AmblesideOnline: Plutarch's Life of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus

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Study Notes prepared for the AmblesideOnline Curriculum by Anne White, 2017 using Thomas North's text. If you wish to use this Study Guide as a teacher's edition, text-only version of this Life (without the Study Guide) is also available to print for your student. Read Intro to these study guides here.

Lesson 1
Lesson 2
Lesson 3
Lesson 4
Lesson 5
Lesson 6
Lesson 7
Lesson 8
Lesson 9
Lesson 10
Lesson 11
Lesson 12

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 any private landowner to 500 iugera (a iugerum was equal to 0.623 acres or 0.25 hectares), 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.

How important were tribunes?

The responsibility of a non-military tribune (tribune of the plebeians, or plebs) was to protect the liberties of the people from any individual or group (such as the nobles) who might take advantage of them or suppress their rights; for example by creating unjust laws. 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 were bound by oath to protect the tribunes from harm. (There would be more than one tribune in office at a time, usually ten.) Ex-consuls could but did not usually become tribunes; one exception was Marcus Fulvius Flaccus, a supporter of the Gracchi.

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., which is explained in detail in this Life. 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 "Gaius Gracchus." Gracchus is the singular, and Gracchi is the plural.

Caius or Gaius?

North spelled it Caius Gracchus, the same way that he spelled Caius Marius and Caius Julius Caesar. By the time of Dryden's translation, the common English spelling of this name was Gaius, and that is what I have used.

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 the Elder (see below).

Two Scipios

Scipio Africanus the Elder was a Roman general, who fought with Hannibal in the Punic Wars; he was the grandfather of Tiberius and Gaius.

The younger Scipio Africanus was his adopted grandson Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus (185-129 BC), or Scipio Africanus the Younger. Plutarch called him the man "whom the people of Rome . . . had loved better than any man else whatsoever." He is mentioned several times, including his reaction to the death of Tiberius (in Lesson Seven), and a note about his own death (in Lesson Ten). This Scipio married the sister of the Gracchi.

Lesson One


Two brothers; sons of a consul and censor; grandsons of the famous Scipio Africanus the Elder. Yet the biggest influence on their young lives seemed to be their mother, Cornelia, who raised and educated them with a goal of greatness. You may remember reading "Cornelia's Jewels" in Fifty Famous Stories Retold.


Castor and Pollux: the mythological twins in the constellation Gemini

jetted: blew up and down

pulpit, pulpit for orations: the Rostra, or speakers' platform

orators: public speakers (see introduction to Julius Caesar)

full of fineness and curiosity: Dryden, "vehement and rich," meaning rich in detail

curiously and superfluously: Dryden, he had "a fondness for new fashions and rarities"

dolphins of silver: something for the mantelpiece, maybe?

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

the justice unto their tenants: Dryden translates this "their justice in the government of its subjects"

continency against voluptuousness: self-control regarding pleasure

fell out at sundry times: took place in different time periods

peradventure: perhaps


Scipio (the Elder) and the younger Scipio Africanus: see introductory note

Historic Occasions

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

154 B.C.: birth of Gaius Gracchus (Plutarch says that they were born nine years apart); and the death of Tiberius Gracchus Senior


Now that we have declared unto you the history of the lives of these two Grecians, Agis and Cleomenes aforesaid: 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 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 with Cornelia, the daughter of Scipio [Africanus the Elder] who overcame Hannibal, after [Scipio's] death: though while he lived he was never his friend, but rather his enemy.

It is reported that Tiberius, on a time, found two snakes in his bed, and that the soothsayers and wizards having considered the signification thereof, did forbid him to kill them both, and also to let them both escape; but one only: assuring him that if he killed the male, he should not live long after: and if he killed the female, that then his wife Cornelia should die. Tiberius then loving his wife dearly, thinking it meeter for him also, that he being the elder of both, and she yet a young woman, should die before her: he slew the male, and let the female escape, howbeit he died soon after, leaving twelve children alive, all of them begotten of 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 (whom she bestowed upon the younger Scipio Africanus), and Tiberius and Gaius, whose lives we presently write.

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. Furthermore, Gaius' words, and the vehemency of his persuasion, were terrible [Dryden: impetuous] and full of passion: but Tiberius' words in contrary manner, were mild, and moved men more to compassion, being very proper, and excellently applied, where Gaius' words were full of fineness and curiosity.

The like difference also was between them in their fare and diet. For Tiberius [was frugal and plain]: and Gaius also, in respect of other Romans, lived very temperately; but in respect of his brother's fare, curiously and superfluously. Insomuch as Drusus [once] reproved him, because he had bought certain dolphins of silver, to the value of a thousand two hundred and fifty drachmas for every pound weight.

And now, as touching the manners and natural disposition of them both, agreeing with the diversity of their tongues, [Tiberius] being mild and plausible; and [Gaius] hot and choleric, insomuch that other-while, forgetting himself in his oration, against his will he would be very earnest, and strain his voice beyond his compass, and so with great uncomeliness confound his words. Yet finding his own fault, he devised this remedy. He had a servant called Licinius, a good wise man, who with an instrument of music he had, 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. And here was the diversity between them. Otherwise, for their hardiness against their enemies, the justice unto their tenants, the care and pains in their offices of charge, and also their continency against voluptuousness: in all these they were both alike.

For age, Tiberius was elder by nine years, by reason whereof their several authority and doings in the commonwealth fell out at sundry times. 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. Wherefore we must write particularly of them both, but first of all we must begin with the elder.

He, when he came to man's [e]state, had such a name and estimation, that immediately they made him fellow in the college of the priests, which at Rome are called augurs: (being those that have the charge to consider of signs and predictions of things to come), more for his valiantness than for nobility. 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 bestowed our daughter Claudia." 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?"

Narration and Discussion

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.)

Plutarch says that the great 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, 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." Can both be true?

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 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 that had been dragging on for twenty years, and that was about to get worse.


indued: endowed, gifted

treasurer: Dryden translates this "paymaster," but it means the office of quaestor

empire of Rome: this was during the time of the Republic, so it is a general term only

preferred: proposed

Historic Occasions

137 B.C.: Tiberius became quaestor and went to Numantia


Now Tiberius (the younger) being in the wars in Africa under Scipio the second, who had married his sister: he found his captain indued with many noble gifts of nature, to allure men's hearts to desire to follow his valiantness. So in a short time he [Tiberius] did excel all the young men of his time, as well in obedience, as in the valiantness of his person: insomuch that he was the first man that scaled the walls of the enemies, as Fannius reporteth, who sayeth that he scaled the walls with him, and did help him in that valiant enterprise. So that being present, all the camp were in love with him: and when he was absent, every man wished for him again.

After this war was ended, he was chosen treasurer, 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' 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 bare unto his captain: though his misfortunes did so trouble and grieve him, that he could not tell himself, whether he was captain or not.

For when he was overthrown in [various great battles, he endeavoured to dislodge by night and leave his camp]. The Numantines hearing of it, first took his camp, and then ran after them that fled, and setting upon the rearward, slew them, and environed all his army. So that they were driven into strait and narrow places, where out they could by no means 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 bare 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 making wars in Spain, and having there subdued many nations, [had] granted the Numantines peace, the which he caused the Romans afterwards to confirm and ratify.

Hereupon Tiberius was sent to speak with them, and partly obtaining that [which] he desired, and partly also granting them that [which] they required: he concluded peace with them, whereby assuredly he saved the lives of twenty thousand Roman citizens, besides slaves and other stragglers that willingly followed the camp.

This notwithstanding, the Numantines took the spoil of all the goods they found in the Romans' camp, among the which they found Tiberius' books of account, touching the money disbursed of the treasure in his charge. 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 spake 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 when he did any sacrifice for his country: and then taking his leave of them, with thanks he returned.

When he was returned to Rome, all this peace concluded was utterly misliked, as dishonourable to the majesty of the empire of Rome. Yet the parents and friends of them that had served in this war, making the greatest part of the people: they gathered about 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. For they gave order, that the consul Mancinus should be sent naked and bound unto the Numantines, and for Tiberius' sake, they pardoned all the rest.

I think Scipio [Africanus the Younger], who bare great sway at that time in Rome, and was a man of greatest account, did help [Tiberius] at that pinch: who, notwithstanding, was ill thought of, because he [Scipio] did not also save the consul Mancinus, and confirm the peace concluded with the Numantines, considering it was made by Tiberius, his friend and kinsman. But these mislikings grew chiefly through the ambition of Tiberius' friends, and certain learned men, which stirred him up against Scipio. But yet it fell not out to open malice between them, neither followed there any hurt upon it. And surely I am persuaded, that Tiberius [would not have] fallen into those troubles he did afterwards, if Scipio Africanus had been present, when he passed those things he preferred. But Scipio was then in wars at the [final] Siege of Numantia.

Narration and Discussion

The Numantines insisted that they would trust or deal with Tiberius, and Tiberius only. What were their reasons?

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 did with the Numantines?

Lesson Three


The next four lessons all take place in the pivotal year of 133 B.C. Tiberius, having both travelled and gained knowledge of economics, 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.


over their heads: into their possession

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

left Italy: moved away, at least from the farming areas; many families went to try to make a living in Rome

desisted: ceased

tribune: see introductory note

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

Scipio's mother-in-law: Dryden translates this "the daughter of Scipio," but both are true (see introductory note).

the high Bishop: Pontifex Maximus; see note for Julius Caesar

avarice: greed

Law Agraria: Lex Sempronia Agraria; see introductory note

confute: contradict


Mucius Scaevola the lawyer, that then was consul: Publius Mucius Scaevola was one of the consuls in 133 B.C., and Pontifex Maximus 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. He (Crassus the high Bishop, or Pontifex Maximus) was also the father-in-law of Gaius Gracchus; his daughter was called Licinia Crassi.

Historic Occasions

133 B.C.: Tiberius was elected tribune and proposed land reforms; Scipio Africanus ended the war in Numantia


Part One: a little history

When the Romans in old time had overcome any of their neighbours, for ransom they took oftentimes a great deal of their land from them, part whereof they sold [publicly], for the benefit of the commonwealth, and part also they reserved to their state as [common land], which afterwards was let out to farm for a small rent yearly, to the poor citizens that had no lands. Howbeit the rich men [began to offer larger rents], and so began to thrust out the poor men. Thereupon was an ordinance made, that no citizen of Rome should have above five hundred iugera [of] land. 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.

But by process of time, their rich neighbours, by names of other men, got their farms over their heads, and in the end, the most of them were openly seen in it 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 short time, the free men left Italy, and slaves and barbarous people did replenish it, whom the rich men made to plough those lands which they had taken from the Romans. 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.

Part Two: the time of Tiberius

But Tiberius being chosen tribune, he did forthwith prefer the reformation aforesaid, being allured unto it (as divers writers report) by Diophanes the orator, and Blossius the philosopher: of the which, Diophanes was [a refugee] from the city of Mitylene, and Blossius, [an] Italian from the city of Cuma, who was [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. Other[s] 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.

