Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

KEN LIVINGSTONE set out his electoral stall by appealing to `the people'. Roman history groans with examples of what happens to such politicians.

Take Tiberius Gracchus, who in 133 sc proposed to solve the land shortage by restricting existing landowners to 300 acres plus 150 per child and dividing the rest among the poor (Mugabe, incidentally, please note). This, in fact, was a perfectly sensible popular measure, but in the face of stiff senatorial opposition Gracchus forced it through by appealing to the people, and for his pains was clubbed to death in the ensuing riots.

Take Catiline who, frustrated at his continual rejection from the consulship, decided to take matters into his own hands in 63 ac in the name of land reform, appealed to the people and immediately raised an army against the state. It did not last long.

The historian Sallust reports a letter sent by Catiline to his friends as he was about to join his makeshift army, revealing his motives for acting as he did: `I am not going to make a defence of my new policies. …

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