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Gracchi reforms

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

In the second half of the second century BCE, a crisis was growing in Roman society, caused by rapid changes after the conquests. The incredible territorial development of the Roman state allowed high social groups to increase their wealth at the expense of the poorer strata.

Famous siblings: Tiberius (right) and Gaius Gracchus. Both held the position of people’s tribune and sought radical changes in the divided Roman society.
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The rich purchased large estates, where slaves worked, imported en masse from various parts of the country. The small landowners, who formed the backbone of the army, stayed long in the war. This fact was used by the rich who seized their property. The loss of property led to the fall of the middle-class Romans below the property census. This, in turn, did not allow them to join the army. This situation on a massive scale could have tragic consequences for the entire country.

One of the most important issues was undoubtedly the agrarian reform, closely related to its initiators – Tiberius and Gaius Gracch. A little earlier, in 151 BCE, Gaius Lelius submitted a draft of agrarian reform, but the strong opposition of the Senate forced the topic to be abandoned for the next 20 years.

Agrarian reform of Tiberius Sempronius Gracch

The matter was returned to the matter only in 133 BCE. when Tiberius Sempronius Gracch was elected tribune of the people.
The reform was largely based on the foundations of the act of 367 BCE, which was part of the so-called Leges Liciniae Sextiae. On this basis, it was decided to set the maximum area of ​​land for one plot per 500 jugers (1 juger =2520, 6 m2). Each farm could have an additional plot of 250 jugers for the two eldest sons of the ager publicus user. It is easy to calculate that the maximum area of ​​land distributed under the law in question could be 1000 jugers of area. The area exceeding the boundaries indicated in the act was to be returned and then divided into 30 juger plots, which were to be allocated to poor, landless peasants. This land ownership was also subject to certain restrictions. It cannot be sold or transferred to third parties.

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (162 – 133 BCE)
Under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Initially, Tiberius sought support from large landowners. It quickly turned out that they were not in the slightest interested in reforms that could clearly undermine their sources of income. Disgusted with the attitude of this layer, Tiberius decided to use the popular assembly, to which he presented his slightly changed project, resigning from the previous compensation for the land taken. The Nobels decided to use a weapon that has already been proven many times. During the presentation of the law to the tribune committee Marcus Octavius, the plebeian tribune, hostile to the law, blocked the new law with his veto. Thinking that the good of the republic and citizens is the overriding law, Tiberius decided to submit a motion to deprive Marcus Octavius ​​of the office of tribune, which was not in accordance with applicable law. Nevertheless, Tiberius’ motion was voted down, and thus the bill passed.
In order to obtain the land necessary for the reform, a commission of three (tres viris agri dandis, assignandis or iudicandis) was appointed, composed of: Tiberius and Gaius Gracchi and Appius Claudius. The appointment of the committee naturally undermined the authority of the Senate.

The reform of Tiberius coincided with the handover by the king of Pergamon Attalos III (171-133 BCE), his state without Pergamon. Thus, the new province of Asia was created.
An unexpected gift from Attalos, Tiberius decided to use it to achieve his goals. The work of the commission was not easy, because every step of the way it encountered many difficulties in separating private and public property. Despite mounting difficulties, she managed to consolidate areas with a total area of ​​about 1 million jugers.
The activities of Tiberius from the very beginning gave rise to a number of controversies. The greatest opposition was caused by the form of politics by the tribune, which was assisted, not always in a lawful manner, by a group of 3,000 assistants.

Tiberius Gracchus also wanted to grant Roman citizenship to the Italians, which was an unpopular decision. Tiberius was accused of striving for a monarchy when, after the end of his term, he wanted to apply for a repeat tribunate for 132 BCE. On the day of the election, prompted by unwilling senators and the then high priest (pontifex maximus), Scipio Nasca a group of clients and slaves attacked the former tribune, dubbed “an enemy of the republic”. Together with the aforementioned group of allies, Tiberius occupied the Capitol, preparing for a possible armed struggle. During the fighting, Tiberius and about 300 supporters of the reform died. Some of the survivors were thrown down from the Tarpeian rock, and the rest were scattered around the city.
The death of the elder of the Gracchi did not mean the end of the reform. The commission of three, in a changed composition, operated until 129 BCE.

Agrarian reform of Gaius Sempronius Gracch

Gaius Gracchus was a much better orator and diplomat than his brother. He received the tribunal in 126 BCE. He confirmed the agrarian law of Tiberius and cancelled all senate legislation that blocked the implementation of this reform.
He continued the work he had begun in 123 BCE. In his first move, he took care above all of the poorest inhabitants of Rome who, under lex frumentaria, could purchase up to 5 modi (1 modius =8.733 l) of grain from state-owned stocks, at a price reduced by around 50%. The work of the commission was also reactivated. In order to achieve his goals, he managed to win the favour of the equites, which he paid for with the help of tribunals for abuses in the provinces, as well as giving them the right of a pre-emptive tax lease in the kingdom of Pergamum.

Gaius Gracchus, tribune of the people, presides over the plebeian assembly.

The next step was the creation of new colonies to be established in Capua and Taranto. The most significant, however, was the creation of a colony on the ruins of former Carthage, which was to provide shelter for about 6,000 families. Each of the colonists was to receive plots of up to 200 jugers. The new colony was to be named Junonia. Soon it was used as a tool by his political opponents.
His reforms also went towards equal rights for all inhabitants of Italy, which was to be expressed by granting Roman citizenship (just like his brother). A brave cause met with great resistance from both the optimates and the popular.

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus, flees after the Senate passed the senatus consultum ultimum.

Gaius held his office for the years 123-122 BCE. Attempted to extend his term to 121 BCE ended as tragically as it did for her brother. And this time the Senate found a supporter of its intentions. It was the people’s tribune Marcus Livius Drusus, who proposed the creation of 12 new colonies, each of which was to have at least 3,000 plots of land, and most importantly, all of them were located in Italy. These were, of course, demagogic actions, but as usual in such cases, very effective. Gaius did not become a popular tribune. This is what the enemies have been waiting for. They spread rumours that one night the wolves dug up the boundary stones of Junonia. When asked to explain this event, the augurs replied briefly – the wrath of the gods. Such an interpretation pleased the enemies of Gaius, who, thanks to further coincidences, may have had the opportunity to remove the inconvenient reformer. Finally, the trial between the supporters of both parties took place on Aventine Hill, occupied by Gaius and his men. On that day, along with Gaius, 3,000 of his followers died.

There was even a bounty on Gaius’ head, equal to the weight of Gaius in gold. Gaius’ slave took advantage of this very tempting offer.
The death of Gaius ended a certain stage of reforms in the republic. Eventually, a number of laws were issued that crossed out the previous gains of the commoners.

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