City of the Seven Hills - S. B. Harding

The Gracchi and Their Mother

After having watched the splendid triumph of Aemilius, let us see one of the more common sights of the city,—a Roman wedding. You will find it very unlike the weddings you may have seen among our own people, but, however strange the Roman customs are to you, you must remember that they were very sacred to the Romans.

Imagine that you are a Roman, and that it is your sister who is to be married. First, she is dressed in a garment made all of one piece of cloth, without any seams, and fastened about the waist with a woolen belt or girdle. Her hair is curled in six little curls, and it must not be parted with a comb, but with the point of a spear; and about her head she wears a yellow veil or net. In the evening, a procession is formed by the friends of both families, and the bride is taken from her father's house to that of her husband; and along the way minstrels play on their harps, and bridal songs are sung, and a little boy marches on before, carrying a blazing torch made from the wood of the white-thorn tree.

When the procession comes to the door of the bridegroom, the bride must wrap the doorposts with sacred fillets of white wool, and smear them with oil or fat. After that she must be carefully lifted over the doorsill by her husband. Some of the older people will tell you that this is done so that the bride may not stumble as she enters her husband's house for the first time, for that would be a very bad sign; but others will say that this is done in memory of the time when the followers of Romulus took wives from among the Sabine women by force.

After the procession has entered the house, the bride turns and says to her husband:

"Where thou art, Caius, there will I, Caia, be also."

After these words, the husband presents her with fire and water, to show that she is now a member of his family, and can sit at his hearth and join in the worship of his household gods. After this comes the feast, with its wedding cake and plenty of nuts scattered about; and then the wedding is over.

This is the way that Cornelia, the daughter of Scipio Africanus, was married to Tiberius Gracchus. He was a fine soldier and a just and honorable man; and she was then a beautiful girl, with bright clear eyes, that showed a noble soul within.

For many years they lived happily together, and had many children. Then, according to the story, he found in their sleeping-room one day a pair of large snakes. Now, the Romans looked upon snakes as something sacred; so Tiberius Gracchus went to the priests and asked what he should do with them. The priests answered that he must kill one of the snakes and let the other go; and they added, that if he killed the female snake, Cornelia would die, and that if he killed the male, he himself would shortly perish.

Tiberius loved his wife very much; so, when he heard this, he went home and killed the male snake, and let the female escape. And shortly after that he himself died.

After that, Cornelia lived only for her children; and when the king of Egypt sent to her and wished her to become his queen, she would not consent. Only three of her children two boys and a girl lived to grow up to manhood and womanhood; and on these Cornelia centered all of her love and care. She lived with them, and played with them, and taught them their letters; and, as she was a noble, high-minded woman, her children grew up to be brave, honorable and truth-telling in all that they did.

One day, as Cornelia was sitting at home, with the children playing in the courtyard within, a lady came to visit her. As she talked with Cornelia, this lady showed her the splendid rings and precious stones which she wore, and at last asked to see Cornelia's jewels.

Then Cornelia called her little children, and when they stood before her and her visitor, she said:

"These are my jewels."

As her boys grew up to be men, Cornelia would sometimes reproach them that she was still known as the relative of the Scipios, and not as the mother of the Gracchi; and in this way she made them long to do great deeds, so as to bring her honor.

The oldest of the two boys was named Tiberius, after his father. When the time came for him to enter the army, he went at his work with so much earnestness that in a short time he excelled all the other young men in deeds of arms.

When the Romans made war on Carthage for the third time, Tiberius Gracchus was the first man to get up on the wall of the city; and when he was in Spain, helping to carry on a war with the mountain tribes that lived in that peninsula, he saved the whole army from being destroyed as a result of the faults and mistakes of its commander.

But it is not for what he did as a soldier that we remember Tiberius Gracchus most frequently. It is rather for what he did after he returned to Rome and became a tribune of the people.

During the terrible war with Hannibal, the small farmers had their farms ruined, and fled to the city. After the war was over, the land gradually passed into the hands of the Senators and rich men of Rome, and a few great farms took the place of many small ones. The worst of it was that these large farms were not tilled by free laborers, but by slaves, just as the land in the southern states was before our Civil War except that the Roman slaves were white, and were treated ever so much more cruelly than our negro slaves ever were. So the poor freeman not only lost his land, but he lost the chance to work for hire also. The only thing he could do after that was either to enlist in the army and earn his living as a soldier, or else remain idly at Rome and cry out for bread to keep him alive and games to amuse him; and the rich candidates for offices were so eager to get the aid of the poorer citizens that they gladly bought their votes by feeding and amusing them. But, in this way, both the rich and the poor became selfish and greedy, and thought only of what would help themselves, instead of what would be best for the whole people.

