Plutarch's Lives - W. H. Weston

The Gracchi

The two Gracchi, brothers in blood, were both inspired with the sense of the evils produced by the decrease in the number of freemen and the increase in the number of slaves in the Roman state, and by the tendency of wealth to pass more and more into the hands of the few at the expense of the many.

Both Tiberius and Caius set themselves to remedy these evils, and, just as they were alike in the objects to which they devoted their lives, so they were also alike in suffering cruel and unjust deaths at the hands of their opponents.

Both brothers were inspired by noble and worthy motives, but of the two Tiberius, the elder, was the nobler and purer character. It must, however, be allowed that even Tiberius, in the heat of party strife, broke the laws in order to attain his ends. The handle which he gave to his enemies by so doing furnishes, however, little or no excuse for his brutal murder.

Caius, moved by a more fiery and vehement temper, and also perhaps by resentment at his brother's fate, was more violent and headstrong in his measures, and less free from personal ambition than Tiberius. Indeed, it is generally admitted that, though most of his measures effected useful reforms, yet some were injurious to the state in the long-run. Nothing, however, can excuse the means by which the senate succeeded in compassing his death.

The murders of the Gracchi and of their adherents mark the beginning of the series of bloody reigns of terror by which triumphant political parties avenged themselves upon their opponents during the latter years of the Roman Republic. The death of the two brothers left the nobles triumphant, until there arose to power the terrible, low-born Caius Marius, who took savage vengeance upon their party. Indeed, this violent and bloodthirsty party spirit in Rome furnishes the key to much that you will read in those lives which follow in this book; the lives of the Gracchi, of Caius Marius, of Julius Caesar, and of Brutus.

Tiberius Gracchus perished in 133 B.C., Caius twelve years later.


The two Gracchi, Tiberius and Caius, were the sons of Tiberius Gracchus, who, though he was once censor, twice consul, and celebrated two triumphs, was even more distinguished for his virtues than his dignities. Hence, after the death of Scipio, the conqueror of Hannibal, he was deemed worthy to marry Cornelia, the daughter of that great man, although he had been rather at variance with Scipio than on terms of friendship with him.

The story is told that Tiberius once caught a pair of serpents, male and female, upon his bed. He consulted the seers as to what this strange event might mean, and was advised by them that he should neither kill both the serpents nor suffer both to live. Further, they told him that if he killed the male serpent his own death would follow, while if he killed the female his wife Cornelia would die. Now Tiberius loved his wife dearly, and, as he was much older than she, deemed it fitter that he should die rather than Cornelia. He therefore killed the male serpent and allowed the female to escape. Not long after he died, leaving no fewer than twelve children to the care of his wife. The sole charge of the house and children now fell upon Cornelia, and so nobly did she discharge her trust, and with such affection and wisdom, that it seemed Tiberius had not judged ill in choosing to die for such a woman. A monarch, Ptolemy, King of Egypt, paid his court to her and offered her a seat upon his throne, but she refused him.

All her children died during the time of her widowhood except three; a daughter, who married the younger Scipio, and two sons, Tiberius and Caius. These children were brought up with such care by Cornelia that they were considered to owe more to their training than to the gifts of nature, though they belonged to the noblest family in Rome, and were gifted beyond all others in mind and character.

While the two brothers strongly resembled each other in courage, in temperance of life, in generosity and in eloquence, yet there appeared no small difference between them in their actions and in their conduct of political affairs.

In the first place, Tiberius was gentle in manner and calm in behaviour, while Caius was fiery and energetic. This difference was shown in their different styles of speaking in public. Tiberius stood still and used gestures but little. But Caius strode from one end of the platform to the other and often threw his gown from his shoulder. His oratory was full of passion and of a kind to excite terror and fear, while the speech of Tiberius was of a gentler nature, and awakened the softer emotion of pity. Tiberius used well-chosen words and polished language, while Caius was more splendid and forcible in diction.

Similarly, Tiberius lived in a very plain and simple manner, while Caius, though moderate in comparison with other young Romans of his position, seemed luxurious when compared with his brother.

The differences between the brothers in speech and mode of living reflected the difference in their characters. Caius was aware that his ardent nature often caused him to lose control of himself when speaking, and led him to raise his voice too high, to indulge in words of abuse, and to lose the thread of his speech. He was, therefore, accustomed to station one of his servants, a sensible fellow, behind him when he was speaking, with orders to sound a note of warning upon a pitch-pipe whenever his master was beginning to show signs of anger and to raise his voice too high.

Such was the difference between the brothers. But, in the courage which they displayed against the enemies of the state, in their justice towards their fellow-citizens, in the sense of duty which guided their public actions, they were perfectly alike.

Tiberius was the elder of the two by nine years, and hence it came about that their work in political matters took place at different times. This was a great misfortune, for, could they have acted together, their strength would have been greater, and might well have been irresistible.

As the young Tiberius grew into manhood, he gained a great reputation for one of his years. This is shown by the following story. Appius Claudius, who had been both consul and censor, and whose merit had raised him to the rank of President of the Senate, took occasion at a public entertainment to address Tiberius, and to offer him the hand of his daughter in marriage. Tiberius was sensible of the honour, and gladly accepted the proposal. When Appius returned home, he called out to his wife directly he entered the house and told her that he had arranged for the marriage of Claudia their daughter. "Why so suddenly as all this?" answered his wife. "What is the need for such haste, unless, indeed, Tiberius Gracchus is the man you have chosen?"

