It was all the more so in the present instance, because after the fall of Gaius and the sweeping and bloody prosecutions of Opimius there existed at the moment absolutely no one, who, either by blood-relationship to the fallen chief of the state or by preeminent ability, might feel himself warranted in even attempting to occupy the vacant place. Gaius had departed from the world childless, and the son whom Tiberius had left behind him died before reaching manhood; the whole popular party, as it was called, was literally without any one who could be named as leader. The Gracchan constitution resembled a fortress without a commander; the walls and garrison were uninjured, but the general was wanting, and there was no one to take possession of the vacant place save the very government which had been overthrown.

The Restored Aristocracy

So it accordingly happened. After the decease of Gaius Gracchus without heirs, the government of the senate as it were spontaneously resumed its place; and this was the more natural, that it had not been, in the strict sense, formally abolished by the tribune, but had merely been reduced to a practical nullity by his exceptional proceedings. Yet we should greatly err, if we should discern in this restoration nothing further than a relapse of the state-machine into the old track which had been trodden and worn for centuries. Restoration is always revolution; but in this case it was not so much the old government as the old governor that was restored. The oligarchy made its appearance newly equipped in the armour of the -tyrannis- which had been overthrown. As the senate had beaten Gracchus from the field with his own weapons, so it continued in the most essential points to govern with the constitution of the Gracchi; though certainly with the ulterior idea, if not of setting it aside entirely, at any rate of thoroughly purging it in due time from the elements really hostile to the ruling aristocracy.

Prosecutions Of The Democrats

At first the reaction was mainly directed against persons. Publius Popillius was recalled from banishment after the enactments relating to him had been cancelled (633), and a warfare of prosecution was waged against the adherents of Gracchus; whereas the attempt of the popular party to have Lucius Opimius after his resignation of office condemned for high treason was frustrated by the partisans of the government (634). The character of this government of the restoration is significantly indicated by the progress of the aristocracy in soundness of sentiment. Gaius Carbo, once the ally of the Gracchi, had for long been a convert,(1) and had but recently shown his zeal and his usefulness as defender of Opimius. But he remained the renegade; when the same accusation was raised against him by the democrats as against Opimius, the government were not unwilling to let him fall, and Carbo, seeing himself lost between the two parties, died by his own hand. Thus the men of the reaction showed themselves in personal questions pure aristocrats. But the reaction did not immediately attack the distributions of grain, the taxation of the province of Asia, or the Gracchan arrangement as to the jurymen and courts; on the contrary, it not only spared the mercantile class and the proletariate of the capital, but continued to render homage, as it had already done in the introduction of the Livian laws, to these powers and especially to the proletariate far more decidedly than had been done by the Gracchi. This course was not adopted merely because the Gracchan revolution still thrilled for long the minds of its contemporaries and protected its creations; the fostering and cherishing at least of the interests of the populace was in fact perfectly compatible with the personal advantage of the aristocracy, and thereby nothing further was sacrificed than merely the public weal.

The Domain Question Under The Restoration

All those measures which were devised by Gaius Gracchus for the promotion of the public welfare--the best but, as may readily be conceived, also the most unpopular part of his legislation--were allowed by the aristocracy to drop. Nothing was so speedily and so successfully assailed as the noblest of his projects, the scheme of introducing a legal equality first between the Roman burgesses and Italy, and thereafter between Italy and the provinces, and--inasmuch as the distinction between the merely ruling and consuming and the merely serving and working members of the state was thus done away-- at the same time solving the social question by the most comprehensive and systematic emigration known in history. With all the determination and all the peevish obstinacy of dotage the restored oligarchy obtruded the principle of deceased generations--that Italy must remain the ruling land and Rome the ruling city in Italy--afresh on the present. Even in the lifetime of Gracchus the claims of the Italian allies had been decidedly rejected, and the great idea of transmarine colonization had been subjected to a very serious attack, which became the immediate cause of Gracchus' fall. After his death the scheme of restoring Carthage was set aside with little difficulty by the government party, although the individual allotments already distributed there were left to the recipients. It is true that they could not prevent a similar foundation by the democratic party from succeeding at another point: in the course of the conquests beyond the Alps which Marcus Flaccus had begun, the colony of Narbo (Narbonne) was founded there in 636, the oldest transmarine burgess- city in the Roman empire, which, in spite of manifold attacks by the government party and in spite of a proposal directly made by the senate to abolish it, permanently held its ground, protected, as it probably was, by the mercantile interests that were concerned. But, apart from this exception--in its isolation not very important--the government was uniformly successful in preventing the assignation of land out of Italy.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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