Gaius Gracchus


The Sack of Carthage


After the death of his brother Tiberius, Gaius Gracchus chose to withdraw from the Forum and remove himself from public life. It appeared to those around him that he had been greatly humbled by the events of the recent past and so therefore chose to detach himself from all forms of politics. But, as time went on it became apparent that this was not to be the case. For Gaius, who had no intentions of living a life of idleness used this time alone to perfect his oratory skills before re-emerging back into the courts.

When it came to be that a friend of his named Vettius was called to stand trial, Gaius defended him with such force that the other pleaders appeared childish by comparison. The combination of his dynamic words and actions once again roused the dormant fears of the nobles, causing there to be much talk of how to keep him from becoming a tribune.

In 126 Gaius, to the delight of the nobility, was sent to Sardinia to serve as quaestor for the consul Orestes. He embraced the trip wholeheartedly, for not only did he enjoy military service but more importantly because he was finding it harder and harder to resist his friend's many requests to enter into public life. Military service gave him the perfect opportunity to leave the city.

During his stay in Sardinia, Gaius surpassed his peers in both military operations and in fair dealings with the subject people. He was also known to be extremely loyal and respectful to his commander. Because the winter in Sardinia was notably harsh, Orestes demanded that the neighboring cities provide his troops with clothing. Angrily, the locals sent a petition to Rome asking to be relieved of this obligation. The Senate granted their wishes, leaving the troops cold and Orestes struggling to find another way of caring for his men. Gaius Gracchus took it upon himself to personally visit these cities and persuade the townspeople to voluntarily donate warm garments to aid the suffering army.

When the news of this reached Rome, the Senate became alarmed and furious, for they viewed this as another attempt by one of the Gracchi to win the support of the masses. In order to take the upper hand in this situation, they began by renouncing king Micipsa of Numidia, who because of his high regard for Gaius sent a shipment of grain to Orestes in Sardinia. To show that this action was considered offensive, the Senate refused to receive Micipsa's envoys and sent them away. A decree was also passed allowing fresh troops to relieve the men already serving in Sardinia while at the same time demanding that Orestes stay at his post. This was to ensure that Gaius as quaestor would also be forced to remain far from the city.

Enraged, Gaius left directly for Rome. When he arrived in the city, he was attacked by his enemies and fellow citizens alike, for no one could fathom how a mere quaestor could relinquish his post and leave his commander behind. Once given the opportunity to defend himself before the censors, Gaius was able to win over the sympathies of all who listened.

Upon clearing his name, Gaius immediately began to campaign for the office of tribune. Inside the city, the most dignified men in Rome joined together to oppose him, but multitudes came from all parts of Italy to support his candidacy. It was said that the Campus Martius was so crowded that many were forced to climb onto housetops in order to show their approval of Gaius. It must be understood that many of these people did not possess the right to vote, but traveled to Rome to watch the election and extend their vocal support.

Still in all, the nobility succeeded in their attempts to influence the people. For when all votes were cast, Gaius, who was expecting to receive the first place position only finished fourth in the poles. This did not shatter his confidence, for as soon as he started serving office he instantly affirmed his supremacy over the other tribunes. Besides being the finest rhetorician in the city, the grief he suffered had strengthened his character and allowed him to speak out boldly against his brother's death.

Gaius took every opportunity available to recount the cowardly behavior of the Roman people. He repeatedly reminded them of how they stood by and watched as Tiberius was mercilessly beat to death and then without remorse was cast defiantly into the Tiber. He also renounced the execution of his many supporters who were put to death without given the benefit of a trial.

He then went on to introduce two new laws. The first stated that any magistrate who was removed from office by the people would not be permitted to hold office again for a second time. This was clearly aimed at Marcus Octavius, the tribune who was deposed by Tiberius. If passed this law would have prevented him from seeking another term as tribune, but it is said that Gaius later withdrew this motion at the request of his mother Cornelia.

