The Roman Ideal: Tiberius Gracchus

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was a Roman politician who became plebeian tribune during the 2nd century BC.   Gracchus caused quite a bit of turmoil during his time.   Born in 168 BC, Gracchus died in 133 BC at the hands of the more conservative Roman Senate.   Below is a first person narrative written by Naaman Abreu.   Naaman has given me permission to publish this on my blog for all you Roman history lovers to enjoy.  

Take care, Brothers, lest you fail the people of Rome!   I, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, am prepared to fight for and defend the sacred ancestral traditions of this great Republic.   As our borders continue to expand, the number of land owners continues to dwindle.   You must protect our land, for all fear that greed will destroy our great traditions, as well as our freedom!1   That is why I stand here before you today, to push for my agrarian law reforms.   Many of you Present here have heard of what I intend to do, but do not fully understand my purpose.   Many who oppose me have tried to convince you that I am merely trying to steal from and cheat you, and bring the lowliest Romans up to your status, but that is not true.   My reforms will indeed help those of lower classes, but I believe, my dear citizens, you too shall benefit from my laws!

You all know who I am, the honor carried and passed through the generations by my fathers.   My father showed great honor and sacrifice when he chose to sacrifice himself so that his wife might live, by killing “his” snake.2   His wife, my mother, Cornelia, then showed great discretion and noble values herself by rejecting the proposals of marriage by Ptolemy, king of Egypt, preferring to remain a widow, and a true Roman, denying any association to a monarchy, such as there was in the beginning from which this great Republic arose.3   As for myself, I have continued to make this great state proud, following the path set forth by my fathers before me.   By the time I reached manhood, I had already possessed a reputation considered worthy of election to the priesthood of augurs.   I served under the great general Scipio Africanus in Africa, learning from his great virtues, courage and discipline. 4   And while serving in the operations against the Numantia under the consul Gaius Mancius, my reputation of great honor and virtue, as well as the reputation of my father, preceded us, as in the hour of need, they would speak with no Roman other than myself.   This shows that not only am I held with such high esteem here in Rome herself, but also among the people of many lands throughout the Republic.5

The problem is this, there is far too much land owned by far too few men, leaving the masses to be left with no land of their own.   “The wild beasts that roam over Italy have their dens and holes to lurk in, but the men who fight and die for our country enjoy the common air and light and nothing else.   Is it their lot to wander with their wives and children, house-less and homeless, over the face of the earth?   And when our generals appeal to their soldiers before a battle to defend their ancestors’ tombs and their temples against their enemy, their words are a lie and a mockery, for not a man in their audience possesses a family altar; not one out of all those Romans owns an ancestral tomb.   The truth is that they fight and die to protect the wealth and luxury of others.   They are called masters of the world, but they do not posses a single clod of earth which is truly their own.”6

While some of you believe that this is how the world should be run, and it is simply their ill fate to fight and die so that you may continue to gain land, others of you, my fellow citizens, are far wiser and nobler, men of real virtue, you know this is wrong, a real injustice to the whole of Rome.   Not merely because it is unfair to the poor soldier and landless men, but because it undermines the very foundation this great culture was based on!   There are some men who have been trying to convince you otherwise, such as Marcus Octavius, and those whom he speaks for, who do not speak for the good of Rome, according to our laws and customs, but for their own financial benefit, according to their own greed and selfishness.7   It is no secret that there is a law which dictates who may receive land, and how much they may acquire, yet it is completely ignored.

It had long been our custom to put up a part of land annexed in wars against neighboring peoples for auction, while the rest was made common land, and distributed among the poorest and neediest of citizens.   These men would then be allowed to cultivate it and pay a small rent to the public treasury.8   This worked well for a time, until the rich at once became greedy. They began to out bid the poor for their land by offering higher rentals, forcing the law to be altered.   The new version of the law stated that no one individual may hold more than five hundred jugera of land.   This law also saw success, but once again, the rich became greedy and found ways to cheat the poor.   They began to use fictitious names of tenants for the purpose of transferring these new holdings into their own names.   As this became the common, although illegal practice, the rich finally took to openly hording the land for themselves without suffering any penalties.9

