Study Guide for Plutarch's Life of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus

Text taken from Thomas North and/or John Dryden
Study Guide by Anne White

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Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus (Second Century B.C.)

The World of the Gracchi

The Gracchi brothers, Tiberius and Gaius, were born in a time of political, economic, and social upheaval in Rome, not unlike the later Industrial Revolution in Europe. During recent wars, much of Italy's farmland had been devastated. Men from rural areas were conscripted for faraway military service, and many of them never returned. The family members left were no longer able to maintain even their small farms, and they moved in large numbers to the cities, particularly Rome, hoping to make some kind of living there. With many newly wealthy (and lazy) urbanites as potential employers or customers, finding success in the city wasn't an impossible idea; but as so many people flooded in, not everyone did well, and living conditions were often wretched. Another disadvantage of this trend (at least for Rome) was that non-land-owners were disqualified for army service.

Ignoring the law that restricted the size of farms, sharp Roman businessmen bought out or out-rented the struggling farmers (see Lesson Three), and consolidated the small plots of land into big commercial operations, with slaves doing most of the work. (There were more slaves than ever now because of Roman military victories, and although this had its benefits, there was a real fear that one day the slaves would revolt.) Some of the land being bought up was ager publicus, or common land, which was never intended to be held privately. A lot of money was also changing hands through government contracts; a number of people were becoming very wealthy by supplying the army with weapons or tents, by running construction companies or mines, and by collecting certain types of taxes and rents that came with those contracts. You may recognize the term "publican" from the Bible, and that was the name for these contractors: publicani. Plutarch refers to them as simply the "wealthy men," those who were more interested in protecting their contracts and their money than in social justice.

What was an aedile, a quaestor, a consul?

The elected positions or magistracies in Rome were (starting at the bottom): quaestor, aedile, praetor, and consul. (The office of non-military tribune, or tribune of the people, was a separate position.) Ex-consuls could become censors, and a consul could become dictator if the need (usually a great emergency) arose.

Who were the tribunes?

The duty of a non-military tribune (sometimes called a tribune of the plebeians, or a "tribune of the people") was to protect the liberties of the common people from any individual or group (such as the nobles) who might take advantage of them or suppress their rights. This position was not part of the junior-senior ranking of magistrates such as quaestor and consul; it was an office voted on by the common people (plebeians), who themselves were bound by oath to protect the tribunes from harm. This view of tribunes as "sancrosanct," too holy to be interfered with (even by each other), was a large part of the story of the Gracchi.

What was the Lex Sempronia Agraria?

This was the proposal for land reform that Tiberius Gracchus made in 133 B.C. It is also called the Lex Agraria or Law Agraria.

Names that are easy to confuse

Gracchi or Gracchus?

Thomas North titled the whole Life "Tiberius and Caius Gracchi." Dryden's translation separated the two and called them "Tiberius Gracchus" and "Caius Gracchus." Gracchus is the singular, and Gracchi is the plural.

Caius or Gaius?

North spelled the name Caius Gracchus, the same way that he spelled Caius Marius and Caius Julius Caesar; and Dryden did the same. However, Gaius is a currently acceptable English spelling.

Two Tiberiuses

Tiberius Gracchus was named for his father, who was "twice consul and once censor," and who married Cornelia, the daughter of Scipio Africanus (#1).

Three Scipios

Scipio Africanus the Elder (#1) was a Roman general who fought with Hannibal in the Second Punic War; he was the father of Cornelia and the grandfather of Tiberius and Gaius.

Scipio Africanus the Younger (#2), also called Scipio Aemilianus, was his adopted grandson. This was the Scipio who destroyed the city of Carthage in the Third Punic War. He married Sempronia Gracchus, but his relationship with the Gracchi family became so poor that, when he died suddenly, they were suspected to have caused his death.

Publius Nasica: also called Scipio Nasica; a cousin of the Gracchi. Nasica was Pontifex Maximus in 141 B.C. and consul in 138 B.C.

Top Vocabulary Terms

1. commonwealth: a state (in this case Rome) and its dependencies, possessions, provinces and/or colonies

2. corn: grain, such as wheat or barley

3. eloquence: the art of persuasive public speaking, especially as practiced by orators

4. The Forum: Also called the marketplace; the public place in Rome where speeches were made and business was done.

5. magistrates: elected officials

6. meet: proper, suitable

7. orator: one who makes public speeches or orations

8. prefer: propose

9. prevail: to succeed, win, or overcome something.

10. pulpit, pulpit for orations: the Rostra, or speaker's platform

11. sedition: rebellion, uprising. A seditious person is one who encourages rebellion.

12. soothsayer: one who foretells the future, often (in ancient times) by observing natural phenomena. Professional soothsayers in Rome belonged to the priesthood, and were called augurs.

13. spoils: loot, treasure. To spoil or despoil a place (such as a city or an enemy camp) is to rob it of its valuables.

14. valiantness: valour, meaning great courage in the face of danger, but also implying an inner force of virtue.

15. voices: votes

Lesson One


Two brothers; sons of a consul and censor; grandsons of the famous Scipio Africanus (#1). Yet the biggest influence on their young lives seemed to be their mother, Cornelia, who raised and educated them with a goal of greatness.


consul, censor: see introductory notes

triumph: a parade in honour of a military hero

chaste: morally upright, well behaved

choosing to die for such a woman: This does not refer to the way he died, but to a legend that he foresaw his own death, and said that it was better that he should be outlived by his (stronger) wife.

more civil, and better conditioned: "Well brought up" might be another way to put it.

Castor and Pollux: the mythological twins in the constellation Gemini

temperate: self-controlled, without extremes of behaviour

liberal: generous

mild and tractable: easygoing, even docile (able to be led)

jetted up and down the pulpit: walked back and forth on the platform

diction: manner of speaking, including vocabulary and enunciation

vehement: passionate, strong

austere: extremely plain

dolphins of silver: something for the mantelpiece, maybe?

an instrument of music: Dryden, "a sort of pitchpipe"

choler: anger, hot-temperedness

peradventure: perhaps

invincible: unconquerable, unbeatable

came to man's estate: became an adult

name and estimation: good reputation


Scipio (#1) and (#2): see introductory notes

King Ptolemy: Ptolemy VIII Physcon, a king of Egypt

Appius Claudius: Appius Claudius Pulcher, consul in 143 B.C.

Historic Occasions

169-163 B.C. (uncertain): Birth of Tiberius Gracchus

154 B.C.: Birth of Gaius Gracchus; death of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (Senior)

On the Map

As an introduction to this study, it would be good to look at a map of the Roman Republic from about the second century B.C.



Now that we have declared unto you the history of the lives of these two Grecians, Agis and Cleomenes, we must also write the history of two Romans, the which is no less lamentable for the troubles and calamities that chanced unto Tiberius and Gaius, both of them the sons of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus. He, having been twice consul, and once censor, and having had the honour of two triumphs, had notwithstanding more honour and fame only for his valiantness, for the which he was thought worthy to marry Cornelia, the daughter of Scipio Africanus (#1), after Scipio's death (though there had been no friendship or familiarity between Scipio and him, but rather the contrary). [omission] He died, having had twelve children with Cornelia.

Cornelia after the death of her husband, taking upon her the rule of her house and children, led such a chaste life, was so good to her children, and of so noble a mind, that Tiberius seemed, to all men, to have done nothing unreasonable in choosing to die for such a woman. She remaining a widow, King Ptolemy made suit unto her, and would have made her his wife and queen. But she refused, and in her widowhood lost all her children, but one daughter, who was married to the younger Scipio Africanus (#2), and Tiberius and Gaius, whose lives we presently write.

Part One

Those she so carefully brought up, that they became more civil, and better conditioned, than any other Romans in their time; every man judged that education prevailed more in them than nature. For, as in the statues and pictures of Castor and Pollux, there is a certain difference discerned, whereby a man may know that the one was made for wrestling, and the other for running: even so between these two young brethren, amongst other things the great likeness between them, being both happily born to be valiant, to be temperate, to be liberal, to be learned, and to be nobly minded. There grew, notwithstanding, great difference in their actions and doings in the commonwealth: the which I think convenient to declare, before I proceed any farther.

First of all, for the favour of the face, the look and moving of the body, Tiberius was much more mild and tractable, and Gaius more hot and earnest. For the first, in his orations, was very modest, and kept his place; and the other, of all the Romans, was the first that in his oration jetted up and down the pulpit, and that plucked his gown over his shoulders (as they write of Cleon the Athenian, that he was the first of all orators that opened his gown, and clapped his hand on his thigh in his oration). Gaius's oratory was impetuous and passionate, making everything tell to the utmost, whereas Tiberius was gentle and persuasive, awakening emotions of pity. His diction was pure and carefully correct, while that of Gaius was vehement and rich.

The like difference also was between them in their fare and diet. For Tiberius was frugal and plain: and Gaius also, compared with other men, temperate and even austere; but contrasting with his brother in a fondness for new fashions and rarities, as appeared in Drusus's charge against him that he had bought some [extremely expensive] dolphins of silver. The same difference that appeared in their diction was observable also in their tempers. The one was mild and reasonable, the other rough and passionate, and to that degree, that often, in the midst of speaking, he was so hurried away by his passion against his judgment, that his voice lost its tone, and he began to pass into mere abusive talking, spoiling his whole speech. Yet finding his own fault, he devised this remedy. He had a servant called Licinius, a good wise man, who had an instrument of music, by the which they teach men to rise and fall in their tunes. When Gaius was in his oration, Licinius ever stood behind him: and when he perceived that his master's voice was a little too loud, and that through choler he exceeded his ordinary speech: he played a soft note behind him, at the sound whereof Gaius immediately fell from his extremity, and easily came to himself again. Such are the differences between the two brothers; but their valour in war against their country's enemies, their justice in the government of its subjects, their care and industry in office, and their self-command in all that regarded their pleasures, were equally remarkable in both.

Tiberius was the elder by nine years; owing to which their actions as public men were divided by the difference of the times in which those of the one and those of the other were performed. And this was one of the chiefest causes why their doings prospered not, because they had not both authority in one self time, neither could they join their power together: the which if it had met at one self time, had been of great force, and peradventure invincible. We must therefore give an account of each of them singly, and first of the eldest.

Part Two

Tiberius, when he came to man's estate, had such a name and estimation, that immediately they made him fellow in the college of the priests, which at Rome are called augurs (those that have the charge to consider of signs and predictions of things to come), but more for his valiantness than for noble birth. The same doth Appius Claudius witness unto us, one that hath been both consul and censor, and also president of the Senate, and of greater authority than any man in his time. This Appius, at a supper when all the augurs were together, after he had saluted Tiberius, and made very much of him, he offered him his daughter in marriage. Tiberius was very glad of the offer, and therewithal the agreement of marriage was presently concluded between them. Thereupon Appius coming home to his house, at the threshold of his door he called aloud for his wife, and told her: "Antistia, I have contracted our daughter Claudia to a husband." She, wondering at it, "O gods," said she, "and what needed all this haste? What couldst thou have done more, if thou hadst gotten her Tiberius Gracchus for her husband?" (I am not ignorant that some apply this story to Tiberius, the father of the Gracchi, and Scipio Africanus; but most relate it as we have done [omission].)

