Tiberius Gracchus
Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

: TI·SEMPRONIVS·TI·F·P·N·GRACCVS) (b. abt 163 BC - 162 BC d.133 BC) was a Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

Populares were aristocratic leaders in the late Roman Republic who relied on the people's assemblies and tribunate to acquire political power. They are regarded in modern scholarship as in opposition to the optimates, who are identified with the conservative interests of a senatorial elite...

politician of the 2nd century BC and brother of Gaius Gracchus
Gaius Gracchus
Gaius Sempronius Gracchus was a Roman Populari politician in the 2nd century BC and brother of the ill-fated reformer Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus...

. As a plebeian tribune
Tribune was a title shared by elected officials in the Roman Republic. Tribunes had the power to convene the Plebeian Council and to act as its president, which also gave them the right to propose legislation before it. They were sacrosanct, in the sense that any assault on their person was...

, his reforms of agrarian legislation caused political turmoil in the Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

. These reforms threatened the holdings of rich landowners in Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. He was murdered, along with many of his supporters, by members of the Roman Senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

 and supporters of the conservative Optimate faction.


The Gracchi branch of the gens Sempronia was one of the most politically connected families of Rome. Tiberius was born between 168 and 163 BCE (his birthdate cannot be confirmed); he was the son of Tiberius Gracchus the Elder and Cornelia Africana
Cornelia Africana
Cornelia Scipionis Africana was the second daughter of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, the hero of the Second Punic War, and Aemilia Paulla. She is remembered as the perfect example of a virtuous Roman woman....

. His maternal grandparents were Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus and Aemilia Paulla, Lucius Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus
Lucius Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus
Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus was a two-time consul of the Roman Republic and a noted general who conquered Macedon putting an end to the Antigonid dynasty.-Family:...

' sister, and his own sister Sempronia was the wife of Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, another important general. Tiberius was raised by his mother, with his sister and his brother Gaius Gracchus
Gaius Gracchus
Gaius Sempronius Gracchus was a Roman Populari politician in the 2nd century BC and brother of the ill-fated reformer Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus...

. Later he married Claudia Pulchra
Claudia Pulchra
Claudia Pulchra was the name of several women of Roman gens of Claudii during the 1st century BC and 1st century AD. The Latin pulchra is the root of the English word pulchritude .-Wife of Tiberius Gracchus:...

, daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher
Appius Claudius Pulcher (consul 143 BC)
Appius Claudius Pulcher was a Roman politician of the 2nd century BC.-Life:Son of Gaius Claudius Pulcher , he was appointed consul in 143 BC, and, to obtain a pretext for a triumph, attacked the Salassi, an Alpine tribe...


Military career

Tiberius's military career started in the Third Punic War
Third Punic War
The Third Punic War was the third and last of the Punic Wars fought between the former Phoenician colony of Carthage, and the Roman Republic...

, as military tribune
Tribune was a title shared by elected officials in the Roman Republic. Tribunes had the power to convene the Plebeian Council and to act as its president, which also gave them the right to propose legislation before it. They were sacrosanct, in the sense that any assault on their person was...

 appointed to the staff of his brother in law, Scipio Aemilianus. In 137 BC
137 BC
Year 137 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Porcina and Mancinus...

 he was appointed quaestor
A Quaestor was a type of public official in the "Cursus honorum" system who supervised financial affairs. In the Roman Republic a quaestor was an elected official whereas, with the autocratic government of the Roman Empire, quaestors were simply appointed....

 to consul Gaius Hostilius Mancinus
Gaius Hostilius Mancinus
Gaius Hostilius Mancinus was a Roman consul in 137 BC. Due to his campaign against Numantia in northern Spain, Plutarch called him "not bad as a man, but most unfortunate of the Romans as a general." During this campaign in the Numantine War, Mancinus was defeated, showing some cowardice,...

 and served his term in Numantia
Numantia is the name of an ancient Celtiberian settlement, whose remains are located 7 km north of the city of Soria, on a hill known as Cerro de la Muela in the municipality of Garray....

