There is scarce a structural idea in Roman monarchy, which is not traceable to Gaius Gracchus. From him proceeded the maxim--founded doubtless in a certain sense in the nature of the old traditional laws of war, but yet, in the extension and practical application now given to it, foreign to the older state-law--that all the land of the subject communities was to be regarded as the private property of the state; a maxim, which was primarily employed to vindicate the right of the state to tax that land at pleasure, as was the case in Asia, or to apply it for the institution of colonies, as was done in Africa, and which became afterwards a fundamental principle of law under the empire. From him proceeded the tactics, whereby demagogues and tyrants, leaning for support on material interests, break down the governing Aristocracy, but subsequently legitimize the change of constitution by substituting a strict and efficient administration for the previous misgovernment. To him, in particular, are traceable the first steps towards such a reconciliation between Rome and the provinces as the establishment of monarchy could not but bring in its train; the attempt to rebuild Carthage destroyed by Italian rivalry and generally to open the way for Italian emigration towards the provinces, formed the first link in the long chain of that momentous and beneficial course of action. Right and wrong, fortune and misfortune were so inextricably blended in this singular man and in this marvellous political constellation, that it may well beseem history in this case--though it beseems her but seldom-- to reserve her judgment.

The Question As To The Allies

When Gracchus had substantially completed the new constitution projected by him for the state, he applied himself to a second and more difficult work. The question as to the Italian allies was still undecided. What were the views of the democratic leaders regarding it, had been rendered sufficiently apparent.(26) They naturally desired the utmost possible extension of the Roman franchise, not merely that they might bring in the domains occupied by the Latins for distribution, but above all that they might strengthen their body of adherents by the enormous mass of the new burgesses, might bring the comitial machine still more fully under their power by widening the body of privileged electors, and generally might abolish a distinction which had now with the fall of the republican constitution lost all serious importance. But here they encountered resistance from their own party, and especially from that band which otherwise readily gave its sovereign assent to all which it did or did not understand. For the simple reason that Roman citizenship seemed to these people, so to speak, like a partnership which gave them a claim to share in sundry very tangible profits, direct and indirect, they were not at all disposed to enlarge the number of the partners. The rejection of the Fulvian law in 629, and the insurrection of the Fregellans arising out of it, were significant indications both of the obstinate perseverance of the fraction of the burgesses that ruled the comitia, and of the impatient urgency of the allies. Towards the end of his second tribunate (632) Gracchus, probably urged by obligations which he had undertaken towards the allies, ventured on a second attempt. In concert with Marcus Flaccus--who, although a consular, had again taken the tribuneship of the people, in order now to carry the law which he had formerly proposed without success--he made a proposal to grant to the Latins the full franchise, and to the other Italian allies the former rights of the Latins. But the proposal encountered the united opposition of the senate and the mob of the capital. The nature of this coalition and its mode of conflict are clearly and distinctly seen from an accidentally preserved fragment of the speech which the consul Gaius Fannius made to the burgesses in opposition to the proposal. "Do you then think," said the Optimate, "that, if you confer the franchise on the Latins, you will be able to find a place in future--just as you are now standing there in front of me--in the burgess-assembly, or at the games and popular amusements? Do you not believe, on the contrary, that those people will occupy every spot?" Among the burgesses of the fifth century, who on one day conferred the franchise on all the Sabines, such an orator might perhaps have been hissed; those of the seventh found his reasoning uncommonly clear and the price of the assignation of the Latin domains, which was offered to it by Gracchus, far too low. The very circumstance, that the senate carried a permission to eject from the city all non- burgesses before the day for the decisive vote, showed the fate in store for the proposal. And when before the voting Livius Drusus, a colleague of Gracchus, interposed his veto against the law, the people received the veto in such a way that Gracchus could not venture to proceed further or even to prepare for Drusus the fate of Marcus Octavius.

Overthrow Of Gracchus

It was, apparently, this success which emboldened the senate to attempt the overthrow of the victorious demagogue. The weapons of attack were substantially the same with which Gracchus himself had formerly operated. The power of Gracchus rested on the mercantile class and the proletariate; primarily on the latter, which in this conflict, wherein neither side had any military reserve, acted as it were the part of an army. It was clear that the senate was not powerful enough to wrest either from the merchants or from the proletariate their new privileges; any attempt to assail the corn- laws or the new jury-arrangement would have led, under a somewhat grosser or somewhat more civilized form, to a street-riot in presence of which the senate was utterly defenceless. But it was no less clear, that Gracchus himself and these merchants and proletarians were only kept together by mutual advantage, and that the men of material interests were ready to accept their posts, and the populace strictly so called its bread, quite as well from any other as from Gaius Gracchus. The institutions of Gracchus stood, for the moment at least, immoveably firm with the exception of a single one--his own supremacy. The weakness of the latter lay in the fact, that in the constitution of Gracchus there was no relation of allegiance subsisting at all between the chief and the army; and, while the new constitution possessed all other elements of vitality, it lacked one--the moral tie between ruler and ruled, without which every state rests on a pedestal of clay. In the rejection of the proposal to admit the Latins to the franchise it had been demonstrated with decisive clearness that the multitude in fact never voted for Gracchus, but always simply for itself. The aristocracy conceived the plan of offering battle to the author of the corn-largesses and land-assignations on his own ground.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book