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Autor: anton • December 6, 2010 • 5,727 Words (23 Pages) • 373 Views
Ancient History Sourcebook: Appian:
The Civil Wars - On the Gracchi
[For 134-133 B.C.]: As the Romans conquered the Italian tribes, one after another, in war, they seized part of the lands and founded towns there, or placed colonies of their own in
those already established, and used them as garrisons. They allotted the cultivated part of the land obtained through war, to settlers, or rented or sold it. Since they had not time to assign the part which lay waste by the war, and this was usually the greater portion, they issued a proclamation that for the time being any who cared to work it could do so for a share of the annual produce, a tenth part of the grain and a fifth of the fruit. A part of the animals, both of the oxen and sheep was exacted from those keeping herds. They did this to increase the Italian peoples, considered the hardest working of races, in order to have plenty of supporters at home. But the very opposite result followed; for the wealthy, getting hold of most of the unassigned lands, and being encouraged through the length of time elapsed to think that they would never be ousted, and adding, part by purchase and part by violence, the little farms of their poor neighbors to their possessions, came to work great districts instead of one estate, using to this end slaves as laborers and herders, because free laborers might be drafted from agriculture into the army. The mere possession of slaves brought them great profit through the number of their children, which increased because they were absolved from service in the wars. Thus the powerful citizens became immensely wealthy and the slave class all over the country multiplied, while the Italian race decreased in numbers and vigor, held down as they were by poverty, taxes, and military service. If they had any rest from these burdens, they wasted their time in idleness, because the land was in the hands of the wealthy, who used slaves instead of free laborers.
Because of these facts the people began to fear that they should no longer have enough Italian allies, and that the state itself would be imperiled by such great numbers of slaves. Not seeing any cure for the trouble, as it was not practicable nor entirely fair to dispossess men of their possessions so long occupied, including their own trees, buildings and improvements, a decree was at one time got through by the efforts of the tribunes that no one should hold more than five hundred iugera [about three hundred acres], or graze more than a hundred cattle or five hundred sheep upon it. To make sure the law was observed, it was provided, also, that there should be a stated number of freemen employed on the lands, whose duty it should be to watch and report what took place. Those holding lands under the law were compelled to make oath to obey it, and penalties were provided against breaking it. It was thought that the surplus land would soon be subdivided amongst the poor in small lots, but there was not the slightest respect shown for the law or the oaths. The few that seemed to give some heed to them fraudulently made over their lands to their relatives, but most paid no attention to the law whatsoever.
At last Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, an eminent man, ambitious for honor, a forceful orator, and for these causes well known to everybody, made an eloquent speech, while tribune, on the subject of the Italian race, deploring that a people so warlike, and related in descent to the Romans, were gradually sinking into pauperism and decreasing in numbers, with no hope of betterment. He denounced the swarm of slaves as useless in war and faithless to their masters, and instanced the recent disaster brought upon the owners in Sicily by their slaves, where the requirements of agriculture had greatly increased their number. He called to mind, also, the war waged by the Romans against the slaves, a war neither trivial nor short, but long drawn but long drawn out and filled with misfortunes and perils. After this address he once more brought forward the law providing that no one should hold more than five hundred iugera of the public land, but he made this addition to the previous law, that the sons of the present occupants might each hold half as large an allotment and that the surplus land should be divided among the poor by triumvirs, that were to be changed yearly.
This greatly vexed the wealthy, because, on account of the triumvirs, they could no longer pass by the law as they had done before; nor could they purchase the lands allotted to others, because Gracchus had provided against this by prohibiting sales. They gathered into groups, complaining and charging the poor with seizing the results of their cultivation, their vineyards, and their houses. Some said they had paid their neighbors the price of the land; were they to lose their money as well as the land? Others declared that the graves of their fathers were in the ground that had been assigned to them in the partition of their family estate. Others stated that their wives' dowries had been spent on the land or that it had been given to their own daughters as such. Loaners of money could show advances made on this security. All sorts of complaints and denunciations were heard at the same time. On the other hand rose the wails of the poor, crying that they had been reduced from plenty to the lowest pauperism and from that to enforced lack of offspring, because they could not support children. They enumerated the services they had rendered in war, by which this very land had been obtained, and were indignant at being despoiled of their part of the public property. They upbraided the wealthy for using slaves, who were always faithless and sulky, and for that cause useless in war, in the place of freemen, citizens and men at arms. While these classes were complaining and reproaching each other, a vast multitude, consisting of colonists or dwellers in the free cities, or others in some way interested in the lands and with similar fears, thronged into town and sided with their respective parties. Angry at each other, they gathered in riotous crowds, made bold by numbers, and, waiting for the new law, tried in every way, some to obstruct its passage and others to carry it. Party spirit in addition to individual interest stimulated both sides in the preparation against each other which they were making for the voting day.
What Gracchus sought in framing the law was the increase, not of wealth, but of serviceable population. He was highly enthused with the usefulness of the proposal and, believing that nothing more beneficial or desirable could happen to Italy, he attached no weight to the difficulties involved. When the time came for voting he brought forward at some length many other arguments, asking