Narration and Discussion

Plutarch says that the likeness between the brothers is that they were both "happily born to be valiant, to be temperate, to be liberal, to be learned, and to be nobly minded." But he also commends their mother, because she so "carefully brought [them] up." Can both things be true?

Creative narration: Create a "wanted" or similar poster, showing the two brothers and how to tell them apart. (You may find it useful to keep this and add extra notes as you work through this Life.)

Lesson Two


In this lesson we focus on the early career of Tiberius, the elder brother. He began, like many young Roman men, as a soldier in the province of Africa (serving under his brother-in-law Scipio). After winning his first position in civil government, he was sent out to deal with a crisis situation in what is now Spain: a war with the Numantines which had dragged on for years and was about to get worse.


estimate: recognize and value

emulation in virtue: wanting to reach his level of courage and copy his "valiantness" (see introductory vocabulary notes)

quaestor: treasurer (an elected position, see introductory notes)

reduced to straits: in a bad situation

prevailed upon the Romans . . . : made sure they kept their agreement

despatched: sent

frankincense: an aromatic resin, burned as incense

base: immoral, dishonourable

impute: blame

censured: criticized, scolded


Fannius: Gaius Fannius Strabo, an orator and historian

Gaius Mancinus: consul in 137 B.C. After this defeat, Mancinus and other Roman commanders were ordered to be handed over to the Numantines; but (according to the historian Appian) even the Numantines refused to take him. He eventually returned to Rome, but was stripped of his seat in the Senate.

Historic Occasions

146 B.C.: Roman forces under Scipio captured and destroyed Carthage

143-133 B.C.: Numantine War

137 B.C.: Tiberius went to Numantia under Gaius Mancinus

134-133 B.C.: Siege of Numantia

On the Map

Carthage: a city-state in northern Africa

Numantia (Numantines): a settlement and fort north of the city of Soria, in Spain


Part One

Now Tiberius being in the wars in Africa under the younger Scipio (#2), who had married his sister, and living there under the same tent with him, soon learned to estimate the noble spirit of his commander, which was so fit to inspire strong feelings of emulation in virtue, and desire to prove merit in action. So in a short time he did excel all the young men of his time, as well in obedience as in the valiantness of his person; and he was the first to mount the walls of Carthage, as Fannius says, who writes that he himself climbed up with him, and was partaker in the achievement. He was regarded, while he continued with the army, with great affection, and left behind him on his departure a strong desire for his return.

After this war was ended, he was chosen quaestor, and it was his chance to go against the Numantines, with Gaius Mancinus, one of the consuls, who was an honest man, but yet had the worst luck of any captain the Romans had. Notwithstanding, Tiberius's wisdom and valiantness, in this extreme ill luck of his captain, did not only appear with great glory to him, but also most wonderful, the great obedience and reverence he bore unto his captain: though the general himself, when reduced to straits, forgot his own dignity and office. For being beaten in various great battles, he endeavoured to dislodge by night and leave his camp; which the Numantines perceiving, immediately possessed themselves of his camp, and pursuing that part of the forces which was in flight, slew those that were in the rear, hedged the whole army in on every side, and forced them into difficult ground, whence there could be no possibility of an escape.

Thereupon Mancinus, despairing that he could get out by force, sent a herald to the enemies to treat of peace. The Numantines made answer, that they would trust no man but Tiberius only, and therefore they willed he should be sent unto them. They desired that, partly for the love they bore unto the virtues of the young man, because there was no talk of any other in all this war but of him; and partly also, as remembering his father Tiberius, who, in his command against the Spaniards, had reduced great numbers of them to subjection, but granted a peace to the Numantines, and prevailed upon the Romans to keep it punctually and inviolably.

Part Two

Tiberius was accordingly despatched to the enemy, whom he persuaded to accept of several conditions, and he himself complied with others; and by this means, it is beyond a question that he saved twenty thousand of the Roman citizens, besides attendants and camp followers. However, the Numantines retained possession of all the property they had found and plundered in the encampment; and amongst other things were Tiberius's books of accounts, containing all the transactions of his quaestorship. Tiberius being marvellous desirous to have his books again, returned back to Numantia with two or three of his friends only, though the army of the Romans were gone far on their way. So coming to the town, he spoke unto the governors of the city, and prayed them to redeliver him his books of account, because his malicious enemies should not accuse him, calling him to account for his doings.

The Numantines were very glad of this good hap, and prayed them to come into the town. He standing still in doubt with himself what to do, whether he should go into the town or not: the governors of the city came to him, and taking him by the hand, prayed he would think they were not his enemies, but good friends, and that he would trust them. Whereupon Tiberius thought best to yield to their persuasion, being desirous also to have his books again, and the rather, for fear of offending the Numantines, if he should have denied and mistrusted them. When he was brought into the city, they provided his dinner, and were very earnest with him, entreating him to dine with them. Then they gave him his books again, and offered him moreover to take what he would of all the spoils they had gotten in the camp of the Romans. Howbeit of all that he would take nothing but frankincense, which he used in his public sacrifices, and bidding them farewell with every expression of kindness, departed.

When he returned to Rome, he found the whole transaction utterly misliked, as a proceeding that was base and scandalous to the Romans. But the relations and friends of the soldiers, forming a large body among the people, came flocking to Tiberius, saying that what faults were committed in this service, they were to impute it unto the consul Mancinus, and not unto Tiberius, who had saved such a number of Romans' lives [omission].

I think Scipio (#2), who at that time was the greatest and most powerful man among the Romans, contributed to save him (Tiberius), though indeed he was also censured for not protecting Mancinus, too, and that he did not exert himself to maintain the observance of the articles of peace which had been agreed upon by his kinsman and friend Tiberius. But it may be presumed that the difference between them was for the most part due to ambitious feelings, and to the friends and reasoners who urged on Tiberius; and, as it was, it never amounted to anything that might not have been remedied, or that it was really bad. Nor can I think that Tiberius would ever have met with his misfortunes, if Scipio had been concerned in dealing with his measures; but he was away at the Siege of Numantia when Tiberius, upon the following occasion, first came forward as a legislator.

Narration and Discussion

When Tiberius realized that his account books were missing, what were his options? What would you have done?

Why was the peace treaty "misliked?" Does that give any hint that Tiberius might have a harder time gaining respect at home than he had with the Numantines?

Creative narration: "So in a short time he did excel all the young men of his time. . . " You have been asked to make a speech at Tiberius's farewell party: what will you say?

Lesson Three


Tiberius wanted to do something about the problems he had seen inside and outside of Rome. His responsibility as tribune was to promote the rights of the common people; but his vision for reform clashed with other private interests.


indigent: poor, needy

jugerum: or juger; plural jugera; a Roman unit of area. Pliny the Elder defined it as the amount of land which could be plowed by a yoke of oxen in one day. (Because there was no "j" in their alphabet, it was written iūgerum, and pronounced that way as well.)

bridle: stop

covetousness: wanting what one does not have

nor cared any more . . . : they were not so concerned about the education of their children

in all Italy: this refers to the territory outside of Rome itself

desisted: ceased, backed down

tribune of the people: see introductory note

entered upon that design: took up the same cause

who did twit her sons in the teeth: she scolded or teased them

contended with him in eloquence: rivalled him in oratorical skill

depopulated: empty of people

husbandmen: farmers

in the sequel: later on

avarice: greed

Law Agraria: Lex Sempronia Agraria; see introductory note

make some alteration in the state: overturn the government

confute: contradict

adversary: enemy, opponent


Gaius Laelius: Roman general; a friend of Scipio Africanus

Spurius Postumius: There were several similarly-named members of this family, so it's a bit uncertain which one is referred to.

Mucius Scaevola the lawyer . . . : Publius Mucius Scaevola was one of the consuls in 133 B.C., and he was Pontifex Maximus (high priest) in 131 B.C. His brother Publius Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus was Pontifex Maximus in 132 B.C., consul in 131 B.C., and died in 130 B.C. This Crassus was also the father-in-law of Gaius Gracchus.

Historic Occasions

133 B.C.: Tiberius became tribune and proposed land reforms

On the Map

Tuscany: a region of central Italy


Part One

Of the land which the Romans gained by conquest from their neighbours, part they sold publicly, and turned the remainder into common land; this they assigned to such of the citizens as were poor and indigent, for which they were to pay only a small acknowledgement into the public treasury. But when the wealthy men began to offer larger rents, and drive the poorer people out, it was enacted by law that no person whatever should enjoy more than five hundred jugera of ground. This law for a time did bridle the covetousness of the rich men, and did ease the poor also that dwelt in the country, upon the farms they had taken up of the commonwealth, and so lived with their own, or with that their ancestors had from the beginning. Afterwards the rich men of the neighbourhood contrived to get these lands again into their possession, under other people's names; and at last would not stick to claim most of them publicly in their own names.

Whereupon, the poor people being thus turned out of all, went but with faint courage afterwards to the war, nor cared any more for bringing up of children: so that in a short time there were comparatively few freemen remaining in all Italy, which swarmed with workhouses full of foreign-born slaves. These the rich men employed in cultivating their ground, of which they dispossessed the citizens.

Part Two

Gaius Laelius, one of Scipio's friends, gave an attempt to reform this abuse: but because the chiefest of the city were against him, fearing it would break out to some uproar, he desisted from his purpose; and therefore he was called Laelius the Wise, or the Prudent [omission]. But Tiberius being chosen tribune of the people, entered upon that design without delay, at the instigation, as is most commonly stated, of Diophanes the rhetorician and Gaius Blossius the philosopher. Diophanes was a refugee from the city of Mitylene, and Blossius an Italian from the city of Cumae (a student of Antipater of Tarsus, by whom he was honoured by certain works of philosophy he dedicated unto him).

And some also do accuse their mother Cornelia, who did twit her sons in the teeth that the Romans did yet call her "Scipio's mother-in-law," and not "the mother of the Gracchi."

Others say the influence on him was Spurius Postumius, a companion of Tiberius, and one that contended with him in eloquence. For Tiberius returning from the wars, and finding him far beyond him in fame and reputation, and well-beloved of everyone: he sought to excel him by attempting this noble enterprise, and of so great expectation. But his brother Gaius has left it us in writing, that when Tiberius went through Tuscany to Numantia, and found the country almost depopulated, there being hardly any free husbandmen or shepherds, but for the most part only barbarian, imported slaves, he then conceived the course of policy which in the sequel proved so fatal to his family. But in fine, it was the people only that most set his heart afire to covet honour, and that hastened his determination: first bringing him to it by bills set up on every wall, in every porch, and upon the tombs, praying him by them to cause the poor citizens of Rome to have their lands restored which were belonging to the commonwealth.