His own brother Gaius, in a certain book, wrote that as he [Tiberius] went to the wars of Numantia, passing through Tuscany, he found the country in manner unhabited: and they that did follow the plough, or keep beasts, were the most of them slaves, and barbarous people, come out of a strange country. Whereupon ever after it ran in his mind to bring this enterprise to pass, which brought great troubles to their house. 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.

This notwithstanding he himself made not the law alone of his own head, but did it by the counsel and advice of the chiefest men of Rome, for virtue and estimation: among the which, Crassus the high Bishop was one, and Mucius Scaevola the lawyer, that then was consul, and Appius Claudius, 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.].

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 for 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 shew 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 vehemency 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

Why was the name "Laelius the Wise" ironic?

How did Tiberius' 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: The Senate had become extremely powerful; this was partly because of the Romans' recent need for military leadership (during the Punic Wars). 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, and were told that it was them, not someone else, that God planned to use?

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?


importunate: insistent

preferred: proposed

grateful: favourable

Saturn's temple: the public treasury

leave to exercise their office: refused to do their duties

changed their apparel: put on mourning clothes

the marketplace: the Roman Forum

voices: votes

a private man: someone with no position of authority

an enfranchised bondman: a servant whom he had made a free man


Marcus Octavius: he is said to be an ancestor of Gaius Octavius (Caesar Augustus, the first emperor of Rome)

Fulvius: not the same Fulvius mentioned later

Historic Occasions

133 B.C.: Marcus Octavius was deposed as tribune


Part One

Therefore, leaving to contrary and deny the law by argument, the rich men did put all their trust in Marcus Octavius, colleague and fellow tribune with Tiberius in office, who was a grave and wise young man, and Tiberius' very familiar friend. So that the first time they came to him, to oppose him against the confirmation of this law: he prayed them to hold him excused, because Tiberius was his very friend. But in the end, being compelled unto it through the great number of the rich men that were importunate with him: he did withstand Tiberius' law, which was enough to overthrow it. For if any one of the tribunes speak against it, though all the other[s] pass with it, he overthroweth it: because they all can do nothing, if one of them be against it.

Tiberius being very much offended with it, proceeded no further in this first [milder] law, and in a rage preferred another more grateful to the common people, as also more extreme against the rich. In that law he ordained that whosoever had any lands contrary to the ancient laws of Rome, that he should presently depart from them.

But thereupon there fell out continual brawls, in the pulpit for orations, against Octavius: in the which, 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 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 short dagger under his long gown, properly called in Latin, Dolon.

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 faction 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, 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 bare 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 both of them being [united in the same office, and of equal authority], this contention could not be possibly ended, without civil war: and that he could see no way to remedy it, unles one of them two were deposed from their office. Thereupon he bade Octavius [to summon the people and] begin first with him, and he would rise from the bench with a good will, and become a private man, if the people were so contented. Octavius would do nothing in it. [Tiberius then said he would himself put to the people the question of Octavius' 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 voice of 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 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 enfranchised bondmen to pull him out of the pulpit for orations: for he used [them] instead of sergeants. 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. So Octavius saved himself, running away alone, after he had been rescued thus from the fury of the people.

Narration and Discussion

Discuss this passage from Part One: "yet there passed no foul words from them, (how hot soever they were one with another) that should shame his companion." How can a noble nature and a temperate education help us during times of disagreement as well as during the pleasant times (the revellings)?

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? Should he have handled the conflict differently?

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.

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

a magistrate: referring to Marcus Octavius

ran to his fine subtle questions: tried to trap people with questions

gravelled: Dryden, "disconcerted"

lewd: bad, wicked

when he list: when he chooses

Vestal Nuns: Vestal Virgins (a religious order for women)

apology: justification for his actions


Publius Nasica: Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio, a cousin of the Gracchi; Pontifex Maximus in 141 B.C., consul in 138 B.C.

Attalus, surnamed Philopater: Attalus III Philometor Euergetes (c. 170 B.C.--133 B.C.) , king of Pergamon

Eudemus [the] Pergamenian: an official from Pergamon


After that, the Law Agraria passed for division of lands, and three commissioners were appointed to make inquiry and distribution thereof. The commissioners appointed were these: 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 [the Younger], at the siege of the city of Numantia. Thus Tiberius very quietly passed over these matters, and no man durst withstand him: and furthermore, he substituted in Octavius' place no man of quality, but only one of his followers, called Mucius.

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 of their obuli a day for his ordinary allowance. [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. Insomuch as one of Tiberius' friends being dead upon the sudden, upon whose body being dead there appeared [malignant-looking spots]: the common people ran suddenly to his burial, and cried out that he was poisoned. And so taking up the bier (whereon his body lay) upon their shoulders, they were present at the fire of his funerals, where immediately appeared certain signs to make them suspect that, indeed, there was vehement cause of presumption he was poisoned.

[Other strange phenomena also took place.]

Tiberius put on mourning apparel, and brought his sons before [the people], and besought the people to be good unto them and their mother, as one that despaired of his health and safety.

About that time died Attalus, surnamed Philopater, and Eudemus [the] Pergamenian 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 Senate had nothing to do to take any order with them, but that the people were to dispose of them, and that he himself would put it out. 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 that by reason of his neighbourhood he knew that Eudemus had given him one of King Attalus' royal bands, with a purple gown besides, for a token that he should one day be king of Rome.

And Quintus Metellus also reproved him, for that [in the days that Tiberius Senior was] censor, the Romans having supped in the town, and repairing every man home to his house, they did put out their torches and lights, because men seeing them return, they should not think they tarried too long in company banqueting: and that [now], in contrary manner, the seditious and needy rabble of the common people did light his son [Tiberius Junior] home, and accompany him all night long up and down the town.

