Tiberius Gracchus

From Academic Kids

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (Latin: TI·SEMPRONIVS·TI·F·P·N·GRACCVS) (163 BC-132 BC) was a Roman politician of the 2nd century BC. In his short life he caused a political turmoil in the Republic, by his attempts, as plebeian tribune, to legislate agrarian reforms. Tiberius' political ideals eventually led to him being killed by the conservative faction of the senate.

Tiberius was born in 163 BC, son of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and Cornelia Africana. The Gracchii, though not of patrician stock, were one of the most politically important families of Rome, very rich and well connected. His mother was daughter of Scipio Africanus Major and his sister Sempronia was the wife of Scipio Aemilianus, another important general. Tiberius was raised by his mother, with his sister and his brother Gaius Gracchus.

Tiberius's military career started in the Third Punic War, as military tribune appointed to the staff of his brother in law, Scipio Aemilianus. In 137 BC he was appointed quaestor to consul Gaius Hostilius Mancinus and served his term in Numantia (Hispania province). The campaign was not successful and Mancinius' army suffered a major defeat. It was Tiberius, as quaestor, that saved the army from destruction by signing a peace treaty with the enemy. Back in Rome, Scipio Aemilianus considered the attitude as cowardice and convinced the senate to nullify the treaty. This was the start of the political enmity between Tiberius and the senate.

Rome's internal political situation was not peaceful. In the last hundred years, there had been several wars. Since legionaries were required to serve in a complete campaign no matter how long it was, soldiers often left their farms in the hands of wives and children. As estates in this situation went steadily into bankruptcy and were bought up by the wealthy upper class, latifundia or large estates, were formed. Furthermore, some lands ended up being taken by the state in war both in provinces in Italy and elsewhere. After the war was over much of the land would then be sold to or rented to various members of the populace.

When the soldiers returned from the legions, they had nowhere to go, so they went to Rome to join the mob of thousands of unemployed who roamed the city. Due to this, the number of men with enough assets to qualify for army duty was shrinking as the military power of Rome. In 133 BC Tiberius was elected tribune of the people. Soon he started to legislate on the matter of the homeless legionaries.

Tiberius noted how much of the land was being concentrated into large estates called "latifundi", being held by owners of large estates and worked by slaves, rather than small estates owned by small farmers working the land themselves.

In opposition to this, Tiberius proposed to the Assembly laws called Lex Sempronia agraria. They recommended that the government should confiscate public land that had previously been taken by the state in earlier wars, and was being held in amounts larger than the 500 jugera, approximately 310 acres (1.3 km²), allowed under previous land laws. Some of this land had been held by large land holders who had bought, settled, or rented the property in much earlier time periods, even several generations back. Sometimes it had been leased, rented, or resold to other holders after the initial sale or rental. In some ways, this was an attempt to implement the Licinian Laws passed in 367 B.C., which had never been repealed and never enforced. This would solve two problems: increase the number of men that could be levied for service and also take care of homeless war veterans.

The Senate and its conservative elements were strongly against the Sempronian agrarian reforms, and persuaded Octavius, another tribune, to prevent by his veto (a right of the tribune of the people) the submission of the bills to the Assembly. Gracchus then moved that Octavius, as a tribune who acted contrary to the wishes of his constituents, should be immediately deposed. Octavius remained resolute. The people began to vote on this motion, and when it seemed they would depose Octavius, Tiberius stopped the voting and asked him to reconsider. Octavius did not withdraw his veto, and was deposed. The lictors of Tiberius then then forcibly removed Octavius from the tribune's bench and the Assembly then passed the laws. The Assembly, then fearing for Gracchus' safety, escorted him home.

The Senate refused funds to the agrarian commission that had been appointed to execute Tiberius's laws. However, late in 133, king Attalus III of Pergamon died and left his entire fortune to Rome. Tiberius saw his chance and immediately used his tribunician powers to allocate the fortune to fund the new law. This was a direct attack on senatorial power, since it was traditionally responsible for the management of the treasury and for decisions regarding overseas affairs. and therefore the opposition of the Senate increased.

His overruling of the tribunician veto was considered to be illegal, and the opponents of Tiberius Gracchus were determined to impeach him at the end of his one year term, since he was regarded as having violated the constitution and having used force against a tribune. To protect himself further, he flouted the constitution by seeking re-election to the tribunate in 132 B.C, promising to shorten the term of military service, to abolish the exclusive right of senators to act as jurors, and to admit allies to Roman citizenship.

On election day, Tiberius Gracchus appeared in the Forum with armed guards and in mourning costume, implying that his defeat would mean his impeachment and death. As the voting proceeded, violence broke out on both sides. Scipio Nasica, saying that Gracchus wished to make himself king, led the senators into the Forum. In the resulting confrontation, Gracchus was killed, and several hundred of his followers perished with him.

The Senate then sought to placate the plebians by consenting to the enforcement of the Gracchan laws. An increase in the register of citizens in the next decade suggests a large number of land allotments. Nonetheless, the agrarian commission found itself faced with many difficulties and obstacles.

Tiberius was married to Claudia Pulcheria, daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher (consul in 143 BC), and had three sons that died young. His main heir was his younger brother, Gaius Gracchus who, a decade later, would share his fate while trying to apply even more revolutionary legislation.

See also: Scipio-Paullus-Gracchus family tree


Plutarch, Life of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus

Appian, The Civil War

Ian Scott-Kilvert, notes to Life of Tiberius Gracchus by Plutarch; Penguin Classicsde:Tiberius Gracchus fr:Tibérius Sempronius Gracchus


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