 (Hispania province
Roman province
In Ancient Rome, a province was the basic, and, until the Tetrarchy , largest territorial and administrative unit of the empire's territorial possessions outside of Italy...

). The campaign was part of the Numantine War
Numantine War
The Numantine War was the last conflict of the Celtiberian Wars fought by the Romans to subdue those people along the Ebro. It was a twenty year long conflict between the Celtiberian tribes of Hispania Citerior and the Roman government. It began in 154 BC as a revolt of the Celtiberians of...

 and was not successful; Mancinus's army suffered a major defeat. It was Tiberius, as quaestor, who saved the army from destruction by signing a peace treaty
Peace treaty
A peace treaty is an agreement between two or more hostile parties, usually countries or governments, that formally ends a state of war between the parties...

 with the enemy. Back in Rome, Scipio Aemilianus did not use his influence to support Tiberius and uphold the peace. This was perhaps the start of the political enmity between Tiberius and the Senate (and between Tiberius and Scipio Aemilianus).

Land crisis

Rome's internal political situation was not peaceful. In the last hundred years, there had been several wars. Since legionaries
The Roman legionary was a professional soldier of the Roman army after the Marian reforms of 107 BC. Legionaries had to be Roman citizens under the age of 45. They enlisted in a legion for twenty-five years of service, a change from the early practice of enlisting only for a campaign...

 were required to serve in a complete campaign, no matter how long it was, soldiers often left their farms in the hands of wives and children. Small farms in this situation often went bankrupt and were bought up by the wealthy upper class
Upper class
In social science, the "upper class" is the group of people at the top of a social hierarchy. Members of an upper class may have great power over the allocation of resources and governmental policy in their area.- Historical meaning :...

, forming huge private estates. Furthermore, some lands ended up being taken by the state in war, both in Italy and elsewhere. After the war was over, much of this conquered land would then be sold to or rented to various members of the populace. Much of this land was given to only a few farmers who then had large amounts of land that were more profitable than the smaller farms. The farmers with large farms had their land worked by slaves and did not do the work themselves, unlike landowners with smaller farms.

According to Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

, "when Tiberius on his way to Numantia passed through Etruria and found the country almost depopulated and its husbandmen and shepherds imported barbarian slaves, he first conceived the policy which was to be the source of countless ills to himself and to his brother."

When the soldiers returned from the legions
Roman legion
A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

, they had nowhere to go, so they went to Rome to join the mob of thousands of unemployed who roamed the city. As only men who owned property were allowed to enroll in the army the number of men eligible for army duty was therefore shrinking; and hence the military power
Armed forces
The armed forces of a country are its government-sponsored defense, fighting forces, and organizations. They exist to further the foreign and domestic policies of their governing body, and to defend that body and the nation it represents from external aggressors. In some countries paramilitary...

 of Rome. Plutarch noted, "Then the poor, who had been ejected from their land, no longer showed themselves eager for military service, and neglected the bringing up of children, so that soon all Italy was conscious of a dearth of freemen, and was filled with gangs of foreign slaves, by whose aid the rich cultivated their estates, from which they had driven away the free citizens."

In 133 BC
133 BC
Year 133 BC was a year of the pre-Julian Roman calendar. At the time it was known as the Year of the Consulship of Scaevola and Frugi...

 Tiberius was elected tribune of the people
Tribune was a title shared by elected officials in the Roman Republic. Tribunes had the power to convene the Plebeian Council and to act as its president, which also gave them the right to propose legislation before it. They were sacrosanct, in the sense that any assault on their person was...

. Soon he started to legislate on the matter of the homeless legionaries. Speaking before a crowd at the Rostra, Tiberius said, "The wild beasts that roam over Italy have their dens, each has a place of repose and refuge. But the men who fight and die for Italy enjoy nothing but the air and light; without house or home they wander about with their wives and children."

