Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online


Home | Prev | Next | Contents


A cause never lacks a champion, nor a great cause one whom it may render great. Failure is in itself no sign of lack of spirit and ability, and when a vast reform is the product of a mean personality, the individual becomes glorified by identification with his work. From this point of view it mattered little who undertook the task of the economic regeneration of the Roman world. Any senator of respectable antecedents and moderate ability, who had a stable following amongst the ruling classes, might have succeeded where Tiberius Gracchus failed; it was a task in which authority was of more importance than ability, and the sense that the more numerous or powerful elements of society were united in the demand for reform, of more value than individual genius or honesty of purpose. This was the very circumstance that foreshadowed failure, for the men of wide connections and established fame had shrunk from an enterprise with which they sympathised in various degrees. In the proximate history of the Republic there had been three men who showed an unwavering belief in the Italian farmer and the blessings of agriculture. These were M. Porcius Cato, P. Cornelius Scipio and Ti. Sempronius Gracchus. But the influence of Cato's house had become extinct with its first founder. The elder son, an amiable man and an accomplished jurist, had not out-lived his father; the second still survived, but seems to have inherited little of the fighting qualities of the terrible censor. The traditions of a Roman house needed to be sustained by the efforts of its existing representative, and the "newness" of the Porcii might have necessitated generations of vigorous leaders to make them a power in the land. Scipionic traditions were now represented by Aemilianus, and the glow of the luminary was reflected in paler lights, who received their lustre from moving in that charmed orbit. One of these, the indefatigable henchman Laelius, had risen to the rank of consul, and stimulated by the vigorous theorisings of his hellenised environment, he contemplated for a moment the formation of a plan which should deal with some of the worst evils of the agrarian question. But he looked at the problem only to start back in affright. The strength and truculency of the vested interests with which he would have to deal were too much for a man whose nerve was weakened by philosophy and experience, and Laelius by his retreat justified, if he did not gain, the soubriquet which proclaimed his "sapience".[299] But why was Scipio himself idle? The answer is to be found both in his temperament and in his circumstances. With all his dash and energy, he was something of a healthy hedonist. As the chase had delighted him in his youth, so did war in his manhood. While hating its cruelties, he gloried in its excitement, and the discipline of the camp was more to his mind than the turbulence of an assembly. His mind, too, belonged to that class which finds it almost impossible to emancipate itself from traditional politics. His vast knowledge of the history of other civilisations may have taught him, as it taught Polybius, that Rome was successful because she was unique.[300] Here there was to be no break with the past, no legislator posing as a demi-god, no obedience to the cries of the masses who, if they once got loose, might turn and rend the enlightened few, and reproduce on Italian soil the shocking scenes of Greek socialistic enterprise. As things were, to be a reformer was to be a partisan, and Scipio loved the prospect of his probable supporters as little as that of his probable opponents. The fact of the Empire, too, must have weighed heavily with a man who was no blind imperialist. Even though economic reform might create an added efficiency in the army, Scipio must have known, as Polybius certainly knew, that soldiers are but pawns in the great game, and that the controlling forces were the wisdom of the conservative senator, the ambition of the wealthy noble, and the capital of the enterprising knight. The wisdom of disturbing their influence, and awakening their resentment, could scarcely appeal to a mind so perfectly balanced and practical as Scipio's. Circumstances, too, must have had their share in determining his quiescence. The Scipios had been a power in Rome in spite of the nobility. They were used because they were needed, not because they were loved, and the necessary man was never in much favour with the senate. Although there was no tie of blood between Aemilianus and the elder Scipio, they were much alike both in fortune and in temperament. They had both been called upon to save military situations that were thought desperate; their reputation had been made by successful war; and though neither was a mere soldier, they lacked the taste and the patience for the complicated political game, which alone made a man a power amidst the noble circles and their immediate dependants at Rome.

But the last generation had seen in Tiberius Gracchus a man whose political influence had been vast, a noble with but scant respect for the indefeasible rights of the nobility and as stern as Cato in his animadversions on the vices of his order, a man whose greatest successes abroad had been those of diplomacy rather than of war, one who had established firm connections and a living memory of himself both in West and East, whose name was known and loved in Spain, Sardinia, Asia and Egypt. It would have been too much to hope that this honest old aristocrat would attempt to grapple with the evils which had first become manifest during his own long lifetime; but it was not unnatural that people should look to a son of his for succour, especially as this son represented the blood of the Scipios as well as of the Gracchi. The marriage of the elderly Gracchus with the young Cornelia had marked the closing of the feud, personal rather than political, which had long separated him from the elder Scipio: and a further link between the two families was subsequently forged by the marriage of Sempronia, a daughter of Cornelia, to Scipio Aemilianus. The young Tiberius Gracchus may have been born during one of his father's frequent absences on the service of the State.[301] Certainly the elder Gracchus could have seen little of his son during the years of his infancy. But the closing years of the old man's life seem to have been spent uninterruptedly in Italy, and Tiberius must have been profoundly influenced by the genial and stately presence that Rome loved and feared. But he was little more than a boy when his father died, and the early influences that moulded his future career seem to have been due mainly to his mother. Cornelia would have been the typical Roman matron, had she lived a hundred years earlier; she would then have trained sons for the battlefield, not for the Forum. As it was, the softening influences of Greek culture had tempered without impairing her strength of character, had substituted rational for purely supernatural sanctions, and a wide political outlook for a rude sense of civic duty. Herself the product of an education such as ancient civilisations rarely bestowed upon their women, she wrote and spoke with a purity and grace which led to the belief that her sons had learnt from her lips and from her pen their first lessons in that eloquence which swayed the masses and altered the fortunes of Rome.[302] But her gifts had not impaired her tenderness. Her sons were her "Jewels," and the successive loss of nine of the children which she had borne to Gracchus must have made the three that remained doubly dear. The two boys had a narrow escape from becoming Eastern princes: for the hand of the widow Cornelia was sought in marriage by the King of Egypt.[303] Such an alliance with the representative of the two houses of the Gracchi and the Scipios might easily seem desirable to a protected king, although the attractions of Cornelia may also have influenced his choice. She, however, had no aspirations to share the throne of the Lagidae, and the hellenism of Tiberius and of his younger brother Caius, though deep and far-reaching, was of a kind less violent than would have been gained by transportation to Alexandria. They were trained in rhetoric by Diophanes an exile from Mitylene, and in philosophy by Blossius of Cumae, a stoic of the school of Antipater of Tarsus.[304] Many held the belief that Tiberius was spurred to his political enterprise by the direct exhortation of these teachers; but, even if their influence was not of this definite kind, there can be little doubt that the teaching of the two Greeks exercised a powerful influence on the political cast of his mind. Ideals of Greek liberty, speeches of Greek statesmen who had come forward as champions of the oppressed, stories of social ruin averted by the voice and hand of the heaven-sent legislator, pictures of self-sacrifice and of resigned submission to a standard of duty--these were lessons that may have been taught both by rhetorician and philosopher. Nor was the teaching of history different. In the literary environment in which the Gracchi moved, ready answers were being given to the most vital questions of politics and social science. Every one must have felt that the approaching struggle had a dual aspect, that it was political as well as social. For social conservatism was entrenched behind a political rampart: and if reform, neglected by the senate, was to come from the people, the question had first to be asked, Had the people a legal right to initiate reform? The historians of that and of the preceding generation would have answered this question unhesitatingly in the affirmative. The de facto sovereignty of the senate had not even received a sanction in contemporary literature, while to that of the immediate past it was equally unknown. The Roman annalists from the time of the Second Punic War had revealed the sovereignty of the people as the basis of the Roman constitution,[305] and the history of the long struggle of the Plebs for freedom made the protection of the commons the sole justification of the tribunate. From the lips of Polybius himself Tiberius may have heard the impression which the Roman polity made on the mind of the educated Greek: and the fact that this was a Greek picture did not lessen its validity; for the Greek was moulding the orthodox history of Rome, and the victims of his genius were the best Roman intellects of the day. He might have learnt how in this mixed constitution the people still retained their inalienable rights, how they elected, ratified, and above all how they punished.[306] He might have gathered that the identification of the tribunate with the interests of the nobility was a perversion of its true and vital function: that the tribune exists but to assist the commons and can be subject to no authority but the people's will, whether expressed directly by them or indirectly through his colleagues.[307] The history of the Punic wars did indeed reveal, in the fate of a Varro or a Minucius, how popular insubordination might be punished, when its end was wrong. Polybius's own voice was raised in prophetic warning against a possible demagogy of the future.[308] But that history showed the healthy discipline of a healthy people--a people that had vanquished genius through subordination, a peasant class whose loyalty and tenacity were as great as those of its leaders, and without whom those leaders would have been helpless. Where was such a class to be found now? Change the subject or turn the page, and the Greek statesman and historian could point to the dreadful reverse of this picture.[309] He could show a Greek nation, gifted with political genius but doomed to political decay--a nation whose sons accumulated money, lived in luxury with little forethought for the future, and refused to beget children for the State: a nation with a wealthy and cultured upper class, but one that was literally perishing for the lack of men.[310] Was this the fate in store for Rome? A temperament that was merely vigorous and keen might not have been affected by such reflections. One that was merely contemplative might have regarded them only as a subject for curious study. But Tiberius's mind ran to neither of these two extremes. He was a thoughtful and sensitive man of action. Sweet in temper, staid in deportment, gentle in language, he attracted from his dependants a loyalty that knew no limits, and from his friends a devotion that did not even shrink from death on his behalf. Even in his pure and polished oratory passion revealed itself chiefly in appeals to pity, not in the harsher forms of invective or of scorn. His mode of life was simple and restrained, but apparently with none of the pedantic austerity of the stoic. In an age that was becoming dissolute and frivolous he was moral and somewhat serious.[311] But his career is not that of the man who burdens society with the impression that he has a solemn mission to perform. Such men are rarely taken as seriously as they take themselves; they do not win aged men of experience to support their cause; the demeanour that wearies their friends is even likely to be found irksome by the mob.

