Young Folks' History of Rome HTML version

22. The Gracchi, 137-122
Young Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, the eldest of Cornelia's jewels, was sent in the
year 137 to join the Roman army in Spain. As he went through Etruria, which, as every
one knew, had been a thickly peopled, fertile country in old times, he was shocked to see
its dreariness and desolation. Instead of farms and vineyards, there were great bare spaces
of land, where sheep, kids, or goats were feeding. These vast tracts belonged to Romans,
who kept slaves to attend to the flocks; while all the corn that was used in Rome came
from Sicily or Africa, and the poorer Romans lived in the city itself—idle men, chiefly
trusting to distributions of corn, and unable to work for themselves because they had no
ground to till; and as to trades and handicrafts, the rich men had everything they wanted
made in their own houses by their slaves.
No wonder the Romans were losing their old character. This was the very thing that the
Licinian law had been intended to prevent, by forbidding any citizen to have more than a
certain quantity of land, and giving the state the power of resuming it. The law was still
there, but it had been disused and forgotten; estates had been gathered into the hands of
families and handed down, till now, though there were 400,000 citizens, only 2,000 were
men of property.
While Tiberius was serving in Spain, he decided on his plan. As his family was plebeian,
he could be a tribune of the people, and as soon as he came home he stood and was
elected. Then he proposed reviving the Licinian law, that nobody should have more than
500 acres, and that the rest should be divided among those who had nothing, leaving,
however, a larger portion to those who had many children.
There was, of course, a terrible uproar; the populace clamoring for their rights, and the
rich trying to stop the measure. They bribed one of the other tribunes to forbid it; but
there was a fight, in which Tiberius prevailed, and he and his young brother Caius, and
his father-in-law Appius Claudius, were appointed as triumvers to see the law carried out.
Then the rich men followed their old plan of spreading reports among the people that
Tiberius wanted to make himself a king, and had accepted a crown and purple robe from
some foreign envoy. When his year of office was coming to an end, he sought to be
elected tribune again, but the patricians said it was against the law. There was a great
tumult, in the course of which he put his hand to his head, either to guard it from a blow
or to beckon his friends. "He demands the diadem," shouted his enemies, and there was a
great struggle, in which three hundred people were killed. Tiberius tried to take refuge in
the Temple of Jupiter, but the doors were closed against him; he stumbled, was knocked
down with a club, and killed.
However, the Sempronian law had been made, and the people wanted, of course, to have
it carried out, while the nobles wanted it to be a dead letter. Scipio Æmilianus, the
brother-in-law of the Gracchi, had been in Spain all this time, but he had so much
disapproved of Tiberius' doings that he was said to have exclaimed, on hearing of his
death, "So perish all who do the like." But when he came home, he did so much to calm
and quiet matters, that there was a cry to make him Dictator, and let him settle the whole
matter. Young Caius Gracchus, who thought the cause would thus be lost, tried to prevent