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Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus

(162 - 133 BCE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus in the figure.

Tiberius came from an excellent family, his father was Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus – a great commander, winner of the Celtibers and Sardes, two-time consul and two-time winner, while his mother was the Cornelia Africana the Younger, and because of that, he was grandson of Scipio Africanus the Elder. His brother-in-law was Scipio Africanus the Younger, and his cousin was Scipio Nasica.

Military service

He was a soldier, he deserved during the Third Punic War where he fought under the orders of his sister Sempronia’s husband – Scipio Africaus the Younger. During the assault, Carthage along with Gaius Fannius were the first to storm the walls, for which they received the highest military decorations.

In Tarcon Spain, he served as a quaestor under the orders of consul Gaius Hostilius Mancinus during the expedition against Numance. The Roman expedition turned out to be a defeat due to the extreme incompetence of Consul Mancinus, whose troops, having suffered a series of defeats, were attacked and severely depleted after a series of defeats. The remnants of Mancinus’ army were pushed by the battle-hardened Celtybers into the swamp, which forced the consul to negotiate with the enemy. The Numantians demanded that Gracchus represent the Roman side in the negotiations – probably because of the memory of his father’s deeds. Negotiations were difficult and required a series of concessions from both sides, but were ultimately successful, saving more than 20,000 legionaries and auxiliary troops.

During the violent retreat from Numance, Gracchus, however, lost his questor documents and notes. Aware that his return to Rome without these documents would be associated with the accusation of embezzlement of state money, he separated from the column of troops leaving Spain and returned to the city walls. The Numantians welcomed him with honours and received him at the Municipal Curia at a ceremonial breakfast. The bursar was informed that his father, one of the most honourable Roman chiefs, was still remembered there. Tiberius received all of the lost notes and bills, and was also free to choose whatever he wanted from the Numantine war gain. He only took his box of incense, which he used in making public offerings.

After returning to Rome, Gracchus and Mancinus were attacked in the senate for unlawfully concluding – as their adversaries claimed – the shameful peace with Numacea. The people supported Tiberius, as the vast majority of 20,000 the soldiers he saved came from the commune. When a motion was made at the people’s assembly to hand over the entire command of the expedition to the enemies, disarmed in accordance with the old tradition, this punishment was imposed only on the consul Mancinus. It seems that African Scipio the Younger played an important role in saving Timius and the rest of the officers. To everyone’s surprise, the Numantians refused to accept Mancinus.

Tiberius did not take part in the next expedition against Numantia, which was led a year later by Scipio Africanus the Younger, because he was involved in political activities.

Political activity

The impulse that determined the political involvement of Tiberius Gracchus was to be the impressions of the journey through Italy, which he made on his way to Spain in order to join consul Gaius Hostilius Mancinus to the expedition. At that time, he had the opportunity to see depopulated villages, especially in Etruria, and huge herds of cattle and hectares of fields included in the great senatorial latifundia, cultivated by slaves and foreign workers. This picture was an inspiration for the political actions of Tiberius, who decided to defend the rights of the people against greedy senators, gathered in the party of the optimates. According to Mary Beard, a British researcher of the history of Rome, this picture was created by Grakchan propaganda, because it is doubtful that Tiberius had never travelled 40 miles from Rome and had not seen senatorial latifundia before.

In 133 BCE, Tiberius was elected the tribune of the people and began efforts to carry out a great agrarian reform. On the the Gracchii Reforms (Tiberius and his younger brother Gaius) he details the article, therefore I will refer to the details of the laws being adopted and the operation of the commission of three, and I will focus only on the life of Tiberius himself.

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus turned out to be an excellent orator. His speech from the people’s assembly, in which he laid out the need for agrarian reform, has gone down in history.

While serving as tribune, concerning the Italian race, lamenting that a people so valiant in war, and related in blood to the Romans, were declining little by little into pauperism and paucity of numbers without any hope of remedy. He inveighed against the multitude of slaves as useless in war and never faithful to their masters, and adduced the recent calamity brought upon the masters by their slaves in Sicily,​ where the demands of agriculture had greatly increased the number of the latter; recalling also the war waged against them by the Romans, which was neither easy nor short, but long-protracted and full of vicissitudes and dangers.