Roman society must have seen much promise in his youth, for honours came early. A seat at the augural board was regarded as a tribute to his merit rather than his birth;[312] and indeed the Roman aristocrats, who dispensed such favours, were too clever to be the slaves of a name, when political manipulation was in question and talent might be diverted to the true cause. His marriage was a more important determinant in his career. The bride who was offered him was the daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher, a man of consular and censorian rank and now Princeps of the senate,[313] a clever representative of that brilliant and eccentric house, that had always kept liberalism alive in Rome. Appius had already displayed some of the restless individuality of his ancestors. When the senate had refused him a triumph after a war with the Salassi, he had celebrated the pageant at his own expense, while his daughter, a vestal, walked beside the car to keep at bay the importunate tribune who attempted to drag him off.[314] A similar unconventionality was manifested in the present betrothal. The story runs that Appius broached the question to Tiberius at an augural banquet. The proposition was readily accepted, and Appius in his joy shouted out the news to his wife as he entered his own front door. The lady was more surprised than annoyed. "What need for all this haste," she said, "unless indeed you have found Tiberius Gracchus for our girl?" [315] Appius, hasty as he was, was probably in this case not the victim of a sudden inspiration. The restless old man doubtless pined for reform; but he was weighed down by years, honours and familiarity with the senate. He could not be the protagonist in the coming struggle; but in Tiberius he saw the man of the future.

The chances of the time favoured a military even more than a political career; the chief spheres of influence were the province and the camp, and it was in these that the earliest distinctions of Tiberius were won. When a lad of fifteen he had followed his brother-in-law Scipio to Africa, and had been the first to mount the walls of Carthage in the vain assault on the fortress of Megara.[316] He had won the approval of the commander by his discipline and courage, and left general regret amongst the army when he quitted the camp before the close of the campaign. But an experience as potent for the future as his first taste of war, must have been those hours of leisure spent in Scipio's tent.[317] If contact with the great commander aroused emulation, the talk on political questions of Scipio and his circle must have inspired profound reflection. Here he could find aspirations enough; all that was lacking was a leader to translate them into deeds. The quaestorship, the first round of the higher official ladder, found him attached to the consul Mancinus and destined for the ever-turbulent province of Spain. It was a fortunate chance, for here was the scene of his father's military and diplomatic triumphs. But the sequel was unexpected. He had gone to fulfil the duties of a subordinate; he suddenly found himself performing those of a commander-in-chief or of an accredited representative of the Roman people. The Numantines would treat only with a Gracchus, and the treaty that saved Roman lives but not Roman honour was felt to be really his work. In a moment he was involved in a political question that agitated the whole of Rome. The Numantine treaty was the topic of the day. Was it to be accepted or, if repudiated, should the authors of the disaster, the causes of the breach of faith, be surrendered in time-honoured fashion to the enemy as an expiation for the violated pledge? On the first point there was little hesitation; the senate decided for the nullity of the treaty, and it was likely that this view would be accepted by the people, if the measures against the ratifying officials were not made too stringent. For on this point there was a difference of opinion. The poorer classes, whose sons and brothers had been saved from death or captivity by the treaty, blamed Mancinus as the cause of the disaster, but were grateful to Tiberius as the author of the agreement. Others who had less to lose and could therefore afford to stand on principle, would have enforced the fullest rigour of the ancient rules and have delivered up the quaestor and tribunes with the defaulting general.[318] It was thought that the influence of Scipio, always great with the agricultural voters, might have availed to save even Mancinus, nay that, if he would, he might have got the peace confirmed.[319] But his efforts were believed to have been employed in favour of Tiberius. The matter ended in an illogical compromise. The treaty was repudiated, but it was decreed that the general alone should be surrendered.[320] A breach in an ancient rule of religious law had been made in favour of Tiberius.

But, in spite of this mark of popular favour, the experience had been disheartening and its effect was disturbing. Although it is impossible to subscribe to the opinion of later writers, who, looking at the matter from a conservative and therefore unfavourable aspect, saw in this early check the key to Tiberius's future action,[321] yet anger and fear leave their trace even on the best regulated minds. The senate had torn up his treaty and placed him for the moment in personal peril. It was to the people that he owed his salvation. If circumstances were to develop an opposition party in Rome, he was being pushed more and more into its ranks. And a coolness seems to have sprung up at this time between him and the man who had been his great exemplar. Tiberius took no counsel of Scipio before embarking on his great enterprise; support and advice were sought elsewhere. He may have already tested Scipio's lack of sympathy with an active propaganda; shame might have kept back the hint of a plan that might seem to imply a claim to leadership. But it is possible that there was some feeling of resentment against the warrior now before Numantia, who had done nothing to save the last Numantine treaty and the honour of the name of Gracchus.

His reticence could scarcely have been due to ignorance of his own designs; for his brother Caius left it on record that it was while journeying northward from Rome on his way to Numantia that Tiberius's eyes were first fully opened to the magnitude of the malady that cried aloud for cure.[322] It was in Etruria, the paradise of the capitalist, that he saw everywhere the imported slave and the barbarian who had replaced the freeman. It was this sight that first suggested something like a definite scheme. A further stimulus was soon to be found in scraps of anonymous writing which appeared on porches, walls and monuments, praying for his succour and entreating that the public land should be recovered for the poor.[323] The voiceless Roman people was seeking its only mode of utterance, a tribune who should be what the tribune had been of old, the servant of the many not the creature of the few. To Gracchus's mother his plans could hardly have been veiled. She is even said to have stimulated a vague craving for action by the playful remark that she was still known as the mother-in-law of Scipio, not as the mother of the Gracchi.[324]

But there was need of serious counsel. Gracchus did not mean to be a mere demagogue, coming before the people with a half-formed plan and stirring up an agitation which could end merely in some idle resolution. There were few to whom he could look for advice, but those few were of the best. Three venerable men, whose deeds and standing were even greater than their names, were ready with their support. There was the chief pontiff, P. Licinius Crassus Mucianus, the man who was said to combine in a supreme degree the four great blessings of wealth, birth, eloquence and legal lore;[325] there was the brother of Crassus, P. Mucius Scaevola,[326] the greatest lawyer of his age and already destined to the consulship for the following year; lastly there was Tiberius's father-in-law, the restless Appius, now eagerly awaiting the fulfilment of a cherished scheme by the man of his own choice.[327]

Thus fortified, Tiberius Gracchus entered on his tribunate, and formulated the measure which was to leave large portions of the public domain open for distribution to the poor. In the popular gatherings with which he opened his campaign, he dwelt on the nature of the evils which he proposed to remedy. It was the interest of Italy, not merely of the Roman proletariate, that was at stake.[328] He pointed out how the Italian peasantry had dwindled in numbers, and how that portion of it which still survived had been reduced to a poverty that was irremediable by their own efforts. He showed that the slave gangs which worked the vast estates were a menace, not a help, to Rome. They could not be enlisted for service in the legions; their disaffection to their masters was notorious; their danger was being proved even now by the horrible condition of Sicily, the fate of its slave-owning landlords, the long, difficult and eventful war which had not even yet been brought to a close.[329] Sometimes the language of passion replaced that of reason in his harangues to the crowds that pressed round the Rostra. "The beasts that prowl about Italy have holes and lurking-places where they may make their beds. You who fight and die for Italy enjoy but the blessings of air and light. These alone are your heritage. Homeless, unsettled, you wander to and fro with your wives and children. Our generals are in the habit of inspiring their soldiers to the combat by exhorting them to repel the enemy in defence of their tombs and ancestral shrines. The appeal is idle and false. You cannot point to a paternal altar, you have no ancestral tomb. No! you fight and die to give wealth and luxury to others. You are called the masters of the world; yet there is no clod of earth that you can call your own." [330]

