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On the Gracchi

The Civil Wars - On the Gracchi

[For 134-133 B.C.]: As the Romans conquered the Italian tribes, one after another, in war, they seized part of the lands and founded towns there, or placed colonies of their own in those already established, and used them as garrisons. They allotted the cultivated part of the land obtained through war, to settlers, or rented or sold it. Since they had not time to assign the part which lay waste by the war, and this was usually the greater portion, they issued a proclamation that for the time being any who cared to work it could do so for a share of the annual produce, a tenth part of the grain and a fifth of the fruit. A part of the animals, both of the oxen and sheep was exacted from those keeping herds. They did this to increase the Italian peoples, considered the hardest working of races, in order to have plenty of supporters at home. But the very opposite result followed; for the wealthy, getting hold of most of the unassigned lands, and being encouraged through the length of time elapsed to think that they would never be ousted, and adding, part by purchase and part by violence, the little farms of their poor neighbors to their possessions, came to work great districts instead of one estate, using to this end slaves as laborers and herders, because free laborers might be drafted from agriculture into the army. The mere possession of slaves brought them great profit through the number of their children, which increased because they were absolved from service in the wars. Thus the powerful citizens became immensely wealthy and the slave class all over the country multiplied, while the Italian race decreased in numbers and vigor, held down as they were by poverty, taxes, and military service. If they had any rest from these burdens, they wasted their time in idleness, because the land was in the hands of the wealthy, who used slaves instead of free laborers.

Because of these facts the people began to fear that they should no longer have enough Italian allies, and that the state itself would be imperiled by such great numbers of slaves. Not seeing any cure for the trouble, as it was not practicable nor entirely fair to dispossess men of their possessions so long occupied, including their own trees, buildings and improvements, a decree was at one time got through by the efforts of the tribunes that no one should hold more than five hundred iugera [about three hundred acres], or graze more than a hundred cattle or five hundred sheep upon it. To make sure the law was observed, it was provided, also, that there should be a stated number of freemen employed on the lands, whose duty it should be to watch and report what took place. Those holding lands under the law were compelled to make oath to obey it, and penalties were provided against breaking it. It was thought that the surplus land would soon be subdivided amongst the poor in small lots, but there was not the slightest respect shown for the law or the oaths. The few that seemed to give some heed to them fraudulently made over their lands to their relatives, but most paid no attention to the law whatsoever.

At last Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, an eminent man, ambitious for honor, a forceful orator, and for these causes well known to everybody, made an eloquent speech, while tribune, on the subject of the Italian race, deploring that a people so warlike, and related in descent to the Romans, were gradually sinking into pauperism and decreasing in numbers, with no hope of betterment. He denounced the swarm of slaves as useless in war and faithless to their masters, and instanced the recent disaster brought upon the owners in Sicily by their slaves, where the requirements of agriculture had greatly increased their number. He called to mind, also, the war waged by the Romans against the slaves, a war neither trivial nor short, but long drawn but long drawn out and filled with misfortunes and perils. After this address he once more brought forward the law providing that no one should hold more than five hundred iugera of the public land, but he made this addition to the previous law, that the sons of the present occupants might each hold half as large an allotment and that the surplus land should be divided among the poor by triumvirs, that were to be changed yearly.

This greatly vexed the wealthy, because, on account of the triumvirs, they could no longer pass by the law as they had done before; nor could they purchase the lands allotted to others, because Gracchus had provided against this by prohibiting sales. They gathered into groups, complaining and charging the poor with seizing the results of their cultivation, their vineyards, and their houses. Some said they had paid their neighbors the price of the land; were they to lose their money as well as the land? Others declared that the graves of their fathers were in the ground that had been assigned to them in the partition of their family estate. Others stated that their wives' dowries had been spent on the land or that it had been given to their own daughters as such. Loaners of money could show advances made on this security. All sorts of complaints and denunciations were heard at the same time. On the other hand rose the wails of the poor, crying that they had been reduced from plenty to the lowest pauperism and from that to enforced lack of offspring, because they could not support children. They enumerated the services they had rendered in war, by which this very land had been obtained, and were indignant at being despoiled of their part of the public property. They upbraided the wealthy for using slaves, who were always faithless and sulky, and for that cause useless in war, in the place of freemen, citizens and men at arms. While these classes were complaining and reproaching each other, a vast multitude, consisting of colonists or dwellers in the free cities, or others in some way interested in the lands and with similar fears, thronged into town and sided with their respective parties. Angry at each other, they gathered in riotous crowds, made bold by numbers, and, waiting for the new law, tried in every way, some to obstruct its passage and others to carry it. Party spirit in addition to individual interest stimulated both sides in the preparation against each other which they were making for the voting day.

