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Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

(c. 153—121 bc)


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Younger brother of Tiberius Gracchus, served under his cousin and brother-in-law Scipio Aemilianus at Numantia. A member of his brother's land commission, he supported the plans of Marcus Fulvius Flaccus in 126 bc, then went to Sardinia as quaestor. Returning before his commander in 124, he was accused before the censors but acquitted, and elected tribune for 123 and again for 122, when he was joined by Flaccus, by then consularis (an ex-consul) and triumphalis (celebrator of a triumph, i.e. a victory procession at Rome). After laws meant to avenge his brother and secure himself against a similar fate, he embarked on a programme of reform, aided by friendly colleagues. The most important measures were: (1) a lex frumentaria (corn law) assuring citizens of wheat, normally at a subsidized price; (2) laws providing for the resumption of land distribution and the foundation of colonies, including one on the ritually cursed site of Carthage, which Gracchus himself, as commissioner, helped to establish; (3) laws regulating army service and providing for public works—all these to gain the support of the plebs and relieve poverty and exploitation; (4) a law to have the decuma (‘tithe’, a tax) of the new province of Asia sold by the censors in Rome; (5) laws (probably two) regulating repetundae (provincial corruption) trials, the second (passed by Manius Acilius Glabrio) introducing elements of criminal procedure and taking juries from the equites (knights)—these to protect provincials from magistrates' rapacity, to secure the treasury's major revenue against peculation, and to set up members of the non-political class to control politicians; (6) a law to make the senate's designation of consular provinces immune to tribunician veto and to have it before the elections—this to remove the most important administrative decision of the year from personal prejudice. This law shows how far he was from being a ‘democrat’.

(1) a lex frumentaria (corn law) assuring citizens of wheat, normally at a subsidized price; (2) laws providing for the resumption of land distribution and the foundation of colonies, including one on the ritually cursed site of Carthage, which Gracchus himself, as commissioner, helped to establish; (3) laws regulating army service and providing for public works—all these to gain the support of the plebs and relieve poverty and exploitation; (4) a law to have the decuma (‘tithe’, a tax) of the new province of Asia sold by the censors in Rome; (5) laws (probably two) regulating repetundae (provincial corruption) trials, the second (passed by Manius Acilius Glabrio) introducing elements of criminal procedure and taking juries from the equites (knights)—these to protect provincials from magistrates' rapacity, to secure the treasury's major revenue against peculation, and to set up members of the non-political class to control politicians; (6) a law to make the senate's designation of consular provinces immune to tribunician veto and to have it before the elections—this to remove the most important administrative decision of the year from personal prejudice. This law shows how far he was from being a ‘democrat’.

Finally, in 122, he proposed to offer citizenship to Latins and Latin status to Italian allies, both to protect them from the excesses of Roman magistrates and to make them subject to his brother's agrarian law. The law was opposed by Gaius Fannius, whom he had supported for the consulship, and by Livius Drusus (1), who outbid him with an unrealistic colonial programme. It was defeated, and Gracchus was not re-elected. In 121, with his legislation under attack, Gracchus, supported by Flaccus, resorted to armed insurrection. It was suppressed after the first use of the so-called senatus consultum ultimum (‘ultimate decree’ of the senate, in effect a declaration of a state of emergency); they and many of their supporters were killed, others executed after arrest.

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Subjects: Classical studies


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