Tiberius Gracchus saw these evils, and when he became tribune, he tried to cure them. Much of the land which the rich men held really belonged to the state, *though it had been out of the hands of the state for so many years that the people who held it had begun to forget that they did not really own it. What Gracchus proposed to do was to take back this land, and divide it among the poor citizens, and so build up once more a strong class of small landholders, such as had made Rome fit to be a conquering nation.

The men who already had this land did not like this plan at all; so, when Gracchus brought forward his law for the people to vote on it, they got another tribune, named Octavius, to veto it, and that stopped the voting. Then, when Gracchus found that he could not get Octavius to withdraw his veto, he got the people to put him out of his office and elect a new tribune in his place. This was against the law, but Gracchus did not see any other way of getting his measure passed.

After this, the law which Gracchus had proposed was passed, and he and two other men were appointed to carry out the distribution of the lands. Before the work was done, however, Gracchus's year of office was up; and he was afraid that as soon as he should be out of office, the rich citizens would not only find some way to stop the carrying out of the law, but they would also punish him for putting Octavius out of office. It was against the laws, at this time, for anyone to be tribune two years in succession; but Tiberius decided to disobey the laws once more, and get himself elected tribune a second time.

When the Senators and rich citizens heard this, they were very angry, and determined to prevent it. When the day of the election came a riot broke out. Gracchus was accused of trying to make himself king. Then the Senators and rich men armed themselves with clubs and bits of benches and stools, and set upon the poorer citizens; and Tiberius Gracchus and three hundred of his followers were slain.

Gracchus had been wrong in putting Octavius out of office, and in trying to get himself elected tribune a second time against the laws. But how much worse was the action of the Senators and rich citizens! In the old days, when the patricians and the plebeians struggled together, they did so peaceably and with respect for the laws. Now, in these new struggles between the party of the poor and the party of the rich, force was for the first time used and men were killed in a political struggle at Rome; and for this the Senators and rich men were chiefly to blame.

Caius Gracchus was not at Rome when his brother was killed; he was, moreover, still a very young man, and had just begun his training in the army. For ten years longer he went on serving with the armies of Rome. Then, although the Senate tried unlawfully to keep him from returning to the city, he came back, and he too was elected tribune.

Caius was much more hot-tempered than his brother had been. In spite of all that his mother Cornelia could do to prevent it, he resolved to carry out the plans of his brother Tiberius, and even to go further. He wanted to overturn the government by the Senate and the nobles, and put in its place a government by the people, with himself at their head. He got the support of the people for this by passing a law that they should always have grain sold to them at a low price. Then he got the support of many of the rich citizens, by passing laws which took rights and privileges from the Senators and gave them to the rich men who were not Senators.

In this way, Caius Gracchus got much more power than his brother had had; and a law having now been passed which permitted one to be reelected as tribune, Caius was made tribune a second time. After this, he was able to pass many laws to help the poorer citizens. But when he wished to go further, and to help the Italians who were not citizens of Rome, then the Romans selfishly deserted him. They were afraid that they would have to share their cheap grain and their free games with the Italians, so this law was not passed; and, at the next election, Caius Gracchus was not made tribune again.

After that Gracchus tried to live quietly, as a private citizen, at Rome. But now that he was no longer tribune, the nobles soon found means to pick a quarrel with him; and when a riot again broke out, Caius and many of his friends were put to death by the Senators, as Tiberius Gracchus had been before them.

You would think that, after the death of her second son, poor Cornelia would be heart-broken and would never want to see Rome again, because of the ingratitude with which its citizens had treated her sons. But the Romans believed that you ought not to show sorrow at anything that might happen to you, no matter how dreadful it was. So Cornelia put on a brave face, and hid the suffering which was in her heart; and when she spoke of the deeds and deaths of her sons, she spoke of them without a sigh or a tear, just as if she were talking about some of the ancient heroes who had died ages before. So all men admired her for her courage and virtue; and in time the Roman people repented of their conduct towards her sons, and began to look upon them as the truest friends they had ever had. And when Cornelia died, a statue was set up to her, and underneath it were carved these words, as her best title to fame:

"Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi."