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Tberius Gracchus

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Who was Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and why is his career as Tribune of Plebs important for Roman History?

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was a born Roman Aristocrat who after making a name for himself in military service became the Roman Tribune of Plebs, and began a serious economics revolution. The fact that Gracchus was not a pheasant nor merely a landowning citizen, but a member of the aristocratic society is one of the main reasons for his success in economic change, but also for his eventual fall. As Tribune of Plebs, Gracchus found unique and revolutionary ways of advancing his own agenda, by simply ignoring tradition forcing his will. Finally when discussing such a revolutionary figure it is as important to discuss why Gracchus did what he did as it is to discuss what he did.

Gracchus was born in 163 BC, son of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and Cornelia Africana. While not of patrician stock his family was very wealthy and also very influential politically. His family's political connections first came into play during the Third Punic War, when he was appointed to serve on the staff of his brother in law, Scipio Aemillianus. This would give Gracchus his first experience in public service. His first campaign ended in disaster but he did save his army from destruction by signing an unadvised peace treaty. While this act gained him favor among those who served under him it was viewed as cowardice by the Senate, and shortly after made void. This act by the Senate would become the start of what would be many controversies between Gracchus and the aristocratic ruling body.

His career in the military would not only give to Gracchus the needed prestige and political weight but it would also go a long ways in forming his opinions toward the small land owners with in the Roman society who made up the core of the Roman Legion. It was these soldiers that he had served with that would be at the center of Gracchus domestic economic reforms. Due to Rome's numerous and lengthy wars many of the small landowners had left their farms in the hands of wives and children while they, the men, went off to join the Legions. Eventually these small farms went under and were bought up by the wealthy class who gradually formed very large estates.

The economic downfall of the middle class farmers posed two major problems for Rome. First thousands of war veterans were returning from war only to be listed among the homeless. As they flocked to the cities in need of work and food, the cities became over populated and unsanitary. Secondly in order to become a Roman soldier you must first be a land owner, with much of the land being concentrated in the hands of a few individuals the number of eligible men for the army was increasingly shrinking, which would only become perpetuated by the passing of each generation. To further complicate the issue many of the land barons were also Senators.

In 133 BC Gracchus was elected as Tribune of Plebs, and immediately bypassed the conservative aristocratic Senate and proposed to the Assembly laws known as Lex Sempronia agraria. These laws marked a serious domestic economic revolution sponsored by an aristocrat. These laws required all land owners who had purchased land that had been won in war to sell back to the government all land in excess of 500 acres, and then that land would be redistributed to the war veterans. These new laws would fulfill a dual purpose, first they would aid the homeless veterans and second it would provide a population base for an army.

Despite the practical side of the reforms they sere still highly radical and the passing of and implementation of would be no simple task. Much of the land had already been resold and mortgaged, and many of these barons were in fact Senators. The conservative Senate's dislike helped to influence Octavius, the other tribune, to use his veto power to strike down the laws. In response to Octavius's veto Gracchus passed a law that any leader who went against the voice of the people should immediately be removed from office. Then, acting under power given to himself by himself he literally had Octavius forcibly dragged from his bench.

Much discussion has been made as to the motives behind Gracchus liberal reforms. He being from the upper ring of society himself had no monetary and very little political gain to be made from such reforms. I believe that Gracchus was motivated by three main factors. First, he was a very prideful individual, born to a prideful well to do family, he had had his pride hurt early on when his treaty was declared cowardice and void. He would never forget this and always held distaste for the Senate, and saw the economic reforms as a way to pay retribution for his previous embarrassment. Second, after serving in the military he gained a great appreciation for those soldiers who served under him. After he returned from war and was elected Tribune of Plebs he decided to use his position to help those whom he had served with. While his reforms were revolutionary it was mainly the veterans who were aided, and little aid was given to the lower classes in general. Finally, I believe that Gracchus, being educated by the finest Roman scholars, was well aware of history and had wished to make his own place in it. I believe it was a combination of his pride and distastes for the senate, his loyalty to the veterans he served with, and a desire to cement his own name in Roman history that spawned his revolutionary reforms and his controversial ways in which he advanced his agenda.

With the new law firmly in place all he needed was the money to implement the reforms, but the budget was handled by the Senate who refused to fund these unfavorable laws. To the Senates dismay King Attalus III died and left all his fortune to Rome. Gracchus saw this as an opportunity to implement his reform but was hindered by the set tradition that the Senate handled all finances and by the fact that his term in office was nearing an end. In a highly controversial move Gracchus went against a long held tradition that a tribune could not be re-elected and began to gather support for a second term.

Running on a radical platform to shorten military service, abolish the exclusive right of senators to serve as jurors, and to admit Italian allies to Roman citizenship helped him to gather a large support base, and reelection looked inevitable. During the election violence broke out in the middle of the forum. Senators incited the crowd claiming that Gracchus intended to make himself king. A subsequent riot broke out and Gracchus along with 300 of his followers was killed.

Eventually, to appease the plebs, the senate would execute the Grucchan reforms, and the next census would reveal a significant rise in Roman citizens, accomplishing

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