What Gracchus sought in framing the law was the increase, not of wealth, but of serviceable population. He was highly enthused with the usefulness of the proposal and, believing that nothing more beneficial or desirable could happen to Italy, he attached no weight to the difficulties involved. When the time came for voting he brought forward at some length many other arguments, asking whether it was not right to allot among the common people what belonged to them in common, whether a citizen did not always deserve more concern than a slave, whether a man that fought in the army was not more serviceable than one that did not, and whether one that had an interest in the country was not the surer to be faithful to the public weal. He did not tarry long on this contrast between freemen and slaves, which he thought debasing, but plunged at once into an outline of their hopes and fears for the state, saying that the Romans had obtained most of their lands by conquest and that they had the opportunities of acquiring the rest of the inhabitable world, but now the question most doubtful of all was whether, with plenty of warlike men, they should conquer the rest, or whether, through their internal dissensions and weaknesses, their foes should deprive them of what they already had. After enlarging upon the honor and wealth on one side and the peril and need of apprehension on the other, he warned the rich to reflect, and said that for the accomplishment of such hopes they should be willing to give this very land as a gift, if need be, to men that would bring up offspring, and not, by wrangling over trivial matters, lose sight of the more important ones---especially since they were getting full pay for the labor they had expended in the clear title to five hundred iugera of land, in a high state of cultivation, to each of them without cost, and half as much again for each son to those that had them. After saying much else in the same strain and getting the poor aroused, as well as those that were influenced by reason rather than the hope of profit, he commanded the clerk to read the measure proposed.

Another tribune, Marcus Octavius, who had been prevailed on by those holding land to interpose his veto (for among the Romans the veto of the tribune always had absolute authority), ordered the clerk to be silent. Upon this Gracchus rebuked him sternly and adjourned the meeting to the next day. This time he placed quite a force around, as if to coerce Octavius against his will, and with threats bade the clerk read the measure proposed to the assemblage. He began reading, but upon Octavius again interposing his veto, stopped. Then the tribunes commenced quarreling with each other, and something of an uproar broke forth from among the people. The influential citizens begged the tribunes to lay their disagreements before the senate for arbitration. Gracchus acted upon this advice, thinking the measure to he agreeable to all patriotic people, and hurried to the senate. As he found only a few supporters there, and was reproached by the wealthy, he rushed back to the forum and announced that he would take a vote in the assembly on the following day upon the law, and also upon the tenor of office of Octavius, to find out whether a tribune of the plebs, acting contrary to the welfare of the plebs, could continue to retain his magistracy.

So he did, and when Octavius, not at all intimidated, again put in his veto, Gracchus had the pebbles distributed to vote on him first. As the first tribe voted to impeach Octavius, Gracchus, turning to him, pleaded with him to withdraw his veto. As he would not do so, the votes of the other tribes were taken. At that time there were thirty-five tribes. The seventeen voting first wrathfully approved the measure. If the eighteenth should do likewise it would constitute a majority. Once more in full view of the people Gracchus passionately begged Octavius, in his great jeopardy, not to obstruct this most devout work, so beneficial to all Italy, and not to dash down the hopes so deeply grounded among the people, whose wishes he ought, as a tribune, the rather to share in, and not to run the risk of losing his office by public impeachment. Upon saying this he called the gods to witness that he did not of his own accord do any injury to his colleague, but, as Octavius was still firm, he continued taking the vote, and Octavius was thereupon reduced to the rank of private citizen and stole away unnoticed.

