previous next


7. Tib. Sempronius Gracchus, the elder son of No. 6. If Plutarch is right, that Tib. Gracchus was not thirty years old at his death, in B. C. 133, he must have been born in B. C. 164 ; but we know that he was quaestor in B. C. 137, an office which by law he could not hold till he had completed his thirty-first year, whence it would follow that he was born about five years earlier, and that at his death he was about thirty-five years old. He lost his father at an early age, but this did not prevent his inheriting his father's excellent qualities, and his illustrious mother, Cornelia, made it the object of her life to render her sons worthy of their father and of her own ancestors. It was owing to the care she bestowed upon the education of her sons, rather than to their natural talents, that they surpassed all the Roman youths of the time. She was assisted in her exertions by eminent Greeks, who exercised great influence upon the minds of the two brothers, and among whom we have especial mention of Diophanes of Mytilene, Menelaus of Marathon, and Blossius of Cumae. As the Gracchi grew up, the relation between them and their teachers gradually became one of intimate friendship, and of the highest mutual esteem and admiration. Tiberius was nine years older than his brother Caius and although they grew up under the same influence, yet their natural talents and dispositions were developed in different ways, so that their characters, though resembling each other in their main outlines, yet presented great differences. Tiberius, who was inferior to his brother in point of talent, surpassed him in the amiable traits of his gentle nature: his noble bearing, the softness of his voice, the simplicity of his demeanour, and his calm dignity, won for him the hearts of the people. His eloquence, too, formed a strong contrast with the passionate and impetuous harangues of Caius; for it was temperate, graceful, persuasive, and, proceeding as it did from the fulness of his own heart, it found a ready entrance into the hearts of his hearers. If the two brothers had been of an equal age, and could have united their efforts, their power would have been irresistible; but as it was, each had to fight single-handed, and each fell a victim to the selfishness of the oligarchy, and the faithlessness and shortsightedness of the people, whose rights they had undertaken to defend.

When Tib. Gracchus had arrived at the age of manhood, he was elected augur, and App. Claudius, who otherwise was not free from the haughtiness and selfishness so peculiar to his family, showed his esteem for Tiberius by offering him the hand of his daughter Claudia; and most historians, according to Plutarch, related, that as App. Claudius had made the engagement without his wife's consent, she exclaimed, on being informed of it, "Why in such a hurry, unless you have got Tib. Gracchus for our daughter's husband ?"

When P. Scipio Africanus the younger, who was married to a sister of the Gracchi, undertook the command against Carthage, Tib. Gracchus accompanied him, and was a witness of the fearful fall of that city. Tiberius thus received the first practical lessons in military affairs from the most illustrious general of the time, in whose tent he lived, and whose friendship lie enjoyed. The contemporary historian, Fannius, even related, that Tiberius, who surpassed all other soldiers in courage and attention to discipline, was the first among the Romans who scaled the walls of Carthage.

About ten years after his return from this expedition, B. C. 137, Tiberius was appointed quaestor, and in this capacity he accompanied the consul, C. Hostilius Mancinus, to his province of Hispania Citerior, where in a short time he gained both the affection of the Roman soldiers, and the esteem and confidence of the victorious enemy. When Mancinus, after being defeated by the Numantines, sent messengers to treat with them for a truce and terms of peace, the Spaniards, who had so often been deceived by the Romans in their negotiations, declared that they would not treat with any one except Tib. Gracchus; for the confidence they placed in him personally was heightened by the recollection of the just and fair treatment they had received from his victorious father. Tiberius accordingly was sent to Numantia, and concluded a peace with the Numantines on equitable terms. Considering the defeat which Mancinus had suffered, the terms were favourable to the Romans, and Gracchus saved by it an army of upwards of 20,000 men from utter annihilation ; but the concessions made to the Numantines were nevertheless more than the pride of the Roman senate could brook. After the conclusion of the peace, an incident occurred which gave further proof of the confidence which the Numantines placed in Tiberius. The Roman camp, and all that it contained, had fallen into the hands of the enemy; and when the army had already commenced its retreat, Tiberius discovered that the tablets containing the accounts of the money he had had to dispose of as quaestor were lost; and being anxious to recover them, that he might not be exposed to annoyances after his arrival at Rome, he returned with a few companions to Numantia. On his arrival he sent to the magistrates, and begged of them to restore him the tablets. They were delighted at the opportunity of doing him a service; they invited him to enter the city, and received him in a manner with which they would have treated their sincerest friend,--they honoured him with a public banquet, restored to him the tablets, and when he left, they gave him permission to take with him, as a remembrance, any thing he might please. But Tiberius took only some incense, which he wanted for a sacrifice.

