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Chapter 17




Seldom is faction's ire in haughty minds Extinguished but by death; it oft, like flame Suppressed, breaks forth again, and blazes higher.--May.


1. The Romans being now left without a rival, the triumphs and the spoils of Asia introduced a taste for splendid expense, and this produced avarice and inverted ambition. 2. The two Gracchi were the first who saw this strange corruption among the great, and resolved to repress it, by renewing the Licinian law, which had enacted that no person in the state should possess above five hundred acres of land. 3. Tibe'rius Gracchus, the elder of the two, was, both for the advantages of his person and the qualities of his mind, very different from Scipio, of whom he was the grandson. He seemed more ambitious of power than desirous of glory; his compassion for the oppressed was equal to his animosity against the oppressors; but unhappily his passions, rather than his reason, operated even in his pursuits of virtue; and these always drove him beyond the line of duty. 4. This was the disposition of the elder Gracchus, who found the lower orders of people ready to second all his proposals. 5. The above law, though at first carried on with proper moderation, greatly disgusted the rich, who endeavoured to persuade the people that the proposer only aimed at disturbing the government, and throwing all things into confusion. 6. But Gracchus, who was a man of the greatest eloquence of his time, easily wiped off these impressions from the minds of the people, already irritated by their wrongs, and at length the law was passed.

7. The death of At'talus, king of Per'gamus, furnished Gracchus with a new opportunity of gratifying the meaner part of the people at the expense of the great. 8. This king had by his last will made the Romans his heirs; and it was now proposed, that the money so left should be divided among the poor, in order to furnish them with proper utensils for cultivating the lands which became theirs by the late law of partition. 9. This caused still greater disturbances than before, and the senate assembled upon the occasion, in order to concert the most proper methods of securing these riches to themselves, which they now valued above the safety of the commonwealth. 10. They had numerous dependents, who were willing to give up liberty for plenty and ease. These, therefore, were commanded to be in readiness to intimidate the people, who expected no such opposition, and who were now attending to the harangues of Gracchus in the capitol. 11. Here, as a clamour was raised by the clients of the great on one side, and by the favourers of the law on the other, Gracchus found his speech entirely interrupted, and begged in vain to be attended to; till at last, raising his hand to his head, to intimate that his life was in danger, the partisans of the senate gave out that he wanted a diadem. 12. In consequence of this an universal uproar spread itself through all ranks of the people; the corrupt part of the senate were of opinion that the consul should defend the commonwealth by force of arms; but this prudent magistrate declining such violence, Scip'io Nas'ica, kinsman to Gracchus, immediately rose up, and preparing himself for the contest, desired that all who would defend the dignity and authority of the laws, should follow him. 13. Upon this, attended by a large body of senators and clients armed with clubs, he went directly to the Capitol, striking down all who ventured to resist.

14. Tibe'rius Gracchus, perceiving by the tumult that his life was in danger, endeavoured to fly; and throwing away his robe to expedite his escape, attempted to get through the throng; but happening to fall over a person already on the ground, Sature'ius, one of his colleagues in the tribuneship, who was of the opposite faction, struck him dead with a piece of a seat; and not less than three hundred of his hearers shared the same fate, being killed in the tumult. 15. Nor did the vengeance of the senate rest here, but extended to numbers of those who seemed to espouse his cause; many of them were put to death, many were banished, and nothing was omitted to inspire the people with an abhorrence of his pretended crimes. Soon after the death of Gracchus a rebellion broke out in Sicily among the slaves, who, exasperated by the cruelties exercised upon them by their masters, revolted, and having seized Enna, chose one Eunus for their king. This new monarch gained considerable advantages over the Romans, took the strong city of Tauromin'ium, and protracted the war upwards of six years. At length he was completely defeated by the consul Rupil'ius, and his followers slaughtered or executed: as for Eunus, he died in prison.

16. Ca'ius Gracchus was but twenty-one upon the death of Tibe'rius his brother; and as he was too young to be much dreaded by the great, so he was at first unwilling to incur their resentment by aims beyond his reach; he therefore lived in retirement, unseen and forgotten. 17. But, while he thus seemed desirous of avoiding popularity, he was employed in his solitude in the study of eloquence, which was the surest means to obtain it. 18. At length, when he thought himself qualified to serve his country, he offered himself a candidate for the _quæstorship_ to the army in Sardin'ia, which he easily obtained. His valour, affability, and temperance in this office were remarked by all. 19. The king of Numid'ia sending a present of corn to the Romans, ordered his ambassadors to say, that it was a tribute to the virtues of Ca'ius Gracchus. 20. This the senate treated with scorn, and ordered the ambassadors to be treated with contempt, as ignorant barbarians, which so inflamed the resentment of young Gracchus, that he immediately came from the army to complain of the indignity thrown upon his reputation, and to offer himself for the tribuneship of the people. 21. It was then that this youth, who had been hitherto neglected, proved a more formidable enemy than even his brother had been. Notwithstanding the warmest opposition from the senate, he was declared tribune by a very large majority; and he now prepared for the career which his brother had run before him.