Quintus Mummius was elected tribune in his stead and the agrarian law was passed. The three men first appointed to allot the land were Gracchus himself, the framer of the measure, his brother of the same name, and his father-in-law, Appius Claudius, for the people were still afraid that the law might not be executed unless Gracchus, with all his family, should be placed at the helm. Gracchus became enormously popular on account of the law and was attended home by the mass of the people, as if he were the founder, not merely of one city or people, but of all the states of Italy. After this the victors returned to the fields whence they had journeyed to conduct the affair, while the defeated ones stayed in the city and went over the subject with one another, feeling incensed and declaring that when Gracchus became a private citizen he would be made sorry that he had dishonored the sacred and inviolable office of tribune and had opened the way to such a flood of strife in Italy.

At the coming of summer the announcement of the election of tribunes was made, and as the day for voting drew near, it was clear that the wealthy were vigorously aiding the election of those most opposed to Gracchus. Fearing that misfortune would come upon him if he should not be re-elected for the next year, Gracchus sent to his friends in the fields to attend the assembly, but as their time was taken up with the harvest he was forced, when the day fixed for the voting was at hand, to depend upon the plebeians of the city. So he went about canvassing each one to elect him tribune for the next year, on account of the jeopardy he had put himself in on their account. When the voting commenced, the first two tribes went for Gracchus. The wealthy held that it was not constitutional for a man to hold the office twice in succession. The tribune, Rubrius, who had been selected by lot to preside over the comitia, was in doubt upon the question, and Mummius, who had been elected instead of Octavius, besought him to hand the assembly over to his charge. So he did, but the other tribunes objected that the chairmanship should be decided by lot, maintaining that when Rubrius, who had been selected in that way, relinquished it, the casting of lots ought to be done all over again. Since there was a deal of wrangling on this point, Gracchus, who was being bested, postponed the election until the next day. In deep despondency he robed himself in black, though still in office, and led his son about the forum, introducing him to each man and putting him in their care, as if he himself were about to die at the hands of his foes.

The poor were afflicted with great grief, and justly so, both on account of themselves, for they thought that they would no longer dwell in a free state under equitable laws, but were to be reduced to slavery by the rich, and on account of Gracchus personally, who had brought upon himself such peril for their sakes. Therefore, they all escorted him with lamentations to his home at nighttime, and bade him take heart for the next day. Gracchus gathered courage, and calling together his friends before daylight, imparted to them a sign to be made for a resort to violence. Then he placed himself in the temple on the Capitoline hill, where the election was to be held, and put himself in the middle of the comitia. As he was checked by the other tribunes and by the wealthy, who would not permit the votes to be taken on this question, he gave the sign. A sudden uproar arose from those who saw it and the resort to arms followed. Part of the faction of Gracchus took their stand about him like a body-guard. Others that had girded themselves, laid hold of the fasces and staves in the hands of lictors and shattered them into pieces. The rich were thrown out of the comitia with so much tumult and so many wounds that the tribunes rushed from their seats in consternation, and the priests closed the doors of the temple. Many ran hither and thither and cast wild reports abroad. Some said that Gracchus had impeached all the other tribunes and this was given credence because none of them were in sight. Others said that he had declared himself tribune for the next year without a vote.

Under these conditions the senate came together at the Temple of Fides [Faith]. It is astounding to me that they never thought of electing a dictator in this crisis, though they had often been defended by the rule of an absolute magistrate amid such periods of danger. Though this expedient had been found very serviceable in ancient times, few thought of it either then or afterwards. After coming to the decision they arrived at, they marched to the Capitol, the high priest, Cornelius Scipio Nasica, at their head, crying out in a sonorous voice, "Let those who would save the state follow me." He gathered the border of his toga around his head, either to attract a larger crowd to followhim by his peculiar appearance, or to make for himself, as it were, a helmet as a signal for violence to the spectators, or to hide from the gods what he was about to do. When he came to the temple and stepped forward against the adherents of Gracchus, they yielded to the prestige of so eminent a citizen, for they saw the senate behind him. The senators wrenched clubs from the very hands of the followers of Gracchus, or with pieces of torn-up benches or other things that had been brought for the use of the comitia, began mauling them and in hot pursuit, drove them over the precipice. In the riot many followers of Gracchus were killed and Gracchus himself, being seized near the temple, was slain at the door near the statues of the kings. All the corpses were thrown into the Tiber at night.

