Even his brother Publius Mucius Scaevola, the founder of scientific jurisprudence in Rome, seemed not averse to the plan of reform; and his voice was of the greater weight, as he stood in some measure aloof from the parties. Similar were the sentiments of Quintus Metellus, the conqueror of Macedonia and of the Achaeans, but respected not so much on account of his warlike deeds as because he was a model of the old discipline and manners alike in his domestic and his public life. Tiberius Gracchus was closely connected with these men, particularly with Appius whose daughter he had married, and with Mucianus whose daughter was married to his brother. It was no wonder that he cherished the idea of resuming in person the scheme of reform, so soon as he should find himself in a position which would constitutionally allow him the initiative. Personal motives may have strengthened this resolution. The treaty of peace which Mancinus concluded with the Numantines in 617, was in substance the work of Gracchus;(29) the recollection that the senate had cancelled it, that the general had been on its account surrendered to the enemy, and that Gracchus with the other superior officers had only escaped a like fate through the greater favour which he enjoyed among the burgesses, could not put the young, upright, and proud man in better humour with the ruling aristocracy. The Hellenic rhetoricians with whom he was fond of discussing philosophy and politics, Diophanes of Mytilene and Gaius Blossius of Cumae, nourished within his soul the ideals over which he brooded: when his intentions became known in wider circles, there was no want of approving voices, and many a public placard summoned the grandson of Africanus to think of the poor people and the deliverance of Italy.

Tribunate Of Gracchus His Agrarian Law

Tiberius Gracchus was invested with the tribunate of the people on the 10th of December, 620. The fearful consequences of the previous misgovernment, the political, military, economic, and moral decay of the burgesses, were just at that time naked and open to the eyes of all. Of the two consuls of this year one fought without success in Sicily against the revolted slaves, and the other, Scipio Aemilianus, was employed for months not in conquering, but in crushing a small Spanish country town. If Gracchus still needed a special summons to carry his resolution into effect, he found it in this state of matters which filled the mind of every patriot with unspeakable anxiety. His father-in-law promised assistance in counsel and action; the support of the jurist Scaevola, who had shortly before been elected consul for 621, might be hoped for. So Gracchus, immediately after entering on office, proposed the enactment of an agrarian law, which in a certain sense was nothing but a renewal of the Licinio-Sextian law of 387.(30) Under it all the state-lands which were occupied and enjoyed by the possessors without remuneration--those that were let on lease, such as the territory of Capua, were not affected by the law--were to be resumed on behalf of the state; but with the restriction, that each occupier should reserve for himself 500 -jugera- and for each son 250 (so as not, however, to exceed 1000 -jugera- in all) in permanent and guaranteed possession, or should be entitled to claim compensation in land to that extent. Indemnification appears to have been granted for any improvements executed by the former holders, such as buildings and plantations. The domain-land thus resumed was to be broken up into lots of 30 jugera; and these were to be distributed partly to burgesses, partly to Italian allies, not as their own free property, but as inalienable heritable leaseholds, whose holders bound themselves to use the land for agriculture and to pay a moderate rent to the state-chest. A -collegium- of three men, who were regarded as ordinary and standing magistrates of the state and were annually elected by the assembly of the people, was entrusted with the work of resumption and distribution; to which was afterwards added the important and difficult function of legally settling what was domain-land and what was private property. The distribution was accordingly designed to go on for an indefinite period until the Italian domains which were very extensive and difficult of adjustment should be regulated. The new features in the Sempronian agrarian law, as compared with the Licinio-Sextian, were, first, the clause in favour of the hereditary possessors; secondly, the leasehold and inalienable tenure proposed for the new allotments; thirdly and especially, the regulated and permanent executive, the want of which under the older law had been the chief reason why it had remained without lasting practical application.

War was thus declared against the great landholders, who now, as three centuries ago, found substantially their organ in the senate; and once more, after a long interval, a single magistrate stood forth in earnest opposition to the aristocratic government. It took up the conflict in the mode--sanctioned by use and wont for such cases--of paralyzing the excesses of the magistrates by means of the magistracy itself.(31) A colleague of Gracchus, Marcus Octavius, a resolute man who was seriously persuaded of the objectionable character of the proposed domain law, interposed his veto when it was about to be put to the vote; a step, the constitutional effect of which was to set aside the proposal. Gracchus in his turn suspended the business of the state and the administration of justice, and placed his seal on the public chest; the government acquiesced--it was inconvenient, but the year would draw to an end. Gracchus, in perplexity, brought his law to the vote a second time. Octavius of course repeated his -veto-; and to the urgent entreaty of his colleague and former friend, that he would not obstruct the salvation of Italy, he might reply that on that very question, as to how Italy could be saved, opinions differed, but that his constitutional right to use his veto against the proposal of his colleague was beyond all doubt.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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