Once again shadowing the death of his brother, Gaius' second law authorized the people to prosecute any magistrate who allowed a citizen to be banished without a trial. This was a reaffirmation of an ancient fundamental which protected the life of citizens from individual magistrates by placing them under the jurisdiction of the Assembly of the People. For in the earlier days of the Republic, the supreme powers of life and death were temporarily placed in the hands of a dictator during times of national emergency. Because the position of dictator had not been filled for generations its powers had been assumed by the Senate. This law instituted by Gaius Gracchus was his way of changing the Senate's act of condemning Tiberius and his supporters to death without a trial.

Gaius' next step was to introduce a series of laws that he hoped while being embraced by the people would also weaken the power and authority of the Senate. Included in his program were:

  1. A law which allowed public lands to be divided up and distributed among the poor
  2. Military laws which would allow soldiers to be supplied with clothing totally at the public's expense, void of any monetary deductions being taken from their pay.
  3. A law to benefit Rome's allies which declared that Italians should be given the same voting rights as Roman citizens.
  4. A law reducing the cost of grain to the poor.

Gaius's most important bill was to regulate the appointment of men called to sit upon the juries. This piece of legislature did more to lessen the power of the Senate than any other statute previously introduced, for up until this time only senators had the power to serve as jurors on criminal cases. It was primarily this privilege that caused both the common people and the equestrian order (the knights) to fear the aristocracy. The intentions of Gaius' law was to take the existing Senate, which contained 300 nobles and add to it 300 men of the equestrian order. Jurors would then be picked from a new total of 600 senatorial members.

Gaius worked exceptionally hard to have this law passed. He even went as far as using grand symbolic gestures to illustrate the drastic decrease in senatorial powers. For example, it was the usual practice of leaders when rising to speak, to focus their attention to the right side of the Forum, known as the Comitium. Going against this tradition, Gaius purposely turned to the left and faced the Forum proper. This sent the message that it was far more important to address one's words to the people rather than to the Senate. In this way he could take the aristocratic foundations of Roman politics and give them a more democratic nature.

When the law was passed, Gaius was given the task of selecting those who were to serve as jurors from the equestrian order. He then presented new measures for the founding of colonies and the construction of roads. Up until this time the usual practice was to place settlements of Roman citizens in newly acquired territories as defenders of the land. Gaius Gracchus sought to provide a greater share of the land to the needy and destitute people of Rome and Italy.

Roman roads had also been previously based on the same theory of protection as the colonies. Gaius was more for "opening" the communication between the more fertile "districts", hence advancing the "progress of Italian agriculture. He very much enjoyed working on the road construction and saw to it that they were made to be as beautiful as they were useful. His plans allowed the roads to run across the country in a straight line with both sides equal in height. This gave the finished product a graceful and symmetrical look. He also had every road measured in Roman miles and placed a stone pillar to mark each one.

Because of his good doings, Gaius Gracchus succeeded in winning the love and respect of the Roman people. One day while delivering a speech he asked that they grant him an important favor. All listening assumed he was referring to the consulship and expected him to announce his candidacy for both it and the tribunate. But as he continued all were surprised to find he was endorsing Gaius Fannius for the office of consul instead of himself. Fannius was duly elected and Gaius Gracchus was granted another term as tribune, even though he never announced himself as a candidate or officially campaigned for office. His triumph was based solely on the enthusiasm of the people.

It was not long before the Senate's feelings of distaste for Gaius became visibly noticeable. When it was apparent that Gaius Fannius was also beginning to distance himself from his one time friend and ally, Gaius Gracchus came up with a plan to rally the people to his side. Knowing that the abundance of slave labor was causing Rome and other cities to be overloaded with hordes of unemployed people, Gaius established a set of laws which enabled the making of two new colonies at Tarentum and Capua. These new urban and commercial settlements were designed to relieve the city and surrounding areas of much of their unwanted congestion.

He also proposed that the full rights of Roman citizens be extended to the Latins. This was a fatal mistake on his part, for if Roman rights were granted to the Latin communities throughout Italy, many concessions and sacrifices would have to be made by the different classes in Rome. This policy would surely be opposed by the patrician knights and common people alike.

Fearing the influence Gaius had over the people, the Senate took to using improper methods to help shatter his wall of support. They approached a tribune named Livius Drusus, who was of noble birth and possessed excellent speaking skills, with an invitation to join them in their conspiracy against Gaius. Drusus was instructed to refrain from all violence and instead use his power to shamelessly please the people.