The proposal, which was ushered in by these stirring appeals, seemed at first sight to be of a moderate and somewhat conservative character. It professed to be the renewal of an older law, which had limited the amount of domain land which an individual might possess to five hundred jugera;[331] it professed, that is, to reinforce an injunction which had been persistently disobeyed, for this enactment restricting possession had never been repealed. The extent to which a proposal of this kind is a re-enactment, in the spirit as well as in the letter, depends entirely on the length of time which has elapsed since the original proposal has begun to be violated. A political society, which recognises custom as one of the bases of law, must recognise desuetude as equally valid. A law, which has not been enforced for centuries, would, by the common consent of the courts of such nations as favour progressive legislation, be regarded as no law at all. Again, the age of an ordinance determines its suitability to present conditions. It may be justifiable to revive an enactment that is centuries old; but the revival should not necessarily dignify itself with that name. It must be regarded as a new departure, unless the circumstances of the old and the new enactment can be proved to be approximately the same. Our attempts to judge the Gracchan law by these considerations are baffled by our ignorance of the real date of the previous enactment, the stringency of whose measures he wished to renew. If it was the Licinian law of the middle of the fourth century,[332] this law must have been renewed, or must still have continued to be observed, at a period not very long anterior to the Gracchan proposal; for Cato could point his argument against the declaration of war with Rhodes by an appeal to a provision attributed to this measure[333]--an appeal which would have been pointless, had the provision fallen into that oblivion which persistent neglect of an enactment must bring to all but the professed students of law. We can at least assert that the charge against Gracchus of reviving an enactment so hoary with age as to be absurdly obsolete, is not one of the charges to be found even in those literary records which were most unfriendly to his legislation.[334]

The general principle of the measure was, therefore, the limitation to five hundred jugera of the amount of public land that could be "possessed" by an individual. The very definition of the tenure immediately exempted large portions of the State's domain from the operation of this rule.[335] The Campanian land was leased by the State to individuals, not merely possessed by them as the result of an occupation permitted by the government; it, therefore, fell outside the scope of the measure;[336] but, as it was technically public land and its ownership was vested in the State, it would have been hazardous to presume its exemption; it seems, therefore, to have been specifically excluded from the operation of the bill, and a similar exception was probably made in favour of many other tracts of territory held under a similar tenure.[337] Either Gracchus declined to touch any interest that could properly describe itself as "vested," even though it took merely the form of a leasehold, or he valued the secure and abundant revenue which flowed into the coffers of the State from these domains. There were other lands strictly "public" where the claim of the holders was still stronger, and where dispossession without the fullest compensation must have been regarded as mere robbery. We know from later legislation that respect was had to such lands as the Trientabula, estates which had been granted by the Roman government at a quit rent to its creditors, as security for that portion of a national debt which had never been repaid. It is less certain what happened in the case of lands of which the usufruct alone had been granted to communities of Roman citizens or Latin colonists. Ownership in this case still remained vested in the Roman people, and if the right of usufruct had been granted by law, it could be removed by law. In the case of Latin communities, however, it was probably guaranteed by treaty, which no mere law could touch: and so similar were the conditions of Roman and Latin communities in this particular, that it is probable that the land whose use was conferred on whole communities by these ancient grants, was wholly spared by the Gracchan legislation. In the case of those commons which were possessed by groups of villagers for the purposes of pasturage (ager compascuus),[338] it is not likely that the group was regarded as the unit: and therefore, even in the case of such an aggregate possessing over five hundred jugera, their occupation was probably left undisturbed.

All other possessors must vacate the land which exceeded the prescribed limit. Such an ordinance would have been harsh, had no compensation been allowed, and Gracchus proposed certain amends for the loss sustained. In the first place, the five hundred jugera retained by each possessor were to be increased by half as much again for each son that he might possess: although it seems that the amount retained was not to exceed one thousand jugera.[339] Secondly, the land so secured to existing possessors was not to be held on a merely precarious tenure, and was not to be burdened by the payment of dues to the State; even if ownership was not vested in its holders, they were guaranteed gratuitous undisturbed possession in perpetuity.[340] Thirdly, the bill as originally drafted even suggested some monetary compensation for the land surrendered.[341] This compensation was probably based on a valuation of stock, buildings, and recent permanent improvements, which were to be found on the territory now reverting to the State. It must have applied for the most part only to arable land, and practically amounted to a purchase by the State of items to which it could lay no legal claim; for it was the soil alone, not the buildings on the soil, over which its lordship could properly be asserted.

The object of reclaiming the public land was its future distribution amongst needy citizens. This distribution might have taken either of two forms. Fresh colonies might have been planted, or the acquired land might merely be assigned to settlers who were to belong to the existing political organisations. It was the latter method of simple assignation that Gracchus chose. There was felt to be no particular need for new political creations; for the pacification of Italy seemed to be accomplished, and the new farming class would perform their duty to the State equally well as members of the territory of Rome or of that of the existing municipia and coloniae of Roman citizens. There is some evidence that the new proprietors were not all to be attached to the city of Rome itself, but that many, perhaps most, were to be attributed to the existing colonies and municipia, in the neighbourhood of which their allotments lay.[342] The size of the new allotments which Gracchus projected is not known; it probably varied with the needs and status of the occupier, perhaps with the quality of the land, and there is some indication that the maximum was fixed at thirty jugera.[343] This is an amount that compares favourably with the two, three, seven or ten jugera of similar assignments in earlier times, and is at once a proof of the decrease in the value of land--a decrease which had contributed to the formation of the large estates--and of the large amount of territory which was expected to be reclaimed by the provisions of the new measure. The allotments thus assigned were not, however, to be the freehold property of their recipients. They were, indeed, heritable and to be held on a perfectly secure tenure by the assignees and their descendants; but a revenue was to be paid to the State for their use: and they were to be inalienable--the latter provision being a desperate expedient to check the land-hunger of the capitalist, and to save the new settlers from obedience to the economic tendencies of the times.[344]

It is doubtful whether the social object of Gracchus could have been fully accomplished, had he confined his attention wholly to the existing citizens of Rome. The area of economic distress was wider than the citizen body, and it was the salvation of Italy as a whole that Gracchus had at heart.[345] There is much reason for supposing that some of the Italian allies were to be recipients of the benefits of the measure.[346] In earlier assignations the Latins had not been excluded, and it is probable that at least these, whether members of old communities or of colonies, were intended to have some share in the distribution. There could be no legal hindrance to such participation. With respect to rights in land, the Latins were already on a level with Roman citizens, and their exclusion from the new allotments would have been due to a mere political prejudice which is not characteristic either of Gracchus or his plans.

The ineffectiveness of laws at Rome was due chiefly to the apathy of the executive authority. Gracchus saw clearly that his measure would, like other social efforts of the past, become a mere pious resolution, if its execution were entrusted to the ordinary officials of the State.[347] But a special commission, which should effectually carry out the work which he contemplated, must be of a very unusual kind. The magnitude of the task, and the impossibility of assigning any precise limit of time to its completion, made it essential that the Triumvirate which he established should bear the appearance of a regular but extraordinary magistracy of the State. The three commissioners created by the bill were to be elected annually by the Comitia of the Tribes.[348] Re-election of the same individuals was possible, and the new magistracy was to come to an end only with the completion of its work. Its occupants, perhaps, possessed the Imperium from the date of the first institution of the office; they certainly exercised it from the moment when, as we shall see, their functions of assignment were supplemented by the addition of judicial powers. Gracchus was doubtless led to this new creation purely by the needs of his measure; but he showed to later politicians the possibility of creating a new and powerful magistracy under the guise of an agrarian law.

Such was the measure that seemed to its proposer a reasonable and equitable means of remedying a grave injustice and restoring rather than giving rights to the poor. He might, if he would, have insisted on simple restitution. Had he pressed the letter of the law, not an atom of the public domain need have been left to its present occupiers. The possessor had no rights against the State; he held on sufferance, and technically he might be supposed to be always waiting for his summons to ejectment. To give such people something over and above the limit that the laws had so long prescribed, to give them further a security of tenure for the land retained which amounted almost to complete ownership--were not these unexpected concessions that should be received with gratitude? And even up to the eve of the polling the murmurs of the opposition were sometimes met by appeals to its nobler sentiments. The rich, said Gracchus, if they had the interests of Italy, its future hopes and its unborn generations at heart, should make this land a free gift to the State; they were vexing themselves about small issues and refusing to face the greater problems of the day.[349]