However, he did not draw up his law without the advice and assistance of those citizens that were then most eminent for their virtue and authority; amongst whom were Crassus the high priest, Mucius Scaevola, the lawyer, who at that time was consul, and Claudius Appius, his father-in-law. And truly it seemeth, that never a law was made with greater favour than that which he preferred against so great injustice and avarice. For those that should have been punished for transgressing the law, and should have had the lands taken from them by force, which they unjustly kept against the law of Rome, were notwithstanding to receive a price for quitting their unlawful claims, and giving up their lands to those fit owners who stood in need of help.

Part Three

Now though the reformation established by this law was done with such great favour: the people notwithstanding were contented, and were willing to forget all that was past, so that they might have no more wrong offered them in time to come. But the rich men, and men of great possessions, hated the law because of their avarice; and for spite and self-will (which would not let them yield) they were at deadly feud with the lawyer that had preferred the law, and they sought by all device they could to dissuade the people from it, telling them that Tiberius brought in this Law Agraria again to disturb the commonwealth, and to make some alteration in the state.

But they prevailed not. For Tiberius defending the matter, which of itself was good and just, with such eloquence as might have justified even an evil cause, was invincible: and no man was able to argue against him to confute him, when speaking in the behalf of the poor citizens of Rome. The people being gathered round about the pulpit for orations, he told them that:

the wild beasts through Italy had their dens and caves of abode, and that the men that fought, and were slain for their country, had nothing else but air and light, and so were compelled to wander up and down with their wives and children, having no resting place nor house to put their heads in: and that the captains do but mock their soldiers, when they encourage them in battle to fight valiantly for the graves, the temples, their own houses, and their predecessors. "For," said he, "of such a number of poor citizens as there be, there cannot a man of them show any ancient house or tomb of their ancestors: because the poor men do go to the wars, and be slain for the rich men's pleasures and wealth: besides they falsely call them lords of the earth, where they have not a handful of ground that is theirs."

These and such other like words, being uttered before all the people with such vehemence and truth, did so move the common people withal, and put them in such a rage, that there was no adversary of his able to withstand him.

Narration and Discussion

How did Tiberius's army travels open his eyes to the needs of those living in rural areas of Italy? What were the other influences on his movement for land reform?

For older students: and further thought The time was now ripe for more democracy in Rome, and perhaps if the Gracchi brothers had not come forward, someone else would have sparked a similar move to reform. But in a later lesson, Gaius dreams that Tiberius speaks these words to him: "One life and one death is appointed for us both, to spend the one and to meet the other in the service of the people" (Dryden's translation). Can you think of people in the Bible who were called to serve in similar ways?

Creative narration #1: Illustrate a scene from this passage.

Creative narration #2 (for older students): Write an editorial for the Rome Daily News about the unethical grabbing up of farmland.

Lesson Four


There was a rule among the Roman tribunes that if even one of them disagreed with a proposal, the whole thing would be overthrown. Generally, this seemed to encourage teamwork and unanimity. But what could you do if a proposal was very, very important to you? And worse, what if the tribune disagreeing with you was also your friend?


forbearing: skipping over; doing without

importunities: persuasions

contentions: disagreements

For not alone, etc.: Not just when you're having fun

he was not very able to perform it: it would have put a strain on his own resources

Saturn's temple: the public treasury

leave to exercise their office: refused to do their duties

changed their apparel: put on mourning clothes

deposing: removing from office

relinquish: give up

entreaty: plea


Marcus Octavius: an orator who was elected tribune but who was then deposed due to Tiberius's actions

Fulvius (#1): likely Gaius Fulvius Flaccus, consul in 134 B.C.

Manlius: His identity is unclear.

Historic Occasions

133 B.C.: Marcus Octavius was tribune


Part One

Forbearing, therefore, all discussion and debate, they addressed themselves to Marcus Octavius, his fellow-tribune, who, being a young man of a steady, orderly character, and a familiar friend of Tiberius, upon this account declined at first the task of opposing him; but at length, over-persuaded with the repeated importunities of numerous considerable persons, he was prevailed upon to do so, and hindered the passing of the law. For if any one of the tribunes speak against it, though all the others pass with it, he overthroweth it: because they all can do nothing, if one of them be against it.

Tiberius, irritated at these proceedings, presently laid aside this milder bill, but at the same time preferred another; which, as it was more grateful to the common people, so it was much more severe against the wrongdoers, commanding them to make an immediate surrender of all land which, contrary to former laws, had come into their possession. Hence there arose daily contentions between him and Octavius in their orations. However, though they were very earnest and vehement one against another, yet there passed no foul words from them, (how hot soever they were one with another) that should shame his companion.

For not alone--

"In revellings and Bacchic play,"

but also in contentions and political animosities, a noble nature and a temperate education stay and compose the mind.

Thereupon Tiberius finding that this law, among others, touched Octavius, because he (Octavius) enjoyed a great deal of land that was the commonwealth's: he prayed him secretly to contend no more against him, promising him to give him, of his own, the value of those lands which he should be driven to forsake, although he was not very able to perform it. But when he saw Octavius would not be persuaded, he then preferred a law that all magistrates and officers should cease their authority, till the law were either passed, or rejected, by voices of the people. He further sealed up the gates of Saturn's temple, so that the treasurers could neither take any money out from thence, nor put any in, upon great penalties to be forfeited by the praetors or any other magistrate of authority that should break this order. Hereupon, all the magistrates, fearing this penalty, did leave to exercise their office for the time. But then the rich men that were of great livings, changed their apparel, and walked very sadly up and down the marketplace, and laid in secret wait to take Tiberius, having hired men to kill him: which caused Tiberius himself, openly before them all, to wear a sword-staff, such as robbers use.

Part Two

When the day came that this law should be established, Tiberius called the people to give their voices: and the rich men on the other side, they took away the pots by force, wherein the papers of men's voices were thrown; thus all things were in confusion. For the party of Tiberius was the stronger side, by the number of people that were gathered about him for that purpose: had it not been for Manlius and Fulvius, both the which had been consuls [Dryden: of consular quality], who went unto him, and besought him with the tears in their eyes, and holding up their hands, that he would let the law alone. Tiberius thereupon, foreseeing the instant danger of some great mischief, as also for the reverence he bore unto two such noble persons, he stayed a little, and asked them what they would have him to do. They made answer, that they were not able to counsel him in a matter of so great weight, but they prayed him notwithstanding, he would be contented to refer it to the judgement of the Senate. But afterwards perceiving that the Senate sat upon it, and had determined nothing, because the rich men were of too great authority: he entered into another course that was neither honest nor meet, which was, to deprive Octavius of his tribuneship, knowing that otherwise he could not possibly come to pass the law.

But before he took that course, he openly entreated Octavius in the face of the people with courteous words, and took him by the hand, and prayed him to stand no more against him, and to do the people this pleasure, which required a matter just and reasonable, and only requested this final recompense for the great pains they took in service abroad for their country. Octavius denied him plainly. Then said Tiberius openly that, seeing they two were united in the same office, and of equal authority, it would be a difficult matter to compose their difference on so weighty a matter without a civil war; and that the only remedy which he knew must be deposing one of them from his office.

Thereupon he bade Octavius to summon the people, and begin first with him; and he would willingly relinquish his authority if the citizens desired it. Octavius refused; and Tiberius then said he would himself put to the people the question of Octavius's deposition, if upon mature deliberation he did not alter his mind; and after this declaration, he adjourned the assembly till the next day.

The next morning the people being again assembled, Tiberius going up to his seat, attempted again to persuade Octavius to leave off. But all being to no purpose, he referred the matter to the people, whether they were contented Octavius should be deposed from his office. Now there were five and thirty tribes of the people, of the which, seventeen of them had already passed their voices against Octavius, so that there remained but one tribe more to put him out of his office. Then Tiberius made them stay for proceeding any further, and prayed Octavius again, embracing him before all the people, with all the entreaty possible: that for self-will's sake he would not suffer such an open shame to be done unto him, as to be put out of his office: neither also to make him (Tiberius) the occasion and instrument of so pitiful a deed.

They say that Octavius at this last entreaty was somewhat moved and won by his persuasions; and that, weeping, he stayed a long time, and made no answer. But when he looked upon the rich men that stood in a great company together, he was ashamed (I think) to have their ill wills, and rather betook himself to the loss of his office, and so bade Tiberius do what he would. Thereupon Octavius being deprived by the voices of the people, Tiberius commanded one of his servants, whom he had made a freeman, to remove Octavius from the rostra, employing his own domestic freed servants in the stead of the public officers. This made the sight so much more lamentable, to see Octavius thus shamefully plucked away by force. Yea, furthermore, the common people would have run upon him; but the rich men came to rescue him, and would not suffer them to do him further hurt. Octavius, with some difficulty, was snatched away and safely conveyed out of the crowd [omission].

Narration and Discussion

This would be a good time to review the introductory note about the sanctity of tribunes. If they were considered untouchable, not to be interfered with, why did Tiberius break that tradition?

For further thought: How can a noble nature and a temperate education help us during times of disagreement as well as during the pleasant times (the revellings)?

Creative narration: Retell the story from the point of view of Octavius.

Lesson Five


With Octavius out of the way, Tiberius felt free to proceed with his plans; and when a large royal inheritance came into the Roman treasury, he knew just what should be done with it. However, his zeal for the poor, and his dislike for bureaucratic red tape and procedure, made some of his colleagues more uncomfortable than ever.


commissioners: If you think it's odd that Tiberius was serving on his own land commission, you're not alone.

meaner: less important

obulus, pl. obuli: a silver coin

preferred a law immediately: Such a financial proposal should have been made by the senators, not by a tribune

tillage: farm land

he himself would ask their pleasure herein: he would ask the people to vote on the matter

diadem: crown

a magistrate: referring to Marcus Octavius

indicted: formally accused

sheltered himself in his own particular art: stayed with what he did best, which was asking tricky questions

defame: slander, damage one's reputation

graveled: Dryden, "disconcerted"; annoyed, irritated

arsenal: the place where weapons and ammunition are stored

when he list: when he chooses

expulsed: rejected, deposed

apology: justification for his actions


Publius Nasica: also called Scipio Nasica; see introductory notes

King Attalus of Pergamon: Attalus III Philometor Euergetes, the king of Pergamon, who was more interested in scholarly pursuits than in ruling. Knowing that the Romans would take his kingdom, he left it to them to avoid bloodshed. His relative Eumenes III claimed the throne and led a revolt against Rome, but it was unsuccessful.

Titus Annius: Titus Annius Luscus, consul in 153 B.C.

Historic Occasions

133 B.C.: Death of King Attalus of Pergamon


Part One

This being done, the law concerning the lands was ratified and confirmed, and three commissioners were appointed to make a survey of the grounds, and see the same equally divided. These were Tiberius himself; Appius Claudius, his father-in-law; and Gaius Gracchus his brother, who was not at that time in Rome, but was in the camp with Scipio Africanus (#2), at the siege of Numantia.