Thus died on the Capitol and while still tribune, Tiberius Gracchus, the son of the Gracchus who was twice consul and of Cornelia, the daughter of the Scipio that conquered Carthage. He lost his life because he followed up an excellent plan in too lawless a way. This awful occurrence, the first of the kind that took place in the public assembly, was never long without a new parallel thereafter. On the matter of the killing of Gracchus, the city was divided between grief and joy. Some sorrowed for themselves and him and bewailed the existing state of affairs, believing that the republic no longer existed, but had been usurped by coercion and violence. Others congratulated themselves that everything had turned out just as they wanted it to. This event happened at the time that Aristonicus was struggling with the Romans for the mastery of Asia [the Fourth Macedonian War--ed.].

[For 132-124 B.C.] After Tiberius Gracchus was killed, Appius Claudius, his father-in-law, died and Fulvius Flaccus and Papirius Carbo were selected, together with the younger [Gaius] Gracchus, to divide the land. As those in possession failed to hand in lists of what they held, it was announced that informers should give evidence against them. A large number of perplexing lawsuits sprang up. Where a new field had been purchased next to an old one, or where the land had been divided with allies, the whole section had to be gone over in the surveying of this one field, in order to discover how it had been sold or partitioned. Some owners had not kept their bills of sale or deeds of allotment, and even those that were unearthed were often ambiguous. On the remeasuring of the land, some had to give up orchards and farm buildings for bare fields. Others were moved from tilled to untilled lands or to swamps or ponds. In short, the surveying had been carelessly done when the land was first taken away from the enemy. Since the first proclamation sanctioned anyone's cultivating the unassigned land that wished to, men had been impelled to till the parts lying next to their own land until the boundary line between the two had been lost sight of. The lapse of time had also made many changes. Thus, what injustice had been done by the rich, though great, was not easily discovered. So nothing less than a general commotion followed, everybody being ousted from his own place and set down in somebody else's.

The Italian allies that remonstrated at this disturbance and especially against the lawsuits suddenly brought against them, selected Cornelius Scipio [Aemilianus], the destroyer of Carthage, to protect them from these annoyances. As he had used their powerful aid in war, he did not like to refuse their request. So, coming into the senate, he explained the difficulty in enforcing Gracchus' law, although, for the sake of the plebs, he did not openly attack it. He held that these cases ought not to be judged by the triumvirs, as they did not have the confidence of the disputants, but should be handed over to others. As his point of view seemed just, they let themselves be persuaded, and the consul, Tuditanus, was chosen to sit in these cases. But when he began on the matter he saw its difficulties, and then led the army against the Illyrians as an excuse to get out of acting as judge, and since no one could bring the cases before the triumvirs they fell into abeyance. Hence ill feeling and resentment sprung up against Scipio among the people, because they saw him for whose sake they had often taken sides against the aristocracy and brought upon themselves hostility, twice electing him consul contrary to law, now siding with the Italian allies against them. When Scipio's foes saw this, they charged that he was intent on annulling the law of Gracchus entirely, and to that end was about to incite armed violence and bloodshed.

When the populace heard these accusations they were much disturbed until Scipio, who had placed near his couch at home one evening a tablet, on which he intended during the night to write the speech he was to deliver before the people, was found dead on his couch without a wound. Whether this was caused by Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi, assisted by her daughter, Sempronia, who was the wife of Scipio, but unloved and unaffectionate because she was deformed and childless, to prevent the law of Gracchus being abolished, or whether, as some believed, he committed suicide because he saw clearly that he could not do what he had said he would, is not certain. Some say that slaves, after being exposed to torture, confessed that unknown persons, who were brought through the rear of the house by night, strangled him, and that those who knew about it refrained from telling because the people were still incensed at him and were glad he died. So Scipio perished, and though he had been of enormous service to the Roman state, he was not given the honor of a public funeral. Thus does the irritation of the moment efface the appreciation of past service. This event, important enough in itself, happened as an incident of the undertaking of Gracchus.

Even after this those holding the lands long put off upon various excuses the division of their holdings. Some thought the Italian allies, who objected to it most strenuously, should be admitted to Roman citizenship, in order that, out of thankfulness for so great a favor, they should not longer protest about the land. The Italians were ready to accept this compromise, since they had rather have Roman citizenship than the ownership of these fields. Fulvius Flaccus, at that time both consul and triumvir, did his best to carry it through, but the senate was wroth at the proposition to make their subjects of equal rank with themselves. So the effort was dropped and the people, who had been so long hopeful of obtaining land, began to be discouraged.

[For 124-122 B. C.] While they were in this frame of mind, Gaius Gracchus, who had made himself popular as a triumvir, stood for the tribuneship. He was the younger brother of Tiberius Gracchus, the originator of the law. He had kept silent concerning the killing of his brother for some time, but as some of the senate treated him disdainfully, he offered himself as a candidate for the tribuneship, and as soon as he was elected to this high office began to intrigue against the senate. He proposed that a monthly distribution of grain should be made to each citizen at the expense of the state. This had not been the custom prior to this. Thus he put himself at the head of the populace at a bound by one stroke of politics, in which he had the assistance of Fulvius Flaccus. Right after this he was elected tribune for the next year also, for in cases where there were not enough candidates the law permitted the people to fill out the list from those in office.

In this way Gaius Gracchus became tribune a second time. After, so to say, buying the plebs, he began to court the equites, who hold the rank midway between the senate and the plebs, by another similar stroke of politics. He handed over the courts of justice, which had become distrusted on account of bribery, from the senators to the equites, upbraiding the senators particularly for the recent instances of Aurelius Cotta, Salinator, and, thirdly, Manius Aquilius (the one that conquered Asia), all shameless bribe-takers, who had been set free by the judges, even though envoys sent to denounce them were still present, going about making disgraceful charges against them. The senate was very much ashamed of such things and agreed to the law and the people passed it. Thus the courts of justice were handed over from the senate to the knights. It is reported that soon after the enactment of this law Gracchus made the remark that he had destroyed the supremacy of the senate once for all, and this remark of his has been corroborated by experience throughout the course of history. The privilege of judging all Romans and Italians, even the senators themselves, in all affairs of property, civil rights and exile, raised the equites like governors over them, and placed the senators on the same plane as subjects. As the equites also voted to support the power of the tribunes in the comitia and received whatever they asked from them in return, they became more and more dangerous opponents to the senators. Thus it soon resulted that the supremacy in the state was reversed, the real mastery going into the hands of the equites and only the honor to the senate. The equites went so far in using their power over the senators as to openly mock them beyond all reason. They, too, imbibed the habit of bribe-taking and, after once tasting such immense acquisitions, they drained the draft even more shamefully and recklessly than the senators had done. They hired informers against the rich and put an end to prosecutions for bribe-taking entirely, partly by united action and partly by actual violence, so that the pursuit of such investigations was done away with entirely. Thus the judiciary law started another factional contest that lasted for a long time and was fully as harmful as the previous ones.

Gracchus constructed long highways over Italy and thus made an army of contractors and workmen dependent on his favor and rendered them subject to his every wish. He proposed the establishment of a number of colonies. He prompted the Latin allies to clamor for all the privileges of Roman citizenship, for the senate could not becomingly deny them to the kinsmen of the Romans. He attempted to give the right to vote to those allies that were not permitted to take part in Roman elections, so as to have their assistance in the passing of measures that he had in mind. The senate was greatly perturbed at this and commanded the consuls to set forth the following proclamation, "No one that does not have the right to vote shall remain in the city or come within forty stadia of it during the time that the voting is taking place upon theselaws." The senate also got Livius Drusus--- another tribune, to intercede his veto against the measures brought forward by Gracchus without telling the plebs his reasons for so doing; for a tribune did not have to give his reasons for a veto. In order to curry favor with the plebs they gave Drusus permission to found twelve colonies, and the people were so much taken with this that they began to jeer at the measures that Gracchus proposed.