But personal interests can never seem small, and the average man is more concerned with the present than with the future. The opposition was growing in volume day by day, and the murmurs were rising into shrieks. The class immediately threatened must have been numerically small; but they made up in combination and influence what they lacked in numbers. It was always easy to startle the solid commercial world of Rome by the cry of "confiscation". A movement in this direction might have no limits; the socialistic device of a "re-division of land," which had so often thrown the Greek commonwealths into a ferment, was being imported into Roman politics. All the forces of respectability should be allied against this sinister innovation. It is probable that many who propagated these views honestly believed that they exactly fitted the facts of the case. The possessors did indeed know that they were not owners. They were reminded of the fact whenever they purchased the right of occupation from a previous possessor, for such a title could not pass by mancipation; or whenever they sued for the recovery of an estate from which they had been ejected, for they could not make the plea before the praetor that the land was theirs "according to the right of the Quirites," but could rely only on the equitable assistance of the magistrate tendered through the use of the possessory interdicts; or, more frequently still, whenever they paid their dues to the Publicanus, that disinterested middle-man, who had no object in compromising with the possessors, and could seldom have allowed an acre of land to escape his watchful eye. But, in spite of these reminders, there was an impression that the tenure was perfectly secure, and that the State would never again re-assert its lordship in the extreme form of dispensing entirely with its clients. Gracchus might talk of compensation, but was there any guarantee that it would be adequate, and, even supposing material compensation to be possible, what solace was that to outraged feelings? Ancestral homes, and even ancestral tombs, were not grouped on one part of a domain, so that they could be saved by an owner when he retained his five hundred jugera; they were scattered all over the broad acres. Estates that technically belonged to a single man, and were therefore subject to the operation of the law, had practically ceased to confer any benefit on the owner, and were pledged to other purposes. They had been divided as the peculia of his sons, they had been promised as the dowry of his daughters. Again those former laws may have rightly forbidden the occupation of more than a certain proportion of land; but much of the soil now in possession had not been occupied by its present inhabitant; he had bought the right to be there in hard cash from the former tenant. And think of the invested capital! Dowries had been swallowed up in the soil, and the Gracchan law was confiscating personal as well as real property, taking the wife's fortune as well as the husband's. Nay, if the history of the public land were traced, could it not be shown that such value as it now possessed had been given it by its occupiers or their ancestors? The land was not assigned in early times, simply because it was not worth assignation. It was land that had been reclaimed for use, and of this use the authors of its value were now to be deprived.[350]

Such was the plaint of the land-holders, one not devoid of equity and, therefore, awakening a response in the minds of timid and sober business men, who were as yet unaffected by the danger. But some of these found their own personal interests at stake. So good had the tenure seemed, that it had been accepted as security for debt,[351] and the Gracchan attack united for once the usually hostile ranks of mortgagers and mortgagees. The alarm spread from Rome to the outlying municipalities. [352] Even in the city itself a very imperfect view of the scope of the bill was probably taken by the proletariate. We may imagine the distorted form in which it reached the ears of the occupants of the country towns. "Was it true that the land which had been given them in usufruct was to be taken away?" was the type of question asked in the municipia and in the colonies, whether Roman or Latin. The needier members of these towns received the news with very different feelings. They had every chance of sharing in the local division of the spoils, and their voices swelled the chorus of approval with which the poorer classes everywhere received the Gracchan law. Amidst this proletariate certain catch-words--well-remembered fragments of Gracchus's speeches-- had begun to be the familiar currency of the day. "The numberless campaigns through which this land has been won," "The iniquity of exclusion from what is really the property of the State," "The disgrace of employing the treacherous slave in place of the free-born citizen"-- such was the type of remark with which the Roman working-man or idler now entertained his fellow. All Roman Italy was in a blaze, and there must have been a sense of insecurity and anxiety even in those allied towns whose interest in Roman domain-land was remote. Might not State interests be as lightly violated as individual interests by a sovereign people: and was not the example of Rome almost as perilous as her action?

The opponents of Gracchus had no illusions as to the numerical strength which he could summon to his aid. If the battle were fought to a finish in the Comitia, there could be no doubt as to his triumphant victory. Open opposition could serve no purpose except to show what a remnant it was that was opposing the people's wishes. But there was a means of at least delaying the danger, of staving off the attack as long as Gracchus remained tribune, perhaps of giving the people an opportunity of recovering completely from their delirium. When the college of tribunes moved as a united body, its force was irresistible; but now, as often before, there was some division in its ranks. It was not likely that ten men, drawn from the order of the nobility, should view with equal favour such a radical proposal as that of Tiberius Gracchus. But the popular feeling was so strong that for a time even the unsympathetic members of the board hesitated to protest, and no colleague of Tiberius is known to have opposed the movement in its initial stages. Even the man who was subsequently won over to the capitalist interest hesitated long before taking the formidable step: It was believed, however, that the hesitancy of Marcus Octavius was due more to his personal regard for Tiberius than to respect for the people's wishes.[353] The tribune who was to scotch the obnoxious measure was an excellent instrument for a dignified opposition. He was grave and discreet, a personal friend and intimate of Tiberius.[354] It is true that he was a large holder on the public domain, and that he would suffer by the operation of the new agrarian law. But it was fitting that the landlord class should be represented by a landlord, and, if there had been the least suspicion of sordid motives, it would have been removed by Octavius's refusal to accept private compensation for himself from the slender means of Tiberius Gracchus.[355] The offer itself reads like an insult, but it was probably made in a moment of passionate and unreflecting fervour. Neither the profferer nor the refuser could have regarded it in the light of a bribe. Even when the veto had been pronounced, the daily contest between the two tribunes in the Forum never became a scene of unseemly recrimination. The war of words revolved round the question of principle. Both disputants were at white heat; yet not a word was said by either which conveyed a reflection on character or motive.[356]

These debates followed the first abortive meeting of the Assembly. As the decisive moment approached, streams of country folk had poured into Rome to register their votes in favour of the measure.[357] The Contio had given way to the Comitia, the people had been ready to divide, and Gracchus had ordered his scribe to read aloud the words of the bill. Octavius had bidden the scribe to be silent;[358] the vast meeting had melted away, and all the labours of the reformer seemed to have been in vain. To accept a temporary defeat under such circumstances was in accordance with the constitutional spirit of the times. The veto was a mode of encouraging reflection; it might yield to a prolonged campaign, but it was regarded as a barrier against a hasty popular impulse which, if unchecked, might prove ruinous to some portion of the community. Gracchus, however, knew perfectly well that it was now being used in the interest of a small minority, and he held the rights which it protected to be non-existent; he believed the question of agrarian reform to be bound up with his own personality, and its postponement to be equivalent to its extinction; he had no intention of allowing his own political life to be a failure, and, instead of discarding his weapons of attack, he made them more formidable than before. Perhaps in obedience to popular outcries, he redrafted his bill in a form which rendered it more drastic and less equitable.[359] It is possible that some of the douceurs given to the possessors by his original proposal were not really in accordance with his own judgment. They were meant to disarm opposition. Now that opposition had not been disarmed, they could be removed without danger. The stricter measure had the same chance of success or failure as the less severe. We do not know the nature of the changes which were now introduced; but it is possible that the pecuniary compensation offered for improvements on the land to be resumed was either abolished or rendered less adequate than before.

But even the form of the law was unimportant in comparison with the question of the method by which the new opposition was to be met. The veto, if persisted in by Octavius, would suspend the agrarian measure during the whole of Tiberius's year of office. It could only be countered by a device which would make government so impossible that the opposition would be forced to come to terms. The means were to be found in the prohibitive power of the tribunes, that right, which flowed from their major potestas, of forbidding under threat of penalties the action of all other magistrates. It was now rarely used except at the bidding of the senate and for certain specified purposes. It had become, in fact, little more than the means of enforcing obedience to a temporary suspension of business life decreed by the government. But recent events suggested a train of associations that brought back to mind the great political struggles of the past, and recalled the mode in which Licinius and Sextius had for five years sustained their anarchical edict for the purpose of the emancipation of the Plebs. The difference between the conditions of life in primitive Rome and in the cosmopolitan capital of to-day did not appeal to Tiberius. The Justitium was as legitimate a method of political warfare as the Intercessio. He issued an edict which forbade all the other magistracies to perform their official functions until the voting on the agrarian law should be carried through; he placed his own seals on the doors of the temple of Saturn to prevent the quaestors from making payments to the treasury or withdrawing money from it; he forbade the praetors to sit in the courts of justice and announced that he would exact a fine from those who disobeyed. The magistrates obeyed the edict, and most of the active life of the State was in suspense.[360] The fact of their obedience showed the overwhelming power which Tiberius now had behind him; for an ill-supported tribune, who adopted such an obsolete method of warfare, would have been unable to enforce his decrees and would merely have appeared ridiculous. The opponents of the law were now genuinely alarmed. Those who would be the chief sufferers put on garments of mourning, and paced the silent Forum with gloom and despair written on their faces, as though they were the innocent victims of a great wrong. But, while they took this overt means of stirring the commiseration of the crowd, it was whispered that the last treacherous device for averting the danger was being tried. The cause would perish with the demagogue, and Tiberius might be secretly removed. Confidence in this view was strengthened when it was known that the tribune carried a dagger concealed about his person.[361]

