Tiberius Gracchus

I believe that perhaps something more powerful than law, is tradition and I don’t necessarily say this as if it is a good thing. Tiberius Gracchus’ story more or less seems to prove this statement.

After the second Punic War, there was severe collateral damage that arose tremendous economic and social problems in Rome. The countryside was utterly destroyed and farms were found in horrible conditions. Hence, many people chose to sell their lands to the newly rich. These people were in majority veterans of war that were now landless and moving into the cities with their families to find a job. However, the scene in the cities was more distressing, because many jobs were already taken by slaves who provided extremely cheap labor. Their last hope was to rejoin the army, but a norm stood in their way, no landless citizen was allowed to join the army.

This was the time when Tiberius Gracchus showed up to help these people. He pursued a land reform for the eligibility of more people to serve in the military if they were land owners. He tried to revive an old principle which said that excess public land held by citizens should be returned. His idea did not have a complete support in the Senate but did not give way for absolute rejection either.

Now, Tiberius, as practically all famous people had different types of popularity. To some, he was a renowned reformer sincerely seeking the good of the poor, but to others, he was an ambitious politician whose disrespect for Roman tradition was a perilous indication of urge to flatter the people and become very powerful. Why and how exactly did he violate tradition?

Well, their is a wide range of possibility that Tiberius was seeking the good of his fellow citizens for the mere reason that he said it was not righteous for a wild beast in Italy to have shelter and for a man who fought for Italy to be roaming around the land with his family and without a place to lay his head. Therefore, he desired to distribute land to these veterans. The manner in which he fought for this to be accomplished might also hint at his intentions.

Tiberius Gracchus took the bill directly to the concilium plebis (Plebeian Council) bypassing, in this way, the senate and thus violating an important custom which stated that no bill could ever be passed without the consent of the Senate. Although the bill passed, the senate refused to fund the land commission. Notwithstanding, the King of Pergamum who had no heir died that year and bequeathed his kingdom to Rome. A window was open and Tiberius took the opportunity to use the tax revenues from Pergamum to fund the commission. Yet again this infringed the Senate’s traditional custodianship of both finances and foreign policies.

Desperate to stop Tiberius, the Senate influenced Marcus Octavius, a tribune, to veto Tiberius’ bill. Not willing to give up, Tiberius then asked for the resignation of Octavius and held a vote of the Assembly to remove him as tribune. 35 people voted and when 17 were in favor of his removal and only one vote was needed to decide, Tiberius halted the voting and pleaded Octavius to withstand from his position to prevent dishonor upon himself as he was cast out in this way. After a moment of silence, Octavius yielded and removed his veto. Asking for the resignation of Octavius violated the tradition of collegiality (companionship in government) in Rome.

Finally, to ensure the success of his land commission, Tiberius decides to run for immediate reelection placing the icing on the cake of his “traditional” violations. Maybe, now the Senate was just looking for an excuse to vanish Tiberius’ influence. Therefore, in a political rally, Tiberius senses danger for his life and gives a sign to his companions by placing his hand over his head. Seeing this, are his opponents who believe he is asking for the crown and announce this to the Senate who in turn finds the spark to blow the bomb. Publicly, at that moment, the Senate slaughters Tiberius along with his followers and kills him in cold blood. To worsen things out, Tiberius’ mother is not allow to grieve the death of his son. I guess that the only reward of this was that the land commission did accumulate true accomplishments.

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3 responses to “Tiberius Gracchus”

  1. Baroque Myriam says :

    Nice essay! But in the second to last paragraph you change the verb tense from past to present. Just letting you know…. 😉

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