Course: Introduction to Roman History Instructor: Michel Cottier
9. The policies of the Gracchi and their consequences
Cf. Chapters XII and XIII (up to p. 166) of your textbook.
Sources to read:
No. 187, pp. 151-154: Appian, The Civil Wars 1.1.7, 9, 10, 11 (the 'ager publicus' and Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus'
Roman army before Marius' reforms: nos. 291-292, pp. 243-51 = Polybius, History of the World 6.22-24, 26 (5,7,10),
31 (10-14), 33 (6, 7, 12), 34 (5-11), 37-39, and Livy, A History of Rome 42.34.
Triumph of a Roman general: no. 293, pp. 251-252 = Zonaras, Epitome 7.21.
PLACE NAMES AND OTHER GEOGRAPHICAL DETAILS TO BE ABLE TO LOCALIZE ON A MAP (cf. the
one on pp. 266-267): Massilia, and Narbo (capital of the province of Narbonese Gaul).
DATES TO REMEMBER:
133 BC: Year of the tribunate and of the death of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus assassinated by some members of
129 BC: Death of Scipio Aemilianus.
123 to 122 BC: The two successive tribunates of Gaius Sempronius Gracchus.
121 BC: Death of Gaius Sempronius Gracchus who, surrounded by his enemies, committed suicide.
121/0 BC: Creation of the province of Narbonese Gaul ('Gallia Narbonensis').
POINTS TO KEEP IN MIND:
- Two causes of social unrest in Rome and Italy in 133:
1. An important gain for the people had been made in 139 BC: the replacement of the oral vote in the 'Comitia
Tributa'* (= Tribute Assembly) with a written vote ('tabella') for the elections to minor magistracies (quaestorship,
curule aedilship and military tribuneship). In 137 the same procedure was adopted for judgments (a secret ballot so to
speak). Now in 133 the people demanded it for voting on laws.
*The 'Comitia Tributa' or Tribute Assembly was created at some point before 447 BC in imitation of the 'Concilium
Plebis' or Council of the Plebs. Consuls or, in their absence, praetors convoked this assembly which was open to
patricians. It elected quaestors, curule aediles, and military tribunes, enacted laws and held minor trials.
2. Between 145 and 133 the question of agrarian reforms was raised: with the state wanting to recover its property
over the 'ager publicus' that has been wrongfully appropriated, and the current occupiers ill-disposed to let themselves
be stripped of what they saw as theirs; peasants without land were demanding plots, while land without peasants had
been given over to pasture and large-scale landowners.
- In 133 the leading politicians were grouped into three groups:
a. The 'conservative-liberals' (e.g., Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus, the victor of
Carthage) who were prepared to make reasonable concessions to the aspirations of the poor Roman citizens and the
b. The 'reformers' (e.g., Appius Claudius Pulcher, the leader of the Senate, and his son-in-law, Tiberius Sempronius
Gracchus) who were influenced by the Stoics.
c. The 'conservatives' (e.g., Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio) who put the safety of the state first and were
ready to defend legality at all costs, even by force.
To sum up: opposition between those who wished to defend and maintain the safety of the state ('salus rei publicae') and those whose aim was the safety of the people ('salus populi').
- Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus's activities in 133 BC:
1. Tribune of the plebs for that year.
2. Author of an agrarian law that promoted distribution of public land to poor citizens and fixed a limit on individual
possession of the 'ager publicus': 500 'iugera' (= 125 ha or 320 acres), plus 250 'iugera' per son; up to a maximum of
1,000 'iugera' (250 ha or 640 acres) per family. The land reclaimed was to be distributed among poor citizens at the
rate of 30 'iugera' (7.5 ha or 19.2 acres) per person.
Two aims were looked at:
a. The law was a reward for having children and thus sought to increase the birth rate.
b. It was a means of reconstituting a strong free peasant class needed for the army without in any way affecting
3. Presented to the Council of the Plebs the bill ('rogatio') was vetoed by another tribune, Marcus Octavius. Tiberius
Gracchus managed to have him dismissed from office and the 'rogatio' was voted and passed. Moreover, he had
himself elected one of the three commissioners in charge of applying the law together with his father-in-law Appius
Claudius Pulcher and his brother Gaius. Finally, he also sought a second tribuneship, to maintain tribunate
inviolability, something at odds with tradition though not strictly illegal.
4. The 'pontifex maximus', Scipio Nasica, rose against him and when Tiberius Gracchus mobilized a mob for his
re-election, he was accused of aiming at tyranny. However, as the consul Publius Mucius Scaevola saw no reason to
take action, Scipio Nasica, calling on those who wanted 'to save the Republic', led a group of senators and their
clients against Tiberius Gracchus who was killed.
- Gaius Sempronius Gracchus's activities between 123 and 121 BC:
1. Twice tribune of the plebs in 123 and 122 BC.
2. Renewed the 'rogatio' of his brother with certain shrewd amendments, e.g., excluding from land recoveries parts of
the Roman domain of particular interest to senators.
3. Decided to found two new colonies in Italy (Capua and Tarentum) and one overseas on the site of Carthage
4. Author of a law guaranteeing subsidized price of grain for Roman citizens.
5. Author of a law switching the composition of the 'quaestio perpetua' (= standing court) established to secure
compensation for the illegal acquisition of money and property by Romans in authority abroad. The new jurors were
not anymore men of senatorial rank as in the past but came from the equestrian order. The idea was to avoid conflicts
6. In 122 BC he unsuccessfully proposed to offer citizenship to Latins and Latin status to Italian allies, both to protect
them from the excesses of Roman magistrates and to make them subject to and beneficiaries of his brother's agrarian
7. He was not re-elected as tribune for 121 BC and during that same year his attempt at establishing a colony on the
site of Carthage was put to an end. In response he made the mistake of trying to resort to force. The Senate resorted to
the Ultimate Senatorial Decree ('Senatus Consultum Ultimum') that enjoined magistrates "to do everything possible
to prevent any misfortune befalling the Republic".
8. As a consequence, in April 121, Gaius was murdered together with 3,000 of his partisans.
Gracchian agrarian legislation was subsequently amended rather than abolished. This fact helps to explain why until
103 BC both the poor Roman citizens and the Italian allies remained reasonably quiet.
The Gracchan answer to social problems was the occasion of the first violent political confrontation between citizens
and it announced the tragic civil wars of the second part of the first century BC and their consequences, i.e., the end
of the Roman Republic.
On the other hand, war and colonization had already quickly restarted and were distracting the minds of the Romans
away from the sad end of Gaius Gracchus:
- In 125 BC the Greek settlers of Massalia/Massilia (modern Marseilles) asked the Romans for help against their Gallic neighbours > in 121/0 BC, creation of the province of Narbonese Gaul ('Gallia Narbonensis'), also called
simply 'the Province' (modern Provence), from the Mediterranean to Lake Geneva, with its capital at Narbo (founded
in 118 BC, modern Narbonne).
FOR THE NEXT SESSION (on Wednesday 17 October):