Death Of Gracchus

The senate assembled in the temple of Fidelity, close by the temple of Jupiter; the bitterest opponents of Gracchus spoke in the sitting; when Tiberius moved his hand towards his forehead to signify to the people, amidst the wild tumult, that his head was in danger, it was said that he was already summoning the people to adorn his brow with the regal chaplet. The consul Scaevola was urged to have the traitor put to death at once. When that temperate man, by no means averse to reform in itself, indignantly refused the equally irrational and barbarous request, the consular Publius Scipio Nasica, a harsh and vehement aristocrat, summoned those who shared his views to arm themselves as they could and to follow him. Almost none of the country people had come into town for the elections; the people of the city timidly gave way, when they saw men of quality rushing along with fury in their eyes, and legs of chairs and clubs in their hands. Gracchus attempted with a few attendants to escape. But in his flight he fell on the slope of the Capitol, and was killed by a blow on the temples from the bludgeon of one of his furious pursuers --Publius Satureius and Lucius Rufus afterwards contested the infamous honour--before the statues of the seven kings at the temple of Fidelity; with him three hundred others were slain, not one by weapons of iron. When evening had come on, the bodies were thrown into the Tiber; Gaius vainly entreated that the corpse of his brother might be granted to him for burial. Such a day had never before been seen by Rome. The party-strife lasting for more than a century during the first social crisis had led to no such catastrophe as that with which the second began. The better portion of the aristocracy might shudder, but they could no longer recede. They had no choice save to abandon a great number of their most trusty partisans to the vengeance of the multitude, or to assume collectively the responsibility of the outrage: the latter course was adopted. They gave official sanction to the assertion that Gracchus had wished to seize the crown, and justified this latest crime by the primitive precedent of Ahala;(33) in fact, they even committed the duty of further investigation as to the accomplices of Gracchus to a special commission and made its head, the consul Publius Popillius, take care that a sort of legal stamp should be supplementarily impressed on the murder of Gracchus by bloody sentences directed against a large number of inferior persons (622). Nasica, against whom above all others the multitude breathed vengeance, and who had at least the courage openly to avow his deed before the people and to defend it, was under honourable pretexts despatched to Asia, and soon afterwards (624) invested, during his absence, with the office of Pontifex Maximus. Nor did the moderate party dissociate themselves from these proceedings of their colleagues. Gaius Laelius bore a part in the investigations adverse to the partisans of Gracchus; Publius Scaevola, who had attempted to prevent the murder, afterwards defended it in the senate; when Scipio Aemilianus, after his return from Spain (622), was challenged publicly to declare whether he did or did not approve the killing of his brother-in-law, he gave the at least ambiguous reply that, so far as Tiberius had aspired to the crown, he had been justly put to death.

The Domain Question Viewed In Itself

Let us endeavour to form a judgment regarding these momentous events. The appointment of an official commission, which had to counteract the dangerous diminution of the farmer-class by the comprehensive establishment of new small holdings from the whole Italian landed property at the disposal of the state, was doubtless no sign of a healthy condition of the national economy; but it was, under the existing circumstances political and social, suited to its purpose. The distribution of the domains, moreover, was in itself no political party-question; it might have been carried out to the last sod without changing the existing constitution or at all shaking the government of the aristocracy. As little could there be, in that case, any complaint of a violation of rights. The state was confessedly the owner of the occupied land; the holder as a possessor on mere sufferance could not, as a rule, ascribe to himself even a bonafide proprietary tenure, and, in the exceptional instances where he could do so, he was confronted by the fact that by the Roman law prescription did not run against the state. The distribution of the domains was not an abolition, but an exercise, of the right of property; all jurists were agreed as to its formal legality. But the attempt now to carry out these legal claims of the state was far from being politically warranted by the circumstance that the distribution of the domains neither infringed the existing constitution nor involved a violation of right. Such objections as have been now and then raised in our day, when a great landlord suddenly begins to assert in all their compass claims belonging to him in law but suffered for a long period to lie dormant in practice, might with equal and better right be advanced against the rogation of Gracchus. These occupied domains had been undeniably in heritable private possession, some of them for three hundred years; the state's proprietorship of the soil, which from its very nature loses more readily than that of the burgess the character of a private right, had in the case of these lands become virtually extinct, and the present holders had universally come to their possessions by purchase or other onerous acquisition. The jurist might say what he would; to men of business the measure appeared to be an ejection of the great landholders for the benefit of the agricultural proletariate; and in fact no statesman could give it any other name. That the leading men of the Catonian epoch formed no other judgment, is very clearly shown by their treatment of a similar case that occurred in their time.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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