These things were transacted by Tiberius without any disturbance, none daring to offer any resistance to him; besides which, he gave the appointment as tribune, in Octavius's place, not to any person of distinction but to a certain Mucius, one of his own clients. Wherewith the noble men were so sore offended with him, that fearing the increase of his greatness, they took all opportunities of affronting him publicly in the Senate house. For when Tiberius demanded a tent at the charge of the commonwealth, when he should go abroad to make division of these lands, as they usually granted unto others, that many times went in far meaner commissions: they flatly denied him, and only granted him nine obols for his daily expenses. The chief promoter of these affronts was Publius Nasica, who openly abandoned himself to his feelings of hatred against Tiberius, being a large holder of the public lands, and not a little resenting now to be turned out of them by force. But the people, on the other hand, were all in an uproar against the rich.

[omission for length]

Part Two

About that time died King Attalus of Pergamon; and his official, Eudemus, brought his will to Rome, in the which he made the people of Rome his heirs. Wherefore Tiberius, still to increase the goodwill of the common people towards him, preferred a law immediately that the ready money that came by the inheritance of this king should be distributed among the poor citizens on whose lot it should fall to have any part of the division of the lands of the commonwealth, to furnish them towards house, and to set up their tillage. Furthermore, he said, that concerning the towns and cities of the kingdom of Attalus, the disposal of them did not at all belong to the Senate, but to the people, and that he himself would ask their pleasure herein.

That made him again more hated of the Senate than before, insomuch as there was one Pompeius, a senator, that standing up, said that he was next neighbour unto Tiberius, and so had the opportunity of knowing that Eudemus had presented Tiberius with a royal diadem and purple robe, as before long he was to be king of Rome. And Quintus Metellus also reproved him, saying that when Tiberius's father was censor, the Romans, whenever they happened to be going home from a supper, used to put out all their lights, lest they should be seen to have indulged themselves in feasting and drinking at unseasonable hours; whereas now, in contrary manner, the seditious and needy rabble of the common people did light his son home, and accompany him all night long up and down the town.

Titus Annius, a man of no great repute for either justice or temperance, but famous for his skill in putting and answering questions, challenged Tiberius to answer him, declaring him to have deposed a magistrate who by law was sacred and inviolable. Loud clamour ensued, and Tiberius, quitting the Senate hastily, called together the people, and commanded them to bring this Annius before him, that he might be indicted in the marketplace. But Annius, being no great speaker, nor of any repute compared to him, sheltered himself in his own particular art, and desired that he might propose one or two questions to Tiberius before he entered upon the chief argument. Tiberius bade him say what he would. So silence being made, Annius asked him: "If thou wouldst defame me, and offer me injury, and that I called one of thy colleagues to help me, and he should rise to take my part, and anger thee: wouldst thou therefore put him out of his office?"

Part Three

It is reported that Tiberius was so graveled with this question, that though he was one of the readiest speakers, and the boldest in his orations of any man, yet at that time he held his peace, and had no power to speak. For the present, he dismissed the assembly. But beginning to understand that the course he had taken with Octavius had created offense even among the populace as well as the nobility, because the dignity of the tribunes seemed to be violated, which had always continued till that day sacred and honourable, he made a speech to the people in justification of himself; out of which it may not be improper to collect some particulars, to give an impression of his force and persuasiveness in speaking.

"The tribuneship," said he, "indeed was a holy and sacred thing, as particularly consecrated to the people, and established for their benefit and safety: where contrariwise, if the tribune do offer the people any wrong, he thereby diminisheth their power, and taketh away the means from them to declare their wills by voices. Besides that, he doth also imbase his own authority, leaving to do the thing for the which his authority first was given him. Or otherwise we could not choose but suffer a tribune, if it pleased him, to overthrow the Capitol, or to set fire to the arsenal: and yet notwithstanding this wicked part, if it were committed, he should be tribune of the people still, though a bad tribune. But when he goeth about to take away the authority and power of the people, then he is no more a tribune. Were not this against all reason, think you, that a tribune when he list, may take a consul, and commit him to prison: and that the people should not withstand the authority of the tribune, who gave him the same, when he would use his authority to the prejudice of the people? For the people are they that do choose both consul and tribune. Furthermore, the kingly dignity (because in the same is contained the absolute authority and power of all other kinds of magistrates and offices together) is consecrated with very great and holy ceremonies, drawing very near unto the godhead: and yet the people expulsed King Tarquin, because he used his authority with cruelty, and for the injury he offered one man only, the most ancient rule and government, (by the which the foundation of Rome was first laid) was utterly abolished.

"[omission] . . . Nothing is so sacred as religious offerings; yet the people were never prohibited to make one of them, but suffered to remove and carry them wherever they pleased; so likewise, as it were some sacred present, they have lawful power to transfer the tribuneship from one man's hands to another's. nor can that authority be thought inviolable and irremovable which many of those who have held have of their own act surrendered and desired to be discharged from."

These were the principal heads of Tiberius's apology.

Narration and Discussion

Why were the senators so eager to re-open the issue of Octavius at this time?

Can you put Tiberius' speech in your own words?

For older students: It is not difficult to understand the Romans' fear of "kings," and their nervousness about those who seemed overly ambitious for power and position. They even had a word for those who leaned towards sole government control: regnum, or monarchism. What is harder for us to wrap our non-Roman minds around is their suspicion of anyone who seemed to be too interested in the problems of the poor. Can you follow their thinking on this? How did that put Tiberius in a difficult position?

Lesson Six


Tiberius was informed that there were finally enough supporters assembled to pass the laws he had proposed, and he headed for the Capitol. Because of extreme miscommunication during the assembly, a group of senators, protesting the refusal of the consul to have Tiberius arrested, incited a riot.


Roman knights: those of the Equestrian social class, ranking below the Patricians. In time of war, these were the men who would make up the cavalry, because they were wealthy enough to own horses.

partisanship: favouritism

prognosticate: foretell, predict

felt as check: thought to be a warning

truncheons: clubs

intimate: communicate

coat: tunic, undergarment


Blossius, the philosopher of Cumae: mentioned in Lesson Three

Flavius Flaccus: Marcus Fulvius Flaccus, known for his support of the Gracchi

Historic Occasions

133 B.C.: Death of Tiberius


Part One

Now Tiberius's friends perceiving the threats the rich and noble men gave out against him, they wished him, for the safety of his person, to make suit to be tribune again the next year. Upon this consideration he again endeavoured to secure the people's goodwill with fresh laws, making the years of serving in the war fewer than formerly, granting liberty of appeal from the judges to the people, and joining to the senators, who were judges at that time, a like number of the Roman knights, endeavouring as much as in him to lessen the power of the Senate, increasing also the power of the people, rather from passion and partisanship than from any rational regard to equity and the public good. And when it came to the question whether these laws should be passed, and they perceived that the opposite party were strongest, the people as yet being not got together in a full body, they began first of all to gain time by speeches in accusation of some of their fellow magistrates; and at length adjourned the assembly till the day following.

Tiberius then went down into the marketplace amongst the people, appareled all in black, his face beblubbered with tears, and looking heavily upon the matter, praying the people assembled to have compassion upon him, saying that he was afraid lest his enemies would come in the night, and overthrow his house to kill him. Thereupon the people were so moved withal, that many of them came and brought their tents, and lay about his house to watch it. By break of day came one of the soothsayers, who prognosticate good or bad success by the pecking of fowls, and threw them something to eat. None of the birds would come out of the cage but one only, and yet with much ado, shaking the cage: and when it came out, it would eat nothing, but only lift up her left wing, and put forth her leg, and so ran into the cage again. This sign made Tiberius remember another he had had before. He had a marvellous fair helmet and very rich, which he wore in the wars: under it were crept two snakes unawares to any, and they laid eggs, and brought forth young ones. This made Tiberius wonder the more, because of the ill signs of the chickens.

Notwithstanding, he went out of his house, when he heard that the people were assembled in the Capitol; but as he went out, he hit his foot such a blow against a stone at the threshold of the door, that he broke the nail of his great toe, which fell in such a-bleeding, that it bled through his shoe. Again, he had not gone far, but he saw upon the top of a house on his left hand, a couple of ravens fighting together; and notwithstanding that there passed a great number of people by, yet a stone which one of these ravens cast from them, came and fell hard at Tiberius's foot. This even the boldest men about him felt as check. But Blossius, the philosopher of Cumae that did accompany him, told him it were a great shame for him, and enough to kill the hearts of all his followers, that Tiberius being the son of Gracchus, and grandson of Scipio Africanus (#1), and the chief man besides of all the people's side, for fear of a raven, should not obey his citizens that called him; and how that his enemies and ill-willers would not make a laughing sport of it, but would plainly tell the people that this was a trick of a tyrant that reigned indeed, and that for pride and disdain did abuse the people's goodwill.

Part Two

At the same time several messengers came also from his friends, to desire his presence at the Capitol, saying that all things went there according to expectation. When he came thither, he was honourably received: for the people seeing him coming, cried out for joy to welcome him, and when he was gotten up to his feet, they showed themselves both careful and loving towards him, looking warily that none came near him, but such as they knew well. While Mucius began again to call the tribes of the people to give their voices, he could not proceed according to the accustomed order, for the great noise the hindmost people made, thrusting forward, and being driven back, and one mingling with another.

While things were in this confusion, Flavius Flaccus, a senator, standing in a place where he could be seen, but at such a distance from Tiberius that he could not make him hear, made a sign with his hand that he had some matter of great importance to tell him. Tiberius ordered the multitude to make way for him, by which means, though not without some difficulty, Flavius got to him, and informed him that the rich men, in a sitting of the Senate, seeing they could not prevail upon the consul to espouse their quarrel, had come to a final determination amongst themselves that he should be assassinated, and to that purpose had a great number of their friends and servants ready armed to accomplish it. Tiberius no sooner communicated this conspiracy to those about him, but they immediately tucked up their gowns, broke the truncheons (which the officers used to keep the crowd off) into pieces, and distributed those among themselves, resolving to resist the attack with these. Those who stood at a distance wondered, and asked what was the occasion; Tiberius, knowing that they could not hear him at that distance, lifted his hand to his head, wishing to intimate the great danger which he apprehended himself to be in.

His enemies seeing the sign he gave, ran presently to the Senate, and declared that Tiberius desired the people to bestow a crown upon him, as if this were the meaning of his touching his head. This news created general confusion in the senators, and Nasica at once called upon the consul to punish this tyrant, and defend the government. The consul mildly replied that he would use no force, neither put any citizen to death, but lawfully condemned: as also he would not receive Tiberius, nor protect him, if the people by his persuasion or commandment, should commit any act contrary to the law.

Nasica then rising in anger, "Since the matter is so," said he, "that the consul regardeth not the commonwealth: all you then, that will defend the authority of the law, follow me." Thereupon he cast the skirt of his gown over his head, and went straight to the Capitol; those who bore him company, wrapped their gowns also about their arms, and forced their way after him.

