Our Young Folks' Plutarch - Rosalie Kaufman

Tiberius Gracchus

The first Tiberius Gracchus was a very good man, who held, at different periods, the highest offices in Rome. After the death of Scipio, who conquered Hannibal, he married his daughter, Cornelia, and had twelve children. Then he died, and to Cornelia was left the bringing up and education of the family. She performed her task with such care and proved herself such an excellent mother in every respect, that her children were renowned for their ability and their virtues. But Cornelia lived to bury all except one daughter, who married Scipio the Younger, and two sons, named Tiberius and Caius, of whose lives we will now give an account.

These brothers loved each other dearly and resembled each other in some respects, but Tiberius, who was the older by nine years, was mild and gentle, while Caius was rough and passionate. Tiberius lived plainly and simply, while Caius was fond of rare dishes and fashionable attire. Both were public speakers, but Tiberius was quiet in his style and scarcely moved from one spot when speaking, while Caius had a habit of walking about and, when he became excited, of pulling his gown from his shoulders and making violent gestures. Besides, he would bawl so loudly that his voice sometimes lost its tone, and so spoiled his speech. To remedy this, he had a servant stand near him always with a sort of instrument called a pitch-pipe, used for regulating sound. Whenever his master's voice broke he would strike a soft note on this pipe, whereupon Caius would immediately check himself.

But to return to Tiberius. When he grew to manhood he was admitted into the college of augurs, and his first experience as a soldier was in Africa under the younger Scipio, who had married his sister. He shared the general's tent and imitated his brave actions, being the first at one of the sieges to mount the enemy's walls. He was much loved in the army, and his departure from it when he was called back to Rome caused considerable regret.

After that expedition he was appointed quæstor, or public treasurer, and went with the consul Caius Mancinus to the Numantian war. Mancinus did not lack courage and ability, but he was one of the most unfortunate generals Rome ever had, and, after losing several important battles, tried to decamp in the night. The Numantians found it out, seized the camp, killed many of the run-aways, and surrounded the whole Roman army so that they could not escape. Then Mancinus sued for peace, but the enemy declared that they would treat with nobody but Tiberius, who had a splendid character in the army, and whose father during the war in Spain had behaved honorably towards the Numantians. So Tiberius was sent, and by the peace he made saved the lives of twenty thousand Roman citizens, besides slaves and others of the army.

The Numantians then helped themselves to whatever was left in the Roman camp, even the quæstor's books and papers. This was unfortunate, for Tiberius could not return to Rome without his accounts, so he left the army, which was under march, and went back to Numantia with a few friends. He sent a messenger in to ask the magistrates for his books, whereupon he was cordially invited to enter the city. He was afraid to do so, but the magistrates went to him and, taking him by the hand, begged him no longer to look upon them as enemies. Then, not wishing to appear to distrust them, he went into Numantia, where a little feast was soon spread, of which he was requested to partake. Afterwards his books were brought to him, and he was asked to choose something from the spoils; but he accepted only some frankincense to be used in the public sacrifices, which he took to Rome.

There he found a great deal of dissatisfaction on account of the peace, which was not considered worthy of Romans, but the soldiers flocked to welcome him, for they loved him very much. Indeed, so great was his popularity with all classes that for his sake it was decreed that the consul only should be delivered up to the Numantians in chains, but that all the other officers should be spared.

Perhaps Scipio had something to do with this decree, for his influence was great, and he was fond of his brother-in-law. Now Tiberius had formed a plan for helping the poor of Rome, by which he hoped to cover his name with glory, but, unfortunately, it proved the ruin of his family. It was to divide all the land equally that Rome had gained by conquest. The rich people had managed, by fair and unfair means, to get possession of it, but Tiberius now proposed to divide it among the citizens without distinction.