At that time there was one Titus Annius, a man that had no goodness nor honesty in him, howbeit [he was] taken for a great reasoner, and for a subtle questioner and answerer. He provoked Tiberius to answer him, [declaring him to have deposed a magistrate who by law was sacred and inviolable]. The people took this provocation very angrily, and Tiberius also coming out, and having assembled the people, commanded them to bring this Annius before him, that he might be indicted in the marketplace. But he finding himself far inferior unto Tiberius, both in dignity and eloquence, ran to his fine subtle questions: and prayed Tiberius before he did proceed to his accusation, that he would first answer him to a question he would ask him. 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?"

It is reported that Tiberius was so gravelled 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, and therefore he presently dismissed the assembly.

[But beginning to understand] that of all the things he did, the deposing of Octavius from his office was thought (not only of the nobility, but of the common people also) as foul and willful a part as ever he played, for that thereby he had imbased, and utterly overthrown the dignity of the tribunes, the which was always had in great veneration until that present time. To excuse himself therefore, he made an excellent oration to the people, whereby shall appear unto you some special points thereof, to discern the better the force and effect of his eloquence.

"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 [di]minisheth 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 lewd 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.

"And who is there in all the city of Rome to be reckoned so holy as the Vestal Nuns, which have the custody and keeping of the everlasting fire? And yet if [one of these transgress], she is buried alive for her offence: for when they are not holy to the gods, they lose the liberty they have, in respect of serving the gods. Even so also it is unmeet, that the tribune, if he offend the people, should for the people's sake be reverenced any more: seeing that through his own folly he hath deprived himself of that authority they gave him. And if it be so that he was chosen tribune by the most part of the tribes of the people: then by greater reason is he justly deprived, that by [the general consent of them all] he is forsaken and deposed.

"There is nothing more holy nor inviolate, than things offered up unto the gods: and yet it was never seen that any man did forbid the people to take them, to remove and transport them from place to place, as they thought good. Even so, they may as lawfully transfer the office of the tribune unto any other, as any other offering consecrated to the gods.

"Furthermore, it is manifest that any officer or magistrate may lawfully depose himself: for, it hath been often seen, that men in office have [of their own act surrendered and desired to be discharged from."

[These were the principal heads of Tiberius' 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? Had Octavius actually violated his oath?

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? As an extension, consider how this view contrasts with the teachings of Christ, and with Old Testament passages such as Isaiah 58:6-9.

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 mis-communication 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 Class" or Equites, aristocrats ranking below the Patricians

imbase: lower, decrease

the voices of the people: he needed to have a large number of the common people present (those who agreed with his proposals) in order to pass the new laws

cast them down meat: gave them chicken feed

stayed: in this context, it means worried, gave pause to

press: crowd

girt their long gowns unto them: tucked up their togas

truncheons: clubs

required: requested

they fell one on anothers' neck[s] for haste: that is, in trying to get out of their way

hied them apace: hurried

coat: tunic

staves and stones: Dryden, "clubs and staves"


Part One

Now his 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. Whereupon he began to flatter the common people again afresh, by new laws which he preferred: by the which he took away the time and number of years prescribed when every citizen of Rome was bound to go to the wars, being called, and his name billed.

He made it lawful also for men to appeal from sentence of the judges unto the people, and thrust in also amongst the senators (which then had absolute authority to judge among themselves) a like number of the Roman knights; and by this means sought to weaken and imbase the authority of the Senate, increasing also the power of the people, more of malice than any reason, or for any justice or benefit to the commonwealth. Furthermore, when it came to the gathering of the voices of the people for the confirmation of his new laws, finding that his enemies were the stronger in the assembly, because all the people were not yet come together: he fell a-quarrelling with his brethren the tribunes, always to win time, and yet in the end brake up the assembly, commanding them to return the next morning.

There he would be the first man in the marketplace, apparelled 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. At the break of the day, the keeper of the chickens, by signs of the which they do divine of things to come, brought them unto him, and cast them down meat before them. None of them 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 no meat, 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 hatched them. 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' foot. The fall thereof stayed the stoutest man he had about him. But Blossius, the philosopher of Cumes 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, 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 goodwills. Furthermore, divers messengers came unto him, and said that his friends that were in the Capitol sent to pray him to make haste, for all went well with him.

Part Two

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 shewed themselves both careful and loving towards him, looking warily that none came near him, but such as they knew well. While Mutius 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.

In the meantime, Flavius Flaccus, one of the senators, got up into a place where all the people might see him, and when he saw that his voice could not be heard [by] Tiberius, he made a sign with his hand that he had some matter of great importance to tell him. Tiberius straight bade them make a lane through the press. So with much ado, Flavius came at length unto him, and told him that the rich men [seeing they could not prevail upon the consul to espouse their quarrel], determined themselves to come and kill him, having a great number of their friends and bondmen armed for the purpose.

Tiberius immediately declared this conspiracy unto his friends and followers: who straight girt their long gowns unto them, and broke the sergeants' javelins which they carried in their hands to make room among the people, and took the truncheons of the same to resist those that would set upon them. The people also that stood furthest off, marvelled at it, and asked what the matter was. Tiberius by a sign to tell them the danger he was in, laid both his hands on his head, because they could not hear his voice for the great noise they made. His enemies seeing the sign he gave, ran presently to the Senate, crying out that Tiberius required a royal band or diadem of the people, and that it was an evident sign, because they saw him clap his hands upon his head. This tale troubled all the company.