An attempt was now made to discover whether the pressure had been sufficient and whether the veto would be repeated. Gracchus again summoned the assembly, the reading of the bill was again commenced and again stopped at the instance of Octavius.[362] This second disappointment nearly led to open riot. The vast crowd did not immediately disperse; it felt its great physical strength and the utter weakness of the regular organs of government. There were ominous signs of an appeal to force, when two men of consular rank, Manlius and Fulvius,[363] intervened as peacemakers. They threw themselves at the feet of Tiberius, they clasped his hands, they besought him with tears to pause before he committed himself to an act of violence. Tiberius was not insensible to the appeal. The immediate future was dark enough, and the entreaties of these revered men had saved an awkward situation. He asked them what they held that he should do. They answered that they were not equal to advise on a matter of such vast import; but that there was the senate. Why not submit the whole matter to the judgment of the great council of the State? Tiberius's own attitude to this proposal may have been influenced by the fact that it was addressed to his colleagues as well as to himself,[364] and that they apparently thought it a reasonable means of relieving the present situation. It is difficult to believe that the man who had never taken the senate into his confidence over so vital a matter as the agrarian law, could have had much hope of its sympathy now. But his conviction of the inherent reasonableness of his proposal,[365] of his own power of stating the case convincingly, and his knowledge that the senate usually did yield at a crisis, that its government was only possible because it consistently kept its finger on the pulse of popular opinion, may have directed his acceptance of its advice. Immediate resort was had to the Curia. The business of the house must have been immediately suspended to listen to a statement of the merits of the agrarian measure, and to a description of the political situation which it had created. When the debate began, it was obvious that there was nothing but humiliation in store for the leaders of the popular movement. The capitalist class was represented by an overwhelming majority; carping protests and riddling criticism were heard on every side, and Tiberius probably had never been told so many home truths in his life. It was useless to prolong the discussion, and Tiberius was glad to get into the open air of the Forum again. He had formed his resolution, and now made a proposal which, if carried through, might remove the deadlock by means that might be construed as legitimate. The new device was nothing less than the removal of his colleague Octavius from office. He announced that at the next meeting of the Assembly two questions would be put before the Plebs, the acceptance of the law and the continuance by Octavius of his tenure of the tribunate.[366] The latter question was to be raised on the general issue whether a tribune who acted contrary to the interests of the people was to continue in office. At the appointed time[367] Octavius's constancy was again tested, and he again stood firm. Tiberius broke out into one of his emotional outbursts, seizing his colleague's hands, entreating him to do this great favour to the people, reminding him that their claims were just, were nothing in proportion to their toils and dangers. When this appeal had been rejected, Tiberius summed up the impossibility of the situation in terms which contained a condemnation of the whole growth and structure of the Roman constitution. It was not in human power, he said, to prevent open war between magistrates of equal authority who were at variance on the gravest matters of state;[368] the only way which he saw of securing peace was the deposition of one of them from office. He did not care in the present instance which it was. The people would be the arbiter. Let his own deposition be proposed by Octavius; he would walk quietly away into a private station, if this were the will of the citizens. The man who spoke thus had more completely emancipated himself from Roman formulae than any Roman of the past. To Octavius it must have seemed a mere outburst of Greek demagogism. The offer too was an eminently safe one to make under the circumstances. On no grounds could it be accepted. At this point the proceedings were adjourned to allow Octavius time for deliberation.

On the following day Gracchus announced that the question of deposition would be taken first, and a fresh and equally vain appeal was made to the feelings of the unshaken Octavius.[369] The question was then put, not as a vague and general resolution, but as a determinate motion that Octavius be deprived of the tribunate. The thirty-five tribes voted, and when the votes of seventeen had been handed up and proclaimed,[370] and the voice of but one was Lacking to make Octavius a private citizen, Tiberius as the presiding tribune stopped for a moment the machinery of the election. He again showed himself as a revolutionist unfortunate in the possession of a political and personal conscience. The people were witnessing a more passionate scene than ever, one that may appear as the last effort of reconciliation between the two social forces that were to meet in terrible conflict. Gracchus's arms were round his opponent's neck; broken appeals fell from his lips--the old one that he should not break the heart of the people: the new one that he should not cause his own degradation, and leave a bitter memory in the mind of the author of his fall. Observers saw that Octavius's heart was touched; his eyes were filled with tears, and for some time he kept a troubled silence. But he soon remembered his duty and his pledge. Tiberius might do with him what he would. Gracchus called the gods to witness that he would willingly have saved his colleague from dishonour, and ordered the resumption of the announcement of the votes. The bill became law and Octavius was stripped of his office. It was probably because he declined to recognise the legality of the act that he still lingered on the Rostra. One of the tribunician viatores, a freedman of Gracchus, was commanded to fetch him down. When he reached the ground, a rush was made at him by the mob; but his supporters rallied round him, and Tiberius himself rushed from the Rostra to prevent the act of violence. Soon he was lost in the crowd and hurried unobserved from the tumult.[371] His place in the tribunician college was filled up by the immediate election of one Quintus Mummius.[372]

The members of the assembly that deposed Octavius may have been the spectators and authors of a new precedent in Roman history, one that was often followed in the closing years of the Republic, but one that may have received no direct sanction from the records of the past. The abrogation of the imperium of a proconsul had indeed been known,[373] but the deposition of a city magistrate during his year of office seems to have been a hitherto untried experiment. We cannot on this ground alone pronounce it to have been illegal; for an act never attempted before may have perfect legal validity, as the first occasion on which a legitimate deduction has been made from admitted principles of the constitution. It had always been allowed that under certain circumstances (chiefly the neglect of the proper formalities of election) a magistrate might be invited to abdicate his office; but the fact of this invitation is itself an evidence for the absence of any legal power of suspension. Tradition, however, often supplemented the defects of historical evidence, and one, perhaps the older, tale of the removal of the first consul Collatinus stated that it was effected by a popular measure introduced by his colleague.[374] This story was a fragment of that tradition of popular sovereignty which animated the historical literature of the age of the Gracchi: and one deduction from that theory may well have seemed to be that the sovereign people could change its ministers as it pleased. It was a deduction, however, that was not drawn even in the best period of democratic Athens; it ran wholly counter to the Roman conception of the magistracy as an authority co-ordinate with the people and one that, if not divinely appointed, received at least something of a sacred character from the fact of investiture with office. Even the prosecution of a magistrate for the gravest crime, although technically permissible during his year of office, had as a rule been relegated to the time when he again became a private citizen; the tribunician college, in particular, had generally thrown its protecting shield around its offending members, and had thus sustained its own dignity and that of the people. But, even if it be supposed that the sovereign could, at any moment and without any of the due formalities, proclaim itself a competent court of justice, and even though removal from office might be improperly represented as a punishment, there was the question of the offence to be considered. No crime known to the law had been charged against Octavius. In the exercise of his admitted right, or, as he might have expressed it, of his sacred duty, he had offended against the will of a majority. The analogy of the criminal law was from this point of view hopeless, and was therefore not pressed on this occasion. From another point of view it was not quite so remote. The tumultuous popular assemblages that had, on the bidding of a prosecuting tribune, often condemned commanders for vague offences hardly formulated in any particular law, scarcely differed, except in the fact that no previous magisterial inquiry had been conducted, from the meeting that deposed Octavius. The gulf that lies between proceedings in a parliament and proceedings in a court of law, was far less in Rome than it would have been in those Hellenic communities that possessed a developed system of criminal judicature.

If criminal analogies failed, a purely political ground of defence must be adduced. This could hardly be based on considerations of abstract justice, although, as we shall see, an attempt was made by Tiberius Gracchus to give it even this foundation. Could it be based on convenience? Obviously, as Gracchus saw, his act was the only effective means of removing a deadlock created by a constitution which knew only magistrates and people and had effectively crippled both. So far, it might be defended on grounds of temporary necessity. But an act of this kind could not die. To what consequences might not its repetition lead? Imagine a less serious question, a less representative assembly. Think of the possibility of a few hundred desperate members of the proletariate gathering on the Capitoline hill and deposing a tribune who represented the interests of the vast outlying population of Rome. This is a consequence which, it is true, was not realised in the future. But that was only because the tribunate was more than Gracchus conceived it, and was too strong in tradition and associations of sanctity to be broken even by his attack. The scruples which troubled him most arose from the suspicion that the sacred office itself might have been held to suffer by the deposition of Octavius, and it was to a repudiation of this view that he subsequently devoted the larger part of his systematic defence of his action.

At the same meeting at which Octavius was deposed, the agrarian bill was for the first time read without interruption to the people and immediately became law. Shortly after, the election of the commissioners was proceeded with and resulted in the appointment of Tiberius Gracchus himself, of his father-in-law Appius Claudius and of Gracchus's younger brother Caius.[375] It was perhaps natural that the people should pin their faith on the family of their champion; but it could hardly have increased the confidence of the community as a whole in the wisdom with which this delicate task would be executed, to find that it was entrusted to a family party, one of which was a mere boy; and the mistrust must have been increased when, somewhat later in the course of the year, the thorny questions which immediately encompassed the task of distribution led to the introduction by Tiberius of another law, which gave judicial power to the triumvirs, for the purpose of determining what was public land and what was private.[376] The fortunes of the richer classes seemed now to be entrusted to one man, who combined in his own person the tribunician power and the imperium, whose jurisdiction must have seriously infringed that of the regular courts, and who was assisted in issuing his probably inappellable decrees by a father-in-law and a younger brother. But, although effective protest was impossible, the senate showed its resentment by acts that might appear petty and spiteful, did we not remember that they were the only means open to this body of passing a vote of censure on the recent proceedings. The senate controlled every item of the expenditure; and when the commissioners appealed to it for their expenses, it refused a tent and fixed the limit of supplies at a denarius and a half a day. The instigator of this decree was the ex-consul Scipio Nasica, a heavy loser by the agrarian law, a man of strong and passionate temper who was every day becoming a more infuriated opponent of Tiberius Gracchus.[377]

Meanwhile the latter had celebrated a peaceful triumph which far eclipsed the military pageants of the imperators of the past. The country people, before they returned to their farms, had escorted him to his house; they had hailed him as a greater than Romulus, as the founder, not of a city nor of a nation, but of all the peoples of Italy.[378] It is true that his escort was only the poor, rude mob. Stately nobles and clanking soldiers were not to be seen in the procession. But they were better away. This was the true apotheosis of a real demagogism. And the suspicion of the masses was as readily fired as their enthusiasm. A friend of Tiberius died suddenly and ugly marks were seen upon the body. There was a cry of poison; the bier was caught up on the shoulders of the crowd and borne to the place of burning. A vast throng stood by to see the corpse consumed, and the ineffectiveness of the flames was held a thorough confirmation of the truth of their suspicions.[379] It remained to see how far this protective energy would serve to save their favourite when the day of reckoning came.