When Mancinus and Tiberius returned to Rome, the feelings which there prevailed formed a great contrast to each other; for while the friends and relatives of the soldiers who had served in Spain were rejoiced at their safe return, and looked upon Gracchus as their saviour, the senate and the rest of the people regarded the treaty with Numantia as a disgrace to the Roman name. The odium of the treaty, however, was thrown on Mancinus alone, who of course was the only responsible person. He was tripped naked, and with his hands bound, he was delivered up to the Numantines, that the treaty might thus be annulled (B. C. 136). Tiberius, for the first time, enjoyed the admiration of the people, who rewarded his good services in the affair with affection and gratitude. P. Scipio Africanus, the brother-in-law of Gracchus, and then at the head of the aristocracy, took an active part in the proceedings against Mancinus, without attempting either to save him or to get the treaty with Numantia ratified. It would seem that even as early as this time, Scipio and the whole body of the aristocracy watched with fear and jealousy the career of Tiberius, whose popularity was gaining fresh strength every day.

But the sympathy of Tiberius with the people was excited much more by its distress than by the demonstrations of its favour. His brother Caius related in some of his works, that Tiberius, on his march to Spain, in B. C. 137, as he was passing through Etruria, observed with grief and indignation the deserted state of that fertile country ; thousands of foreign slaves in chains were employed in cultivating the land and tending the flocks upon the immense estates of the wealthy, while the poorer classes of Roman citizens, who were thus thrown out of employment, had scarcely their daily bread or a clod of earth to call their own. He is said to have been roused through that circumstance to exert himself in endeavouring to remedy this evil. C. Laelius had, before him entertained the thought of interfering, but, for want of courage, had despaired of success. Had the Licinian law, which regulated the amount of public land which a person might occupy, and the number of cattle he might keep on the public pastures, been observed, such a state of things could never have arisen. If Tiberius had wished to enforce obedience to the letter of that law, he would have acted with perfect justice, and no one could have censured him for it, but the greedy aristocracy, who had enriched themselves by the violation of the law, would have moved heaven and earth to prevent such a measure. The suite of things, moreover, had, by a long-continued neglect of the law, become so complicated, that a renewal of the Licinian law, without any modification, would have been unfair towards a large class of the occupiers of public land, and it required the greatest care to act in the affair with prudence and moderation, and in a manner equitable and satisfactory towards all parties. Large tracts of public land had passed from father to son, and no one ever seems to have thought of the possibility of their being reclaimed by the state. Through this feeling of security many persons had erected buildings on their possessions, or had otherwise laid out large sums of money upon them; many also, who now this possessed more than the five hundred jugera allowed by the Licinian law, had acquired either the whole or part of their possession by purchase, and were accustomed to look upon it as real property, although a moment's consideration would have convinced them that they were only precarious tenants of the republic, which might at any time claim its right of ownership.

Amid these clashing interests, Tib. Gracchus determined to remedy the evil by endeavouring to create an industrious middle class of agriculturists, and to put a check upon the unbounded avarice of the aristocracy, whose covetousness, combined with the disasters of the second Punic war, had completely destroyed the middle class of small landowners. With this view, he offered himself as a candidate for the tribuneship, and obtained it for the year B. C. 133. It should be observed, that at this period the tribunes were elected in the month of June, the harvest time in Italy, but they did not enter upon their office till the 10th of December.