Whereupon Nasica besought the consul, chief of the Senate, to help the commonwealth, and to take away this tyrant. The consul gently answered again, 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. They that followed him also took their gowns, and wrapped them about their arms, and [forced their way after him]; and yet very few of the people durst meet with such states as they were to stay them, because they were the chiefest men of the city, but every man fleeing from them, they fell one on anothers' neck[s] for haste. They that followed them, had brought from home great levers and clubs, and as they went, they took up feet of trestles and chairs which the people had overthrown and broken, running away; and hied them apace to meet with Tiberius, striking at them that stood in their way: so that in short space they had dispersed all the common people, and many were slain, fleeing.

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 [fatal] 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 staves and stones, and not one man [was] hurt with any iron.

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 and so many others?

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?


sedition: uprising, rebellion

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

commodity: benefit

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

lands of the commonwealth: Roman territory

did presently threaten Nasica to accuse him: Dryden, "he was threatened with impeachment"

round: blunt, plainspoken

imbrued (or embrued): stained (i.e. with blood)

chief Bishop of Rome: Pontifex Maximus

churlishly: rudely

Life of Scipio: this no longer exists

meanly: plainly, simply

preferred: proposed

sloth and curiosity: Dryden: "a lazy retirement and effeminacy"; this archaic meaning of curiosity means being overly fastidious, too concerned with the small details of personal comfort or pleasure

covetous mind of getting: interest in personal gain

to practise in the commonwealth: to act as legal counsel in Rome or its provinces and colonies

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

all the orators besides: the other speakers

it behoved them: it was necessary

treasurer: quaestor (see introductory notes for Julius Caesar)

martial: military

prayed his furtherance: wanted his help

predestined: fated or designed before birth


Publius Crassus: see Lesson Three

Fulvius: it's not clear which Fulvius this is

Historic Occasions

126 B.C.: Gaius Gracchus was chosen quaestor


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. But for all other former dissensions (which were no trifles) they were easily pacified, either party giving place to other: the Senate for fear of the commoners, and the people for reverence they bare to the Senate. And it seemeth, that Tiberius himself would easily have yielded also, if they had proceeded by fair means and persuasion, so they had meant good faith, and would have killed no man: for at that time he had not, in all, above 3,000 men of the people about him. But surely it seems this conspiracy was executed against him more for [the] 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 Cuma, 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 commodity of the people." Thus he [e]scaped 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' place. Thereupon Publius Crassus was chosen, being allied unto Tiberius, for Gaius Gracchus (Tiberius' brother) had married his daughter Licinia. Yet Cornelius Nepos sayeth, that it was not Crassus' daughter Gaius married, but the daughter of Brutus, that triumphed for the Lusitanians. Howbeit the best writers and authority agree with that [which] we write. 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 did presently threaten Nasica to accuse him. [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 common people did not dissemble the malice they bare him when they met him, but were very round with him, and called him tyrant, and murderer, excommunicate, and wicked man, that had imbrued his hands in the blood of the holy tribune, and within the most sacred temple of all the city. So in the end he was enforced to forsake Rome, though by his office he was bound to solemnize all the greatest sacrifices, because he was then chief Bishop of Rome. Thus, travelling out of his country like a mean man, and troubled in his mind: he died shortly after [in 132 B.C.], not far from the city of Pergamum.

[Sidebar: the reaction of Scipio Africanus [the Younger] to the death of Tiberius.]

Truly it is not greatly to be wondered at, though the people so much hated Nasica, considering that Scipio Africanus (whom the people of Rome for juster causes had loved better than any man else whatsoever) was like to have lost all the people's goodwills they bare him, because that being at the siege of Numantia, when news was brought him of Tiberius' death, he [repeated] this verse of Homer:

Such end upon him ever light / Which in such doings doth delight.

Furthermore, being asked in the assembly of the people, by Gaius and Fulvius, what he thought of Tiberius' death: he answered them, that he did not like his doings. After that the people handled him very churlishly, and did ever break off his oration, which they never did before: and he himself also would revile the people even in the assembly. [But of this the particulars are given in the Life of Scipio.]

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.

But in process of time, he made his manners and conditions (by little and little) appear, [that he was one] who hated sloth and curiosity, and was least of all given unto any covetous mind of getting: for he gave himself to be eloquent, as preparing him wings afterwards to practise in the commonwealth. So that it appeared plainly, that when time came, he would not stand still, and look on.

When one Vectius, a friend of his, was sued, he took upon him to defend his cause in court. 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 it behoved them to beware he came not to be tribune.

It chanced so that he was chosen treasurer, and it was his fortune to go into the Isle of Sardinia, with the consul Orestes. 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. But indeed he was clean contrary: for it appeared that at the first he was drawn rather against his will, than of any special desire he had to deal in the commonwealth.

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' 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

Did Nasica deserve the treatment he received?

Why did Gaius live so quietly for awhile, 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.

Do you see any parallels here to the early life of Moses? Can you think of any other reluctant leaders in history or literature?

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

How might the study of eloquence give one wings?

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. In this lesson, the problem was one of supplies for the army. Who sent them, in Gaius' 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 put this kind of trouble in its place. Maybe things would go better this time around.


painfulness: Gaius was painstaking, hardworking

corn: grain, food supplies

to continue Gaius their treasurer: Gaius (as quaestor to Orestes) would be required to remain in Sardinia

in choler: in a rage

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

the examples of their ancestors: that is, in their respect for and protection of tribunes, and Roman citizens in general

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

the lands of the commonwealth: Roman territory

judgement: the courts of justice

honoured and feared: Dryden says "dreaded"

Roman knights: see previous lessons

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


King Micipsa: the king of Numidia, who had a friendly relationship with Gaius Gracchus

Popilius: Publius Popillius Laenas, consul in 132 B.C., but praetor during the events of 133

Historic Occasions

123 and 122 B.C.: Gaius Gracchus was tribune


Part One

Now when Gaius arrived in Sardinia [as quaestor], he shewed all the proofs that might be in a valiant man, and excelled all the young men of his age, in hardiness against his enemies, in justice to his inferiors, and in love and obedience towards the consul his captain: but in temperance, sobriety, and in painfulness, he excelled all them that were elder than he.

