134-121 B.C.

134-133 B.C.

Tiberius Gracchus

Philip V of Macedon
Tiberius Gracchus

After the destruction of Carthage, Rome being left without a rival, the triumphs and spoils of Asia introduced a taste for luxury. The two Gracchi were the first who turned their thoughts to this corruption, and determined to oppose it by renewing the Licinian law, which had enacted, that no person should possess more than 500 acres of land. Tiberius Gracchus was killed while speaking in favor of the renewal of this law.

This law greatly displeased the rich, and they endeavored to persuade the people, that the proposer only aimed at throwing all things into confusion. But Gracchus, who was the most eloquent man of the time, easily repelled these insinuations, and the law was passed.

During the harangue of Gracchus in the Capitol, a clamor was raised, and he found himself interrupted; he begged in vain to be heard, till raising his hand to his head, to intimate that his life was in danger, the partisans of the senate gave out that he wanted a diadem. A universal uproar followed. Tiberius, perceiving that his life was in danger, endeavored to fly, and Saturnius, one ot his colleagues in the tribuneship, struck him dead with a piece of a seat; and not less than three hundred of his hearers shared the same fate, being killed in the tumult.

133-121 B.C.

Gaius Gracchus

Antiochus III
The pursuit of Gaius Gracchus

Caius Gracchus, his brother, was but twenty one years of age at the death of Tiberius; he lived in retirement, and while he seemed desirous of avoiding popularity, he was employing his solitude in the study of eloquence, which was the readiest means to obtain it; and when he thought himself qualified to serve his country, he stood candidate for the quaestorship of the army in Sardinia, which he obtained.

The king of Numidia, sending a present of corn to the Romans, ordered his ambassadors to say, that it was entirely a tribute to the virtues of Caius Gracchus. This the senate treated with scorn, and ordered the ambassadors to be dismissed, as ignorant barbarians; which so inflamed young Gracchus, that he came from the army to complain of the indignity thrown upon his reputation, and to offer himself for the tribuneship of the people.

Notwithstanding the warmest opposition from the senate, he was declared tribune. He procured an edict, granting freedom to the inhabitants of Latium, and soon after, to all the people on that side the Alps. He fixed the price of corn at a moderate standard, and procured a monthly distribution of it among the people.

He then proceeded to an inspection into the late corruptions of the senate, in which the whole body being convicted of bribery, extortion, and the sale of offices, a law was made, transferring the power of judging corrupt magistrates, from the senate to the knights.

Gracchus being very popular and powerful in the state, was an object of the senate's resentment. But he soon found the population a faithless support; they began to withdraw their confidence from him, and place it upon Drusus, a man set up against him by the senate.

It was in vain that he revived the Licinian law in their favor, and called up several of the inhabitants of the different towns of Italy to his support; the senate ordered them all to depart from Rome, and even sent one stranger to prison, whom Gracchus had invited to live with him.

It was now seen, that the fate of Gracchus was determined. Opimius, the consul, being guarded, and conscious of the superiority of his forces, insulted Gracchus wherever he met him, doing all in his power to produce a quarrel, in which he might have a pretence for despatching him.

Gracchus avoided all recrimination, and would not even wear any kind of arms. His friend Flaccus, a zealous tribune, resolved to oppose party against party, and one of the lictors could not forbear crying out to Fulvius and his party, "Ye factious citizens, make way for honest men."

This insult so provoked the party to whom it was addressed, that they instantly fell upon him and pierced him to death. Gracchus reprimanded his party for giving his enemies such advantage over him, and prepared to lead his followers to Mount Aventine.

It was there he learned, that a proclamation had been made by the consuls, that whoever should bring his head, or that of Flaccus, should receive its weight in gold as a reward. It was to no purpose that he sent the youngest son of Flaccus, who was yet a child, with proposals for an accommodation. The senate and the consuls rejected all his offers, and resolved to punish his offence with death; and they offered pardon to all those who should leave him immediately.

This produced the desired effect; the people fell from him by degrees, and left him with very inferior forces. Opimius the consul, who thirsted for slaughter, leading his forces up to Mount Aventine, fell in among the crowd with ungovernable fury; a terrible slaughter ensued, and not less than 3000 citizens were slain upon the spot. Flaccus attempted to find shelter in a ruinous cottage, but being discovered, was slain with his eldest son.

Gracchus at first retired to the temple of Diana, where he was resolved to die by his own hand; but he was prevented by two of his faithful friends, Pomponius and Lucinius, who forced him to seek safety by flight. From thence, he attempted to cross a bridge that led from the city, still attended by his two generous friends and a Grecian slave. But his pursuers still pressed upon him, and he was obliged to turn and face the enemy.

His two friends were soon slain, defending him against the crowd; and he was forced to take refuge with his slave in a grove beyond the Tiber, which had long been dedicated to the furies. Here finding himself surrounded on every side, he prevailed upon his slave to kill him, who immediately after killed himself, and fell down upon the body of his beloved master.

The pursuers soon coming up, cut off the head of Gracchus, and placed it for a while as a trophy, upon a spear. One Septimuleius, carrying it home, first having taken out the brains, filled it with lead to make it weigh heavier, and received of the consul seventeen pounds of gold.

Thus died Caius Gracchus, about ten years after his brother Tiberius, and six after he became active in the commonwealth. He is usually impeached by historians, as guilty of sedition; but the disturbance of public tranquillity was rather owing to his opposers than to him; so that instead of calling the tumults of that time, the seditions of the Gracchi, we should rather call them the seditions of the senate.

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