As they were persons of the greatest authority in the city, the common people did not venture to obstruct their passing, but were rather so eager to clear the way from them, that they tumbled over one another in haste. The attendants they brought with them had furnished themselves with clubs and staves from their houses, and they themselves picked up the feet and other fragments of stools and chairs, which were broken by the hasty flight of the common people. Thus armed, they made towards Tiberius, knocking down those whom they found in front of him, and those were soon wholly dispersed, and many of them slain.

Tiberius seeing that, betook him to his legs to save himself, but as he was fleeing, one took him by the gown, and stayed him: but he, leaving his gown behind him, ran in his coat, and running, fell upon them that were down before. So as he was rising up again, the first man that struck him, and that was plainly seen to strike him, was one of the tribunes his brethren, called Publius Satureius, who gave him a great rap on the head with the foot of a chair; and the second blow he had was given him by Lucius Rufus, that boasted of it as if he had done a notable act. In this tumult, there were slain above three hundred men, and they were all killed with clubs and staves, and not one man was hurt with any iron weapon.

Narration and Discussion

In Part One, what were some of the new laws that Tiberius proposed? What was the purpose of his dramatics in the forum? Did Tiberius really believe that he was in danger?

How does Part Two parallel the Life of Julius Caesar? Can you predict how the people of Rome would react to the death of Tiberius?

Creative narration: You are a reporter for the Rome Daily News. If you are working with a group, you may interview onlookers at the scene of the riot; or simply write the news story.

Lesson Seven


After the riot and the death of Tiberius Gracchus, Rome was in shock. According to Plutarch, it was "the first sedition among the citizens of Rome that fell out with murder and bloodshed, since the expulsion of the kings." Who was at fault? Was it safer to support Tiberius, or to say that he had brought his fate on himself?


since the expulsion of the kings: in the entire history of the Roman Republic

amicably composed: settled without anger

mutual concessions: when both sides agree to give up certain demands

made earnest suit: pleaded

law Agraria: law regarding the distribution of land (see introductory notes)

impeachment: removal from office for misconduct

ignominiously: in shame

meanly: plainly, simply

in the commonwealth: in public affairs

antipathy: hatred, aversion

he had such an eloquent tongue: he was so well-spoken

all the orators besides: the other speakers

martial: military

prayed his furtherance: wanted his help

private man: one not holding any public office

predestined: fated or designed before birth


Aristonicus: the original name of Eumenes III of Pergamon

Publius Crassus: see Lesson Three

Orestes, the consul: Lucius Aurelius Orestes, consul in 126 B.C. and then proconsul in Sardinia

Historic Occasions

132 B.C.: Death of Nasica

126 B.C.: Gaius Gracchus was chosen quaestor

On the Map

Sardinia: a large island west of the Italian peninsula, south of Corsica


Part One

This was the first sedition among the citizens of Rome that fell out with murder and bloodshed, since the expulsion of the kings. All former quarrels, which were neither small nor about trivial matters, were always amicably composed, by mutual concessions on either side, the Senate yielding for fear of the commons, and the commons out of respect to the Senate. And it seemeth that Tiberius himself might have been easily induced, by mere persuasion, to give way; and certainly, if attacked at all, must have yielded without any recourse to violence and bloodshed, as he had not at that time above three thousand men to support him. But surely it seems this conspiracy was executed against him more for very spite and malice the rich men did bear him, than for any other apparent cause they presupposed against him.

For proof hereof may be alleged, the barbarous cruelty they used to his body, being dead. For they would not suffer his own brother to have his body to bury it by night, who made earnest suit unto them for it: but they threw him amongst the other bodies into the river.

Blossius also, the philosopher of Cumae, was brought before the consuls, and examined about this matter: who boldly confessed unto them, that he did as much as Tiberius commanded him. When Nasica did ask him, "And what if he had commanded thee to set fire on the Capitol?" he gave answer that Tiberius would never have given him any such commandment. And when divers others also were still in hand with him about that question: "But if he had commanded thee?" "I would sure have done it," said he. "For he would never have commanded me to have done it, if it had not been for the people's good." Thus he escaped at that time, and afterwards fled into Asia unto Aristonicus, and when Aristonicus was overthrown and ruined, killed himself.

Now the Senate, to pacify the people at that present time, did no more withstand the law Agraria, for division of the lands of the commonwealth, but suffered the people to appoint another commissioner for that purpose, in Tiberius's place. So they elected Publius Crassus, who was a near connection of the Gracchi, as his daughter Licinia was married to Gaius Gracchus (although Cornelius Nepos says that it was not Crassus's daughter whom Gaius married, but Brutus's, who triumphed for his victories over the Lusitanians; but most writers state it as we have done).

But whatsoever was done, the people were marvellously offended with his death, and men might easily perceive that they looked but for time and opportunity to be revenged, and Nasica was already threatened with an impeachment. The Senate, therefore, fearing lest some mischief should befall him, sent him ambassador into Asia, though there was no occasion for his going thither. For the people did not conceal their indignation, even in the open streets, but railed at him whenever they met him abroad, calling him a murderer and a tyrant, one who had polluted the most holy and religious spot in Rome with the blood of a sacred and inviolable magistrate. And so Nasica left Italy, although he was bound, being the chief priest, to officiate in all principal sacrifices. Thus wandering wretchedly and ignominiously from one place to another, he died in a short time after.

[Omission for length]

Part Two

Now Gaius Gracchus at the first, because he feared the enemies of his dead brother, or otherwise for that he sought means to make them more hated of the people: he absented himself for a time out of the common assembly, and kept at home and meddled not, as a man contented to live meanly, without busying himself in the commonwealth; insomuch as he made men think and report both, that he did utterly mislike those matters which his brother had preferred. Howbeit he was then but a young man, and nine years younger than his brother Tiberius, who was not thirty years old when he was slain.

In some little time, however, he quietly let his temper appear, which was one of an utter antipathy to a lazy retirement and [attention to personal comfort], and not the least likely to be contented with a life of eating, drinking, and money-getting. He gave great pains to the study of eloquence, as wings upon which he might aspire to public business; and it was very apparent that he did not intend to pass his days in obscurity. When Vettius, a friend of his, was on his trial, he defended his cause. The people that were present, and heard him speak, they leaped for joy to see him: for he had such an eloquent tongue, that all the orators besides were but children to him. Hereupon the rich men began to be afraid again, and whispered among themselves, that they must hinder Gaius from being made tribune.

But soon after, it happened that he was elected quaestor, and obliged to attend Orestes, the consul, into Sardinia. His enemies were glad of that, and he himself was not sorry for it. For he was a martial man, and as skillful in arms as he was else an excellent orator: but yet he was afraid to come into the pulpit for orations, and misliked to deal in matters of state, albeit he could not altogether deny the people, and his friends that prayed his furtherance. For this cause therefore he was very glad of this voyage, that he might absent himself for a time out of Rome: though some were of opinion that he was more popular, and desirous of the common people's good will and favour, than his brother had been before him. Yet it is certain that he was borne rather by a sort of necessity than by any purpose of his own into public business.

Cicero the orator also sayeth that Gaius was bent altogether to flee from office in the commonwealth, and to live quietly as a private man. But Tiberius (Gaius's brother) appeared to him in his sleep, and calling him by his name, said unto him: "Brother, why dost thou prolong time, for thou canst not possibly escape? For we were both predestined to one manner of life and death, for procuring the benefit of the people."

Narration and Discussion

Why did Gaius live so quietly for a while, even against his own natural gifts and interests? How did he need to prepare before taking up his brother's causes? You may wish to go back to the profile of Gaius that you wrote in Lesson One.

What qualities did Gaius display that made rich men afraid of him, but made other people desire his leadership?

For further thought: How might eloquence give one wings?

Creative narration: As a reporter for the Rome Daily News, you have been given an exclusive interview with Gaius Gracchus. What questions will you ask him? Write or act out the conversation.

Lesson Eight


Like his brother before him, Gaius Gracchus sometimes did the right things in wrong ways, or at least in ways that created jealousy or suspicion. The problem this time was with supplies for the army. Who had sent them, in Gaius's opinion, was not as important as keeping the soldiers fed; what did it matter if they came from a foreign king who "owed him one?" But Gaius showed himself surprisingly able to handle this kind of trouble; maybe things would go better this time around.


exemplary: outstanding

industry: hard work

their allegation: their excuse for not complying

smarted: suffered

censure: criticism

insurrection: rebellion

Field of Mars: the Campus Martius, a large area which at this time was open space used for political or military events. Later, parts of the land were sold to private owners, and buildings were erected on it such as the Pantheon.

let: prevent

scurrilous: rude

should pertain to the people: the citizens should have a say in it

diminution: decrease

Comitium: an open-air meeting space in the Roman Forum


King Micipsa: the king of Numidia (a kingdom of northwest Africa)

Popilius: Publius Popillius Laenas, consul in 132 B.C

Historic Occasions

123-122 B.C.: Gaius Gracchus was tribune in both years


Part One

Gaius was no sooner arrived in Sardinia, but he gave exemplary proofs of his high merit; he not only excelled all the young men of his age in his actions against his enemies, in doing justice to his inferiors, and in showing all obedience and respect to his superior officer; but likewise in temperance, frugality, and industry, he surpassed those who were much older than himself.

The winter by chance fell out very sharp, and full of sickness in Sardinia: whereupon the consul sent into the cities to help his soldiers with some clothes; but the towns sent in post to Rome, to pray the Senate they might be discharged of that burden. The Senate found their allegation reasonable, whereupon they wrote to the consul to find some other means to clothe his people. The consul could make no other shift for them, and so the poor soldiers in the meantime smarted for it. But Gaius Gracchus went himself unto the cities and so persuaded them, that they of themselves sent to the Romans' camp such things as they lacked. This being carried to Rome, it was thought straight it was a pretty beginning to creep into the peoples' favour, and indeed it raised new jealousies among the senators. In the neck of that, there arrived ambassadors of Africa at Rome, sent from King Micipsa, who told the Senate that the king their master, for Gaius Gracchus's sake, had sent their army corn into Sardinia.

The senators were so offended withal, that they thrust the ambassadors out of the Senate, and so gave order that other soldiers should be sent in the place of those that were in Sardinia; but that Orestes should continue at his post, with whom Gaius, also, as they presumed, being his quaestor, would remain. But he, finding how things were carried, immediately in anger took ship for Rome, where his unexpected appearance obtained him the censure not only of his enemies, but also of the people; who thought it strange that a quaestor should leave before his commander.

He being accused hereof before the censors, prayed he might be heard. So, answering his accusation, he so turned the people's minds that heard him, that they all said he had been very much injured. For he told them that he had served twelve years in the wars, where others were enforced to remain but ten years; and that he had continued treasurer under his captain for the space of three years, where the law gave him liberty to return at the end of the year. And that he alone of all men else that had been in the wars, had carried his purse full, and brought it home empty; where others having drunk the wine which they carried thither in vessels, had afterwards brought them home full of gold and silver.