Among the men whom he consulted before drawing up his law were Crassus, the high-priest, Scævola, an able lawyer, and Claudius Appius, whose daughter was his wife. These men, who were known for their virtues and intellect, approved of Tiberius's scheme, but the rich Romans did not relish the idea of sharing their estates with others, so they went among the people and told them that Tiberius was trying to overthrow the government and create a general confusion. They were wrong, for there never were milder laws proposed, there being no punishment of any sort decreed for those who had been guilty of unlawful deeds. And so the majority of the people thought, particularly when Tiberius mounted the rostrum and pleaded for the poor as follows: "The wild beasts of Italy have their caves to protect them, but the brave men who spill their blood in her cause have nothing left but air and light. They have no houses, no settled homes, but wander about with their wives and children from place to place, and their generals make fun of them when they urge them to fight for their sepulchres and domestic gods; for among a whole army there is not perhaps one Roman who has an altar that belonged to his ancestors, or a sepulchre in which their ashes rest. The private soldiers fight and die that the rich may become richer, and the Romans, who own not a foot of ground, are called masters of the world."

Speeches delivered by so prominent a man as Tiberius had such weight that nobody dared to oppose him in words; but still they did not give up. They knew that when the law came to be voted upon they could manage to defeat it if they could control only one tribune, for by the laws of Rome every tribune had to vote for a measure, one negative being enough to defeat it.

So they applied to Marcus Octavius. He was then tribune, and an intimate acquaintance of Tiberius. At first he refused to oppose him, but after much persuasion consented. Then there were daily discussions in public between Tiberius and Octavius, but they did not lead to a settlement. At last Tiberius forbade the magistrates to perform their various duties until the law was passed, and, besides, he put his seal upon the doors of the temple of Saturn, where the public money was kept, so that the quæstors could neither put anything into the treasury nor take anything out. He also threatened to fine the prætors if they disobeyed his orders; so government affairs were brought to a stand-still, and there was besides a conspiracy to assassinate Tiberius. Therefore whenever he went out he carried a sword-staff, called in Latin a dolo, and used by robbers in those times.

When election-day came, the rich men seized the voting-urns and carried them away by force. The confusion was very great, and Tiberius and his party resolved to fight for their cause. Manlius and Fulvius, two of the consuls, begged them not to do so, whereupon Tiberius, who felt great respect for them, asked what they advised him to do. "We cannot give advice in so important a matter," they replied, "but leave it to the senate." Tiberius consented; but when the senate met there was Octavius with his negative vote, and no result could be reached. Then Tiberius made this proposition: that Octavius should be deprived of his tribuneship; before all the people he took the young man by the hand and begged him to resign. Octavius refused. "Then we will leave it to the people," exclaimed Tiberius. "It is clear that there cannot be two tribunes so opposite in their ideas as Octavius and myself; one of us must resign: we will leave it to you to decide which it shall be." The assembly then adjourned until the next day.

When the votes were taken, a large majority decided in favor of Tiberius, who thereupon ordered his own servants to drag Octavius out of his chair. The whole proceeding was illegal, but the law was passed, and three commissioners were appointed to survey the land and see it equally divided. These were Tiberius himself, Claudius Appius, his father-in-law, and Caius Gracchus, his brother, who was at that time with the army before Numantia.

This was managed without disturbance; but the rich Romans feared that Tiberius was becoming too powerful, and took every opportunity to insult him. The populace of course defended him; and in order to keep their sympathies alive, Tiberius dressed himself in mourning and brought his wife and children into the crowd, asking that they might be provided for, because he did not feel that his life was safe.

About this time Attalus, King of Pergamus, died and left a will making the Roman people his heirs. Thereupon Tiberius proposed a law providing that all the ready money the king had left should be distributed among the citizens, to enable them to buy tools for the cultivation of their new lands. As to the cities in the territories of Attalus, they should be disposed of, not by the senate, but as the people should decide.