Drusus agreed and began by drawing up nonsense laws that were neither credible or advantageous to the community. The reality was they did not have to be, for his only objective was to outdo his opponent by means of flattering and indulging the people. The Senate outwardly spoke against any bill presented by Gaius, but wholly supported anything offered by Drusus. Drusus also prefaced all of his speeches with a statement assuring his listeners that all of his measures were being introduced on the authority of the Senate, who as they knew, always had a special concern for the people's welfare. Though not necessarily true, this statement did create kind feelings among the people towards the Senate, hence overriding any previous thoughts of distrust and contempt pertaining to the aristocracy.

Drusus was very careful to always make it plainly visible that the well-being of the people was his primary interest. The laws he proposed never seemed to be to his own benefit or enhance his own private interests, but were only for the good of the people. He never took part in the administration of public funds and would always send a representative to take charge of lands newly acquired by Rome, for he liked to be in the forefront of all operations, keeping the most important tasks in his own hands.

In 123 BC a bill was proposed by a tribune named Rubrius to erect a settlement on the site where mighty Carthage once stood. The city was laid to ruin by Scipio Africanus 23 years earlier, marking the end of the Third Punic War. This task of securing the new colony's foundation was given to Gaius Gracchus who gathered his things at once and set sail for Africa.

Without delay, Livius Drusus, taking full advantage of Gaius' absence, fabricated a scheme in hopes of ruining Gaius while at the same time allowing himself to fall under the good graces of the people. This intrigue began with a verbal assault upon the character of Flavius Flaccus. Flaccus was known to be a friend of Gaius and was elected along with him to work on the commission supervising the distribution of public land.

Because Flaccus had the reputation of being an instigator, he was not very well liked in the Senate. They also suspected that he was responsible for inciting the Italian allies to join together and revolt against Rome. Though no reliable evidence was ever given to support these charges, Flacchus' policies were known to be colored with the threat of revolution, thus making these rumors seem highly believable. Drusus knew that Gaius' association with Flacchus could only be detrimental, for very often hatred felt for one man was very easily passed on to his friends

Unaware of the events taking place back in Rome, Gaius named the new colony at Carthage Junonia, and like all Roman settlements its founding was recognized with solemn ceremonies. During his stay in Africa, Gaius was plagued with some disturbing omens. The shaft of the leading standard was snapped into pieces during a gusty wind storm, and the sacrificial victims that were placed upon the alters were blown away in a hurricane and then left scattered beyond the city's boundary lines. The wooden stakes used to mark the boundaries were also lost as they were carried away by a pack of wolves. All of these things were a sure indication to Gaius that the gods were not pleased.

In spite of these adversities, Gaius was still able to establish his settlement and return home to Rome with all his affairs in order in just 70 days. At this time the city was all abuzz, not only with the character assassination of Fulvius Flacchus but also with the news of Gaius' political position being threatened by a prominent member of the Senate named Lucius Opimius. Opimius, who had once previously lost the position of consul to Gaius now possessed a strong body of supporters and it was widely believed that this time he would win the election and immediately set out to destroy Gaius' power. It was true that Gaius' public appeal was on a direct decline and that his policies no longer firmly captured the attention of the people. This was due to the fact that an abundance of leaders were competing all at once to win public affection with lavish gifts and bribes.

After arriving in Rome, Gaius' first action was to move his home from the Palentine Hill to a humble neighborhood near the Forum. He thought that living among the poorer citizens would allow him to better emulate his democratic principles. He then put forward the rest of his proposed legislation which required by vote, the approval of the people. But when it became apparent that huge crowds were traveling from all parts of Italy to show support for Gaius in Rome, the Senate persuaded a consul Fannius to exile all persons from the city who were not of Roman birth. This caused a peculiar proclamation to be issued forbidding any allies or friends of Rome to appear in the city during this time.

In retaliation, Gaius issued a counter edict denouncing Fannius' actions and also vowed to give his support to any of the allies that refused to obey the proclamation and remain inside the city. This promise was short lived, for soon after Gaius came upon one of his closest friends being carried away by Fannius' lictors. Instead of coming to his aid, Gaius turned away and quickly walked in the opposite direction.