Tiberius could hardly have shared in the general elation. To make promises was one thing, to fulfil them another. Everything depended on the effectiveness of the execution of the agrarian scheme; and, although the mechanism for distribution was excellent, some of the material necessary for its successful fulfilment was sadly lacking. There were candidates enough for land, and there was sufficient land for the candidates. But whence were the means for starting these penniless people on their new road to virtue and prosperity to be derived? To give an ardent settler thirty jugera of soil and to withhold from him the means of sowing his first crop or of making his first effort to turn pasture into arable land, was both useless and cruel; and we may imagine that the evicted possessors had not left their relinquished estates in a very enviable condition. The doors of the Aerarium were closed, for its key was in the hands of the senate; and Gracchus had to cast an anxious eye around for means for satisfying the needs of his clients.

The opportunity was presented when the Roman people came into the unexpected inheritance of Attalus the Third, king of Pergamon. The testament was brought to Rome by Eudemus the Pergamene, whose first business was with the senate. But, when Eudemus arrived in the city, he saw a state of things which must have made him doubt whether the senate was any longer the true director of the State. It sat passive and sullen, while an energetic prostates of the Greek type was doing what he liked with the land of Italy. No sane ambassador could have refused to neglect Gracchus, and it is practically certain that Eudemus approached him. This fact we may believe, even if we do not accept the version that the envoy had taken the precaution of bringing in his luggage a purple robe and a diadem, as symbols that might be necessary for a fitting recognition of Tiberius's future position.[380] It is also possible that suspicion of the rule of senators and capitalists may also have prompted the Greek to attempt to discover whether a more tolerable settlement might not be gained for his country through the leader of the popular party.[381] We cannot say whether Gracchus ever contemplated a policy with respect to the province as a whole. His mind was probably full of his immediate needs. He saw in the treasures of Attalus more than an equivalent for the revenues enclosed in the locked Aerarium, and he announced his intention of promulgating a plebiscite that the money left by the king should be assigned to the settlers provided for by his agrarian law.[382] It is possible that he contemplated the application of the future revenues of the kingdom of Pergamon to this or some similar purpose; and it was perhaps partly for this reason, partly in answer to the objection that the treasure could not be appropriated without a senatorial decree, that he announced the novel doctrine that it was no business of the senate to decide the fate of the cities which had belonged to the Attalid monarchy, and that he himself would prepare for the people a measure dealing with this question.[383]

This was the fiercest challenge that he had yet flung to the senate. There might be a difference of opinion as to the right of a magistrate to put a question to the people without the guidance of a senatorial decree; the assignment of land was unquestionably a popular right in so far as it required ratification by the commons; even the deposition of Octavius was a matter for the people and would avenge itself. But there were two senatorial rights--the one usurped, the other created--whose validity had never been questioned. These were the control of finance and the direction of provincial administration. Were the possibility once admitted that these might be dealt with in the Comitia, the magistrates would cease to be ministers of the senate; for it was chiefly through a system of judicious prize-giving that the senate attached to itself the loyalty of the official class. There was perhaps less fear of what Gracchus himself might do than of the spectre which he was raising for the future. For in Roman history the events of the past made those of the future; there were few isolated phenomena in its development.

From this time the attacks of individual senators on Gracchus became more vehement and direct. They proceeded from men of the highest rank. A certain Pompeius, in whom we may probably see an ex-consul and a future censor, was not ashamed of raising the spectre of a coming monarchy by reference to the story of the sceptre and the purple robe, and is said to have vowed to impeach Gracchus as soon as his year of magistracy had expired;[384] the ex-consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus, of Macedonian fame, reproached Tiberius with his rabble escort. He compared the demeanour of the father and the son. In the censorship of the former the citizens used to quench their lights at night, as they saw him pass up the street to his house, that they might impress the censorial mind with the ideas of early hours and orderly conduct; now the son of this man might be seen returning home amidst the blaze of torches, held in the stout arms of a defiant body-guard drawn from the neediest classes.[385] These arrows may have Missed the mark; the one that hit was winged by an aged senator, Titus Annius Luscus, who had held the consulship twenty years before. His wit is said to have been better established than his character. He excelled in that form of ready altercation, of impaling his opponent on the horns of a dilemma by means of some innocent question, which, both in the courts and the senate, was often more effective than the power of continuous oratory. He now challenged Tiberius to a wager (sponsio), such as in the public life of Rome was often employed to settle a disputed point of honour or of fact, to determine the question whether he had dishonoured a colleague, who was holy in virtue of his office and had been made sacrosanct by the laws. The proposal was received by the senators with loud cries of acclamation. A glance at Tiberius would probably have shown that Annius had found the weak spot, not merely in his defensive armour, but in his very soul. The deposition of Octavius was proving a very nemesis; it was a democratic act that was in the highest degree undemocratic, an assertion and yet a gross violation of popular liberty.[386] The superstitious masses were in the habit of washing their hands and purifying their bodies before they entered into the presence of a tribune.[387] Might there not be a thrill of awe and repentance when the idea was brought home to them that this holy temple had been violated: and must not this be followed by a sense of repugnance to the man who had prompted them to the unhallowed deed? Tiberius sprang to his feet, quitted the senate-house and summoned the people. The majesty of the tribunate in his person had been outraged by Annius. He must answer for his words. The aged senator appeared before the crowd; he knew his disadvantage if the ordinary weapons of comitial strife were employed. In power of words and in repute with the masses he stood far behind Tiberius. But his presence of mind did not desert him. Might he ask a few questions before the regular proceedings began? The request was allowed and there was a dead silence. "Now suppose," said Annius, "you, Tiberius, were to wish to cover me with shame and abuse, and suppose I were to call on one of your colleagues for help, and he were to come up here to offer me his assistance, and suppose further that this were to excite your displeasure, would you deprive that colleague of yours of his office?" To answer that question in the affirmative was to admit that the tribunician power was dead; to answer it in the negative was to invite the retort that the auxilium was only one form of the intercessio. The quick-witted southern crowd must have seen the difficulty at once, and Tiberius himself, usually so ready and bold in speech, could not face the dilemma. He remained silent and dismissed the assembly.[388]

But matters could not remain as they were. This new aspect of Octavius's deposition was the talk of the town, and there were many troubled consciences amongst the members of his own following. Something must be done to quiet them; he must raise the question himself. The situation had indeed changed rapidly. Tiberius Gracchus was on his defence. Never did his power of special pleading appear to greater advantage than in the speech which followed. He had the gift which makes the mighty Radical, of diving down and seizing some fundamental truth of political science, and then employing it with merciless logic for the illustration or refutation of the practice of the present. The central idea here was one gathered from the political science of the Greeks. The good of the community is the only test of the rightness of an institution. It is justified if it secures that end, unjustified if it does not: or, to use the language of religion, holy in the one case, devoid of sanctity in the other. And an institution is not a mere abstraction; we must judge it by its use. We must, therefore, say that when it obeys the common interest, it is right: when it ceases to obey it, it is wrong. But the right must be preserved and the wrong plucked out. So Gracchus maintained that the tribune was holy and sacrosanct because he had been sanctified to the people's service and was the people's head. If then he change his character and do the people wrong, cutting down its strength and silencing its voice as expressed through the suffrage, he has deprived himself of his office, for he has ceased to conform to the terms on which he received it. Should we leave a tribune alone who was pulling down the Capitolium or burning the docks? And yet a tribune who did these things would remain a tribune, though a bad one. It is only when a tribune is destroying the power of the people that he is no longer a tribune at all. The laws give the tribune the power to arrest the consul. It is a power given against a man elected by the people; for consul and tribune are equally mandataries of the people. Shall not then the people have the right of depriving the tribune of his authority, when he uses this authority in a way prejudicial to the interests of the giver? What does the history of the past teach us? Can anything have been more powerful or more sacred than the ancient monarchy of Rome? The Imperium of the king was unlimited, the highest priestly offices were his. Yet the city expelled Tarquin for his crimes. The tyranny of a single man was alone sufficient to bring to an end a government which had its roots in the most distant past, which had presided over the very birth of the city. And, if sanctity alone is to be the ground of immunity, what are we to think of the punishment of a vestal virgin? Is there anything in Rome more holy and awe-inspiring than the maidens who tend and guard the eternal flame? Yet their sin is visited by the most horrible of deaths. They hold their sacrosanct character through the gods; they lose it, therefore, when they sin against the gods. Should the same not be true of the tribune? It is on account of the people that he is sacred; he cannot retain this divine character when he wrongs the people; he is a man engaged in destroying the very power which is the source of his strength. If the tribunate can justly be gained by a favourable vote of the majority of the tribes, can it not with greater justice be taken away by an adverse vote of all of them? Again, what should be the limits of our action in dealing with sacred things? Does sanctity mean immobility? By no means. What are more holy and inviolable than things dedicated to the gods? Yet this character does not prevent the people from handling, moving, transferring them as it pleases. In the case of the tribunate, it is the office, not the man, that is inviolable; it may be treated as an object of dedication and transferred to another. The practice of our own State proves that the office is not inviolable in the sense of being inalienable, for its holders have often forsworn it and asked to be divested of it.[389]

The strongest part of this utterance was that which dealt with the sacred character of office; it was a mere emanation from the performance of certain functions; the protection, not the reality, of the thing. Gracchus might have added that even a treaty might under certain circumstances be legitimately broken. The weakest, from a Roman standpoint or indeed from that of any stable political society, was the identification of the permanent and temporary character of an institution, the assumption that a meeting of the people was the people, that a tribune was the tribune. How far the speech was convincing we do not know; it certainly did not relieve Tiberius of his embarrassments, which were now thickening around him.

