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Ponce 1
Maritza Ponce
Bergen, Downer, Ibrahim
English 10-4, Latin 2-7, History M/W/F
10 November 2010
Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus
Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus, the Gracchi brothers, are most commonly known as Roman
political reformers. The Gracchi brothers tried to reform Rome’s political structure to help lower
classes in the second century B.C. They had reforms that challenged the senate and consul. They
took risks that they knew would upset the senate and consul and influenced the poor to stand up
for themselves. Though Gaius and Tiberius Gracchus were killed for their desire for change; they
understood the importance of the alliance with the poor, whether it be for the benefit of
themselves or for the people, which lead to the fall of the Roman Republic.
Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus lived from somewhere about 163 B.C. to 133 B.C. Gaius
Sempronius Gracchus, also known as Caius, lived from somewhere about 154 B.C. to 121 B.C.
Their father was Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, who served twice consul and censor. Their
mother was Cornelia, daughter of Scipio Africanus the conqueror of Hannibal. Tiberius, the
eldest of the brothers, was born in what was still recognizably the old Rome. The nobility was in
command then and the old image of the Roman Republic barely flawed. Yet when Tiberius died
at the age of twenty-nine, he had shattered that image forever.
There were many problems rising in Rome. Many Romans saw that an era was over.
Scipio said that Rome was following the luxurious and corrupt manners of the Greeks. Scipio is
quoted in Richards book Daggers in the Forum, “you can tell that the senate is going to the dogs
Ponce 2
when pretty boys are sold for more than farms and jars of caviar for more than ploughmen” (31).
In the summer of 138 B.C. the Roman people elected Tiberius to the office of quaestor. While
serving as quaestor, Tiberius saved a Roman army of 20,000 men from the destruction at the
hands of the Celtiberi. When he returned to Rome he was expecting praise, but the reaction was
far from it.
Tiberius had been greatly humiliated when his treaty with Numantine was vetoed harshly
and when he received no praise or reward for saving Roman men over seas. Many question
whether Tiberius ran for tribune to redeem his self or if he truly saw the existing abuses
happening in Rome and wanted to make a change. In the late summer of the year 134 B.C.,
Tiberius Gracchus was elected tribune of the people for 133 B.C. and it was obvious the
revolution was about to begin.
Tiberius was determined to make himself a leader and change the existing abuses in
Rome, not only to redeem himself from the humiliation that he encountered but also to prove
himself among his family. Tiberius’ first land reform gave land held by the senate to the rural
and urban poor. In those times a man had to own land in order to join the military. The Roman
military was in great need of men, if Tiberius’ land reform was passed then more men could join
the army. Tiberius also proposed that the bill offered a cure for unemployment and poverty. It
would also restore the countryside of Italy and rebuild the peasant population of which Rome’s
military greatness had been founded. Tiberius had many supporters, most of which were
powerful members of the Roman aristocracy, that also helped Tiberius draw up his bill. These
supporters showed that Tiberius was not the only one in the senate, who had a large influence in
the government, who wanted change in Rome. The bill was vetoed by the tribal assembly and
then rejected by the senate. They were afraid that the men receiving this land would not be loyal
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to Rome, but to Tiberius, and in turn would result in an up heal of the people and of the Roman
Tiberius then proposed a harsher second bill, which proposed to use the pergamene
revenue to finance the commission of the land. Tiberius angered traditionalists by taking his bill
directly to the people without consulting the senate and assembly. Tiberius knew the
consequences of what he did and decided it was either him or the Roman constitution, “And it
produced a brilliant leader in Tiberius Gracchus…that took the whole political movement a long
way farther than anyone can have originally expected. Such is the genesis of revolution”
(Richards 40). Tiberius risked everything he had, even the value and hard work of his family, to
have his bills passed to help the poor, “yet when he became tribune he broke away from the good
men, passed his land laws, offered the citizenship to the whole of Italy, stirred up greed
everywhere, confounded the highest and lowest elements in the state, and brought the whole
country into extreme and terrifying danger” (Plutarch 97).The risks he took went further than
ever expected and thus started a revolution, the fall of the Roman Republic.
Tiberius’ supporters were those who felt that they should have the right to elect the
representatives that represented them and they should also reap the benefits of the state. The
senate was afraid that with Tiberius’ growing support, there would be another king. When he ran
for a second term as tribune, his opponents took direct action against him. Led by his cousin
Scipio Nasica, Tiberius and some of his 300 followers were clubbed to death in the bloody riots
over the election. The senate felt that this was necessary to stop the people from being influenced
by Tiberius and revolting against the Republic. This was the first time in Roman politics that the
senate took direct action like this and it did halt the coming revolt but it also showed the people
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the effect they could have on the government. The direct action showed that Rome was going
through a down fall.
Gaius Gracchus, the younger of the brothers, kept quiet in the background during his
brother’s political heir and surprised many when he came into politics, “His brother drifted from
excellence to ambition, and only then to wickedness, but Gaius was naturally turbulent and a
willing rogue” (Plutarch 113). Plutarch, a priest of the Delphic Oracle, said, “While Tiberius had
a midland temperate personality, Gaius was impulsive and volatile” (4). Gaius was also a great
speech maker and a more clever and perceptive politician than his brother, “He was luckier in his
style of speaking than his theme, for he used his blazing genius to subvert the state, when he
could have been its staunchest supporter” (Plutarch 113). Instead of using his gift of speech to
gain more support of the senate, Gaius persuaded the people to question and stand up to the state.