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' 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 their places that were in Sardinia: and that Orestes should still remain consul there, meaning also to continue Gaius their treasurer. But when he [Gaius] heard of it, he straight took sea, and returned to Rome in choler.

When men saw Gaius returned to Rome unlooked for, he was reproved for it not only by his enemies, but by the common people also: who thought his return very strange before his captain, under whom he was treasurer. 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 wronged]. 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, 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.

Afterwards they [also accused] him as accessory to 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 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 was once [in office], he became immediately the chief man, because he was as eloquent as any man of his time. And furthermore, he had a large occasion of calamity offered him: which made him bold to speak, bewailing the death of his brother. For what matters soever he spake of, he always fell in talk of that, remembering them what matters had passed: and laying before them the examples of their ancestors: who in old time had made war with the Phalisces [Falerii], by the means of one Genutius, tribune of the people, unto whom they [the Phalisces] had offered injury: who also did condemn Gaius Veturius to death, [for refusing to give way in the Forum to a tribune].

"Where[as] 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 respective were our predecessors, where it touched the life of any Roman."

Part Two

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 [anyone] that 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 being praetor [at the time], had banished his brother Tiberius' 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' words sharp and stinging, and many such like are to be gathered out of his writings.

Furthermore, he [proposed] many other laws afterwards to increase the people's authority, and to imbase the Senate's greatness. The first was, for the restoring of the colonies to Rome, in dividing the lands of the commonwealth unto the poor citizens that should inhabit there. The other, that they should apparel the soldiers at the charge of the commonwealth, and that it should not be deducted out of their pay: and also, that no citizen should be [obliged] to serve in the wars, under seventeen years of age at the least.

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.

Another setting a reasonable price of the com that should be distributed unto the poor people.

Another touching judgement, whereby he did greatly [di]minish the authority of the Senate. For before, the senators were [the] only judges of all matters, which made them to be the more honoured and feared of the people and the Roman knights: and now he joined three hundred Roman knights unto the other three hundred senators, and brought it so to pass, 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 them[selves] 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?

Why did the announcement by the African ambassadors cause so much upset? Which was more important: that the army get supplies, or that the right people get credit for it?

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

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

Lesson Nine


"Now, the people having not only confirmed the law he made touching 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 by Part Two of this lesson, admiration was turning to jealousy, and a conspiracy arose against him.


matters meet for their honour: suitable to their importance

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

garners: storage barns

estate: dignity

a stately man, and very cruel: proud and violent

cawcie: the word is more familiar in the form "causeway," which is a road made across a marsh; but it can also mean a paved highway

line or plummet: measuring devices

he cared not much: Dryden, "he would never blame them for the refusal"

to further his suit: to promote Gaius Fannius

the freedom of Rome: the privileges of citizenship

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


Fabius [the] vicepraetor: 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 (although his own proposals were never meant to be carried out).


Part One

Now, the people having not only confirmed the law he made touching 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. So did he ever give good counsel, and did prefer matters meet for their honour.

As amongst others, the law he made touching certain wheat that Fabius [the] vicepraetor 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 garners for provision of corn.

And to bring all these things to pass, he himself took upon him the only care and enterprise, being never wearied with any pains taken in ordering of so great affairs. 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, whom he easily satisfied and dispatched, keeping still his estate, and yet using great courtesy and civility, entertaining every one of them privately: so that he made his accusers to be found liars, that said he was a stately man, and very cruel. 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, the which he would have as well done, as profitably done. For he would cast the cawcies by the line in the softest ground in the fields, and then would pave them with hard stone, and cast a great deal of gravel upon it, which he caused to be brought thither. When he found any low or watery places which the rivers had eaten into, he raised them up, or else made bridges over them, with an even height equal to either side of the cawcie: so that all his work carried a goodly level withal even by the line or plummet, which was a pleasure to behold it. 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.

The people for these things highly praising and extolling him, and being ready to make shew of their love and goodwill to him any manner of way: he told them openly one day in his oration, that he had a request to make unto them, the which if it would please them to grant him, he would think they did him a marvellous pleasure: and if they denied him also, he cared not much. 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, and brought Gaius Fannius with his friends, to further his suit for the consulship. Therein he served Fannius' turn, for he was presently chosen consul: and Gaius Gracchus was the second time chosen tribune again, not of his own suit, but by the goodwill of the people.

Part Two

Gaius, perceiving 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 freedom 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 with such unreasonable things as otherwise [the senators] would have felt it honourable for them to incur the greatest unpopularity in resisting]. Livius offering to pleasure the Senate with his authority, preferred laws neither honourable nor profitable to the commonwealth, and [that] were to no other end, but contending with Gaius, who should most flatter the people of them two, as players do in their common plays, to shew the people pastime.

Whereby the Senate shewed, that they did not so much mislike Gaius' doings, as for the desire they had to overthrow him and his great credit with the people. 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 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.