Also, around this same time, Gaius gravely offended his fellow tribunes. It seems that gladiatorial games had been scheduled to take place at the Forum, and many of the magistrates had seats built around the arena with the intent of renting them out to spectators. Gaius insisted that the seats be taken down and the area instead be used to allow the poor to watch the festivities for free. When he saw that his demands were being ignored, Gaius gathered up the workmen allotted to him for fulfilling public contracts, and on the eve of the great show ordered they dismantle all of the seats. In the morning all that was left was an empty space where the underprivileged could gather and watch.

Though the people thought this to be a noble gesture, Gaius' fellow tribunes viewed it as a eminently presumptuous intrusion. It was commonly agreed that this act cost Gaius his re-election to the tribunate. For even though he won a majority of the votes, his fellow tribunes falsified the returns, thus changing the results of the election. Gaius was furious over his defeat and arrogantly proclaimed to his enemies that if they could see the doom that awaited them as a result of his reforms their laughter would certainly be short lived.

While Gaius was wallowing in defeat, his opponents made sure Opimius secured the title of consul. In hopes of provoking Gaius into an illegal act of violence, they proceeded to repeal many of his laws and caused an interference with the advancement of his settlement at Carthage. At first Gaius dealt graciously with this bad treatment, but eventually, after listening to the requests of his friends gathered together a number of supporters to oppose Opimius. According to some, Gaius' mother Corneila also played a part in his resistence by hiring foreigners to come to Rome dressed as harvesters, but it must be said that there are other accounts which totally contradict this statement and claim that she was completely against his plans.

What we do know for certain is that in the early morning of the day Opimius and his party were planning to revoke Gaius' laws, both groups gathered on the Capitoline. After Opimius made his sacrifice, an attendant by the name of Quintus Antyllius was carrying away the entrails. Seeing Flavius Flacchus and his followers, Antyllius shouted "Stand back you rouges and make way for honest citizens". Instantly Antyllius was attacked and stabbed to death with writing styluses. (The Roman stylus was made of iron or bronze and was pointed at one end and flat at the other. The pointed end was used for writing on wax tablets and the flat end was used for erasing and smoothing surfaces). After the murder, the crowd fell into chaos. Deeply upset, Gaius admonished his supporters for giving his enemies the act of violence they had been waiting for. The killing of Antyllius proclaimed Opimius triumphant, for he now had a valid reason to rally the people together and seek revenge.

Suddenly the skies opened and rain poured down onto the massive crowd. The Assembly dispersed, and early the next morning Opimius called for what appeared to be normal meeting of the Senate. In reality this was just another phase in his plot to ruin Gaius Gracchus. While Opimius carried on with the usual business of the day, the body of Antyllius was placed upon a bier and was carried throughout the Forum, making sure to pass directly by the Senate House. Opimius acted surprised as the sounds of wails and lamentations filled the air, and sent some of his listeners out into the street to see what the commotion was all about. When the bier was set down among the crowd, the Senators cried out with outrage, calling the murder of Antyllius a horrid and scandalous crime.

But, much to the displeasure of Opimius, the citizens of Rome chose to see the situation in a different light. For instead of lashing out against Gaius and his supporters, it was the aristocracy itself that received the wrath of the people. Shouts blaming the Senators for the death of Tiberius Gracchus echoed throughout the crowd. They demanded to know how the murder of a Roman tribune could be so casually viewed, while the death of Antyllius, a mere servant was significant enough to rock the nobility.

The senators' next step was to pass a formal decree known as the Senatus Consultum Ultimum. This was only meant to be used when a situation was considered to be a state of emergency. It suspended all constitutional proceedings and gave the Senate supreme power to act as they should see fit. This condition was very similar to our own martial law. The senators armed themselves and the next morning the knights were instructed to appear at the Senate House accompanied by two servants, also carrying weapons.

Fulvius Flacchus made his own preparations for the upcoming confrontation. He gathered together a large body of followers and together with his men, spent the entire night boasting and celebrating the next day's battle . It is said that Flacchus himself became very drunk and behaved in a disgraceful manner for a man of his age. Gaius on the other hand mournfully left the Forum, pausing for a moment to shed a tear at his father's statue, before returning to his home. He and his supporters spent a quiet evening saddened by the feelings of doom and disaster that now surrounded both themselves and the future of their country.

