Not many had the courage to lord it over the populace as Scipio Aemilianus did, when they hissed him on account of his expression as to the death of his brother-in-law. "Ye," he said, "to whom Italy is not mother but step-mother, ought to keep silence!" and when their fury grew still louder, "Surely you do not think that I will fear those let loose, whom I have sent in chains to the slave-market?"

That the rusty machinery of the comitia should be made use of for the elections and for legislation, was already bad enough. But when those masses--the -comitia- primarily, and practically also the -contiones--- were permitted to interfere in the administration, and the instrument which the senate employed to prevent such interferences was wrested out of its hands; when this so-called burgess-body was allowed to decree to itself lands along with all their appurtenances out of the public purse; when any one, whom circumstances and his influence with the proletariate enabled to command the streets for a few hours, found it possible to impress on his projects the legal stamp of the sovereign people's will, Rome had reached not the beginning, but the end of popular freedom--had arrived not at democracy, but at monarchy. For that reason in the previous period Cato and those who shared his views never brought such questions before the burgesses, but discussed them solely in the senate.(37) For that reason contemporaries of Gracchus, the men of the Scipionic circle, described the Flaminian agrarian law of 522--the first step in that fatal career--as the beginning of the decline of Roman greatness. For that reason they allowed the author of the domain-distribution to fall, and saw in his dreadful end, as it were, a rampart against similar attempts in future, while yet they maintained and turned to account with all their energy the domain-distribution itself which he had carried through--so sad was the state of things in Rome that honest patriots were forced into the horrible hypocrisy of abandoning the evil-doer and yet appropriating the fruit of the evil deed. For that reason too the opponents of Gracchus were in a certain sense not wrong, when they accused him of aspiring to the crown. For him it is a fresh impeachment rather than a justification, that he himself was probably a stranger to any such thought. The aristocratic government was so thoroughly pernicious, that the citizen, who was able to depose the senate and to put himself in its place, might perhaps benefit the commonwealth more than he injured it.


But such a bold player Tiberius Gracchus was not. He was a tolerably capable, thoroughly well-meaning, conservative patriot, who simply did not know what he was doing; who in the fullest belief that he was calling the people evoked the rabble, and grasped at the crown without being himself aware of it, until the inexorable sequence of events urged him irresistibly into the career of the demagogue-tyrant; until the family commission, the interferences with the public finances, the further "reforms" exacted by necessity and despair, the bodyguard from the pavement, and the conflicts in the streets betrayed the lamentable usurper more and more clearly to himself and others; until at length the unchained spirits of revolution seized and devoured the incapable conjurer. The infamous butchery, through which he perished, condemns itself, as it condemns the aristocratic faction whence it issued; but the glory of martyrdom, with which it has embellished the name of Tiberius Gracchus, came in this instance, as usually, to the wrong man. The best of his contemporaries judged otherwise. When the catastrophe was announced to Scipio Aemilianus, he uttered the words of Homer:

"--Os apoloito kai allos, otis toiauta ge pezoi--"

and when the younger brother of Tiberius seemed disposed to come forward in the same career, his own mother wrote to him: "Shall then our house have no end of madness? Where shall be the limit? Have we not yet enough to be ashamed of, in having confused and disorganized the state?" So spoke not the anxious mother, but the daughter of the conqueror of Carthage, who knew and experienced a misfortune yet greater than the death of her children.

Chapter III

The Revolution And Gaius Gracchus

The Commisssion For Distributing The Domains

Tiberius Gracchus was dead; but his two works, the distribution of land and the revolution, survived their author. In presence of the starving agricultural proletariate the senate might venture on a murder, but it could not make use of that murder to annul the Sempronian agrarian law; the law itself had been far more strengthened than shaken by the frantic outbreak of party fury. The party of the aristocracy friendly towards reform, which openly favoured the distribution of the domains--headed by Quintus Metellus, just about this time (623) censor, and Publius Scaevola--in concert with the party of Scipio Aemilianus, which was at least not disinclined to reform, gained the upper hand for the time being even in the senate; and a decree of the senate expressly directed the triumvirs to begin their labours. According to the Sempronian law these were to be nominated annually by the community, and this was probably done: but from the nature of their task it was natural that the election should fall again and again on the same men, and new elections in the proper sense occurred only when a place became vacant through death. Thus in the place of Tiberius Gracchus there was appointed the father-in-law of his brother Gaius, Publius Crassus Mucianus; and after the fall of Mucianus in 624(1) and the death of Appius Claudius, the business of distribution was managed in concert with the young Gaius Gracchus by two of the most active leaders of the movement party, Marcus Fulvius Flaccus and Gaius Papirius Carbo. The very names of these men are vouchers that the work of resuming and distributing the occupied domain-land was prosecuted with zeal and energy; and, in fact, proofs to that effect are not wanting.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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