Famous Men of Rome - John Haaren

The Gracchi


Between the second and third Punic wars there lived in Rome two brothers named Tiberius and Caius Gracchus, commonly called the Gracchi. They were very good men and great friends of the common people.

The mother of the Gracchi was Cornelia, a daughter of Scipio Africanus. She was an excellent woman, and she was very proud of her two sons. She taught them to be brave and manly and always to stand up for the people.

One day a rich lady, while on a visit to Cornelia, showed her some magnificent jewels. When they had looked them over the lady said:

"These are my jewels; now let me see yours."

Just at that moment Tiberius and Caius, who were then boys, came into the room. As soon as she saw them Cornelia called them to her and, putting her arms around them, said:

"These are my jewels."

Cornelia and her Sons


When Tiberius and Caius grew up to be men they took the side of the people in a quarrel that had been going on for a long time between the plebeians and nobles. The quarrel was about land. Whenever the Romans conquered a country in war they took possession of a portion of the land of the conquered country. Such land was called public land, and for many years after the founding of the city the custom of dividing parts of the public lands among all the citizens was strictly observed.

But in later times this custom was changed. Instead of part of the public lands being divided among all the citizens, it was divided among only the nobles, and the plebeians got none at all. The lands were tilled by slaves, and all that was raised went to the nobles. So the poor soldiers who won the lands by hard fighting were without farms to till, and some of them even without homes. They continually demanded that the old law, for a fair division of the lands among all the citizens, should be carried out. The nobles laughed at the demand.

But Tiberius Gracchus came forward boldly as the champion of the poor. He declared that the nobles should give up the lands they had unjustly taken, and that the people should have their fair share. His words made the nobles very angry, and they became his bitter enemies.


But the people honored Tiberius and made him one of their tribunes. The tribunes were supposed to look after the people's interests, but sometimes they were not faithful to their duty. As we have already said, they had a great deal of power. They could sit at the door of the Roman Senate, and when a law was proposed that they did not like they could say, "We veto it!" and then the law could not be passed.

Whenever the tribunes wanted a law passed they proposed it at the meeting of all the people in what was called the Assembly of Tribes. The common people had a great deal of power in this Assembly, and any law proposed by the tribune was generally passed. Then the tribunes had the power to compel the consuls to carry out the law.

Not long after Tiberius Gracchus became tribune he proposed a law that each noble might have five hundred acres of the public land for his own use and two hundred and fifty more for each son, and that the remainder of the lands should be equally divided among the poor citizens.

This law was passed, and then the nobles had to give up a large part of the lands they had seized. So the poor citizens got good farms.

About this time Attalus, the king of Pergamus, a country of Asia, died, leaving all his money to the Romans. The nobles tried to get this money for themselves, but Tiberius had it divided among the poor citizens.

Of course this made the nobles still more angry with Tiberius, and they resolved to get rid of him if they could. So on election day, when the people were voting to make Tiberius tribune for a second term, some nobles went to the voting-place and raised a disturbance. But the friends of Tiberius drove them away. Then the nobles started a report that Tiberius was trying to induce the people to make him king.

Afterwards they gathered their friends and slaves and began fighting with the people. No arms were used, but stones were thrown, and sticks, broken benches, and other things hastily caught up, served as weapons. There was a dreadful tumult for a while, and many persons were killed.

Tiberius was in the midst of his friends bravely defending himself against an attack by a party of nobles, when suddenly he stumbled and fell to the ground. In a moment the nobles rushed upon him. One of them struck him on the head with a piece of wood and killed him. Then they took his body and threw it into the Tiber.


Tiberius was now out of the way, and the nobles began to seize the lands that had been divided among the people. But Caius Gracchus suddenly appeared in Rome and declared that he had come to take his brother's place as the friend of the people. He had been with a Roman army in Spain when Tiberius was killed.

The people now elected him tribune and he began to carry out his brother's plans. For this reason the nobles hated him as much as they had hated his brother. They said that he was a dangerous man and was planning to make himself king. One day as he was passing through the Forum a strange man said to him:

"I hope you will spare the Republic!"

The friends of Caius were angry at these words, and they fell on the man and killed him.

The nobles and their followers then armed themselves. The plebeians also gathered in great numbers ready for a fight. Caius was asked to lead them, but refused. He did not want them to fight with the nobles. He knew that the nobles would be satisfied with his own death, so he ordered a slave to stab him to the heart. The order was obeyed, and thus perished the last of the Gracchi (121 B.C.).