Part Two

After this they brought other accusations and writs against him; for exciting insurrection amongst the allies, and being engaged in a conspiracy that was revealed in the city of Fregellae. But having cleared all that suspicion, and being discharged, he presently made suit to be tribune: wherein he had all the men of quality as his sworn enemies. On the other side also he had so great favour of the common people, that there came men out of all parts of Italy to be at his election, and that such a number of them, as there was no lodging to be had for them all. Furthermore, the Field of Mars not being large enough to hold such a multitude of people, there were that gave their voices upon the top of houses.

Now the noblemen could no otherwise let the people of their will, nor prevent Gaius of his hope, but where he thought to be the first tribune, he was only pronounced the fourth.

But when he came to the execution of his office, it was seen presently who was really first tribune, as he was a better orator than any of his contemporaries, and the passion with which he still lamented his brother's death made him the bolder in speaking. He used on all occasions to remind the people of what had happened in that tumult, and laid before them the example of their ancestors, how they declared war against the Faliscans only for giving scurrilous language to one Genucius, a tribune of the people; and sentenced Gaius Veturius to death, for refusing to give way in the Forum to a tribune.

"Whereas these," said he, "that standing before you in sight, have slain my brother Tiberius with staves, and have dragged his body from the Mount of the Capitol, all the city over, to throw it into the river: and with him also have most cruelly slain all his friends they could come by, without any law or justice at all. And yet by an ancient custom of long time observed in this city of Rome, when any man is accused of treason, and that of duty he must appear at the time appointed him: they do notwithstanding in the morning send a trumpet to his house, to summon him to appear: and moreover the Judges were not wont to condemn him, before this ceremony was performed: so careful and respectful were our predecessors, where it touched the life of any Roman."

Part Three

Now Gaius having first stirred up the people with these persuasions (for he had a marvellous loud voice) he preferred two laws. The first, that whoever had once been put out of office by the people, should never after be capable of any other office. The second, that if any consul had banished any citizen without a legal trial, the sentence and hearing of the matter should pertain to the people. The first of these two laws did plainly defame Octavius, whom Tiberius his brother had by the people deposed from the tribuneship. The second also touched Popilius, who, in his praetorship, had banished all his brother Tiberius's friends. Whereupon Popilius, being unwilling to stand the hazard of a trial, fled out of Italy. And touching the first law, Gaius himself did afterwards revoke it, declaring unto the people that he yielded in the case of Octavius, at the request of his mother Cornelia. The people were very glad of it, and confirmed it, honouring her no less for respect of her sons, than also for Scipio's sake, her father. For afterwards they cast her image in brass, and set it up with this inscription: "Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi." Many common matters are found written, touching Cornelia his mother, and eloquently pleaded in her behalf by Gaius against her adversaries. As when he said unto one of them: "How darest thou presume to speak evil of Cornelia, that had Tiberius to her son?" Thus were Gaius's words sharp and stinging, and many such like are to be gathered out of his writings.

Of the laws which he now proposed, with the object of gratifying the people and weakening the power of the Senate, the first was concerning the public lands, which were to be divided amongst the poor citizens; another was concerning the common soldiers, that they should be clothed at the public charge, without any diminution of their pay; and that none should be obliged to serve in the army who was not full seventeen years old. Another law was for their confederates of Italy: that through all Italy they should have as free voices in the election of any magistrate, as the natural citizens of Rome itself.

A fourth related to the price of corn, which was to be sold at a lower rate than formerly to the poor; and a fifth regulated the courts of justice, greatly reducing the power of the senators. For before, the senators were the only judges of all matters, and were therefore much dreaded by the Roman knights and the people. But Gaius joined three hundred ordinary citizens of equestrian rank with the senators, who were three hundred likewise in number, so that all matters judicial should be equally judged among those six hundred men.

After he had passed this law, it is reported he showed unusual earnestness in observing all other things, but this one thing specially: that where all other orators speaking to the people turned themselves towards the palace where the senators sat, and to that side of the marketplace which is called Comitium: he in contrary manner when he made his oration, turned him outwards towards the other side of the marketplace, and after that kept it constantly, and never failed. Thus, by a little turning and altering of his look only, he removed a great matter. For he so transferred all the government of the commonwealth from the Senate, unto the judgement of the people: to teach the orators by his example, that in their orations they should behold the people, not the Senate.

Narration and Discussion

Compare the description of Gaius in the first paragraph with what we have been previously told of him. Does it sound like he has changed?

How did Gaius successfully defend himself on his return from Sardinia?

For further thought: Gaius changed the direction in which he gave his speeches. Why did this signal a change of direction for the government?

Creative narration: You are the editor of the Rome Women's Magazine (you can give it a better name), and you have decided to do a cover story about Cornelia. You can do just one part of the project that appeals to you, such as the cover art or an interview; or a group might assign artists and writers to complete the whole project.

Lesson Nine


"Now, the people having not only confirmed the law he made regarding the judges, but given him also full power and authority to choose among the Roman knights such judges as he liked of: he found thereby he had absolute power in his own hands, insomuch as the senators themselves did ask counsel of him." Gaius used his power to build mend roads, re-people colonies, and refuse tribute from Spain that would impoverish the people there. But admiration was turning to jealousy, and a conspiracy arose against him.


derogate from: detract from, take away

a good and honourable act: not the sending of the wheat, but Gaius's refusal of it

commendation: praise

granaries: barns to hold grain

those were looked upon as no better . . . : Because Gaius showed himself to be such a good leader, it was assumed that anyone who had said bad things about him must have been merely jealous and spiteful.

extolled: praised

canvassing: asking for support for a cause

slack: unfaithful

the same privileges: the privileges of Roman citizenship such as voting, and receiving subsidized grain

playing the demagogue: trying to get votes or support by appealing to people's emotions and prejudices

with such unreasonable things . . . : An analogy, though we hope this should never happen: a child has asked for an unsuitable toy as a birthday gift, which gives both of its parents an opportunity to prove what a good parents they are by saying "no," and so it appears the issue is closed. One of the parents wraps up several nice educational toys for the birthday. However, the other parent persuades Grandma to buy the requested toy, thereby making the first parent now seem both a tyrant for insisting that it be sent back.

obsequious: using insincere flattery; "boot-licking"


Fabius the vice praetor: Quintus Fabius Maximus Allobrogicus, the governor of Spain in 123 B.C., and consul two years later

Gaius Fannius: Gaius Fannius Strabo, elected consul for 122 B.C.

Livius Drusus: Marcus Livius Drusus, appointed tribune for the sole purpose of counter-offering anything that Gaius Gracchus proposed

On the Map

Tarentum (Tarentines): or Tarento; a city in Apulia, Italy

Capua: a city in the region of Campania, in southern Italy


Part One

Now, the people having not only confirmed the law Tiberius made regarding the judges, but having given him also full power and authority to choose among the Roman knights such judges as he liked: he found thereby he had absolute power in his own hands, insomuch as the senators themselves did ask counsel of him; nor did he advise anything that might derogate from the honour of that body. As, amongst others, the law he made touching certain corn that Fabius the vice praetor had sent out of Spain: which was a good and honourable act. He persuaded the Senate that the corn might be sold, and so to send back again the money thereof unto the towns and cities from whence the corn came: and that they should punish Fabius because he made the empire of Rome hateful and intolerable unto the provinces and subjects of the same. This matter won him great love and commendation of all the provinces subject to Rome. Furthermore, he made laws for the restoring of the decayed towns, for mending of highways, for building of public granaries; of all which works he himself undertook the management and superintendence, and was never wanting to give necessary orders for the dispatch of all these different and great undertakings. For he followed all those things so earnestly and effectually, as if he had had but one master in hand: insomuch that they who most hated and feared him wondered most to see his diligence and quick dispatch in matters.

The people also wondered much to behold him only, seeing always such a number of labourers, artificers, ambassadors, officers, soldiers, and learned men. All these he treated with an easy familiarity, yet without abandoning his dignity in his gentleness; and so accommodated his nature to the wants and occasions of everyone who addressed him, that those were looked upon as no better than envious detractors who had represented him as a terrible, assuming, and violent character. Thus he won the good will of the common people, being more popular and familiar in his conversation and deeds than he was otherwise in his orations.

But the greatest pains and care he took upon him was in seeing the highways mended, which he was careful to make beautiful and pleasant, as well as convenient. They were drawn by his directions through the fields, exactly in a straight line, partly paved with hewn stone, and partly laid with solid masses of gravel. When he met with any valleys or deep watercourses crossing the line, he either caused them to be filled up with rubbish, or bridges to be built over them, so well levelled, that all being of an equal height on both sides, the work presented one uniform and beautiful prospect. Furthermore, he divided these highways by miles, every mile containing eight furlongs, and at every mile's end, he set up a stone for a mark. At either end also of these highways thus paved, he set certain stones of convenient height at small distances from one another, to help the travellers-by to take their horses' backs again, without any help.

For these reasons, the people highly extolled him, and were ready upon all occasions to express their affection towards him. One day, in an oration to them, he declared that he had only one favour to request, which, if they granted, he should think the greatest obligation in the world; yet if it were denied, he would never blame them for the refusal. Then every man thought it was the consulship he meant to ask, and that he would sue to be tribune and consul together. But when the day came to choose the consuls, every man looking attentively what he would do: they marvelled when they saw him come down the Field of Mars with Gaius Fannius, canvassing together with his friends for his (Fannius's) election. This was of great effect in Fannius's favour. He was chosen consul, and Gaius was elected tribune the second time, without his own seeking or petitioning for it, but by the goodwill of the people.

Part Two

But when he understood that the senators were his open enemies, and that Fannius the consul was but a slack friend unto him, he began again to curry favour with the common people, and to prefer new laws, setting forth the law of the colonies, that they should send some of the poor citizens to replenish the cities of Tarentum and Capua; and that they should grant all the Latins the same privileges with the citizens of Rome.

The Senate perceiving his power grew great, and that in the end he would be so strong that they could not withstand him: they devised a new and strange way to pluck the people's goodwill from him, by playing the demagogue in opposition to him, and offering favours contrary to all good policy. There was one of the tribunes, a brother in office with Gaius, called Livius Drusus, a man nobly born, and as well brought up as any other Roman: who for wealth and eloquence was not inferior to the greatest men of estimation in Rome. The chiefest senators went unto him, and persuaded him to take part with them against Gaius, not to use any force or violence against the people to withstand them in anything, but contrarily by gratifying and obliging them (the common people) with such unreasonable things as otherwise the senators would have felt it honourable for them to incur the greatest unpopularity in resisting.

Livius offered to serve the Senate with his authority in this business; and proceeded accordingly to bring forward such laws as were in reality neither honourable nor advantageous for the public; his whole design being to outdo Gaius in pleasing and cajoling the populace (as if it had been in some comedy) with obsequious flattery and every kind of gratifications; the Senate thus letting it be seen plainly that they were not angry with Gaius's public measures, but only desirous to ruin him utterly, or at least to lessen his reputation.

