch tells us, were less the inheritors of manly virtue by being sprung from the noblest blood in Rome than they were its possessors from the careful nurture of their mother Cornelia (Gracch.).


Tiberius, elder son of the preceding, was born B.C. 163. Tiberius served his first campaign in Africa under his uncle Scipio, and having obtained the office of consul's quaestor, we find him next under Mancinus, the unfortunate commander in the Numantine War. His name, which the Numantines respected from remembering his father's virtues, is said to have procured the terms under which Mancinus obtained safety for his army; but the Senate, on his return, was so much displeased at the unfavourable nature of these conditions that it resolved on giving up all the principal officers to the Numantines. By the good-will, however, of the popular assembly, influenced, as it would seem, by the soldiers and their connections in the lower classes, it was decided to send Mancinus as the real criminal, and to spare the other officers for the sake of Gracchus. Treatment of this nature was likely to rouse Gracchus against the Senate, and make him the friend of the poor; and accordingly, in three years afterwards, we find him beginning his short career as a political agitator. He was elected tribune of the people B.C. 128, and immediately began to attempt the revival of the Licinian Rogations. (See Agrariae Leges; Rogationes Liciniae.) In so doing he appears to have had in view the two grand principles which that law involved—namely, the employment of freemen in preference to slaves in cultivating the soil, and especially the more generally recognized principle of the equitable division of the public land. Three commissioners were appointed to superintend the working of the new law which Gracchus had proposed, if Plutarch may be trusted, with the approval of some of the most eminent persons of the times, among whom were Mucius Scaevola and Crassus the orator. Such general interest was excited by the question, that crowds arrived from all parts of the country to support either side; and there appeared no doubt which way the matter would go when left to the tribes. The aristocracy, however, secured the veto of M. Octavius, one of the tribunes, and thereby quashed the proceedings whenever the law was brought on, which violent mode of opposition led Gracchus to exercise his veto on other questions, stop the supplies, and throw the government into the most complete helplessness.

Thus far the contest had been constitutional; but now, Gracchus, irritated by continual opposition, invited Octavius to propose his [Gracchus's] ejection from the office of tribune; and on his refusal, pleading the utter uselessness of two men so different in sentiment holding the same office, he put the question to the tribes that Octavius be ejected. When the first seventeen out of the thirty-five tribes had voted for it, Gracchus again implored him to resign; and, on his entreaty proving unsuccessful, polled another tribe, constituting a majority, and sent his officers to drag Octavius from the tribune's chair. The Agrarian Law was forthwith passed; and Gracchus himself, his brother Caius, and his father-in-law Appius Claudius, were appointed the commissioners. But the Senate, to show their opinion of the whole proceeding, withheld from him the usual allowance for a public officer. While things were in this state, Attalus, king of Pergamus, bequeathed his kingdom and treasures to the Roman people; and, to enhance his own popularity, Gracchus proposed to divide the treasure among the recipients of land under the new law, to enable them to stock their farms, and to commit the management of the kingdom of Pergamus to the popular assembly. This brought matters to a greater pitch of distrust than ever. Gracchus was accused by one senator of aspiring to tyranny, and by another of having violated the sanctity of the tribunitian office in deposing Octavius. On this point Gracchus strove to justify himself before the people, but his opponent seemed to have gained an advantage so great as to induce him to postpone the assembly. When at last he did make his defence, it rested, if Plutarch is correct, on false analogies, and on avoiding the question of the inviolability of a public officer. At this juncture Gracchus seems to have trembled for that popularity which alone preserved him from impeachment; and, lest it should fail, endeavoured to secure his own reëlection to the office of tribune. The other party had demurred as to his eligibility to the office two years in succession, and on the day of election this point occupied the assembly till nightfall. Next morning, accompanied by a crowd of partisans, he went to the Capitol; and, on hearing that the Senate had determined to oppose him by force, armed his followers with staves, and prepared to clear the Capitol. At this juncture, Publius Scipio Nasica, having in vain called on the consul to take measures for the safety of the State, issued from the Temple of Faith, where the Senate had assembled, followed by the whole nobility of Rome. He put the mob to flight, seized their weapons, and attacked all who fell in his way. About three hundred perished, and among the slain was Gracchus, who was killed by repeated blows on the head, B.C. 133 (Tib. Gracch.). See Mommsen, Hist. of Rome, vol. ii. pp. 92-126 (American ed. 1888).


Gaius, was nine years younger than his brother Tiberius, and at his death was left with Appius Claudius as commissioner for carrying out the Agrarian Law. By the death of Appius, and of Tiberius's successor, Licinius Crassus, the agrarian commission consisted of Fulvius Flaccus, Papirius Carbo, and himself; but he refrained from taking any part in public affairs for more than ten years after the death of Tiberius. During this time the provisions of his brother's law were carried out by Carbo and Flaccus; but Gaius does not seem to have begun his career as an independent political leader until the year B.C. 123, when, on his return from Sardinia, where he had been for two years, he was elected tribune of the people. His first act was to propose two laws, one of which, directed against the degraded tribune Octavius, disqualified all who had been thus degraded from holding any magistracy; and the other, having in view Pompilius, a prominent opponent of the popular party, denounced the banishment of a Roman citizen without trial as a violation of the Roman laws. The first was never carried through; to the latter was added a third, by which Pompilius was banished from Italy, or, according to technical phraseology, interdicted from fire and water. These measures were followed by others, by which he aimed at establishing his own popularity. One of them was a poor-law, by which a monthly distribution of corn was made to the people at an almost nominal price. (See Frumentariae Leges.) The effect of this law was to make the population of Rome paupers, and to attract all Italy to partake of the bounty. Next came organic changes, as they would now be called; and of these the most important was the transference of the judicial power from the senators, wholly or in part, to the equestrian order. This measure, according to Cicero, worked well; but, in weighing his opinion, we must remember his partiality for the equites, and add to this the fact that his eulogies occur in an advocate's speech (In Verr. Act. i.).