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


In this lesson, we are introduced to Marcus Fulvius Flaccus. Fulvius 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.


scourge: whip

a seditious man: Dryden, "a man of a turbulent spirit"

incontinently: immediately

to speed: to have a good chance of being chosen

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

he removed from his house: he moved his residence

repairing to Rome out of all parts . . .: coming to the city to vote


Fannius: see Lesson Nine

Lucius Opimius: consul in 121 B.C. along with Fabius


Part One

Furthermore also, where Gaius did anger the people, because he gave all the Latins the freedom of Rome to give their voices in choosing of magistrates as freely as the natural Romans: when Drusus on the other side had preferred a law that thenceforth no Roman should [scourge a Latin soldier], they liked the law, and passed it. Livius also, in every law he put forth, said in all his orations that he did it by the counsel of the Senate, who were very careful for the profit of the people: and this was all the good he did in his office unto the commonwealth. For by his means the people were better pleased with the Senate, and where they did before hate all the noblemen of the Senate, Livius took away that malice, when the people saw that all that he propounded was for the preferment and benefit of the commonwealth, with the consent and furtherance of the Senate.

The only thing also that persuaded the people to think that Drusus meant uprightly, and that he only respected the profit of the common people, was that he never preferred any law for himself, or for his own benefit. For in the restoring of these colonies which he preferred, he always sent other commissioners, and gave them the charge of it, and would never finger any money himself: where Gaius took upon him the charge and care of all things himself, and specially of the greatest matters.

Rubrius also, another tribune, having preferred a law for the re-edifying and replenishing of Carthage again with people, the which Scipio [the Younger] had razed and destroyed: it was Gaius' hap to be appointed one of the commissioners for it. Whereupon he took ship, and sailed into Africa. 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 these lands among the citizens, whom they sent to replenish these colonies. This Fulvius was a seditious man, and therefore marvellously hated of the Senate, and withal suspected also [by] them that took part with the people, that he secretly practised to make their confederates of Italy to rebel. But yet they had no evident proofs of it to justify it against him, more than that which he himself did verify, [than his being an unsettled character and of a well-known seditious temper]. And this was one of the chiefest causes of Gaius' overthrow, [for part of the envy which fell upon Fulvius was extended to him].

[A flashback to 129 B.C.]

For when Scipio Africanus [the Younger] was found dead one morning in his house, without any manifest cause how he should come to his death so suddenly: (saving that there appeared certain blind marks of stripes on his body that had been given him: as we have declared at large 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

Now Gaius at that time being in Africa about the re-edifying and replenishing of the city of Carthage again, the which he named Colonia Iunonia: the voice goeth that he had many ill signs and tokens appeared unto him. 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].

This notwithstanding, Gaius having dispatched all things in the space of three score and ten days, he returned incontinently to Rome, understanding that Fulvius was [prosecuted] by Drusus, and that those matters required his presence. For Lucius Opimius that was all in all for the nobility, and a man of great credit with the Senate, being the year before put by the consulship, by Gaius' practise, who caused Fannius to be chosen: he had good hope this year to speed, for the great number of friends that furthered his suit. So that if he could obtain it, he was fully bent to set Gaius beside the saddle, and the rather, because his [Gaius's] estimation and countenance he was wont to have among the people, began now to decay, [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, he removed from his house, and where before he dwelt in Mount Palatine, he came now to take a house under the marketplace, to shew himself thereby the lowlier and more popular, because many of the meaner sort of people dwelt thereabouts. Then he purposed to go forward with the rest of his laws, and to make the people to establish them, a great number of people repairing to Rome out of all parts for the furtherance thereof. Howbeit the Senate counselled the consul Fannius to make proclamation, that all those which were no natural Romans, resident and abiding within the city [it]self of Rome: that they should depart out of Rome. Besides all this, there was a strange proclamation made, and never seen before: that none of all the friends and confederates of the Romans, [during that time], should come into Rome. But Gaius on the the other side set up bills on every post, accusing the consul for making so wicked a proclamation: and further, promised the confederates of Rome to aid them, if they would remain there against the consul's proclamation. But yet he performed it not. For when he saw one of Fannius' sergeants carry a friend of his to prison, he held on his way, and would see nothing, neither did he help him: either of likelihood because he feared his credit with the people, which began to decay, or else because he was [unwilling] (as he said) to pick any quarrel with his enemies, which sought it of him.

Narration and Discussion

Drusus preferred to keep his hands away from the public money. Was he honest, lazy, or afraid to risk criticism?

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

Lesson Eleven


Now that Gaius was no longer tribune, the Senate felt free to revoke his laws, partly 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.


sword players or fencers at the sharp: gladiators

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

bold presumptuous man: particularly because he had dishonoured another tribune by his actions

he was put from his third tribuneship: Gaius and Fulvius had lost their positions as tribunes, Opimius had been elected consul for 121 B.C., and Fannius was not re-elected consul.

voices: votes

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

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

betimes: early

at such a strait: at such a dangerous time

to take Mount Aventine: to make this spot the centre of a protest against the " Final Act"

lay flatling: lay prostrate on the ground


Part One

Furthermore, he chanced to fall at variance with his brethren the tribunes, about this occasion. The people were to see the pastime of the sword players or fencers at the sharp, within the very marketplace, and there were divers of the officers that to see the sport, did set up 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, to be revenged of the part he had played them, of malice and spite made false report of the voices. Howbeit there is no great truth in this. Furthermore, his enemies having chosen Opimius [as] consul, they began immediately to revoke divers of Gaius' laws: as among the rest, his doings at Carthage for the re-edifying of that city, procuring thus all the ways they could to anger him, because they might have just occasion of anger to kill him. 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.