The people appear to have anticipated that Gracchus was going to undertake something on their behalf, for placards were seen in all parts of the city calling upon him to protect them; but he felt that his work was too serious and important to be undertaken without the advice and assistance of others. His Greek friends, Diophanes and Blossius, and his mother, Cornelia, urged him on; and he was supported by the counsel of the most eminent men of the time, such as App. Claudius, his father-in-law, the consul and great jurist, Mucius Scaevola, and Crassus, the pontifex maximus, all of whom were probably as much losers by the measures which Gracchus was going to bring forward as the Scipios and others who opposed him. The first bill which he brought before the people proposed, that the agrarian law of Licinius, which had in fact never been abolished, should be renewed and enforced, with this modification, that besides the 500 jugera allowed by that law, any one might possess 250 jugera of the public land for each of his sons. This clause, however, seems to have been limited to two; so that a father of two sons might occupy 1000 jugera of public land. The surplus was to be taken from them and distributed in small farms among the poor citizens. The business of measuring and distributing the land was to be entrusted to triumvirs, who were to be elected as a permanent magistracy. He further enacted, that in future the possession of public land should not be transferred by sale or purchase, in order that the wealthy might not be able gradually to acquire again more land than the law allowed. In the case of buildings erected on land which was to be thus given up, the possessors were to be indemnified by a sum of money determined by a fair valuation of the buildings. There remains only one point in this agrarian law, for which the legislator is open to censure, not indeed on the ground of injustice, but merely on that of unfairness. A considerable, though probably not a very great number of those who had to give up a portion of their possessions, had acquired either the whole or a part by purchase; and as they had to give up their surplus, like those who had not paid for their land, those men were positive losers, just as much as if Gracchus had taken from them their private property. To remove all complaints on ground, Gracchus ought to have added a clause, that such persons should receive from the public treasury the sums for which they had bonn fide purchased the land, or else that the land thus purchased should not come within the law, and should be treated as private property, with which the law had nothing to do. The state ought, at all events, to have made this sacrifice. The opposition of the aristocracy would not indeed have been silenced by such a measure, but there would certainly have been no ground for that bitter exasperation which Gracchus now called forth. It is ever to be lamented that Gracchus did not introduce into his law a clause of that description.

The faction of the opposition, consisting of the senate and the aristocracy, was not numerous, but violent in the highest degree, and the thousands who were to be benefited by the measure were ready to support Gracchus at any risk; the issue of the struggle, therefore, could not be doubtful, and it would have been hopeless to oppose the agrarian law in the ordinary constitutional way, for as soon as the bill was passed by the tribes, it became law, the sanction of the senate not being required. The senatorial party, therefore, resorted to intrigues. A noble specimen of the deeply-felt and impressive eloquence with which Gracchus addressed the people in those days is preserved in Plutarch ( Tib. Gracc. 8) : it bears all the marks of genuineness, and has unjustly been considered by modern critics as a spurious piece of declamation. When Tiberius brought forward his bill, and it was manifest that it would be carried, the senatorial party resorted to the only means that was left them,--they gained over to their side one of the tribunes, M. Octavius Caecina, a man of a most obstinate character, who himself occupied more of the public domain than the law allowed. His interposition would of course have thwarted all the plans of Tiberius. The disputes between the two tribunes went on day after day, and Tiberius, though he was by no means in affluent circumstances, offered to indemnify Octavius out of his own purse, for the loss which he might sustain through the agrarian law. This offer was refused with indignation. Tiberius was prevailed upon to refer the matter to the senate; but there he was only abused, and the question did not advance one step further. When the people again met, and Tiberius saw no other way of carrying his measure, he declared that, as two tribunes differed in their opinions upon the public good, and could not come to any understanding, one of them must resign his office. Tiberius suspended the entire administration of government, and under heavy penalties forbade the magistrates to exercise their official authority, until this question was settled. Fear and exasperation increased, and the people looked forward with trembling to the day when the matter was to come to a decision. When the day of the assembly arrived, Tiberius publicly implored Octavius to yield to the wishes of the people, who desired nothing but what they had a right to claim. When this request was also repudiated, Tiberius proceeded to carry his threat into execution, but offered that his own case should be put to the vote first. When all attempts failed, Tiberius proposed the deposition of Octavius, and put it to the vote at once. When seventeen out of the thirty-five tribes had already voted for his deposition, Tiberius stopped the proceedings, and again implored Octavius to desist from his opposition; but Octavius indignantly exclaimed, " Complete what thou hast begun." The eighteenth tribe voted, and the tribuneship of Octavius was gone : he was dragged from the hustings, and with difficulty escaped being murdered on the spot. The deposition of a tribune was a thing unheard of in the history of Rome, and was, accordingly, proclaimed by the opposition as an unconstitutional act. They now triumphed over Gracchus, since he had given them a handle, and by his own act seemed to justify their hostility against him. The deposition of Octavius for the lawful exercise of his rights has been looked upon by both ancient and modern writers as a violation of the laws of the Roman constitution, but its injustice was only of a formal nature, a mere irregularity ; and Tiberius, as Niebuhr (Lectares on Rom. Hist. vol. i. p. 333 justly remarks, might have said that a tribune who acted independent of the people was an abuse, and a still greater irregularity ; the people surely had the right to take away a commission from a man to whom they had given it; it is an absurdity if in a republic this right is not maintained.