This brought matters to a worse state than before, and three or four of the senators made charges against Tiberius. The most important of these was that he had unlawfully deprived a tribune of his office. The others Tiberius could answer, but he was totally at a loss to find excuses for the last, so he dismissed the assembly.

He now began to see that not only the nobility but the people were offended at his having insulted the dignity of the tribunes, which until then had been sacred and honorable; so he tried to justify himself, after taking a day to prepare his speech, which was forcible and persuasive. Nevertheless it was clear that the popularity upon which he counted was gradually but surely diminishing. He therefore tried to have himself re-elected to the office of tribune, and sought in every way to increase the good will of the populace for himself. He proposed certain laws which favored them rather than the nobility, but when the day came for taking the vote, the opposite party were so much stronger than his—for all the people did not attend—that he spun out the time in discussions with the other tribunes, and then adjourned the assembly without arriving at a conclusion until the following day.

Meanwhile he appeared in the Forum, looking distressed, and with tears in his eyes told the citizens, "I fear that my enemies will destroy my house and take my life before morning." This had such an effect that several people pitched tents around his house and kept guard all night. At daybreak a soothsayer tried to drive the chickens out of their coop, and offered them food; but, as they would partake of none, it was pronounced a bad omen, and Tiberius was afraid to go to the Capitol. However, some of his friends called for him and assured him that everything seemed satisfactory; so he went, and was received with loud shouts of applause and welcome.

After he had seated himself he ordered the vote to be taken, but there was such a confusion caused by those of the two parties who were on the outside of the crowd trying to push their way in that nothing could be done. Flavius Flaccus, one of the senators, endeavored to make himself heard, but the noise was so great that he could not do so. However, he motioned to Tiberius that he had something to say to him in private, and an order was given that he should be allowed to pass through the crowd. He did so with difficulty, and told Tiberius that the rich men had formed a plan to have him assassinated.

Thereupon Tiberius, his friends, and servants tucked up their gowns, armed themselves with the staves which the officers used to keep off the crowd, and stood ready for defence. Those at a distance wondered what could be the matter, and, knowing that he could not make himself heard so far, Tiberius pointed to his head, meaning to show them that it was in danger; but they misunderstood him, and ran to the senate-house to say that Tiberius had asked them to put a crown on his head. Of course this was done by his enemies, but it created no little consternation, and the consul was called upon to punish the tyrant, as they now named him. The consul replied that he would not be the first to do violence, nor would he put to death any freeman who had not first had a fair trial; at the same time he added that if Tiberius should either force or persuade the people to any step that was not lawful, he would take care to stop it. One of the senators, at least, was not satisfied with the mildness of the consul; his name was Nasica. He started up and exclaimed, "Since the consul gives up his country, let all who choose to support the laws follow me." So saying, he threw the skirt of his gown over his head and hastened to the Capitol, followed by a great number of people. As they were for the most part well-known citizens, nobody ventured to stop them. They were armed only with staves, clubs, and pieces of broken furniture, but with these they fought their way through the crowd in the Capitol towards Tiberius. As some were knocked down and many were killed, others fled, and Tiberius followed their example. One of his enemies seized his gown, but he slipped out of it and ran with only his under garment. He might have escaped if he had been more sure-footed, but, unfortunately, he stumbled and fell flat upon the ground, whereupon a tribune, one of his colleagues, struck him a violent blow on the head with the foot of a stool. Other blows followed, and the fight continued until Tiberius and three hundred others lay dead.

The cruel and unnatural treatment of Tiberius's body proves that the trouble was all caused by the hatred of the nobility towards him personally. His brother begged to be allowed to bury him in the night, but, instead of that, his body was thrown into the river with hundreds of others.

The people of Rome were so angry at what had happened to their friend, as Tiberius had proved himself, that the senate dared no longer object to the division of the land. So Publius Crassus was chosen in place of Tiberius to see that this was properly done. Nasica, who had led on the attack against Tiberius, was so abused every time he appeared in public that he had to be sent out of the country for safety.