Tiberius served in Africa under the younger Scipio, who had married his sister, and he was, therefore, on intimate terms with his general. He lived in Scipio's tent, so that he learned much from the general's genius and mental powers, which daily gave him subjects for admiration and imitation. Tiberius, indeed, excelled all others of his age in the army in discipline and courage. At the siege of a certain town he was the first to scale the walls.

After this expedition he was appointed quaestor, and it became his duty to accompany the consul Mancinus in the Numantian war. The consul was not lacking in courage, but nevertheless showed himself one of the most unfortunate generals the Romans ever had. But amidst a series of reverses and disasters Tiberius distinguished himself, not only by his courage and ability, but by the respect which he showed to his general in his misfortunes.

After having lost several important battles, Mancinus endeavoured to draw off his army by night. The enemy, however, detected the movement, seized the Roman camp and, attacking the retreating army, cut up the rear. Indeed, they surrounded the whole force and drove the Romans into rough and broken ground, whence there seemed no chance of escape. Mancinius despaired of cutting his way through with the sword, and sent a herald to his foes to beg for a truce and to ask for conditions of peace.

The Numantians, however, refused to treat with the herald, and declared that Tiberius must be sent, for they would have dealings with no other. Their reason for this was partly respect for Tiberius himself, and partly respect for the memory of his father, whose honour and faith their people had experienced beforetime.

Accordingly Tiberius was sent as envoy to the enemy. By giving way on some points he gained others, and was thus the means of making a peace which saved the lives of twenty thousand citizens of Rome, in addition to the slaves and other followers of the army.

However, the Numantians carried off as plunder everything that was left in the Roman camp, and, amongst other things, the books which contained the accounts which Tiberius had kept as quaestor. These accounts were of great importance to him, and therefore, when he discovered their loss, he returned with a few friends to Numantia, although the army was upon the march. When he arrived, he called out the magistrates from the place, and asked them to restore the books. He pointed out that enemies might take the opportunity to accuse him of misuse of the public money if they learnt that he had lost the volumes, which alone contained the evidence to rebut such false charges.

The Numantians were pleased to have the opportunity of obliging him, and invited him to enter their city. As he stood debating in his mind the wisdom of doing so, they came up to him, took him by the hand, and begged him no longer to look upon them as enemies, but to have confidence in them as friends. Tiberius decided to trust them, and entered the town. There they first invited him to take food with them, and afterwards not only restored his books but also asked him to accept whatever else he chose from the plunder. Tiberius, however, would accept nothing except some frankincense, to be used in public sacrifices to the gods. He then embraced his former foes, and took his departure.

When he returned to Rome, he found the people very angry about the peace, which they considered a dishonour to the Roman arms. Tiberius was therefore in considerable danger, but the relatives and friends of the soldiers whose lives had been saved by the treaty made up a considerable part of the people, and they united to save him. They laid all the blame of the disgrace upon the consul, and said that as for Tiberius he had rendered the state great service by saving the lives of so many citizens. The general body of the people, however, would by no means allow the peace to stand. They demanded that the example of their ancestors should be followed, who, when their generals made a similar peace, sent the chief officers of the army back naked to the enemy, as being the ones responsible for the breach of the treaty through agreeing to such terms.

The people, however, showed on this occasion a great affection for Tiberius. For instead of sending back the quaestors and tribunes as well as the consul, as their ancestors had done, they decreed that Mancinus alone, naked and in chains, should be delivered up to the Numantians, but that the rest should be spared for the sake of Tiberius. Scipio, who at the time had great power and influence at Rome, appears to have helped to procure this decree.

It is probable that Tiberius would never have fallen into the misfortunes which ruined him, if Scipio had been at home to aid him in political matters. He was, however, engaged in war with Numantia when Tiberius was bold enough to propose his new laws.

These land laws of Tiberius arose from the following facts. It had formerly been the custom when Rome won new territory from neighbouring states to dispose of it in this manner. A part was sold, another part was added to the public lands, and the rest was divided among the needy citizens on condition of a small rent being paid to the public treasury. But when the rich began to oppress the poor and to shut them out from the land entirely unless they paid extravagant rents, a law was passed that no man should hold more than five hundred acres of land. This law checked the greed of the rich for a time, and the poor possessed their lands at the old rents. But after a while their rich neighbours began to seize upon their lands and to hold them, at first in the names of other persons, and then, as they grew bolder, in their own. After the poor Romans were thus driven out, the lands were cultivated for the rich by slaves and foreigners, and thus there was a lack of freemen all over Italy.

Laelius, a friend of Scipio, made some attempt to remedy these abuses, but, when he found that the opposition was very powerful, he gave up the idea, for he feared that his reforms could only be carried by the sword. But no sooner was Tiberius appointed Tribune of the People than he engaged in this very undertaking.

Some say that he was incited to do this by the complaint of his mother that she was known as the mother-in-law of Scipio and not as the mother of the Graechi. But his brother Caius relates that when Tiberius was passing through Tuscany, he was filled with sorrow to see the countryside stripped of husbandmen and shepherds and almost uninhabited, save for the foreign slaves who tilled the lands of the rich, and that he then formed the plans which were to bring such great misfortunes upon himself and his brother. Certainly the people themselves incited him to become the champion of their cause, for on the porches, the walls, and the monuments of the city they put up writings beseeching him to restore their share of the public lands to the poor.