After the removal of Octavius, the agrarian law was carried without opposition, and permanent triumnvirs were appointed to superintend the measuring of the public land possessed by the wealthy, to deprive them of that which was beyond the amount allowed by the law, and to distribute it among the poor. The persons appointed as triumvirs were Tib. Gracchus, App. Claudius, his father-in-law, and his brother C. Gracchus, who was then little more than twenty years old, and was serving in the camp of P. Scipio at Numantia. Fortune thus seemed to favour the undertakings of Gracchus, and the people evinced a most enthusiastic attachment to him; but the treatment which he experienced in the senate, where P. Scipio Nasica was at the head of the aristocracy, was of a very different kind: he was attacked with contumely and the most unbridled fury. At the same time, one of his intimate friends suddenly died, and his body bore marks of poison. Such things were just so many proofs to Gracchus that it required the greatest precaution not to fall into the hands of some secret assassin. Whenever, therefore, he appeared in public, he was surrounded by a body of friends, who formed a sort of body-guard.

About this time a messenger arrived from Asia, with the will of king Attalus, who had bequeathed his kingdom and his property to the Roman people. Gracchus availed himself of this opportunity for enabling the poor, who were to receive lands, to purchase the necessary implements, cattle and the like; and he accordingly proposed that the money which Attalus had bequeathed to the Romans should be distributed among the people. It is generally stated that this law was carried, but in the Epitome of Livy (lib. 58) we read that he only promised the people to bring forward the bill. His agrarian law had evidently the object of creating an induistrious middle class of husbandmnen; and, in order to infuse some better blood into them, he is said to have entertained the idea of extending the Roman franchise, by admitting the Italian allies to the full rights of Roman citizens. (Vell. 2.2.) The matter certainly appears to have been discussed at the time, but no steps seem to have been taken, though it would have been one of the wisest and most salutary measures that could have been devised. He further abridged the time that Roman citizens had to serve in the armies. Macrobius (Macr. 2.10) mentions a lex judiciaria of Tiberius, but this seems to be only a mistake, the name of Tiberius being there written instead of Caius. Tiberius went even so far as to threaten to deprive the senate of the administration, inasmuch as he declared that the senate had no right to decide upon the towns and cities of the kingdom of Pergamus. Tiberius had thus reached the zenith of his power, but fortune began to turn against him. The opinion of his opponents that he had violated the sacred character of a tribune in the person of Octavius, had gradually spread among the people, which in its short-sightedness could not distinguish between the motives of the two parties, and merely looked for momentary advantages and gratifications. Hence they began not only to show indifference towards their sincere and disinterested protector, but even turned against him. In addition to this, his enemies spread the absurd report that Tiberius had secretly received a diadem and a purple robe from the Pergamenian messenger, and that he entertained the thought of making himself king of Rome. This report, which every one must have known to be a mere malicious calumny, was spread abroad by the contemptible Pompeius, with whom Scipio Nasica, and other persons of distinction, made common cause.

The period at which the tribunes for the next year were to be elected was now drawing near, and Tiberius himself, as well as his friends, were fully convinced that after the expiration of his office his laws would be abolished, and that his life would be in imminent danger as soon as he should be divested of the sacred office of tribune. He therefore resolved to offer himself as a candidate for the tribuneship of the following year. This was indeed an irregularity, for up to that time no man had ever been invested with the office for two consecutive years; but Tiberius was compelled by necessity, and the duty of selfdefence, to offer himself as a candidate. It was unfortunate for him that the election of the tribunes fell in the month of June, when the country-people, on whom he could rely most, were occupied with the harvest in the fields. The people assembled thus consisted, for the most part, of the city populace, who had little or no sympathy with him. His heart was filled with dark apprehensions and misgivings. He went about, leading his little son by the hand, and imploring the people not to desert him, and not to expose him to the fury of his enemies, against whom he had protected them. The tribes began to vote, and two had already declared in favour of Tiberius, when the aristocrats, who were mingled among the people, exclaimed that the election was illegal, and that no man could be elected tribune for two successive years. The presiding tribune, Rubrius, did not know what to do; another tribune offered to take the presidency, but the rest maintained that this could be decided only by lot. Amid such disputes the day passed away, and seeing that his enemies were gaining the upper hand, Tiberius proposed to defer the election till the next day. He now went about with his child, and endeavoured to rouse the people's sympathy. They were moved by his fear and danger; a large crowd gathered around him; they conducted him home, urged him not to despair, and kept watch about his house all night, to protect him against any unforeseen attack. Cheered by this demonstration of the people's favour, he, in conjunction with his friends, devised during the night a plan on which they were to act, if his enemies should use violence.