Tiberius's success had been mainly due to the country voters. It is true that he had a large following in the city; but this was numerically inferior to a mass of urban folk, whose attitude was either indifferent or hostile. They were indifferent in so far as they did not want agrarian assignments, and hostile in so far as they were clients of the noble houses which opposed Tiberius's policy. This urban party was now in the ascendant, for the country voters had scattered to their homes.[390] The situation demanded that he should work steadily for two objects, re-election to the tribunate and the support of the city voters. If, in addition to this support, he could hold out hopes that would attract the great capitalists to his side, his position would be impregnable. Hence in his speeches he began to throw out hints of a new and wide programme of legislation.[391] There was first the military grievance. Recent regulations, by the large decrease which they made in the property qualifications required for service,[392] had increased the liability to the conscription of the manufacturing and trading classes of Rome. Gracchus proposed that the period of service should be shortened--his suggestion probably being, not that the years of liability to service (the seventeenth to the forty-sixth) should be lessened, but that within these years a limited number of campaigns should be agreed on, which should form the maximum amount of active service for every citizen.[393] Two other proposals dealt with the question of criminal jurisdiction. The first allowed an appeal to the people from the decision of judices. The form in which this proposal is stated by our authority, would lead us to suppose that the courts to be rendered appellable were those constituted under standing laws. The chief of these quaestiones or judicia publica was the court which tried cases for extortion, established in the first instance by a Lex Calpurnia, and possibly reconstituted before this epoch by a Junian law.[394] A permanent court for the trial of murder may also have existed at this time.[395] The judges of these standing commissions were drawn from the senatorial order; and Gracchus, therefore, by suggesting an appeal from their judgment to the people, was attacking a senatorial monopoly of the most important jurisdiction, and perhaps reflecting on the conduct of senatorial judices, as displayed especially in relation to the grievances of distressed provincials. But it is probable that he also meant to strike a blow at a more extraordinary prerogative claimed by the senate, and to deny the right of that body to establish special commissions which could decide without appeal on the life and fortunes of Roman citizens.[396] So far his proposals, whether based on a conviction of their general utility or not, were a bid for the support of the average citizen. But when he declared that the qualification for the criminal judges of the time could not be allowed to stand, and that these judges should be taken either from a joint panel of senators and knights, or from the senate increased by the addition of a number of members of the equestrian order equal to its present strength, he was holding out a bait to the wealthy middle class, who were perhaps already beginning to feel senatorial jurisdiction in provincial matters irksome and disadvantageous to their interests. We are told by one authority that Gracchus's eyes even ranged beyond the citizen body and that he contemplated the possibility of the gift of citizenship to the whole of Italy.[397] This was not in itself a measure likely to aid in his salvation by the people; if it was not a disinterested effort of far-sighted genius, it may have been due to the gathering storm which his experience showed him the agrarian commission would soon be forced to meet.[398] Certainly, if all these schemes are rightly attributed to Tiberius Gracchus, it was he more than any man who projected the great programme of reform that the future had in store.

Unfortunately for Gracchus the time was short for nursing a new constituency or spreading a new ideal. The time for the tribunician elections was approaching, an active canvass was being carried on by the candidates, and the aggrieved landowners were throwing the whole weight of their influence into the opposite scale.[399] Wild rumours of his plans were being circulated. The family clique that filled the agrarian commission was to snatch at other offices; Gracchus's brother, a youth still unqualified even for the quaestorship,[400] was to be thrust into the tribunate, and his father-in-law Appius was destined for the consulate.[401] Rome was to be ruled by a dynasty, and the tyranny of the commission was to extend to every department of the State. Gracchus felt that the city-combination against him was too strong, and sent an earnest summons to his supporters in the country. But practical needs were stronger than gratitude; the farmers were busy with their harvest; and it was plain that on this occasion the man of the street was to have the decisive voice. The result showed that even he was not unmoved by Gracchus's services, and by his last appeal that a life risked on behalf of the people should be protected by a renewed investiture with the tribunate.[402]

The day of the election arrived and the votes were taken. When they came to be read out, it was found that the two first tribes had given their voice for Gracchus. Then there was a sudden uproar. The votes were going against the landlords; a legal protest must be made. Men rose in the assembly, and shouted out that immediate re-election to the tribunate was forbidden by the law. They were probably both right and wrong in their protest, as men so often were who ventured to make a definite assertion about the fluid public law of Rome. There was apparently no enactment forbidding the iteration of this office, and appointment to the tribunate must have been governed by custom. But recent custom seems to have been emphatically opposed to immediate re-election, and the appeal was justified on grounds of public practice.[403] It would probably have been disregarded, had the Gracchan supporters been in an overwhelming majority, or Gracchus's colleagues unanimous in their support. But the people were divided, and the president was not enthusiastic enough in the cause to risk his future impeachment. Rubrius, to whom the lot had assigned the conduct of the proceedings on that day, hesitated as to the course which he ought to follow. A bolder spirit Mummius, the man who had been made by the deposition of Octavius, asked that the conduct of the assembly should be handed over to him. Rubrius, glad to escape the difficulty, willingly yielded his place; but now the other members of the college interposed. The forms of the Comitia were being violated; a president could not be chosen without the use of the lot. The resignation of Rubrius must be followed by another appeal to sortition. The point of order raised, as usual, a heated discussion; the tribunes gathered on the Rostra to argue the matter out. Nothing could be gained by keeping the people as the spectators of such a scene, and Gracchus succeeded in getting the proceedings adjourned to the following day.[404]

The situation was becoming more desperate; for each delay was a triumph for the opposition, and could only strengthen the belief in the illegality of Gracchus's claim. He now resorted to the last device of the Roman; he ceased to be a protector and became a suppliant. Although still a magistrate, he assumed the garb of mourning, and with humbled and tearful mien begged the help of individuals in the market place.[405]

He led his son by the hand; his children and their mother were to be wards of the people, for he had despaired of his own life. Many were touched; to some the tribunate of Gracchus seemed like a rift in a dark cloud of oppression which would close around them at his fall, and their hearts sank at the thought of a renewed triumph of the nobility. Others were moved chiefly by the fears and sufferings of Gracchus. Cries of sympathy and defiance were raised in answer to his tears, and a large crowd escorted him to his house at nightfall and bade him be confident of their support on the following day. During his appeals he had hinted at the fear of a nocturnal attack by his foes: and this led many to form an encampment round his house and to remain as its vigilant defenders throughout the night.[406]

Before day-break he was up and engaged in hasty colloquy with his friends. The fear of force was certainly present; and definite plans may have been now made for its repulsion. Some even believed that a signal for battle was agreed on by Gracchus, if matters should come to that extreme.[407] With a true Roman's scruples he took the omens before he left his house. They presaged ill. The keeper of the sacred chickens, which Gracchus's Imperium now permitted him to consult, could get nothing from the birds, even though he shook the cage. Only one of the fowls advanced, and even that would not touch the food. And the unsought omens were as evil as those invited. Snakes were found to have hatched a brood in his helmet, his foot stumbled on the threshold with such violence that blood flowed from his sandal; he had hardly advanced on his way when crows were seen struggling on his left, and the true object of the sign was pointed when a stone, dislodged by one of them from a roof, fell at his own feet. This concourse of ill-luck frightened his boldest comrades; but his old teacher, Blossius of Cumae, vehemently urged the prosecution of the task. Was a son of Gracchus, the grandson of Africanus, chief minister of the Roman people,[408] to be deterred by a crow from listening to the summons of the citizens? If the disgrace of his absence amused his enemies, they would keep their laughter to themselves. They would use that absence seriously, to denounce him to the people as a king who was already aping the luxury of the tyrant. As Blossius spoke, men were seen running from the direction of the Capitol; they came up, they bade him press on, as all was going well. And, in fact, it seemed as if all might turn out brightly. The Capitoline temple, and the level area before it, which was to be the scene of the voting, were filled with his supporters. A hearty cheer greeted him as he appeared, and a phalanx closed round him to prevent the approach of any hostile element. Shortly after the proceedings began, the senate was summoned by the consul to meet in the temple of Fides.[409] A few yards of sloping ground was all that now separated the two hostile camps.[410]

The interval for reflection had strengthened the belief of some of the tribunes that Gracchus's candidature was illegal, and they were ready to support the renewed protests of the rich. The election, however, began; for the faithful Mummius was now presiding, and he proceeded to call on the tribes to vote. But the business of filing into their separate compartments, always complicated, was now impossible. The fringe of the crowd was in a continual uproar; from its extremities the opponents of the measure were wedging their way in. As his supporters squared their shoulders, the whole mass rocked and swayed. There was no hope of eliciting a decision from this scuffling and pushing throng. Every moment brought the assembly nearer to open riot. Suddenly a man was seen at some distance from Tiberius gesticulating with his hand as though he had something to impart. He was recognised as Fulvius Flaccus, a senator, a man perhaps already known as a sympathiser with schemes of reform. Gracchus asked the crowd immediately around him to give way a little, and Fulvius fought his way up to the tribune. His news was that in the sitting of the senate the rich proprietors had asked the consul to use force, that he had declined, and that now they were preparing on their own motion to slay Tiberius. For this purpose they had collected a large band of armed slaves and retainers.[411] Tiberius immediately imparted the news to his friends. Preparations for defence were hastily made: an improvised body-guard was formed; togas were girt up, and the staves of the lictors were broken into fragments to serve as clubs. The Gracchans more distant from the centre of the scene were meanwhile marvelling at the strange preparations of which they caught but glimpses, and could be seen asking eager questions as to their meaning. To reach these distant supporters by his voice was impossible; Tiberius could but touch his forehead with his hand to indicate that his life was in danger. Immediately a shout went up from the opposite side "Tiberius is asking for the diadem," and eager messengers sped with the news to the senate.[412] There was probably a knowledge that physical support for their cause would be found in that quarter, and the exodus of these excited capitalists was apparently assisted by an onslaught from the mob. A regular tumult was brewing, and the tribunes, instead of striving to preserve order, or staying to interpose their sacred persons between the enraged combatants, fled incontinently from the spot. Their fear was natural, for by remaining they might seem to be identifying themselves with a cause that was either lost or lawless. With the tribunes vanished the last trace of legality. The priests closed the temple to keep its precincts from the mob. The more timorous of the crowd fled in wild disorder, spreading wilder rumours. Tiberius was deposing the remaining tribunes from office; he was appointing himself to a further tribunate without the formalities of election.[413]

Meanwhile the senate was deliberating in the temple of Fides. In the old days their deliberations might have resulted in the appointment of a dictator, and one of the historians who has handed down the record of these facts marvels that this was not the case now.[414] But the dictatorship had been weakened by submission to the appeal, and long before it became extinct had lost its significance as a means of repressing sedition within the city. The Roman constitution had now no mechanism for declaring a state of siege or martial law. From one point of view the extinction of the dictatorship was to be regretted. The nomination of this magistrate would have involved at least a day's delay;[415] some further time would have been necessary before he had collected round him a sufficient force in a city which had neither police nor soldiers. Had it been decided to appoint a dictator, the outrages of the next hour could never have occurred. As things were, it seemed as though the senate had to choose between impotence and murder. There was indeed another way. Such was the respect for members of the senatorial order, that a deputation of that body, headed by the consul, would probably have led to the dispersal of the mob. But passions were inflamed and it was no time for peaceful counsels. The advocate of summary measures was the impetuous Nasica. He urged the consul to save the city and to put down the tyrant. He demanded that the sense of the house should be taken as to whether extreme measures were now necessary. Even at this time a tradition may have existed that a magic formula by which the senate advised the magistrates "to see to it that the State took no harm," [416] could justify any act of violence in an emergency. The sense of the house was with Nasica, but a resolution could not be framed unless the consul put the question. The answer of Scaevola was that of a lawyer. He would commence no act of violence, he would put to death no citizen uncondemned. If, however, the people, through the persuasion or compulsion of Tiberius, should come to any illegal decision, he would see that such a resolution was not observed. Nasica sprang to his feet. "The consul is betraying the city; those who wish the salvation of the laws, follow me." [417] With this he drew the hem of his toga over his head,[418] and rushed from the door in the direction of the Capitoline temple. He was followed by a crowd of senators, all wrapping the folds of their togas round their left arms. Outside the door they were joined by their retainers armed with clubs and staves.[419]

Meanwhile the proceedings in the Area Capitolii had been becoming somewhat less turbulent. The turmoil had quieted down with the exclusion of the more violent members of the opposition. Gracchus had called a Contio, for the purpose, it was said, of encouraging his supporters and asserting his own constancy and defiance of senatorial authority. The gathering had become a mere partisan mass meeting, such as had often been seen in the course of the current year, and the herald was crying "Silence," [420] when suddenly the men on the outskirts of the throng fell back to right and left. A long line of senators had been seen hastening up the hill. A deputation from the fathers had come. That must have been the first impression: and the crowd fell back before its masters. But in a moment it was seen that the masters had come to chastise, not to plead. With set faces and blazing eyes Nasica and his following threw themselves on the yielding mass. The unarmed senators snatched at the first weapons that lay to hand, the fragments of the shattered furniture of the meeting, severed planks and legs of benches, while their retinue pressed on with clubs and sticks. The whole column made straight for Tiberius and his improvised body-guard. Resistance was hopeless, and the tribune and his friends turned to flee. But the idea of restoring order occupied but a small place in the minds of the maddened senators, The accumulated bitterness of a year found its outlet in one moment of glorious vengeance. The fathers were behaving like a Greek street mob of the lowest type which had turned against an oppressive oligarchy. They were clubbing the Gracchans to death. Tiberius was in flight when some one seized his toga. He slipped it off and fled, clad only in his tunic, when he stumbled over a prostrate body and fell. As he rose, a rain of blows descended on his head.[421] The man who was seen to strike the first blow is said to have been Publius Saturius, one of his own colleagues. The glory of his death was vehemently disputed; one Rufus, since he could not claim the first blow, is said to have boasted of being the author of the second. Tiberius is said to have fallen by the very doors of the Capitoline temple, not far from the statues of the Kings.[422] The number of his adherents that perished was over three hundred, and it was noted that not one of these was slain by the sword.[423] Their bodies were thrown into the Tiber--not by the mob but by the magistrates; the hand of an aedile committed that of Tiberius to the stream.[424]

The murder of a young man, who was still under thirty at the time of his death,[425] and the slaughter of a few hundreds of his adherents, may not seem to be an act of very great significance in the history of a mighty empire. Yet ancient historians regarded the event as epoch-marking, as the turning point in the history of Rome, as the beginning of the period of the civil wars.[426] To justify this conclusion it is not enough to point to the fact that this was the first blood shed in civic discord since the age of the Kings;[427] for it might also have been the last. Though the vendetta is a natural outgrowth of Italian soil, yet masses of men are seldom, like individuals, animated solely by the spirit of revenge. The blood of the innocent is a good battle-cry in politics, but it is little more; it is far from being the mere pretext, but it is equally far from being the true cause, of future revolution. Familiarity with the use of force in civic strife is also a fatal cause of its perpetuation; but familiarity implies its renewed employment: it can hardly be the result of the first experiment in murder. The repetition of this ghastly phenomenon in Roman politics can only be accounted for by the belief that the Gracchan émeute was of its very nature an event that could not be isolated: that Gracchus was a pioneer in a hostile country, and that his opponents preserved all their inherent weakness after the first abortive manifestation of their pretended strength. A bad government may be securely entrenched. The senate, whether good or bad, had no defences at all. Its weakness had in the old days been its pride. It ruled by influencing opinion. Now that it had ceased to influence, it ruled by initiating a riot in the streets. It had no military support except such as was given it by friendly magistrates, and this was a dangerous weapon which it hesitated to use. To ignore militarism was to be at the mercy of the demagogue of the street, to admit it was found subsequently to be equivalent to being at the mercy of the demagogue of the camp. In either case authority must be maintained at the cost of civil war. But the material helplessness of the senate was only one factor in the problem. More fatal flaws were its lack of insight to discover that there were new problems to be faced, and lack of courage in facing them. This moral helplessness was due partly to the selfishness of individuals, but partly also to the fixity of political tradition. In spite of the brilliancy and culture of some of its members, the senate in its corporate capacity showed the possession of a narrow heart and an inexpansive intelligence. Its sympathies were limited to a class; it learnt its new lessons slowly and did not see their bearing on the studies of the future. Imperialism abroad and social contentment at home might be preserved by the old methods which had worked so well in the past. But to the mind of the masses the past did not exist, and to the mind of the reformer it had buried its dead. The career of Tiberius Gracchus was the first sign of a great awakening; and if we regard it as illogical, and indeed impossible, to pause here and estimate the character of his reforms, it is because the more finished work of his brother was the completion of his efforts and followed them as inexorably as the daylight follows the dawn.

Prev | Next | Contents