Gracchus now possessed unlimited power with the populace; and, at the end of the year, not more than ten candidates for the office of tribune having appeared, he was again elected. His second tribuneship was mostly employed in passing laws respecting the colonies, in which matter the aristocratic agent, Livius Drusus, outdid him; and, having won the confidence of the people by his apparent disinterestedness, ventured (being himself a tribune) to interpose his veto to one of Gracchus's measures. The appointment of Gracchus, soon after, to the office of commissioner for planting a colony near Carthage removed him from the scenes of his popularity; and, soon after his return, a proposal was made to repeal the very law which he had been engaged in carrying out, relative to the colony in Africa. This law was not his own measure, but that of one Rubrius, another of the tribunes, and was one of those enactments which had alienated from Gracchus the favour of the people, it having been represented by his opponents as an impious act to build again the walls of Carthage, which Scipio had solemnly devoted to perpetual desolation. Gracchus was now a private person, his second tribuneship having expired; but yet, as such, he opposed the proposition to repeal, and, unfortunately for himself, united with M. Fulvins Flaccus, one of the commissioners of the Agrarian Law, and a man whose character was respected by no party in the Republic. The reputation of Gracchus had already suffered from his connection with Fulvius; and now he took part with him in designs which could be considered as nothing less than treasonable. Charging the Senate with spreading false reports, in order to alarm the religious scruples of the people, the two popular leaders assembled a numerous body of their partisans armed with daggers, and, being thus prepared for violence, they proceeded to the Capitol, where the people were to meet in order to decide on the repeal of the law of Rubrius. Here, before the business of the day was yet begun, a private citizen, who happened to be engaged in offering a sacrifice, was murdered by the partisans of Fulvius and Gracchus for some words or gestures which they regarded as insulting. This outrage excited a general alarm; the assembly broke up in consternation; and the popular leaders, after trying in vain to gain a hearing from the people, while they disclaimed the violence committed by their followers, had no other course left than to withdraw to their own homes. There they concerted plans of resistance, which were considered by the people as an open rebellion against the government of the country. The consul Opimius, exaggerating, perhaps, the alarm which he felt from the late outrage, hastily summoned the Senate together; the body of the murdered man was exposed to the view of the people, and the Capitol was secured at break of day with an armed force. The Senate, being informed by Opimius of the state of affairs, proceeded to invest him with absolute power to act in defence of the commonwealth, in the usual form of a resolution, “that the consul should provide for the safety of the Republic.” At the same time Gracchus and Fulvius were summoned to appear before the Senate to answer for the murder laid to their charge. Instead of obeying, they occupied the Aventine Hill with a body of their partisans in arms, and invited the slaves to join them, promising them their freedom. Opimius, followed by the senators and the members of the equestrian order, who, with their dependants, had armed themselves by his directions, and accompanied by a body of regular soldiers, advanced against the rebels, who had made two fruitless attempts at negotiation, by sending to the consul the son of Fulvius. In the meantime the conduct of Gaius Gracchus was that of a man irresolute in the course which he pursued, and with too much regard for his country to engage heartily in the criminal attempt into which he had suffered himself to be drawn. He had left his house, it is said, in his ordinary dress; he had already urged upon Fulvius to propose the terms of a compromise to the Senate; and now, when the Aventine was attacked, he took personally no part in the action. The contest, indeed, was soon over. The rebels were presently dispersed. Fulvius was dragged from the place to which he had fled for refuge, and was put to death; while Gracchus, finding himself closely pursued, fled across the Tiber, and, taking shelter in a grove sacred to the goddess Furrina, was killed, at his own desire, by a servant who had accompanied his flight. His head, together with that of Fulvius, was cut off and carried to the consul, in order to obtain the price which had been set upon both by a proclamation issued at the beginning of the conflict; and the bodies, as well as those of all who had perished on the same side, were thrown into the Tiber. In addition to this, the houses of Gracchus and Fulvius were given up to plunder, their property was confiscated, and even the wife of Gracchus was deprived of her dowry. It is said that in this sedition there perished altogether of the partisans of the popular leaders about 3000, partly in the action and partly by summary executions afterwards, under the consul's orders.

There is little doubt that Gracchus aimed at monarchical power, but many writers, among them Mommsen, justify his purpose on the plea that an absolute monarchy is a less evil than an absolute oligarchy such as that which existed at Rome in the second century B.C. See Mommsen, Hist. of Rome, vol. ii. pp. 127-160 (American ed. 1888).


Sempronius, a Roman nobleman, banished to Cercina, an island off the coast of Africa, for his adulterous intercourse with Iulia, the daughter of Augustus. After an exile of fourteen years, he was put to death by a party of soldiers sent for that purpose by Tiberius (Tac. Ann. i. 53).

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