At daybreak the auspices were consulted, but the signs were unfavourable, and Tiberius was doubtful as to whether he should go to the assembly or not; but his friend Blossius urged him on not to give up his plans for things which perhaps were merely accidental. The people were assembled in the area of the capitol, and many of them came down to invite him and conduct him thither. When he arrived he was received with loud cheers and acclamations, and all promised well; but, when the voting began, the aristocrats did all they could to disturb the proceedings, and the noise and tumult became so great that no one could be heard. At this moment a senator, who was a friend of Gracchus, made his way through the crowd up to him, and informed him that the senators were assembled, and that, as they could not prevail upon the consuls to carry out their commands, they themselves were resolved to kill Tiberius, and had for this purpose armed many of their slaves and partisans. When Tiberius communicated this intelligence to those who stood nearest to him, they immediately prepared to repel force by force. Those who were at a greater distance wanted to know the cause of this sudden commotion, and as Tiberius could not make his voice heard, on account of the tumultuous noise, he pointed with his hand to his head, to indicate that his life was in danger. This act was maliciously interpreted by his enemies as a sign by which he demanded the diadem, and they hastened to inform the senate of it. The senators pretended to be greatly alarmed, and P. Scipio Nasica called upon the consuls to save the republic; but the consuls refused to have recourse to violence. The people, who in the mean time had learned that the life of their tribune was threatened, immediately armed themselves with sticks, the legs of the benches, and any other weapons they could lay hold of, and drove the aristocrats from the assembly. The confusion became general, and the tribunes took to flight. A report was quickly spread that Tiberius had deposed his colleagues, and was going to continue in his office without any election.

This was the moment which the aristocratic party had been anxiously looking for. Scipio Nasica sprang up, and exclaimed, "As the consul betrays the republic, do you who wish to maintain the constitution follow me." The senators rushed towards the assembly from the temple of Fides, where they had held their meeting. The people dispersed in all directions, and all who did not give way to the senators, or ventured to oppose then, were knocked down with clubs and sticks. Tiberius, in edeavouring to escape, fell over the body of a man who was killed, and as he was attempting to rise, he received a blow on his head, and was killed. He fell at the entrance of the temple of wides, in front of the statues of the kilns. The honour of being the murderer of Gracchus was disputed between P. Satureius, one of his own colleagues, and L. Rufus. Upwards of 300 persons were killed on that day by sticks and stones, but none by the sword. In the night following their bodies were thrown into the Tiber, and the surviving friends of Gracchus had to suffer imprisonment, exile, and death, at the hands of their infuriated and merciless opponents.

These, and other calamities which afterwards resulted from the legislation of Tiberius, though it was by no means their cause, might perhaps have been avoided by a little more prudence on the part of Tiberius. We may indeed regret that he did not all he might have done, but we cannot blame him for what he did : his motives were the purest, and lie suffered the death of a martyr in the noblest cause that a statesman can embrace--the protection of the poor and oppressed. All the odium that has for many centuries been thrown upon Tiberius and his brother Caius arose partly from party prejudice, and more especially from a misunderstanding of the nature of a Roman agrarian law, which, although it had been pretty clearly explained by Sigonius, was yet never generally recognised till the time of Niebuhr. Velleius Paterculus, who is otherwise biassed against the agrarian law of Gracchus, gives a noble testimony to his character, in these words, " Viya innocentissimus, ingenio florentissimus, proposito sanctissimus, tantis denique adornatus virtutibus, quantas, perfecta et natura et industria, mortalis condition recipit." (Plut. Vita Tib. Gracchi ; Appian, App. BC 1.9-17; Liv. Epit. 58 ; Vell. 2.2, 3 ; Dio Cass. Fragm. Peir. 86-88; Oros. 5.8, &c.; Aur. Vict. de Vir. Ilustr. 57; and the passages of Cicero which are collected in Orelli's Onomasticon, vol. ii. p. 531, &c.; comp. F. D. Gerlach, Tib. und C. Gracchus, pp. 1-30; Meyer, Fragm. Orat. Rom. p. 215, &100.2d edit.; Ahrens, Die drei Volkstribunen Tib. Gracchus, Drusus und Sulpicius ; Niebuhr, Lectures on Rom. Hist. vol. i. p. 223, &c., ed. Schmitz.)

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
137 BC (3)
133 BC (2)
164 BC (1)
136 BC (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: