Ancient history

the Gracchi

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and his brother Caius Sempronius Gracchus nicknamed the Gracchus are two Roman statesmen.

Descended from the plebeian nobilitas, son of the consul Tiberius Sempronius, grandson of Scipio Africanus, they are renowned for their unsuccessful attempt to reform the Roman social system.

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus

Tiberius, born in 162 BC. J.-C., married Claudia Pulcheria, daughter of the consul Appius Claudius Pulcher, princeps senatus, he is the brother-in-law of Scipio Émilien.

He learned rhetoric from Diophanes of Mytilene and Blossius of Cumae, a Stoic, was his teacher of philosophy. He was therefore introduced very early on to philosophical debates around the notions of equality and citizenship.

He was first quaestor in 137 BC. AD and was sent to Spain with the consul Caius Hostilius Mancinus. He saved the Roman army from the incompetence of the consul when it was surrounded and at the mercy of the enemy. He negotiated a peace with the Numantines (Spain) because his father had established good relations between his family and the Numantines and had built up a solid clientele. But this peace, rejected by the Senate, put an end to his military career, and disrupted the relationship that Tiberius entered into with the Senate.

According to Livy, his decision to act was born while he was crossing Etruria towards Numantia. He was struck by these immense domains exploited by hordes of slaves and also by these immense fields empty of men.

In -133, he was tribune of the plebs and submitted his proposal for an agrarian law known as the Rogatio Sempronia (-133) whose content was as follows:

* limitation to the right of individual possessio of the ager publicus:500 judges, 250 additional judges per child and maximum of 1000 judges per family;

* institution of a triumvirate responsible for applying this law. He was elected there with his brother Caius and his father-in-law Appius Claudius Pulcher for the year -133;

* redistribution of recovered land to poor citizens at the rate of 30 judges per person.

During the presentation of his project, he praised the citizen, evoking his usefulness for Rome in the military field and the consideration that must be given to him as a result. He also criticized the slave swearing his military uselessness and his perpetual infidelity, evoking the servile wars which still shook Rome a year earlier.

The senators opposed this law. Indeed, this thwarted the game of clientelism which ensured them many supports and easy electoral victories. Indeed, the distribution of land was now ensured by the Sempronia family and its allies alone, which automatically made the beneficiaries the customers of the Gracchi.

Moreover, this law represented a loss of power for the Senate and senators. Indeed, the Senate no longer has exclusive control of the ager publicus and land consolidation leads to a reduction in the power of large landowners, many of whom are senators, because land brings wealth and dignitas.

They bought a tribune of the plebs, Octavius, so that he would make use of his intercessio (right of veto on measures which seemed to him contrary to the interests of the population he represented). Tiberius, after twice asking Octavius ​​to withdraw his veto, appealed to the people to depose Octavius. This is the first time that the people assume the right to dismiss a tribune of the plebs. This measure goes against the institutions of Rome, against the laws because only the Senate had the right to dismiss a magistrate. The law was then passed.

It was then that Tiberius stood for a second tribune, in the summer of 133 BC. J.-C., for the year 132. Historians wonder about the motivations of Tiberius:why present himself to a second tribune? To retain immunity, which is unlikely given that it is already Triumvir. In relation to the law, which is questionable because the law was passed and he is a member of the triumvirs. Finally, it is perhaps to have absolute control over the triumvirs but also over the Senate because being a tribune of the plebs at the same time as the triumvir would have allowed him to have ascendancy over the other members of the college and therefore to have control over senators. We therefore move from a simple reform of the agrarian question to the desire to establish personal power.

The tribune was refused him. He decided to put pressure on the assembly with some supporters to force them to accede to his request. During the summer of 133 BC, a riot broke out, led by the Grand Pontiff Scipio Nasica, and he was killed (his murder still remains unclear, there are two hypotheses:either he had his throat cut, or he was killed by a knock from the bench) in front of the door of the Capitol, next to the statue of the kings. 300 of his supporters were massacred during the riot and Tiberius' corpse was thrown into the Tiber.

Caius Sempronius Gracchus

Caius, born in 154 BC. J.-C. is first quaestor in Sardinia in 126 BC. J.-C. before becoming a tribune of the plebs in 124 BC. AD

Caius apparently has a real political program:to reduce the powers of the Roman Senate and increase those of the comitia in order to raise the Republic. In order to have his agrarian bill accepted, he began by allocating the favors of the main opponents in the Senate:the plebs and the equestrian order (knights) by various measures:

* The Lex Sempronia frumentaria:it plans to distribute a bushel of wheat per month at a reduced price to all poor citizens. Even if it seems necessary because the poverty of the citizens is a real problem in Rome, this law is a demagogic measure in the sense that it allows to curry popular favors.

* the Lex Calpurnia:introduces parity between knights and senators before the courts. The quaestiones perpetuae or perpetual questions are open to knights. Caius increases the number of jurors from 300 to 600 members and introduces 300 knights. As a result, the advantage that senators held at the judicial level over knights no longer exists.

* The Lex theatralis separates knights from senators in theaters.

* Another law gives them the collection of the tax of the rich province of Asia.

* The Lex sempronia de comitii modifies the methods of election of centuriate comitia. The order of succession of the centuries in the course of the vote is now established by drawing lots.

All these measures tend to reduce the power of the senators in favor of the knights in relation to the comitia.

He then tried to pass his agrarian reform, which was based on that of his brother.

* The jurisdiction of the triumviirs abolished in 129 is restored.

* Land allocations increase from 30 to 200 judges to allow poor citizens to improve their social conditions.

* The creation of colonies to support his project:two in Italy and one in Carthage.

To have his proposal accepted by the senate, he allowed the patres to acquire land they coveted in Lazio and around Taranto and Capua.

This gives him great popularity and allows him to be re-elected tribune of the plebs in -123. Indeed, since the passing of a law by Gaius Papirius Carbo in 125, the tribunes of the plebs could be reappointed without waiting for the traditional deadline.

To fight against him, the Senate decides to reduce its influence. He raises against him the tribune Marcus Livius Drusus. Drusus then proposes the creation of 12 colonies of 3000 men chosen from among the capite censi, the poor citizens. This outbidding diverts the attention of the people of Caius to the benefit of Drusus. Thanks to this, he can pass a law abolishing the vectigales, (royalties of the ager publicus), exonerating the large landowners and therefore many senators.

Caius responds by proposing the creation of a colony of 6000 men on the site of Carthage and the granting of full Roman citizenship to the Latins and partial (sine suffragio) to the Italians in order to attract their favors. But Caius's proposals are too advanced for the Rome of the time and, by wanting to skip the stages, Caius burns his wings. The creation of a colony on the cursed site of Carthage is a sacrilege. Granting citizenship to Latins and Italians bites into a privilege of the Roman people. Thus, Caius loses the support of part of the people who had supported him until then and also that of the consul.

When Caius leaves to oversee the construction of the colony in Carthage, his adversaries take the opportunity to discredit him. During the election of the tribunes for the year 122, he was not re-elected.
Immediately a law ordered the dismantling of the colony of Carthage:Caius appealed against the decision but failed. He then tries to secede with his supporters as the plebs had once seceded against the patricians at Mount Sacred. The Senate retaliates by enacting a senatus consultum ultimum which authorizes the elimination of Caius by any means. Caius was killed by his slave at his request, during a clash on the Aventine with 3000 partisans against the consul L. Opimius in 121 BC. J.-C..

This is the first time, and not the last, that a senatus-consultum ultimum has been pronounced and that such a wave of violence has invaded Rome because of political differences.