[For 122-121 B.C.] As he had lost the good will of the populace, Gracchus set sail for Africia along with Fulvius Flaccus, who, after his consulship, had been elected tribune through the same causes for which Gracchus had. A colony had been assigned to Africa, because of the reported richness of its soil, and these men had been selected as its founders for the very sake of getting rid of them for awhile, in order that the senate might be untrammeled by demagogy for a time. They laid out a town for the colony in the same place where Carthage had formerly lain, paying no heed to the fact that Scipio, when he razed it, had consigned it with imprecations to eternal sheep-grazing. They allotted six thousand colonists to this town, as against the smaller number assigned by law in order thus to further conciliate the people. Then, returning to Rome, they solicited the six thousand from all Italy. The managers that had remained in Africa laying out the town sent back word that wolves had dragged out and carried far and wide the boundary marks placed by Gracchus and Fulvius, and the sooth-sayers held this to be a bad omen for the colony. So the senate called together the comitia proposing to repeal the law authorizing the colony. When Gracchus and Fulvius saw that they were about to fail in this affair they became desperate and charged that the senate had lied about the wolves. The rashest of the plebs, with daggers in hand, gathered about them and accompanied them to the assembly where the comitia was to be held in regard to the colony.

The people were already assembled and Fulvius had commenced to address them about the matter when Gracchus reached the Capitol surrounded by a body-guard of his friends. Agitated by his knowledge of the unwonted schemes in hand, he turned away from the meeting place of the comitia, passing into the porch, and walked about, waiting to learn what would take place. Just then a pleb by the name of Antyllus, who was making a sacrifice in the porch, saw him thus troubled in mind, and, grasping him by the hand, because he had either heard or guessed something or was prompted through some impulse to speak to him, begged him to spare his fatherland. Still more agitated and starting as if caught in the act of a crime, Gracchus gave a sharp glance at the man. One of his partisans, without any sign or order being given, gathered from the piercing look itself given by Gracchus to Antyllus, that the moment to strike was at hand, and thought he should render Gracchus a kindness by giving the first blow; so he drew forth his dagger and stabbed Antyllus. An uproar was raised, the dead man being seen in the midst of the throng, and every one outside fled away from the temple, fearful of a similar fate. Gracchus went into the comitia in order to exonerate himself of the act, but no one would even listen to him. Everyone turned away from him as from one tainted with bloodshed. Gracchus and Flaccus were confounded, and having missed the opportunity to carry out their plans, they hurried home along with their adherents. The rest of the great mass of people stayed in the forum during the night, as if some fearful crisis were at hand. One of the consuls, who was staying in the city, Opimius, ordered an armed guard to be placed at the Capitol at daybreak and dispatched heralds to convene the senate. He stationed himself in the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the middle of the city, and awaited the outcome there.

When these preparations had been made, the senate called Gracchus and Flaccus from their homes to the senate-house to make their defence, but with arms in their hands, they fled to the Aventine hill, hoping that if they could get possession of it first the senate would come to some understanding with them. They ran through the city promising liberty to slaves, but none paid heed to them. Nevertheless, with such troops as they had, they seized and barricaded the Temple of Diana and dispatched Quintus, the son of Flaccus, to the senate, trying to make terms and dwell in peace. The senate sent back word for them to put down their arms, and to come to the senate-house and tell what they desired, or else send no more emissaries. As they sent Quintus a second time, the consul Opimius seized him, as no longer an envoy after being thus warned, and sent a force in arms against the followers of Gracchus. Gracchus fled to a grove across the river by the wooden bridge, accompanied by one slave, to whom he bared his throat when on the point of being taken. Flaccus sought shelter in the shop of an acquaintance. As those pursuing him did not know what shop he was in they threatened to set fire to the whole line. The man that had given the suppliant refuge was loath to point out his hiding place, but told some one else to do so. Flaccus was caught and slain. The heads of Gracchus and Flaccus were brought to Opimius and he gave an equal weight in gold to the ones presenting them. The mob pillaged their homes. Opimius seized their confederates and threw them into prison, ordering them to be strangled to death. After this a lustration on account of the bloodshed was made by the city and the senate ordered the erection of a temple to Harmony in the forum.

From: Appian, Civil Wars, I: I-3, in Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 77-89.

Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton


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