Tiberius did not frame the law without consulting some of the Romans most distinguished for virtue and position. And, indeed, a more moderate law was never made to remedy so much injustice and oppression, for those who deserved punishment for taking away the rights of the people and holding lands contrary to law were to be compensated for giving up their groundless claims. Moderate though the proposals were, they satisfied the commons, who were content to overlook the past, provided their rights were safeguarded for the future.

Nevertheless, the rich opposed the law out of greed, and assailed Tiberius with hatred and malice. They endeavoured to raise prejudice against the design, by asserting that he wanted to throw everything into disorder and to overturn the constitution. They failed, however, for, in a cause so just and glorious, the eloquence of Tiberius, which might well have carried less worthy proposals, was irresistible. Great was he when, from the public platform, he pleaded for the poor in such words as these:

"The wild beasts of our country have caves in which to shelter, but for the brave men, who have shed their blood in her cause, there is nothing but air and light. Houseless and homeless, they wander from place to place with their wives and children. What a mockery it is when the generals at the head of their armies exhort the soldiers to fight for the tombs of their ancestors and the gods of their hearths! For among all those numbers of men, there is perhaps not one Roman who has an altar that belonged to his forefathers or a sepulchre in which their ashes rest. The common soldiers fight and die to increase the luxury of those already rich and great, and those Romans, who are called the masters of the world, have not a foot of ground to call their own."

Such speeches, delivered by a man whose heart glowed with interest in the cause, filled the people with enthusiasm, so that none of his opponents dared to answer him. They therefore gave up the attempt to debate the matter, and applied themselves to work upon another of the tribunes named Marcus Octavius. Now, the power of the tribunes lies chiefly in the negative vote, for if one of them stands out the rest can do nothing. At first Octavius was unwilling to oppose Tiberius, who was his friend, but when a number of the men of the highest rank applied to him, he gave way and prevented the passing of the law.

Tiberius was incensed by this. He now dropped his first moderate proposals, and brought in a more drastic measure by which the holders were commanded to give up immediately the lands which they held contrary to the laws. Daily disputes on the new bill arose in public between Tiberius and Octavius, but, even in the heat of debate, they used no abusive or insulting language concerning one another.

Tiberius saw that Octavius would suffer personal loss if the proposals were passed, because he held more land than the law allowed. He therefore offered, though his own fortune was not great, to make up out of his means whatever loss Octavius might sustain, if only he would withdraw his opposition and allow the law to pass. But Octavius refused to accept the offer.

Tiberius now endeavoured to force the passage of his Agrarian Law by bringing the machinery of the state to a standstill. He forbade the other magistrates to exercise the functions of their offices, and he set his own seal upon the Temple of Saturn, so that no moneys should be taken out, or paid into, the treasury. These measures aroused such resentment that a number of the wealthy Romans went the length of bribing assassins to murder Tiberius, who, to protect himself, was obliged to take to carrying a long narrow sword such as robbers use.

When the day of the voting came, some of the urns used for the ballot were carried off by partisans of the rich, and great confusion was thus caused. Those who were supporting Tiberius were in numbers sufficient to carry the point by force, and seemed about to do so. Then two men of consular rank approached Tiberius, fell at his feet, and with tears and prayers besought him not to carry this purpose into execution. He himself now recognised the dreadful consequences of such an attempt. He referred the matter again to the senate, but the influence of the rich was so great in that body, that nothing came of the debates on the measure.

Tiberius then adopted a plan which was neither moderate nor just. He resolved, since there appeared to be no other way of getting the law passed, to remove Octavius from the tribuneship. First, however, he again besought him to give way, but met with a refusal. Then he declared that since they differed on a point of such prime importance, it was impossible for both to continue in office. He proposed, therefore, that they should abide by the popular vote, as to which of them should resign office. This proposal also was rejected by Octavius.

Next day Tiberius convoked the assembly and, as Octavius still refused to agree to his proposals, put to the vote a decree depriving him of office. When, of the thirty-five tribes, seventeen had already given their vote in favour of this, and but one more was wanted to carry the decree, Tiberius stopped the proceedings, and once more besought his colleague to yield. Octavius listened, not without emotion, but with a firmness that cannot but be admired, refused and bade Tiberius do his worst. The bill therefore was passed, and Tiberius then ordered one of his freedmen to pull down Octavius from his tribunal. This shameful manner of expulsion should have awakened the compassion of the mob, but, so far from feeling pity, they attacked the expelled tribune. Indeed, it would have gone hard with him, had not a body of the landed party come to his rescue, and kept off the mob so that he escaped with his life. But such was the fury of the mob that one of his servants, who put himself in front of his master in order to shield him, had his eyes torn out by the raging crowd. This outbreak was quite against the wishes of Tiberius, and he hastened to do his utmost to appease the fury of the people.

The Agrarian Law was then confirmed, and three men were appointed to attend to the survey and distribution of the lands. They were Tiberius, his father-in-law Appius Claudius, and his brother Caius, who was then serving in the army under Scipio. Tiberius next filled up the vacant tribuneship by getting one of his own dependents put into the office.

The anger of the patricians grew more and more bitter with these proceedings. In the senate they lost no opportunity of insulting Tiberius. Thus, for example, they refused him the use of a tent at the public expense, while he was engaged in dividing the lands, though such a grant was customary. Moreover, they allowed him only a very small sum for expenses.

Meanwhile, on their part, the people were becoming more and more exasperated. When it happened that a friend of Tiberius died suddenly, the people roundly declared that he had been poisoned. The fact that it was only with great difficulty that the body could be consumed on the funeral pyre confirmed their suspicions. The action of Tiberius on this occasion tended to stir up the anger of the people against the other party still more. Dressed in mourning, he led his children into the Forum, and commended them and his mother to the protection of the people, as though he considered his own life as good as lost.

Now, about this time a certain ruler died, who by his will left the Roman people his heirs. Tiberius at once proposed a law to the effect that the money thus bequeathed should be divided among the citizens to enable them to get tools for the working of the lands newly assigned to them.

These proposals again were very distasteful to the senate, and many accusations were levelled at Tiberius. One senator charged him with designing to make himself King of Rome, and stated that he had certain knowledge that a royal diadem and purple robe had been brought to the tribune to be worn when he assumed the title. Others accused him of consorting with mean and turbulent people; while yet another brought a charge of more weight and truth, affirming that he had been guilty of a great offence in deposing his fellow-tribune, whose person, according to the law, was sacred.

Tiberius himself felt that the step he had taken in deposing Octavius from office offended many of the commons, as well as the patricians. He defended himself by saying that the person of a tribune of the people drew its sanctity from the fact that it was devoted to the service of the people. But, he argued, if a tribune opposes the interests of the people, he loses that attribute, and can be deposed by the same power that set him up.

The supporters of Tiberius, being afraid of the threats and plots against him, now advised him that he should use all his influence to get his tribuneship continued for another year, for they considered that he would be in great danger if he were but a private citizen. Tiberius therefore, in order to secure reelection, brought forward other laws intended to please the people. He proposed to shorten the time of military service, and also that an appeal from the judges to the people should be allowed. It must be confessed that in some of his proposals, he seemed now to be inspired rather by an obstinate anger against the patricians than by regard for the public welfare.

When the time came for the vote to be taken, Tiberius and his friends saw that there was a poor attendance of the people, and that their opponents were likely to be the stronger party. They therefore spun out the proceedings by all means possible, and procured the adjournment of the meeting to the following day. Tiberius then, with every sign of mourning and distress, went into the market-place, and applied to the people for protection. He told them that he feared that he himself would be killed, and his house destroyed before morning. The people were deeply moved. Many of them set up tents outside his door, and kept guard over his house all night.

Next morning, omens of disaster were not lacking. Nevertheless, Tiberius set out for the Capitol as soon as he heard that the people were assembled there. As he went out of his house, he stumbled on the threshold, and struck it so violently with his foot that his toenail was broken and the blood flowed freely. He had gone but a little way farther when he saw, on his left hand, two ravens fighting upon a housetop, and, although as tribune he was surrounded by many people, one of the ravens let fall a stone which dropped close to his foot. Even the boldest of his supporters were disturbed by so evil an omen, except one who exclaimed: "It would be a disgrace unbearable if Tiberius, son of Gracchus, grandson of Scipio Africanus, and protector of the people of Rome, should fail to go to the help of the people when they called upon him, for fear of a raven, forsooth!" He declared, too, that their enemies would not be content with laughing at them. They would point out to the commons, the speaker continued, that Tiberius was already acting with the insolent pride of a king in coming or not to the meeting-place as it pleased him.

At the same time there came several messengers from their friends in the Capitol, asking Tiberius to make haste, for everything was going as well as he could wish.

And indeed, when the assembly saw Tiberius approaching in the distance, they burst out into the loudest applause, and when he came up greeted him with delight, and formed a ring around him to keep all strangers at a distance. The colleague, whose appointment Tiberius had secured, then began to call over the tribes, but such was the excitement and the press of the crowd that nothing could be done regularly and in order. In the midst of the commotion a certain senator got upon a raised place, and, as he, could not make his voice heard above the din, made a sign with his hand to Tiberius that he had something to say to him in private. The tribune therefore called upon the people to make way, and with much difficulty the senator got near to him. He told Tiberius that the senate was sitting, and that the landed party had applied to the consul to take action against the tribune, and further that, as they could not get the consul to consent, they had resolved to kill Tiberius themselves, and had armed a number of their friends and slaves for that purpose.

As soon as Tiberius communicated this news to those around him, they girt up their togas, seized the halberds with which the guards kept off the crowd, and broke them up to serve as weapons with which to beat off any attack. The people who were at a distance could not understand the cause of this disturbance, and Tiberius found it impossible, on account of the din, to let them know by calling out to them. He therefore touched his head with his hand as a sign to them that his life was in danger. At once some of his enemies, who were mingled with the crowd, ran to the senate and declared that Tiberius was claiming the kingly crown, for that was the interpretation they put upon the sign he made.

The report caused a great sensation in the senate. Nasica, one of the senators, rose and demanded that the consul should defend the commonwealth, and destroy this man who aimed at making himself tyrant. The consul answered that he would not begin the use of violence, nor put any citizen to death who had not been condemned by the laws, but that he would annul any decree contrary to the constitution that Tiberius should persuade the people to adopt.

Upon this Nasica started up and cried, "Since the consul gives up the cause of his country, let all those who support the laws follow me." Then, covering his head with the skirt of his toga, he hurried to the Capitol, followed by a number of others. The crowd did not resist them; indeed the people, out of regard for their rank, made way for the senators to pass, trampling upon one another and breaking the benches as they did so. The attendants of the senators had brought staves and clubs with them, while the patricians themselves seized the legs of the broken benches. Thus armed, they rushed upon Tiberius, killing or driving off such as stood in their way.

Tiberius himself, with many of his friends, sought to escape. One of his enemies laid hold of his toga, but he slipped it off, and continued his flight. He chanced, however, to stumble over the bodies of some of those who had already been killed in the onslaught, and fell. Before he could recover himself, one of the patricians struck him upon the head with the leg of a stool, and he was killed. Over three hundred others were slain in this fight, all by clubs and stones, and not one by the sword.

This is said to have been the first civil strife in Rome, since the expulsion of the kings, in which the blood of any citizen was shed. All other disputes had been settled by compromise, and so probably might this one have been if Tiberius had been moderately dealt with. But it seems that the conspiracy against him was caused rather on account of the personal hatred of the rich, than for the reasons which they publicly gave for the deed. This is shown by the cruel and disgraceful treatment of his dead body. Despite the entreaties of Tiberius's brother that he might be allowed to take it away, the nobles ordered that it, with the other bodies of the slain, should be cast into the river. Nor was this all, for, of his friends, some were banished and others put to death without trial. One, indeed, was shut up in a cask with vipers and other poisonous snakes and left thus to perish miserably.

The senate now sought to make peace with the people. They no longer offered any opposition to the Agrarian Law, and they allowed the election of another commissioner, in place of Tiberius, to attend to the dividing of the lands. But the people deeply lamented the death of their tribune, and it was plain that they were awaiting an opportunity for revenge. Nasica was especially the object of their hatred, and they reviled him as an accursed wretch who had defiled the most sacred and most awful temple in Rome with the blood of a magistrate. Nasica was indeed constrained to leave Italy secretly, and to wander from place to place in foreign lands until he died.


Whether it was that Caius Gracchus felt some fear of the enemies of his house, or whether he wanted to make them more hateful to the people, certain it is that at first, after the murder of his brother, he absented himself from the Forum, and kept himself close within his own dwelling. But he was, indeed, a very young man at the time, for Tiberius, who was nine years the elder, was not quite thirty years of age at the time of his death. However, it soon appeared that Caius was preparing to take part in public affairs.

He showed such powers of eloquence in the defence of one of his friends, that all the other orators seemed but children in comparison, and the people were transported with enthusiasm. The nobles, however, regarded the powers thus revealed with fear and apprehension, and at once began to take measures to prevent his advancement to the office of tribune.

His enemies were pleased to get rid of him when it fell to his lot to attend the consul as quaestor in an expedition to Sardinia. Caius, however, felt no uneasiness as to the result, for he had as good a talent for military matters as for oratory. Indeed, he thought himself fortunate in being sent abroad, for he had some natural apprehension, after his brother's fate, of taking any share in the politics of Rome.

It is a common opinion that Caius, of his own accord, became a violent political leader. This, however, is not true, and it seems to have been rather necessity than choice that brought him into politics. Cicero, the orator, tells us that Caius avoided all office, and had resolved to live in a private station, but that the shade of his brother Tiberius appeared to him. "Why dost thou delay, Caius?" said the spirit. "For us the Fates have decreed the same path and the same death for the people. There is no other way."

Caius distinguished himself in Sardinia above all the other young Romans, not only in combat with the enemy, but also in justice to those who submitted, and in respect and assistance to his general. He excelled even the veterans in temperance, in simplicity of food, and in devotion to labour.

A severe and unhealthy winter came on while the army was in Sardinia, and the general demanded clothing for his men from the cities of the island. The towns, however, appealed to Rome against this burden, and the general was ordered to find some other means of supplying the needs of the army. Caius thereupon applied to the towns in person, and such was his influence that they voluntarily supplied the clothing.

The senate was alarmed at this instance of the popularity that attended Caius, and determined to keep him away from Rome. They therefore made a decree, that when the ordinary soldiers on service in Sardinia were relieved by others, the consul should remain, in order that Caius as quaestor should also be detained with him.

When this order came to Caius, his anger overcame him. In defiance of it he embarked and arrived in Rome when nobody was expecting him. Not only did his enemies now blame him, but the general body of the people thought it strange that the qusestor should return without his general. A charge was laid against him, but he defended himself so well that opinion was entirely changed, and it was seen that he had indeed been ill-used. "I have served twelve campaigns, whereas I was obliged to serve but ten. I have attended my general as quaestor three years instead of the legal term of one year." He added, moreover, "I alone went out with a full purse and return with it empty, while others, having drunk the wine they carried out, return with the vessels filled with gold and silver."

After this other charges were brought against him, but he cleared himself of all suspicion. Then, his innocence being fully established, he offered himself as a candidate for the office of tribune. The patricians exerted every effort in opposition to him, but such a great number came into the city from all parts to support him, that the meeting-place would not hold the multitude, and some of the people gave their voices from the housetops.

However, the patricians were so far successful that they prevented Caius from obtaining the first place in the election, and he was returned fourth on the list. But when he had entered upon the duties of the office, he soon obtained a leading place among the tribunes. This he owed partly to his gifts of eloquence, in which he greatly excelled the others, and partly to the memory of his brother's services and unhappy fate. Caius indeed constantly returned to this subject, and reproached the people for allowing the murder. "Your ancestors," he said, "made war to avenge an insult offered to one of their tribunes. Indeed, they thought death itself not too heavy a punishment for a man who refused to make way for the tribune when he was crossing the Forum. But you suffered Tiberius to be bludgeoned to death before your eyes, and his body to be dragged shamefully through the city, and cast into the river."

Such speeches were heard by great numbers, for his voice was so powerful that he could be heard by a multitude. Having thus prepared the way, he proposed two laws. The purport of the first was that any magistrate who had been deposed by the people should thenceforth be incapable of holding any office. This law was aimed at Octavius, the man who had been deprived of his tribuneship by the agency of Tiberius. The second proposed that any magistrate who banished a citizen without trial should answer to the people for his conduct. In this Caius struck at Popilius, who had banished the friends of Tiberius. Popilius, being afraid to stand the issue of a trial, fled from Italy. The other proposal Caius dropped because his mother Cornelia interceded for Octavius.

The people were quite content to have it so, for they honoured Cornelia greatly, not only on account of her sons, but also on account of her father. They afterwards erected a statue in her honour which bore this inscription:


Among the various laws which Caius passed to increase the power of the people, one related to the foundation of colonies and the division of the public lands. A second secured that the army should be clothed at the public expense. A third gave the vote to the Italian allies of Rome. A fourth was intended to lessen the cost of bread. A fifth related to the courts of law, and, more than any other of his proposals, lessened the power of the senate. Hitherto only senators had held the office of judges, but Caius proposed that three hundred men of the knightly order should be added to the three hundred senators as judges. In furthering this bill he exerted himself to the utmost in all respects. One thing was noted as especially remarkable. Before this time all orators when addressing the people stood facing the senatehouse. Caius, however, now for the first time stood so as to face the Forum, and ever after this time adopted the new position. Thus, by a mere alteration of the posture of his body, he indicated a very great matter, no less indeed than the change of the government of the state from the rule of the nobles to the rule of the people, for his action intimated that the commons and not the senate should be addressed as the masters of the state. The people not only ratified this law, but also gave Caius the power to choose the three hundred judges from the knightly order, so that he found himself possessed of almost kingly power. Indeed, at this time, even the senate was ready to listen to his advice. He used his power to obtain decrees for the making of roads, for settling colonies, and for building public granaries. He had the supreme direction of all these matters, but he was far from thinking so much business a fatigue. Indeed, he threw such energy into his manifold duties, and despatched them with so much ease, that it appeared as though any matter he happened to have in hand at the moment was the sole thing to which he had to attend. Even those who both hated and feared him could not help marvelling at his tireless industry and the speed with which his undertakings were completed. As for the people, they were delighted to see their leader followed by such a press of architects, artificers, ambassadors, magistrates, soldiers and writers, all of whom he received with a kindly and dignified courtesy.

He took especial pains in the construction of the public roads, and in planning them had regard to beauty as well as to utility. They were drawn in straight lines across the country, and were either paved with hewn stones, or made of sand specially chosen because it readily bound together to make a hard surface. Ravines or deep hollows in the way were either filled up with rubbish or spanned by bridges, so that the road crossed them as a level way. He caused all the roads to be measured, and set up stone pillars to mark the distances, while here and there he built mounting-stones to assist travellers who rode without servants to get on their horses.

The people were loud in praise of the activities of Caius, and there was no mark of their affection which they were not ready to bestow upon him. In one of his speeches he told them that there was one favour which he should esteem above all others, though he should not complain if it were denied to him. The people imagined that by these words Caius meant that he desired the consulship, and that, indeed, he aspired to be both consul and tribune at the same time. They therefore waited with some anxiety for his declaration of this fervent desire when the day of election for the consulship came. They found, however, that instead of seeking the office himself, Caius wished to secure it for another, who by the tribune's influence was immediately elected. As for Caius, though he made no application for office, and did not even offer himself as a candidate, he was at once appointed tribune for a second time.

He soon found, however, that the senators began openly to show their hatred for him, and that the consul, who had been appointed through his influence, began to fall away from him. He therefore set himself to pass still other laws to secure the favour of the people. Such measures were the proposals to found various new colonies, and to grant to all the Latins the rights and privileges of the citizenship of Rome. The senate now resolved to undermine his influence in a new and unheard-of manner. Instead of opposing his proposals, however injurious they might believe them to be, they determined to agree to them, and even to outbid him in the contest for popular favour by adopting still more extreme measures to gratify and please the people. For this purpose they secured the help of one of the colleagues of Caius, Livius Drusus, who by birth and education, eloquence and wealth was one of the foremost Romans of his time.

Drusus entered willingly into the plan. He proposed laws without any regard to the interests of the state, but solely in order to flatter and please the people and thus outvie Caius. Thus, when Gracchus procured a decree for sending out two colonies, Drusus succeeded in sending out twelve, and selected three hundred of the meanest of the citizens for each. Again, Gracchus divided the public lands among the poor citizens on condition that they paid a small rent, but Drusus freed them from even that payment. And, when Caius procured the rights of citizenship for the Latins, Drusus went beyond him by securing a decree that the Latin soldiers should not be flogged for any fault even when they were upon active service. In all these measures Drusus was supported by the senate. Indeed, he sought to persuade the people that the patricians were the prime movers in these matters, and he thus succeeded in lessening the hostility of the commons to the senate.

When it had been decided to rebuild and colonize the city of Carthage, which had been destroyed by Scipio, it fell to the lot of Caius to superintend the work, and for that purpose he set sail for Africa. While he was employed there in re-establishing the town, his work was disturbed by several events of evil omen. The staff of the first standard was broken, what with the violence of the wind and the efforts of the ensign to hold it aloft. Another tempest swept away the sacrifices from the altars, and bore them beyond the bounds marked out for the city. Moreover, the marks of the boundaries were themselves seized by wolves, and carried away to a great distance. Nevertheless, Caius brought all into good order in the space of seventy days, and then returned to Rome.