Appian, Roman history, I.9

In order to carry out the reform of the stands, he did not mince his measures. As Appian of Alexandria wrote of him: “inspired greatly by the usefulness of the work, and believing that nothing more advantageous or admirable could ever happen to Italy”1. Tiberius Gracchus even led to the dismissal of the co-tribune, Marcus Octavius, from his office, which had never happened before.

The law was passed, and a commission was established to parcel out the appropriated land, which significantly intensified the attacks against the tribune. His cousin, the former consul, and ponftifex maximus Publius Scipio Nasica Serapio also participated actively.

Famous siblings: Tiberius (right) and Gaius Gracchus. They both held the position of a people’s tribune and strove for radical changes in the divided Roman society.
Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

After the adoption of the agrarian law, Tiberius Gracchus did not stop appearing in front of senators. When the king of Pergamon, Attalus III Philometor, died, it turned out that he bequeathed his state and personal property to the Roman people. Tiberius immediately raised during the people’s assembly in order to use the king’s property to finance the work of the parcelling commission, while the rest should be distributed among the citizens who would receive the land as a result of the agrarian reform and would have to incur expenditures to be able to cultivate it. This initiative led to violent attacks by many senators on the tribune, including by former consuls Titus Annius, Quintus Cecilius Metellus Macedonicus and Quintus Pompey. The latter even claimed that Tiberius had been brought the crown and purple cloak of the king of Pergamon, because he himself dreams of royal power.

Some researchers express the opinion that the actions of Tiberius Gracchus were not based on actual concern for the welfare of the people, but a desire to avenge the senate for refusing to ratify the treaty he negotiated with Numace.

Efforts for people’s second tribunal and death

Constant attacks against him and his followers, including not only verbal attacks, made Tiberius realize that after the end of the people’s tribune and his inviolability, but he would also be in physical danger. With this in mind, he made efforts to gain this title in the following year. On the day of the election, it turned out that not many people showed up, because they were busy with the harvest. Fearing a failure in the vote, Tiberius postponed the election to the next day, hoping that more voters would turn up. Returning from the forum, Tiberius instructed his friends to take care of his son, as he expected that the next day could bring him death. Fearing the attack, followers guarded the house of Tiberius all night long.

When the election commission began, the clients and slaves of the nobles opposing Tiberius tried to break among the voters and cause a commotion among them. At the same time, Senator Marcus Fulwius Flakkus, who was friends with the former tribune, warned him that the opponents were armed and were ordered to kill him. Tiberius informed about the threat to his closest friends, who took their spears from the lictors and untied the bundles of rods and, dividing them among themselves, set off against the danger, leaving the friend with protection. The fight was short and the troublemakers were removed from the forum.

A drawing showing the being beaten to death by Tiberius Gracchus.

During the election commissions, the senate also debated, during the session of which Scipio Nasica tried to convince the senators that Tiberius was trying, with the help of an agitated people, to seize power in Rome. In connection with this accusation, he demanded the death penalty for the accused from the consul Mucius Scaevola. When the consul refused to issue the sentence without a trial, Scipion Nazyka, together with his allies, set out to administer justice himself. Gracchus’ supporters, out of respect for the senators, did not resist them, which allowed them to seize their weapons and attack Tiberius by surprise. Tiberius tried to escape, but fell after stumbling over the body of one of his friends and was struck by a table leg. About 300 of his followers also died. The bodies of the dead were thrown into the Tiber by the nobles.

The murder at the election commissions did not end the case of the Grakchans. Bloody repression was used against Tiberius’ supporters – many were murdered, others were exiled. However, Scipio Nasica was punished for his actions – he had to go into voluntary exile to Pergamon, where he soon died.

Author: Krzysztof Kaucz (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  1. Appian, Roman history, I.10
  • Appian, Roman history
  • Mary Beard, Historia Starożytnego Rzymu, Poznań 2017
  • Stanisław Stabryła, Terroryści znad Tybru, Warszawa 2018

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