Gracchi

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Gracchi

Gracchi (grăk´ī), two Roman statesmen and social reformers, sons of the consul Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and of Cornelia. The brothers were brought up with great care by their mother. Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, d.133 BC, the elder of the Gracchi, fought at Carthage (146 BC) and in Spain (137). Alarmed at the state of Italy and the provinces, where the middle class was being totally eliminated by concentration of wealth and lands in the hands of a few, Tiberius stood for the tribunate of the people in 133 BC as an avowed reformer. On his election he immediately proposed and succeeded in passing the Sempronian Law (Lex Sempronia Agraria), a modification of the Licinian Rogations (see agrarian laws), which sought to redistribute the public lands that the rich had taken over. Tiberius' colleague Octavius vetoed the law, and Tiberius, by immediately holding an unconstitutional referendum, deposed Octavius. Later in the year Attalus III, king of Pergamum, died and bequeathed his property to Rome; Tiberius proposed to use the bequest to provide capital for the paupers who were to settle the lands allotted under the Sempronian Law. It was now election time, and Tiberius renominated himself; the senate declared this action illegal and had the election postponed. In a great riot on the following day Tiberius was killed. His brother, Caius Sempronius Gracchus, d.121 BC, became the organizer of the reform movement begun by Tiberius. After serving (126) as quaestor in Sardinia, he returned to Rome and was elected (123) tribune of the people. Setting out to complete his brother's work, he immediately initiated a series of remarkable social reforms. The chief aim of these reforms was to unite the plebs and the equites, thus undermining the authority of the senate. The Lex Frumentaria benefited the small landholders by reappropriating the proceeds of the tax on allotted lands. The senate, which had formerly used this money for the aggrandizement of the aristocracy, was now required to use it for the good of the poor. In the Lex Judiciaria, Caius won over the equites by granting them control over the judgeships that had heretofore belonged to the senate. Caius was reelected (122) tribune, but the counterproposals of Marcus Livius Drusus began to gain popularity, and the following year Caius was defeated for reelection. Repeal of his measures was proposed, and in the ensuing riots Caius was killed. Within 10 years the reaction had annulled every Gracchan reform, and the social and political war began again, this time to culminate in the fatal and bloody struggle of Marius and Sulla.

See study by H. C. Boren (1969).

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