22. His first effort was to have Pompil'ius, one of the most inveterate of his brother's enemies, cited before the people; but rather than stand the event of a trial, he chose to go into voluntary banishment. 23. He next procured an edict, granting the freedom of the city to the inhabitants of La'tium, and soon after to all the people on the hither side of the Alps. 24. He afterwards fixed the price of corn at a moderate standard, and procured a monthly distribution of it among the people. 25. He then proceeded to an inspection into the late corruptions of the senate; in which the whole body being convicted of bribery, extortion, and the sale of offices (for at that time a total degeneracy seemed to have taken place,) a law was made, transferring the power of judging corrupt magistrates from the senate to the knights, which made a great alteration in the constitution.

26. Gracchus, by these means, being grown not only popular, but powerful, was become an object at which the senate aimed all their resentment. 27. But he soon found the populace a faithless and unsteady support. They began to withdraw all their confidence from him, and to place it upon Drusus, a man insidiously set up against him by the senate. 28. It was in vain that he revived the Licin'ian law in their favour, and called up several of the inhabitants of the different towns of Italy to his support; the senate ordered all to depart from Rome, and even sent one stranger to prison whom Gracchus had invited to live with him, and honoured with his table and friendship. 29. To this indignity was shortly after added a disgrace of a more fatal tendency; for, standing for the tribuneship a third time, he was rejected. It was supposed that the officers, whose duty it was to make the return, were bribed to reject him, though fairly chosen.


Questions for Examination.

1. What consequences followed this great prosperity of the Roman arms?

2. Who first resolved to repress the corruption which had taken place in the manners of the people?

3. What was the character of Tiberius Gracchus?

4. Had he any influence with the people?

5. How was the Licinian law received?

6. Did the people believe them?

7. What furthered his views?

8. What advantages occurred to the Romans by his death?

9. What was the effect of this will?

10. What measures did they adopt for this purpose?

11. What was the consequence of their interference?

12. Was this insinuation believed?

13. Did Scipio use violence?

14. What was the fate of Gracchus and his friends?

15. Were his enemies satisfied with this vengeance?

16. What became of Caius Gracchus in the mean time?

17. Was he really desirous of avoiding popularity?

18. In what way did he bring himself into notice?

19. What proof of esteem was given him?

20. How was this compliment received?

21. What was the consequence of this resentment?

22. What was his first effort?

23. What was his next act?

24. What was the next?

25. What followed?

26. What was the consequence of these acts?

27. Did he find steady friends?

28. Were his measures of precaution successful?

29. What farther indignities did he experience?




Say, Romans, whence so dire a fury rose, To glut with Latin blood your barbarous foes? Could you in wars like these provoke your fate? Wars, where no triumphs on the victors wait?--Rowe's Lucan.


1. It was now seen that the fate of Gracchus was resolved on. Opim'ius, the consul, was not contented with the protection of the senate, the knights, and a numerous retinue of slaves and clients; he ordered a body of Candians, who were mercenaries in the Roman service, to follow and attend him. 2. Thus guarded, and conscious of the superiority of his forces, he insulted Gracchus whereever he met him, doing all in his power to produce a quarrel, in which he might have a pretence for despatching his enemy in the fray. 3. Gracchus avoided all recrimination, and, as if apprised of the consul's designs, would not even wear any arms for his defence. 4. His friend Ful'vius Flaccus, however, a zealous tribune, was not so remiss, but resolved to oppose party against party, and for this purpose brought up several countrymen to Rome, who came under pretence of desiring employment. 5. When the day for determining the controversy was arrived, the two parties, early in the morning, attended at the Capitol, where, while the consul was sacrificing, according to custom, one of the lictors taking up the entrails of the beast that was slain in order to remove them, could not forbear crying out to Flac'cus and his party, "Make way, ye factious citizens, for honest men." 6. This insult so provoked, the party to whom it was addressed, that they instantly fell upon him, and pierced him to death with the instruments they used in writing, which they then happened to have in their hands. 7. This murder caused a great disturbance in the assembly. Gracchus, who saw the consequences that were likely to ensue, reprimanded his party for giving his enemies such advantage over him; and now prepared to lead his followers to Mount Av'entine. 8. It was there he learned, that a proclamation had been made by the consuls, that whosoever should bring either his head, or that of Flaccus, should receive its weight in gold as a reward. 9. It was to no purpose that he sent the youngest son of Flaccus, who was yet a child, with proposals for an accommodation. The senate and the consuls, who were sensible of their superiority, rejected all his offers, and resolved to punish his offence with nothing less than death; and they offered pardon also to all who should leave him immediately. 10. This produced the desired effect; the people fell from him by degrees, and left him with very inferior forces. 11. In the meantime, Opim'ius, the consul, who thirsted for slaughter, leading his forces up to Mount Av'entine, fell in among the crowd with ungovernable fury. A terrible slaughter of the scarcely resisting multitude ensued, and not less than three thousand citizens were slain upon the spot. 12. Flaccus attempted to find shelter in a ruinous cottage; but, being discovered, was slain, with his eldest son. Gracchus, at first, retired to the temple of Dian'a, where he resolved to die by his own hand, but was prevented by two of his faithful friends and followers, Pompo'nius and Lucin'ius, who forced him to seek safety by flight. Thence he made the best of his way across a bridge that led from the city, still attended by his two generous friends, and a Grecian slave, whose name was Philoc'rates. 13. But his pursuers still pressed upon him from behind, and when come to the foot of the bridge, he was obliged to turn and face the enemy. His two friends were soon slain, defending him against the crowd; and he was forced to take refuge, with his slave, in a grove beyond the Ti'ber, which had long been dedicated to the Furies. 14. Here, finding himself surrounded on every side, and no way left of escaping, he prevailed upon his slave to despatch him. The slave immediately after killed himself, and fell down upon the body of his beloved master. The pursuers coming up, cut off the head of Gracchus, and placed it for a while as a trophy on a spear. 15. Soon after, one Septimule'ius carried it home, and taking out the brain artfully filled it with lead, in order to increase its weight, and then received of the consul seventeen pounds of gold as his recompence.