Now I stand before you here today, Gentlemen, pleading my case to your wise and noble hearts, that you may accept my reforms, and put them into practice.   You may already know that I am not the only man desiring reform, nor was I the first.   Gaius Laelius, a friend of Scipio’s, also attempted to push for an end to these injustices, but was pressured into silence, and is now referred to by many as “the prudent”.10   I then took it upon myself to right these wrongs, and with the aid of several great men, including my father-in-law, Appius Claudius, who had held offices of censor and consul,11 current consul, Mucius Scaevola, and the Pontifex Maximus, Crassus.12   Together, we came to the conclusion that all offenders of these laws should give up all unjust acquisitions, for which they would be compensated, so that the poor and deserving citizens in most need of land may possess it.13   However, once again the greed of these men prevailed, and they refused to accept these terms, and even accused me of attempting to undermine the foundations of this very state which I love so dearly, and incite a general revolution.   These same men even recruited my fellow tribune, Marcus Octavius, to try to prevent my laws from passing.14

Fortunately, they could not fool everyone, as it is undeniable that what I was attempting was indeed honorable and just!15   It was then that my hand was forced into stripping Octavius of his powers, but you were all witnesses to my continued pleas, urging him to reconsider and aid in the noble cause which we were pursuing.   As you all saw, he refused time and time again, until we were left with no choice but to take his powers so that he may no longer hinder the progress we were making.16

I am sure that some of you may still not be convinced that what I am pushing for is right, even though you can see that it is completely legal, and what is best for the whole of Rome.   I ask you then, if any man has no land to call his own, how should he make a living?   How will he support his family?   If we are lucky, he might become a merchant, a trader, or some other lowly class of man, which we all know is not considered the “Roman Ideal”, and is a far cry from what Cato the Elder would expect of his fellow Romans.   Remember if you can, that Cato the Elder molded his son in the pursuit of virtue using his own hands, teaching him what he new, and his son later became an excellent soldier, the goal of every young Roman boy growing up.17   Could this have been accomplished had Cato not been a land owner?   I do not see how, since he would have had to spend all his time running a business, worrying about making money, instead of being able to educate his son.   If is also no secret that as there is less and less land available for the poorer men, fewer are willing to fight in the army.18   Men do not wish to fight when they feel they have nothing to fight for, and how great could Rome be if she had no soldiers to fight for her?   If you do not feel any pity knowing that so many men are left without what it rightfully theirs, at least feel fear knowing that there are fewer and fewer men willing to fight for Rome, willing to fight for your lands!   How rich could you remain if you had no lands left, since there would be nobody left to defend them for you?

Remember also the great sacrifice made centuries ago by the noble Lucretia!   She too embodied the ideal of a Roman when she elected to kill herself, rather than be used as an excuse by other women no to take responsibility for their actions.19   Are you to tell me that you are not willing to make a sacrifice of land, while a woman was willing to take her own life?   Please tell me that Rome is not so infected by greed!   Earn the respect of your fellow countrymen, and prove that greed has not filled your hearts so!   That there is a place for our great state still left in there!

I have said just about all I can on this topic, and I can only pray to the gods that they will find a way to deliver my message into your hearts.   I have tried to demonstrate to you that it is the just and noble thing to do, returning the land to those who need it most, and further more, it is in accordance with our laws and customs!   I have also tried to make you see that no matter how great a sacrifice you feel you would be making in parting with your land, others have sacrificed far more to ensure that virtue and honor remain in Rome, as well as all those brave soldiers who have fought for her, even when they had no land of their own to defend!   You already know, Gentlemen, that I am no common man who has merely taken the floor in front of you to speak his mind, but am a very highly respected man, honored throughout the Republic and abroad, and have tried no wrong against any of you, nor have I acted alone.   Everything that I have done, I have done for the good of Rome, and with the assistance and support of former and current consuls, as well as from other men of high rank and esteem.   May the gods help guide you towards the right path, and help you accept my reforms which I have proposed to you here today!


1 Peter V. Jones & Keith C. Sidwell, Reading Latin: Grammar, Vocabulary and Exercises
Cambridge University Press, 1998), 365

2 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 153

3 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 154

4 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 156

5 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 157

6 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 162

7 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 162

8 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 159

9 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 160

10 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 160

11 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 156/160

12 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 161

13 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 161

14 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 162

15 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 162

16 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 164-165

17 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 142

18 Plutarch, Makers of Rome
(Penguin Books, 1965), 160

19 Livy, The Early History of Rome
(Penguin Books)


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