For where Gaius preferred but the replenishing of the two cities, and desired to send the honestest citizens thither: they objected against him, that he did corrupt the common people. On the other side, also they favoured Livius Drusus, who preferred a law that they should replenish twelve colonies, and should send to every one of them three thousand of the poorest citizens. And where they hated Gaius for that he had charged the poor citizens with an annual rent for the lands that were divided unto them: Livius in contrary manner did please them by disburdening them of that rent and payment, letting them have the lands scot free. The people were displeased with Gaius for offering the Latins an equal right with the Romans of voting at the election of magistrates; but when Livius proposed that it might not be lawful for a Roman captain to scourge a Latin soldier, they promoted the passing of that law.

[Omission for length: Livius's campaign to promote the "friendly Senate" to the common people was quite successful.]

Narration and Discussion

In Part One, Gaius supported his friend Gaius Fannius in the election for consul. By Part Two, Fannius is called a "slack friend." What might have happened during that time?

Explain the game of one-upmanship that the senators began against Gaius. Did they actually dislike the things he was proposing?

For older students: North's choice of phrase "as if he had had but one master in hand" has interesting connotations; but Dryden translates it "as if he had been but engaged upon one undertaking." Both translations echo what Charlotte Mason described in her book Ourselves: "The simple, rectified Will, what our Lord calls 'the single eye,' would appear to be the one thing needful for straight living and serviceableness." What are the benefits, and possibly the dangers, of such single-mindedness?

Lesson Ten


Marcus Fulvius Flaccus was involved in the administration of the Lex Agraria; had been a consul for a year and earned a military triumph; and finally took the unusual step of becoming a tribune so that he could support the proposals of Gaius Gracchus. But his loyalty to Gaius became a threat to his own safety, and vice versa.


staff of his ensign: a banner carried on a pole

ordered and despatched: completed

the present juncture of affairs: the current situation

set Gaius beside the saddle: get him out of the way

Mount Palatine: a wealthy district of Rome

allies or confederates: those from other parts of the commonwealth


Fulvius: see Lesson Six

Lucius Opimius: consul in 121 B.C.

Fannius: see Lesson Nine

Historic Occasions

129 B.C.: Death of Scipio Africanus (#2)

125 B.C.: Marcus Fulvius Flaccus was consul

122 B.C.: Fulvius became tribune


Part One

Rubrius, another tribune of the people, had proposed to have Carthage again inhabited, which had been demolished; it fell to Gaius's lot to see this performed, and for that purpose he sailed to Africa. Livius Drusus in the meantime, taking occasion of his absence, did as much as might be to seek the favour of the common people, and specially by accusing Fulvius, who was one of the best friends Gaius had, and whom they had also chosen commissioner with him for the division of the lands. This Fulvius was a man of a turbulent spirit, and notoriously hated by the Senate; and besides, he was suspected by others to have fomented the difference between the citizens and their confederates, and underhand to be inciting the Italians to rebel; though there was little other evidence of the truth of these accusations than his being an unsettled character and of a well-known seditious temper. This was one principal cause of Gaius's ruin; for part of the envy which fell upon Fulvius was extended to him.

A flashback

For when Scipio Africanus (#2) was found dead one morning in his house, without any manifest cause how he should come to his death so suddenly (only some marks of blows upon his body seemed to intimate that he had suffered violence, as we have declared in his Life) the most part of the suspicion of his death was laid to Fulvius, being his mortal enemy, and because the same day they had been at great words together in the pulpit for orations. So was Gaius Gracchus also partly suspected for it. Howsoever it was, such a horrible murder as this, of so famous and worthy a man as any was in Rome, was yet notwithstanding never revenged, neither any inquiry made of it: because the common people would not suffer the accusation to go forward, fearing lest Gaius would be found in fault, if the matter should go forward. But this was a great while before.

Part Two

But in Africa, where at present Gaius was engaged in the re-peopling of Carthage, which he named "Junonia," many ominous appearances, which foretold mischief, are reported to have been sent from the gods. For the staff of his ensign was broken with a vehement blast of wind, and with the force of the ensign bearer that held it fast on the other side. There came a sudden storm also that carried away the sacrifices upon the altars, and blew them quite out of the circuit which was marked out for the compass of the city. Furthermore, the wolves came and carried away the very marks that were set up to show the boundary.

Gaius, notwithstanding all this, ordered and despatched the whole business in the space of seventy days, and then returned to Rome, understanding how Fulvius was prosecuted by Livius Drusus, and that the present juncture of affairs would not suffer him to be absent. For Lucius Opimius, one who sided with the nobility, and was of no small authority in the Senate, who had formerly sued to be consul, but was repulsed by Gaius's interest at the time when Fannius was elected, was in a fair way now of being chosen consul, having a numerous company of supporters. So that if he could obtain it, he was fully bent to set Gaius beside the saddle, whose power was already in a declining condition; and the people were not so apt to admire his actions as formerly, because there were so many others who every day contrived new ways to please them, with which the Senate readily complied.

So Gaius being returned to Rome, where before he dwelt in Mount Palatine, he came now to take a house near the marketplace, to show himself thereby the lowlier and more popular, because many of the meaner sort of people dwelt thereabouts. He then brought forward the remainder of his proposed laws, as intending to have them ratified by the popular vote; and to support this, a vast number of people collected from all quarters. But the Senate persuaded Fannius, the consul, to command all persons who were not born Romans to depart the city. A new and unusual proclamation was made, prohibiting any of the allies or confederates from appearing at Rome during that time. Gaius, on the contrary, published an edict accusing Fannius for what he had done, and setting forth to the confederates that if they would continue upon the place, they might be assured of his assistance and protection.

However, he was not so good as his word; for though he saw one of his own familiar friends and companions dragged to prison by Fannius's officers, he, notwithstanding, passed by without assisting him; either because he was afraid to stand the test of his power, which was already decreased, or because, as he himself reported, he was unwilling (as he said) to pick any quarrel with his enemies, which sought it of him.

Narration and Discussion

How did Gaius's friendship with Fulvius affect his own standing in Rome? What other reasons are given for the decline in his popularity?

Creative narration #1: As the editor of the Rome Women's Magazine, you have decided to do a feature story about Licinia, the wife of Gaius Gracchus, and their new home. As before, you might choose to do only the cover, or show some "photos."

Creative narration #2: Draw a political cartoon that might have appeared in the Rome Daily News at this time.

Lesson Eleven


Now that Gaius was no longer tribune, the Senate felt free to revoke his laws, apparently hoping to provoke him into violent or illegal action. Gaius held out patiently for as long as he could, but the tension in Rome was mounting. When a rude remark blew into a fight and then murder, the frightened Senate put the city under full control of the new consul, Opimius.


scaffolds: grandstands; raised seating (which also obscured the view of the bystanders)

presumptuous: going too far beyond accepted behaviour

he was put from his third tribuneship: he was not re-elected

returns: election results; counts of the votes

sardonic: mocking, cynical, ironic. Gaius seemed to be saying, "Soon you'll be laughing on the other side of your face," meaning that things would move in his favour again.

intimations: hints

revocation: formal cancellation

bodkins to write with: Death by writing implement sounds strange, but Roman styluses could be sharp.

bier: a frame on which a corpse is carried (like a stretcher)

the occasion of it himself: he had brought it on himself

invested with extraordinary power: Senatus consultum ultimum, or "Final Act"; a lifting of limits on magisterial power that had never been used before

upbraid: scold

Gauls: tribes of northern Europe

at such a strait: at such a dangerous time

made their way towards Mount Aventine: they intended to make this spot the center of a protest against the "Final Act"

wonted: usual

girdle: belt, sash

lay flatling: lay on the ground


her brother Crassus: one of the sons of the Pontifex Maximus

Historic Occasions

121 B.C.: Opimius was consul along with Quintus Fabius Maximus Allobrogicus

On the Map

Mount Aventine: the Aventine Hill, another of the Seven Hills


Part One

About that time there happened likewise a difference between Gaius and his fellow-officers, about this occasion. A show of gladiators was to be exhibited before the people in the marketplace, and most of the magistrates erected scaffolds round about, to take money for the standing. Gaius commanded them to take them down again, because the poor men might see the sport without any cost. But not a man of them would yield to it. Wherefore he stayed till the night before the pastime should be, and then he took all his labourers he had under him, and went and overthrew the scaffolds every one of them: so that the next morning all the marketplace was clear for the common people to see the pastime at their pleasure. For this fact of his, the people thanked him marvellously, and took him for a worthy man.

Howbeit his brethren the tribunes were very much offended with him, and took him for a bold, presumptuous man. This seemeth to be the chief cause why he was put from his third tribuneship, where he had the most voices of his side: because his colleagues, out of revenge, caused false returns to be made. But as to this matter there was a controversy. Certain it is, he very much resented this repulse, and he behaved with unusual arrogance towards some of his adversaries who were joyful at his defeat, telling them that all this was but a false, sardonic mirth, as they little knew how much his actions threw them into obscurity.

As soon as Opimius also was chosen consul, they presently cancelled several of Gaius's laws, and especially called into question his proceedings at Carthage, omitting nothing that was likely to irritate him, that from some effect of his passion they might find out a tolerable pretense to put him to death. Gaius notwithstanding did patiently bear it at the first; but afterwards his friends, and specially Fulvius, did encourage him so, that he began again to gather men to resist the consul. They say also that on this occasion his mother, Cornelia, joined in the sedition, and assisted him by sending privately several strangers into Rome, under pretense as if they came to be hired there for harvest-men; intimations of this are given in her letters to him. However, it is confidently affirmed by others that Cornelia did not in the least approve of these actions.

When the day came that they should proceed to the revocation of his laws, both parties met by break of day at the Capitol. There when the consul Opimius had done sacrifice, an attendant on the consul, called Quintus Antyllius, carrying the entrails of the beast sacrificed, said unto Fulvius and his friends who stood about him, "Give place to honest men, vile citizens that ye be." Some report that, besides this provoking language, he extended his naked arm towards them, as a gesture of scorn and contempt. Whereupon they slew him presently in the field with great bodkins to write with, which they had purposely made for that intent.

Hereupon the common people were marvellously offended for this murder, and the chief men of both sides also were diversely affected. For Gaius was very sorry for it, and bitterly reproved them that were about him, saying that they had given their enemies the occasion they looked for, to set upon them. Opimius, immediately seizing the occasion thus offered, was in great delight, and urged the people to revenge. But there fell a great shower of rain that put an end to the business of that day.

Part Two

Early the next morning, Opimius the consul summoned the Senate, and whilst he advised with the senators in the senate-house, some had taken the body of Antyllius and laid it naked upon the bier, and so carried it through the marketplace (as it was agreed upon before amongst them) and brought it to the door of the Senate house, where they began to make great moan and lamentation. Opimius was not at all ignorant that this was designed to be done; however, he seemed to be surprised, and wondered what the meaning of it should be. The senators, therefore, presently went out to know the occasion of it, and, standing about the corpse, uttered exclamations against the inhuman and barbarous act. But on the other side, this did revive the old grudge and malice of the people, for the wickedness of the ambitious noblemen: who having themselves before slain Tiberius Gracchus that was tribune, within the Capitol itself, and had also cast his body into the river, yet now they could honour with their presence and their public lamentations in the Forum the corpse of an ordinary hired attendant (who, though he might perhaps die wrongfully, was, however, in a great measure the occasion of it himself), by these means hoping to undermine him who was the only remaining defender and safeguard of the people.