When Gaius spoke and proposed his reforms he was able to persuade the people, even better than
Gaius first revived agrarian commission, proposed to establish new colonies, created laws
stabilizing price of grain, and helped the equestrians get better rights that were recognized
throughout the state. In 124 B.C. he ran for the tribunate of 123 B.C. As Tribune he introduced
some 15 reform measures. Gaius benefited the people and tied them to him politically. Being so
much for the people, Gaius gained their trust and was able to persuaded them and become an
effective leader. While Tribune he did thing for the people that directly benefited them like
passing a stronger land bill, regulating the grain supply to the city of Rome, undertaking
ambitious road-building and other public-works projects, and establishing colonies in Italy and
abroad. By being so much for the people, he stood at the head of the polls when he ran for a
second tribunate for 122 B.C.
Ponce 5
When Gaius went to Africa at the beginning of 122 B.C. to organize his new colony on
the site of Carthage, the opposition rallied against him because of fear Gaius had too much
power. Returning from Africa, Gaius rashly insisted on introducing his citizenship bill because
he knew that he was losing support. But the Senate had his Italian supporters expelled from the
city, and the mounting opposition of the plebeians led to its defeat. The senate drove a wedge
between Gaius and his supporters. In consequence Gaius also failed in his bid for a third
tribunate. Opposition continued even after Gaius left public office. In the armed action which
followed, Gaius committed suicide rather than fight.
Gaius Gracchus showed how a tribune with the backing of the city poor and the
equestrians could maneuver successfully against the senatorial leadership. But, in defending its
position, the Senate taught popular leaders a lesson in violence which eventually undid the
republic. Even though the up rising of the people did not get that far and the senate was able to
stop it with violence, really the first time the senate had reacted like this and had taken direct
action, it was example for the next and this was the start of the fall of the Roman Republic.
During their reign in politics, Gaius and Tiberius upset the senate when they strove for
change in Rome with their liberal idea and actions, “So his schemes were even more pernicious
and his behavior always bolder and more outrageous” (Plutarch 113). The Gracchi brothers were
born patricians and they broke constitutional law when they were elected as Tribune of Plebs
more than once. Tiberius greatly offends the senate when he takes his land reform bills directly
to the people without consulting the senate. Tiberius also violates constitutional practice by
impeaching Marcus Octavious. The Gracchi brothers also wanted to give citizenship to Rome’s
allies but the Senate knew this would further empower the brothers. Never before was a tribune
taken direct action against in Roman politics. This was significant during this time because it
Ponce 6
showed that the senate in Rome knew that the Tiberius was not only trying to reform the land but
the people and the state itself and it scared them, “is an attempt to reconstruct, in a necessarily
limited way, the picture which Tiberius Gracchus evoked in the minds of his opponents, what so
frightened that they were willing to kill to stop it” ( Discipline 358).
The senate was also scared that Tiberius was gaining support among the plebeians and
that there would be an up rise in Rome and even though the senate thought they had stopped it,
the people knew what they were capable of and it just led to a bigger uprising in the end, the fall
of the Roman Republic. Even though the Gracchi brothers upset the senate with their ideas and
actions that eventually led them to their death, they took risk for what they believed in and
greatly influenced the people of Rome.
The Gracchi brothers, from a young age, knew that they wanted to become and do
something that would be remembered forever and live up to their well know family. The
Gracchus brothers knew the importance of the alliance with the poor, “A man totally free of any
fault, brilliant in intellect, honorable in purpose, adored with every noble quality that an ideal
character and an ideal training can instill into the human frame” (Plutarch 97).
Their land
reform bills benefited the poor, Tiberius’ use of the tribunate challenged senatorial rule and it
encouraged imitation despite of his failure, “Tiberius turned the state upside down, although his
birth was high, his talents worthy of his grandfather Africanus,, his education superb and his
spirit noble” (Plutarch 97), from then on Romans could pursue a political career that was not
based solely on influence within the aristocracy.
The death of Tiberius caused a lot of controversy and pressure from the people was an
effective substitute in Rome. Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus influenced the poor, the common
people, the equestrians to stand up for their rights and to question the senate when they think
Ponce 7
they are being abused, taken advantage of, or not reaping the benefits of their state. They also
showed them that they and should be more active in the decisions that affect them, “He shattered
the stability of the republic; but what a man he was! What a speaker! What a leader! In no way
did he fall short of his father’s and his grandfather’s outstanding virtues, except that he broke
with the senate” (Plutarch 97). And even though the senate stopped the brothers before they
could carry out their ideas of revolution, the people saw the affect they had with the backing of
each other and this was the beginning of the fall of the Roman Republic.
Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus took major risks while in politics, that eventually led them
to their death. These risks that eventually ended in failure encouraged the imitation of them that
created up rise in the Roman Republic. Tiberius and Gaius influenced many people of Rome to
stand up for themselves and try to correct the existing abuses in Rome. This was the beginning of
the fall of the Roman Republic.