16. Thus died Cai'us Gracchus. He is usually impeached by historians, as guilty of sedition; but from what we see of his character, the disturbance of public tranquillity was rather owing to his opposers than to him; so that, instead of calling the tumults of that time the sedition of the Gracchi, we should rather call them the sedition of the senate against the Gracchi; since the efforts of the latter were made in vindication of a law to which the senate had assented; and the designs of the former were supported by an extraneous armed power from the country, that had never before meddled in the business of legislation, and whose introduction gave a most irrecoverable blow to the constitution. 17. Whether the Gracchi were actuated by motives of ambition or of patriotism, in the promulgation of the law, it is impossible to determine; but from what appears, justice was on their side, and all injury on that of the senate. 18. In fact, this body was now changed from that venerable assembly, which we have seen overthrowing Pyr'rhus and Hannibal, as much by their virtues as their arms. They were now only to be distinguished from the rest of the people by their superior luxuries; and ruled the commonwealth by the weight of an authority gained from riches and mercenary dependents. 19. The venal and the base were attached to them from motives of self-interest; and they who still ventured to be independent, were borne down, and entirely lost in an infamous majority. 20. In short, the empire at this period came under the government of a hateful aristocracy; the tribunes, who were formerly accounted protectors of the people, becoming rich themselves, and having no longer opposite interests from those of the senate, concurred in their oppressions; for the struggle was not now between patricians and plebeians, who only nominally differed, but between the rich and the poor. 21. The lower orders of the state being by these means reduced to a degree of hopeless subjection, instead of looking after liberty, only sought for a leader; while the rich, with all the suspicion of tyrants, terrified at the slightest appearance of opposition, entrusted men with uncontrollable power, from whom they had not strength to withdraw it when the danger was over. 22. Thus both parties of the state concurred in giving up their freedom; the fears of the senate first made the dictator, and the hatred of the people kept him in his office. Nothing can be more dreadful to a thinking mind than the government of Rome from this period, till it found refuge under the protection of Augus'tus.[1]


Questions for Examination.

1. What appearances now threatened the life of Gracchus?

2. How did he commence hostilities?

3. How did Gracchus attempt to divert the storm?

4. Were his friends equally prudent?

5. What unhappy incident increased the animosity?

6. How was this insult revenged?

7. What was the consequence of this outrage?

8. What news did he hear on his arrival?

9. Did he attempt to conciliate his enemies, and were his attempts successful?

10. Was this offer accepted?

11. What was the conduct of the consul?

12. What was the fate of the chiefs?

13. Did Gracchus effect his escape?

14. Did he fall into the hands of his enemies?

15. What artifice did avarice contrive?

16.' Was the conduct of Gracchus deserving of praise or blame?

17. By what motives were the Gracchi supposed to be actuated?

18. What was the character of the senate at this period?

19. What was the character of their adherents?

20. What was the nature of their government?

31. What concurred to perpetuate this tyranny?



[1] From the death of Gracchus until the first consulship of Marius, Rome was governed by a venal and profligate oligarchy, formed from a coalition of the most powerful families. Shame was unknown to this body; the offices of state were openly sold to the highest bidder, redress of grievances was to be obtained only by paying a heavier sum for vengeance than the oppressor would give for impunity: advocacy of popular rights was punished as treason, and complaints were treated as criminal acts of sedition. The young patricians, under such a system, became the scourge of the state, for nothing remained safe from their violence or their lust, when the monopoly of judicial office by their friends and relatives insured them impunity for every excess, however flagrant or disgraceful.

Oliver Goldsmith