The senators, after some time, withdrew, and presently ordered that Opimius, the consul, should be invested with extraordinary power to protect the commonwealth and suppress all tyrants. This being decreed, the consul presently commanded the senators that were present there to go arm themselves, and the Roman knights to be in readiness very early the next morning, and every one of them to be attended with two servants, well-armed.

Fulvius, on the other side, prepared his force against them, and assembled the common people together. Gaius also, returning from the marketplace, made a stop just before his father's statue, and fixing his eyes for some time upon it, remained in a deep contemplation; at length he burst out a-weeping, and fetching a great sigh, went his way. This made no small impression upon those who saw it, and they began to upbraid themselves that they should desert and betray so worthy a man as Gaius. They therefore went directly to his house, remaining there as a guard about it all night, though in a different manner from those who were a guard to Fulvius; for they passed away the night with shouting and drinking, and Fulvius himself, being the first to get drunk, spoke and acted many things very unbecoming a man of his age and character.

They that watched Gaius, on the other side, were very sorrowful, and made no noise, even as in a common calamity of their country, devising with themselves what would fall out upon it, waking and sleeping one after another by turns. As soon as daylight appeared, they roused Fulvius, who had not yet slept off the effects of his drinking; and having armed themselves with the weapons hung up in his house, that were formerly taken from the Gauls, whom he conquered in the time of his consulship, they presently, with threats and loud acclamations, made their way towards Mount Aventine.

But Gaius would not arm himself, but went out of his house in a long gown, as if he would have gone simply into the marketplace according to his wonted manner, saving that he carried a short dagger at his girdle under his gown. So as he was going out of his house, his wife stayed him at the door, and holding him by the one hand, and a little child of his by her other hand, she said thus unto him:

"Alas Gaius, thou dost not now go as thou wert wont, as a tribune into the marketplace to speak to the people, neither to prefer any new laws; neither dost thou go unto an honest war, that if unfortunately that should happen to thee that is common to all men, I might yet at the least mourn for thy death with honour. But thou goest to put thyself into bloody butchers' hands, who most cruelly have slain thy brother Tiberius; and yet thou goest, a naked man unarmed, intending rather to suffer, than to do hurt. Besides, thy death can bring no benefit to the commonwealth. For the worser part hath now the upper hand, considering that sentence passeth by force of sword . . . But such may be my misfortune, that I may presently go to pray the river or sea to give me thy body, which as thy brother's they have likewise thrown into the same. Alas, what hope or trust is left us now, in laws or gods, since they have slain Tiberius?"

As Licinia was making this pitiful moan unto him, Gaius fair and softly pulled his hand from her, and left her, giving her never a word, but went on with his friends. But she reaching after him to take him by the gown, fell to the ground, and lay flatling there a great while, speaking never a word: until at length her servants took her up in a swoon, and carried her so unto her brother Crassus.

Narration and Discussion

Why did the senators take such extreme measures at this time? What were their worst fears?

Explain how Gaius ended up in such a dangerous position.

Creative narration: William Shakespeare was often inspired by Plutarch, sometimes borrowing whole lines from North's translation. Choose one incident and rewrite it as Shakespeare might have done.

Lesson Twelve


Outlawed by the Roman authorities, Gaius and his supporters now had no choice but to fight fiercely for their lives.


herald's rod: a cadeuceus, which was a symbol of peaceful negotiations

committed into custody: jailed

rout: disorderly retreat

Furies: the goddesses of vengeance

did so embrace: held onto him so tightly

jointure: dowry; money paid at one's wedding

Concord: Concordia, the goddess of agreement

infamy: being well known, but not in a good way

Historic Occasions

121 B.C.: Death of Gaius Gracchus

c. 115 B.C.: Death of Cornelia


Part One

Fulvius, when the people were gathered together in a full body, by the advice of Gaius sent his younger son (which was a pretty fair boy) into the marketplace, with a herald's rod in his hand. This boy humbly presenting his duty, with the tears in his eyes, before the consul and Senate, offered them peace. The most of them that were present thought very well of it. But Opimius made answer, saying that it became them not to send messengers, thinking with fair words to win the Senate, but it was their duty to come themselves in persons, like subjects and offenders to make their trial, and so to crave pardon, and to seek to pacify the wrath of the Senate. Then he commanded the boy he should not return again to them unless they would comply with these conditions.

Gaius (as it is reported) was ready to go and clear himself unto the Senate: but none of his friends consented to it. Whereupon Fulvius sent his son back again unto them, to speak for them as he had done before. But Opimius, that was desirous to fight, caused the boy to be taken, and committed into custody; and then went presently against Fulvius with a great number of footmen well-armed, and of Cretan archers besides, who with their arrows did more trouble and hurt their enemies than with anything else, so that a rout and flight quickly ensued. Fulvius, on the other side, fled into an obscure bathing-house; but shortly after being discovered, he and his eldest son were slain together.

Gaius was not observed to use any violence against anyone; but, extremely disliking all these outrages, retired to the Temple of Diana. There he attempted to kill himself, but was hindered by his faithful friends, Pomponius and Licinius; they took his sword away from him, and counselled him to flee. It is reported that then he fell down on his knees, and holding up both his hands unto the goddess, he besought her that the people might never come out of bondage, to be revenged of this, their ingratitude and treason. For as soon as a proclamation was made of a pardon, the greater part openly deserted him.

Gaius, therefore, endeavoured now to make his escape, but was pursued so close by his enemies, as far as the wooden bridge, that from thence he narrowly escaped. There his two trusty friends begged of him to preserve his own person by flight, whilst they in the meantime would keep their post, and maintain the passage; neither could their enemies, until they were both slain, pass the bridge.

Now there was none that fled with Gaius, but one of his men called Philocrates: notwithstanding, every man did still encourage and counsel him, as they do men to win a game; but no man would help him, nor offer him any horse, though he often required it, because he saw his enemies so near unto him. However, he had still time enough to hide himself in a little grove, consecrated to the Furies. In that place, his servant Philocrates having first slain him, presently afterwards killed himself also, and fell dead upon his master. Though some affirm it for a truth, that they were both taken alive by their enemies, and that Philocrates did so embrace his master that none of the enemies could strike him for all the blows they gave, before he was slain himself.

[omission for length and content]

Part Two

The bodies of these two men, Gaius Gracchus and Fulvius, and of their other followers (which were to the number of three thousand that were slain), were all thrown into the river, their goods confiscated, and their widows forbidden to put themselves into mourning. They dealt even more severely with Licinia, Caius's wife, and deprived her even of her jointure; and as in addition still to all their inhumanity, they barbarously murdered Fulvius's youngest son; his only crime being, not that he took up arms against them, or that he was present in the battle, but merely that he had come with the articles of agreement: for this he was first imprisoned, then slain.

But yet that which most of all other grieved the people, was the Temple of Concord, which Opimius caused to be built: for it appeared that he boasted, and in manner triumphed, that he had slain so many citizens of Rome. And therefore somebody in the night time wrote, under the inscription of the temple, these verses:

A furious fact and full of beastly shame.
This temple built, that beareth Concord's name.


This Opimius was the first man at Rome, that, being consul, usurped the absolute power of the dictator; and that without law or justice condemned three thousand citizens of Rome, besides Fulvius Flaccus (who had also been consul, and had received the honour of triumph), and Gaius Gracchus, a young man in like case, who in virtue and reputation excelled all the men of his years. Afterwards he was found incapable of keeping his hands from thieving. For when he was sent as ambassador unto Jugurtha, king of Numidia, he was bribed with money; and thereupon being accused, he was most shamefully convicted, and condemned. Wherefore he ended his days with this reproach and infamy, hated, and mocked of all the people; because at the time of the overthrow he dealt beastly with them that fought for his quarrel.

But shortly after, it appeared to the world how much they lamented the loss of the two brethren of the Gracchi. For they made images and statues of them, and caused them to be set up in an open and honourable place, consecrating the places where they had been slain: and many of them also came and offered to them, of their first fruits and flowers, according to the time of the year, and went thither to make their prayers on their knees, as unto the temples of the gods. Their mother Cornelia, as writers report, did bear this calamity with a noble heart: and as for the chapels which they built and consecrated unto them in the place where they were slain, she said no more, but that they had such graves as they had deserved.

Afterwards she dwelt in the city of Misenum, and never changed her manner of life. She had many friends, and because she was a noble lady, and loved ever to welcome strangers, she kept a very good house, and therefore had always great repair unto her of Grecians and learned men: besides, there was no king nor prince, but both received gifts from her, and sent gifts to her again. They that frequented her company, delighted marvellously to hear her report the deeds and manner of her father's life, Scipio Africanus (#1): but yet they wondered more, to hear her tell the acts and death of her two sons, Tiberius and Gaius, without shedding a tear, or making any show of lamentation or grief, no more than if she had told an history unto them that had requested her. Insomuch some writers report, that age, or her great misfortunes, had overcome and taken her reason and sense from her, to feel any sorrow. But indeed they were senseless to say so, not understanding, how that to be nobly born, and virtuously brought up, doth make men temperately to digest sorrow, and though Fortune may often be more successful, and may defeat the efforts of virtue to avert misfortunes, it cannot, when we incur them, prevent our bearing them patiently [Dryden: reasonably].

Narration and Discussion

Opimius refused to negotiate with the "rebels," because "it was their duty to come themselves in persons, like subjects and offenders to make their trial, and so to crave pardon, and to seek to pacify the wrath of the Senate." Do you agree?

Why did Gaius's friends encourage but not help him?

For older students and further thought #1: After this uprising, and the subsequent purge of three thousand people, Roman reaction turned to regret. Two Gracchi brothers put to death by angry mobs seemed like two too many; not to mention the many other lives lost. What impact did they have on the laws of Rome, or on the rights of citizens to have a voice? Were their efforts worth the cost of their lives?

Creative narration: "But shortly after, it appeared to the world how much they lamented the loss of the two brethren of the Gracchi." Expand on this in any way you wish (news interview, editorial, dialogue).

Examination Questions

For younger students:

1. Tell about Tiberius's meeting with the Numantines (there was something he wanted from them).

2. "Cicero the orator also sayeth that Gaius was bent altogether to flee from office in the commonwealth, and to live quietly as a private man." What changed his mind?

For older students:

1. Like his brother before him, Gaius Gracchus sometimes did the right things in wrong ways, or at least in ways that created jealousy or suspicion. Give examples.

2. (High school) "So in a short time he did excel all the young men of his time, as well in obedience as in the valiantness of his person." Who is being described? Did he live up to this early evaluation?

AmblesideOnline Plutarch Readings:

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