Of the territory which the Romans won in war from their neighbours, a part they sold, and a part they made common land, and assigned it for occupation to the poor and indigent among the citizens, on payment of a small rent into the public treasury.
And when the rich began to offer larger rents and drove out the poor, a law was enacted forbidding the holding by one person of more than five hundred acres of land. For a short time this enactment gave a check to the rapacity of the rich, and was of assistance to the poor, who remained in their places on the land which they had rented and occupied the allotment which each had held from the outset.
But later on the neighbouring rich men, by means of fictitious personages, transferred these rentals to themselves, and finally held most of the land openly in their own names. Then the poor, who had been ejected from their land, no longer showed themselves eager for military service, and neglected the bringing up of children, so that soon all Italy was conscious of a dearth of freemen, and was filled with gangs of foreign slaves, by whose aid the rich cultivated their estates, from which they had driven away the free citizens.
An attempt was therefore made to rectify this evil, and by Caius Laelius the comrade of Scipio; but the men of influence opposed his measures, and he, fearing the disturbance which might ensue, desisted, and received the surname of Wise
(for the Latin word
‘sapiens’ would seem to have either meaning). Tiberius, however, on being elected tribune of the people, took the matter directly in hand. He was incited to this step, as most writers say, by Diophanes the rhetorician and Blossius the philosopher.
Diophanes was an exile from Mitylene, but Blossius was a native Italian from Cumae, had been an intimate friend of Antipater of Tarsus at Rome, and had been honoured by him with the dedication of philosophical treatises. But some put part of the blame upon Cornelia the mother of Tiberius, who often reproached her sons because the Romans still called her the mother-in-law of Scipio, but not yet the mother of the Gracchi.
Others again say that a certain Spurius Postumius was to blame. He was of the same age as Tiberius, and a rival of his in reputation as an advocate; and when Tiberius came back from his campaign and found that his rival had far outstripped him in reputation and influence and was an object of public admiration, he determined, as it would seem, to outdo him by engaging in a bold political measure which would arouse great expectations among the people.
But his brother Caius, in a certain pamphlet,1
has written that as Tiberius was passing through Tuscany on his way to Numantia, and observed the dearth of inhabitants in the country, and that those who tilled its soil or tended its flocks there were imported barbarian slaves, he then first conceived the public policy which was the cause of countless ills to the two brothers. However, the energy and ambition of Tiberius were most of all kindled by the people themselves, who posted writings on porticoes, house-walls, and monuments, calling upon him to recover for the poor the public land.