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 others of his tribe that were about him: "Give place to honest men, vile citizens that ye be." Some say also, that besides these injurious words, in scorn and contempt, he held out his naked arm [in scorn and contempt]. Whereupon they slew him [Antyllius] 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 shower of rain at that time that parted them.

Part Two

The next morning, the consul having assembled the Senate by break of day, as he was dispatching causes within, 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 Senate door: where they began to make great moan and lamentation, Opimius knowing the meaning of it, but yet he [seemed to be surprised, and wondered what the meaning of it should be].

Whereupon the senators went out to see what it was, and finding this bier, in the marketplace, some fell a-weeping for him that was dead, others cried out that it was a shameful act, and in no wise to be suffered. 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, and within the Capitol itself, and had also cast his body into the river, did now make an honourable show openly in the marketplace, of the body of [an ordinary hired attendant] (who though he were wrongfully slain, yet had himself given them the cause that slew him, to do that [which] they did); and all the whole Senate were about the bier to bewail his death, and to honour the funerals of a hireling, to make the people also kill him [Gaius], that was only left the protector and defender of the people.

After this, they [the senators] went again unto the Capitol, and there made a decree, whereby they gave the consul Opimius extraordinary power and authority, by absolute power to provide for the safety of the commonwealth, to preserve the city, and to suppress the tyrants.

This decree being established, the consul presently commanded the senators that were present there to go arm themselves: and appointed the Roman knights, that the next morning betimes every man should bring two of their men armed with them. Fulvius, on the other side, prepared his force against them, and assembled the common people together. Gaius also returning from the marketplace, stayed before the image of his father, and looked earnestly upon it without ever a word speaking, only he burst out a-weeping, and fetching a great sigh, went his way. This made the people to pity him that saw him: so that they talked among themselves, that they were but beasts and cowards at such a strait to forsake so worthy a man. Thereupon they went to his house, stayed there all night and watched before his gate: not as they did that watched with Fulvius, that passed away the night in guzzling and drinking drunk, crying out, and making noise, Fulvius himself being drunk first of all, who both spake and did many thinges fain unmeet for his calling. For 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.

When the day broke, they with Fulvius did awake him, who slept yet soundly for the wine he drank overnight. They armed themselves with the spoils of the Gauls that hung round about his house, whom he had overcome in battle the same year he was consul: and with great cries, and thundering threats, they went to take 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 in 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. Had thy brother been slain by his enemies, before the city of Numantia: yet had they given us his body to have buried him. 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?

Creative narration: Compare the ways that Fulvius and Tiberius spent the night before the final events of this story. You might write a monologue for each of them.

Lesson Twelve


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


hothouse: possibly a workshop or a bathing house

turned their coats: deserted, shifted their loyalty

jointure: dowry

Historic Occasions

121 B.C.: the death of Gaius Gracchus


Part One

Now Fulvius, by the persuasion of Gaius, when all their faction were met, sent his younger son (which was a pretty fair boy) [into the marketplace], with a herald's rod in his hand for his safety. 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, but with this condition he had prescribed. 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 him in safe 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 old hothouse that nobody made reckoning of, and there being found shortly after, they slew him, and his eldest son.

Now for Gaius, he fought not at all, but being mad with himself, and grieved to see such bloodshed: he got him into the temple of Diana, where he would have killed himself, had not his very good friends Pomponius and Licinius saved him. For both they being with him at that time, took his sword 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 the common people (or the most part of them) plainly turned their coats, when they heard proclamation made that all men had pardon granted them, that would return.

[Gaius, therefore, endeavoured now to make his escape], and his enemies followed him so near, that they overtook him upon the wooden bridge, where two of his friends that were with him stayed, to defend him against his followers, and bade him in the meantime make shift for himself, whilst they fought with them upon the bridge: and so they did, and kept them that not a man got the bridge of them, until they were both slain. 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.

This notwithstanding, by their defence that were slain upon the bridge, he got ground on them so that he had leisure to creep into a little grove of wood which was consecrated to the Furies. There his servant Philocrates slew him, and then slew himself also, and fell dead upon him. Other[s] write, notwithstanding, that both the master and servant were overtaken, and taken alive: and that his servant did so straight embrace his master that none of the enemies could strike him for all the blows they gave, before he was slain himself.

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 confiscate[d], and their widows forbidden to mourn for their death. Furthermore, they took from Licinia, Gaius' wife, her jointure: but yet they dealt more cruelly and beastly with the young boy, Fulvius' son: who had neither lift[ed] up his hand against them, nor was in the fight among them, but only came to them to make peace before they fought, whom they kept as prisoner, and after the battle ended, they put him to death.

But yet that which most of all other grieved the people, was the Temple of Concord, the 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 there were [some] that in the night 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.

Part Two

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 continually by the Mount of Misene, 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 [the Elder]: but yet they wondered more, to hear her tell the acts and death of her two sons, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchi, without shedding [a] tear, or making any shew 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 that fortune oftentimes overcomes virtue, which regardeth honesty in all respects, but yet with any adversity she [fortune] cannot take away the temperance from them, whereby they patiently bear it.

[Dryden translates the last lines this way: "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 reasonably."]

Narration and Discussion

Why did Gaius' friends encourage but not help him?

North refers in the last sentence to "temperance." What sort of temperance did Plutarch mean? Why was it hard for others to understand Cornelia's acceptance of tragedy?

The Impact of the Gracchi

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?

A note of thanks

Thank you to the group of AmblesideOnline users who field-tested these notes. Special thanks to those attending the 2016 L'Harmas Charlotte Mason Gathering in Kingsville, Ontario, who contributed vocabulary suggestions and discussion questions for Lesson Seven of The Gracchi.