He found his affairs in no very favourable condition. Drusus had taken advantage of his absence to charge one of the particular friends of Caius with stirring up the Italians to revolt. This man, Fulvius by name, was of a factious character, and though no proofs were given for the accusations against him, his violence and unwise conduct gave some colour to them. As his intimate friend, Caius to some extent shared in the odium which fell upon Fulvius. Moreover, it was remembered, that some time ago suspicion had fallen upon Fulvius, and to a less extent upon Caius, of being concerned in the death of the great Scipio Africanus, who died without any previous sickness, and upon whose body marks of violence were afterwards found. Caius therefore found that his influence was declining, and at the same time found that the power of one of his enemies, Lucius Opimius, was increasing, so that it was expected that Lucius would be made consul for the following year, and would use the influence of that position to attempt the ruin of the tribune.

Caius now removed his dwelling from the Palatine Mount and took up his abode among the meanest and poorest of the citizens near the Forum. He then proceeded to propose the rest of his laws. The senate, however, now felt strong enough to oppose him, and, as supporters of Caius came from all quarters, they persuaded the consul to order all persons who were not Romans by birth to depart from the city. It was indeed a strange and unusual proclamation that the friends and allies of the republic should not be allowed to remain in the city and should not be allowed to vote, although they held the rights of citizenship. Caius encouraged them to disobey the order, and declared that he would protect them if they remained in Rome. But he did not keep his word, and he even suffered one of his friends to be seized and taken away before his eyes by the consul's officers. Either he feared that resistance would only serve to show how much his influence had declined, or he was unwilling to give his enemies the pretext which they sought for having recourse to the sword.

It happened that at this time Caius quarrelled with his colleagues. There was to be a show of gladiators in the Forum, and most of the magistrates had caused stands to be built around the place, intending to make a profit by letting the seats for hire. Caius, however, insisted that the stands should be taken down, in order that the poor might be able to see the spectacle without payment. His orders being disregarded, he went with a body of his own workmen, and pulled down the scaffolds on the very night before the show. Next day the poor were, of course, pleased to find that they had an uninterrupted view of the combats, but the colleagues of Caius bitterly resented the manner in which he had taken affairs into his own hands. This seems to have been the reason why he did not obtain the tribuneship a third time. It appears that he really had a majority of the votes, but that his colleagues, incensed by his conduct, managed to procure a false and fraudulent return which made it appear that he had been rejected. Whatever may be the truth of this, for it is a matter of some doubt, it is certain that Caius did not bear his disappointment with patience. Moreover, his enemy Opimius was elected consul, and at once set himself to secure the repeal of many of Caius's laws, and to annul the establishment of the colony at Carthage, with the object of provoking him to some act of violence which would furnish an excuse for destroying him. For some time Caius bore this treatment patiently, but at length, instigated by some of his friends and especially by Fulvius, he began to stir up opposition against the consul.

The beginning of bloodshed was about no great matter. When the day came upon which the consul, Opimius, hoped to get the laws of Caius repealed, both parties took up positions in the Capitol early in the morning. First the consul offered sacrifice, and one of his officers, while bearing away the entrails of the victims, came up to the place where stood Fulvius and some others of the friends of Caius. "Out of the way, ye rebel citizens," said he, "and make way for honest men," and some say that at the same time he stretched out his hand with a gesture of contempt. At once Fulvius and the others fell upon him, and stabbed him to death with their long styles, the sharp pointed metal implements with which the Romans wrote on their tablets of wax.

The people were alarmed at this act of violence. As for the two antagonists, Caius and Opimius, the one was dismayed at the handle which had been given to his enemies, while the other rejoiced and sought to excite the people to avenge the death of his officer. But for the time, a torrent of rain which came on prevented any further outbreak of passion.

Early in the morning of the next day the consul caused the senate to be assembled. While he addressed the members within the senate-house, others exposed the naked body of the murdered officer on a bier outside, and then, as had been previously arranged, carried it through the Forum to the senate-house, with loud noise of mourning all the way. Opimius, who knew all about the whole farce, pretended to be very much surprised. The senators in a body went out to meet the body, and, placing themselves around the bier, gave vent to cries of grief and indignation, as if some terrible calamity had befallen the state. This pretended sorrow could not but excite disgust in the minds of those who remembered how Tiberius Gracchus, though holding the great office of tribune, had been murdered by the nobles, and his body cast into the river. They could not help contrasting that deed with the present action of the senators, who stood weeping around the bier of a mere hireling officer, a man who had perhaps been too severely punished, but who had brought his fate upon himself by his insolence But, in truth, the pretended grief of the nobles had no other source than the intention to provide an excuse for procuring the death of the only remaining protector of the people.

Having returned to their meeting-place, the senators passed a formal decree by which they charged the consul to take every possible means to provide for the safety of the commonwealth and the destruction of the tyrants, for so they termed Caius and his chief supporters. Opimius, in order to carry out these orders, commanded the patricians to take up arms, and each knight to attend with two well-armed servants on the next morning. Fulvius, for his part, also prepared for the struggle, and got together a crowd of his supporters. Caius made no such preparations, but it was observed that, as he returned from the Forum, he stood for some time before his father's statue, and his sorrow was shown by his sighs and tears. He then retired without a word. Many of the commons who saw him were moved with compassion. They felt that they should indeed be dastards if they abandoned their leader to the fate that threatened him. They therefore, of their own accord, went to his house and mounted guard over it throughout the night. Silently, as men oppressed by a sense of the calamitous cloud that overhung the state, they kept watch and ward, taking intervals of rest by turns. In far otherwise did those who attended Fulvius pass the night. They spent the time with noise and riot, with carousing and boastful threats, and Fulvius himself was the first intoxicated of all the rabble rout.

