The Death of Tiberius Gracchus
As soon as Tiberius was elected tribune, he began to make speeches in the Forum, saying boldly that it was a shame that the Licinian Law should not be enforced, and that the land ought to be distributed again. He clearly showed how bad it was for the poor plebeians to have no land and no work; and he insisted that they should be placed in a position to earn their living.
The poor men, who were eager to work, listened to these speeches with delight; but the rich men, who held the land, and did not wish to part with any of it, were very angry at the bold tribune.
Another cause of displeasure among the patricians was this: Attalus, King of Pergamus, in Asia Minor, left all his wealth to Rome when he died. As soon as Tiberius heard of it, he suggested that the money should be distributed among the poor, instead of being given as usual to the rich, who already had too much.
But in spite of all Tiberius' speeches, the poor obtained no help from the wealth of Attalus. The rich men and the senate also opposed the tribune as much as possible in his efforts to have the Licinian Law renewed; but the young man finally persuaded the people to pass another law like it, and to appoint three men to divide the surplus land among the poor.
The senators saw that they would never be able to silence Tiberius, and they were afraid that he would carry his reforms still further. At the end of the year, therefore, when the people began to vote for him as tribune for a second term, the senators made such a disturbance that the election was postponed till the next day. Then they armed all their slaves, and bade them be ready to drive the tribune away if he did not give up the contest.
Tiberius Gracchus knew how the rich men hated him; so when he appeared on the next day, he was surrounded by hundreds of his friends, who stood on the steps of the Capitol, ready to defend him at any risk. The voting began again, but the rich men and their followers raised such a clamor that not a single word could be heard. Then, seeing that Tiberius stood firm, they began to march against him with threats.
Tiberius, fearing for his life, raised his hands to his head, a signal which it was agreed he should use to warn his friends that his life was in danger. The senators, however, pretended to misunderstand the sign which Tiberius had made, and exclaimed that he was asking for the crown, and therefore deserved to be put to death.
Following Scipio Nasica, one of the tribune's own relatives, they all rushed forward at once, and, helped by their slaves, slew Tiberius and three hundred of his friends. The body of the tribune was then dragged through the streets like that of the vilest criminal, and flung into the Tiber.
The poor citizens, terrified at this general massacre, and deprived of their champion, no longer dared to make any resistance; and the rich masters of Rome treated them worse than ever before. Scipio Nasica, however, was afraid that some one would kill him to avenge the dead champion; so he left Rome and went to seek a place of refuge in Asia.
Scipio Æmilianus, the conqueror of Carthage, openly said that in his opinion Tiberius Gracchus deserved death; and he was therefore hated by all the poor. Not long after speaking so, he was found dead in his bed, and, as nobody ever knew how he had died, it was generally supposed that he was murdered by one of the tribune's friends.