At sunrise, Flacchus still heavy with alcohol, gathered up his weapons and together with his friends noisily set out for the Aventine Hill. Gaius dressed in a toga refused to arm himself with anything but a short dagger. As he walked through the front door, his wife Licinia ran after him and tearfully threw herself at her husband's feet. She begged him not to go, reminding him that Tiberius met his death not by foreign enemies but at the hands of his own countrymen. Gaius did not answer, but gently freed himself from her grasp and silently walked away.

After assembling the popular party together, Fulvius Flacchus sent his youngest son to the Forum with a herald's wand in hand. This was a staff carried by envoys or heralds when visiting the camp of an enemy during war time. The boy delivered a message of peace to Opimius and the Senate. Even though most of the men were ready to listen, Opimius insisted that negotiations could not be conducted through a messenger. Gaius and Flacchus would have no other choice but to surrender themselves up for trial, for then and only then would their pleas for mercy be considered. Gaius was willing to plead his case before the Senate, but no one else would agree to Opimius' terms. The son of Flacchus was once again sent to appear before the Senate, but this time the unfortunate young man was arrested and placed under guard.

Opimius then advanced upon Flacchus and his party, wounding many of them and causing the rest to flee in terror. Fulvius Flacchus hid himself in an abandoned bath house along with his eldest son, but the two were quickly discovered and put to death by the sword. Gaius who took no part in the fighting sought sanctuary in the temple of Diana. Though his intentions were to commit suicide, he was stopped by loyal friends who took away his sword and begged him to save himself.

Before leaving the temple, Gaius raised his arms and prayed to the goddess, asking that in return for the treachery and ingratitude shown to him, the Roman people be enslaved to their rulers for time eternal. Even as he spoke, many of his followers, upon hearing the news of a proclaimed amnesty were readily defecting over to the other side.

Gaius tried to make his escape but was aggressively pursued by his enemies. Upon reaching the wooden bridge that crossed the Tiber, his friends Pomponius and Licinius urged him to move ahead while they stayed behind to hold off his attackers. When both of these men were killed, Gaius and his sole companion, a slave named Philocrates, frantically ran for their lives. Watchers stood along the road and cheered the two on as if they were watching a race, but not one person came to their aid. Gaius pleaded for a horse but all of his requests fell on deaf ears. The two reached a grove sacred to the Furies and it was there that Philocrates first killed Gaius and then turned the sword upon himself.

It was announced that anyone bringing forth the head of either Gaius Gracchus or Fulvius Flacchus would in return be paid its weight in gold. A man named Septimuleius who was said to have stolen the head of Gaius fraudulently removed his brains and filled the skull cavity with molten lead to increase the reward money. He then placed it upon the tip of a spear and presented it to Opimius. When it was laid upon the scales the weight registered as 17 2/3 pounds. The bodies of Gaius Gracchus, Fulvius Flacchus and all of their supporters were cast into the Tiber. All properties were sold and the money confiscated by the Public Treasury. The men's wives were forbidden to wear mourning clothes and Lucinia was also stripped of her dowry.

The youngest son of Flavius Flacchus who had acted as the messenger of peace was put to death after the fighting was over. The act most resented by the people was Opimius' rebuilding of the Temple of Concord, for they felt that he was celebrating a triumph over the death of 3,000 Roman citizens. Under the protection of night, a disgruntle person carved these words upon the temple:

This Temple of Concord is the Work of Discord

Opimius was the first consul to assume the powers of a dictator. It is also noteworthy to say he himself was no stranger to fraud, for when he was sent as a commissioner to Jugurtha, the king of Numidia, Opimius readily accepted bribes from him. He was eventually convicted of these charges and spent his old age in shame and disgrace amid the hatred and insults of his fellow countrymen.

Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus were greatly missed. Statues of the brothers were placed in prominent parts of the city and the ground where they died was proclaimed to be holy. Every year the first fruits of the season were offered upon these sacred spots.



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