So soundly did Fulvius sleep after his wine that it was with difficulty that his companions awoke him at daybreak. Then he and his followers armed themselves with the Gallic spoils which he had gained during his consulship, and thus equipped they sallied out with boastings and threatcnings to seize the Aventine Hill. But Caius would not arm. He went forth in his toga, having only a small dagger beneath it, as though he were going upon ordinary business to the Forum.

As he left the house, his wife threw herself at his feet, holding him with one hand, while the other clasped her son. "You do not now go forth, my dear Caius, as tribune or lawgiver," said she, "nor do I send you forth to a glorious war where death would be attended by honour. You expose yourself to the murderers of your brother. You go unarmed, as indeed a man should who would rather suffer than commit violence. But in so doing, you are throwing away your life without any advantage to the state. Party hatred reigns, justice is overborne by outrage and the sword. What confidence can we have either in the laws or in the protection of the gods after the murder of Tiberius? Must it indeed be my fate to go a suppliant to some river by the sea to pray that it will discover to me where its waves have cast up your dead body?"

Thus his wife poured forth her lamentations, but Caius, as gently as he could, disengaged himself from her arms, and walked forth with his friends in deep silence. In despair she caught at his gown, but in the act fell to the ground, and there lay a long time speechless. At length her servants took her up and carried her to her brother's house.

When all the party were assembled, Fulvius listened to the advice of Caius, and sent his younger son into the Forum as a herald. He was a handsome lad, and approached the opposing party with modest air and tearful eyes to propose terms for an agreement with the consul and senate. Many of the senators were inclined to listen to these proposals. But the consul would have nothing to do with them. "It is not the place of criminals," said he, "to treat with us by their heralds, but first to make submission, and surrender themselves to justice, before they sue for mercy." He bade the young man not to return unless it were to say that the friends of Caius and Fulvius submitted to these conditions.

Caius was of opinion that all of them should now go and endeavour to come to an agreement with the senate. None of the others agreed with him, however, and Fulvius therefore again sent his son with much the same message as before. But the consul Opimius was bent upon proceeding to extremities, and in a hurry to begin hostilities. He immediately took the young herald prisoner, and marched against his opponents with a large body of foot-soldiers and a company of archers.

The arrows of the bowmen soon galled their adversaries so sorely that they were thrown into confusion, and sought refuge in flight. Fulvius hid himself in an old abandoned bath, but he was soon discovered and put to the sword. With him there perished his eldest son. As for Caius, he was overwhelmed with sorrow at the course events had taken. He was not seen to lift hand in the fray, and took shelter in the Temple of Diana. There he would have killed himself had not two of his most faithful friends prevented him, taken away his dagger, and persuaded him to seek safety in flight. Before he left the temple he is said to have knelt down and prayed to Diana that the Romans might be slaves for ever, in punishment for their base desertion of him. Indeed, upon proclamation of pardon, most of the commons had openly gone over to the other side.

The enemy pursued Caius with eagerness, and came up with him as he was crossing a wooden bridge. His two devoted friends bade him go forward, and then, taking their place side by side at the bridge head, defended the passage so that no man could pass till both the defenders had been overpowered and slain. Meanwhile Caius with but one servant fled onwards. He met many who encouraged him in his flight, as they might have cheered a runner on the racing-path. But, because they saw that his enemies were gaining upon him, none of them helped him, nor lent him a horse, though he besought them to do so. At length, a little in advance of his pursuers, he got to the Sacred Grove of the Furies, and there his life-scene closed. His faithful slave first killed his master, and then took his own life, though some indeed say that both fell alive into the hands of the enemy, and that the slave clung so close to his master to protect him that he was cut to pieces before Caius was despatched.

Caius Gracchus


The bodies of Caius and of Fulvius and of all those who had been slain, to the number of no less than three thousand, were thrown into the river. Their goods were declared forfeit and were sold; their widows were forbidden to wear mourning; the dowry of the wife of Caius was taken from her. With still more savage cruelty, the younger son of Fulvius, who had not borne arms, and who had been taken prisoner when he came as a herald of peace, was put to death after the battle.

The consul Opimius lived, but lived to earn the execration of the people as one whose hands were stained with the blood of so many citizens. Moreover, he was afterwards infamous enough to take bribes from an enemy of the state. As for the commons, in a little time they lamented the Gracchi. They erected statues to their memory, and decreed that the places where they had been killed should be held sacred. Nay, some indeed offered sacrifices and paid their devotions to them as to the gods.

Cornelia bore herself in all these misfortunes with a noble greatness of soul. She said of the sacred places that they were memorials worthy of her sons. And of Tiberius and Caius she would speak without a sigh or a tear, and recount their triumphs and their sufferings as though she had been telling the story, not of her own sons, but of some ancient heroes. Thus she showed how a noble mind may learn to support itself against the pangs of sorrow, and that though Fortune may often get the better of Virtue, yet Virtue can always be the conqueror by rising superior to the blows of circumstance.