The Lex Sempronia Agraria

Seeking to improve the lot of the poor, Tiberius Gracchus proposed a law known as Lex Sempronia Agraria. The law would reorganize control of the ager publicus
Ager publicus
The ager publicus is the Latin name for the public land of Ancient Rome. It was usually acquired by expropriation from Rome's enemies.In the earliest periods of Roman expansion in central Italy, the ager publicus was used for Roman and Latin colonies...

, or public land
Public land
In all modern states, some land is held by central or local governments. This is called public land. The system of tenure of public land, and the terminology used, varies between countries...

; meaning land conquered in previous wars that was controlled by the state. Previous agrarian law specified that no one citizen would be allowed to possess more than 500 iugera (that is, approximately 125 hectare
The hectare is a metric unit of area defined as 10,000 square metres , and primarily used in the measurement of land. In 1795, when the metric system was introduced, the are was defined as being 100 square metres and the hectare was thus 100 ares or 1/100 km2...

s) of the ager publica and any land that they occupied above this limit would be confiscated by the state. However this law was largely ignored and rich landowners continued to acquire land, then to work it with slave labour, alienating and impoverishing free Roman citizens. Tiberius saw that reform was needed. He proposed his law in 134 BC, and to mollify these landowners, they would be allowed to own their land rent free, and would be entitled to 250 iugera per son, above the legal limit. They would also be paid for the land they had to forfeit.

The 500 iugera limit was a reiteration of previous land laws, such as the Licinian Laws
Lex Licinia Sextia
Lex Licinia Sextia was a Roman law introduced around 376 BCE and enacted in 367 BCE. It restored the consulship, allegedly reserved one of the two consular positions for a plebeian , and introduced new limits on the possession of conquered land.- Authors :It is named for the plebeian tribunes Gaius...

 passed in 367 BC, which had been enacted but never enforced. As it stood in Tiberius Gracchus's time, a good deal of this land was held in farms far in excess of 500 iugera by large landholders who had settled or rented the property in much earlier time periods, even several generations back. Sometimes it had been leased, rented, or resold to other holders after the initial sale or rental.

Furthermore, Tiberius Gracchus called for the redistribution of the re-confiscated public land to the poor and homeless in Rome, giving them plots of 30 iugera upon which to support themselves and their families, not to mention that the redistributed wealth would make them eligible for taxation and military service. Thus the law sought to solve the twin problems of increasing the number of men eligible for military service (thereby boosting Rome's military strength
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

) and also providing for homeless war veterans.

The Senate and its conservative elements were strongly against the Sempronian agrarian reforms, with most of their hostility due to Tiberius’ highly unorthodox method of passing the reforms. Because Tiberius clearly knew the Senate wouldn’t approve his reforms, he sidestepped the Senate altogether by going straight to the Concilium Plebis (the Popular Assembly) who supported his measures. This was neither against the law or even against tradition (Mos Maiorum
Mos maiorum
The mos maiorum is the unwritten code from which the ancient Romans derived their social norms. It is the core concept of Roman traditionalism, distinguished from but in dynamic complement to written law. The mos maiorum The mos maiorum ("ancestral custom") is the unwritten code from which the...

), but it was certainly insulting to the Senate and it alienated Senators who otherwise might have shown support.

However, any Tribune could veto
A veto, Latin for "I forbid", is the power of an officer of the state to unilaterally stop an official action, especially enactment of a piece of legislation...

 a proposal, preventing it from being laid before the Assembly. So, in an effort to stop Tiberius, the Senate persuaded Marcus Octavius
Marcus Octavius
Marcus Octavius was a Roman tribune and a major rival of Tiberius Gracchus. A serious and discreet person, he earned himself a reputation as an influential orator. Though originally close friends, Octavius became alarmed by Gracchus's populist agenda and, at the behest of the Roman senate,...

, another tribune, to use his veto to prevent the submission of the bills to the Assembly. Gracchus then moved that Octavius, as a tribune who acted contrary to the wishes of his constituents, should be immediately deposed. Octavius remained resolute. The people began to vote to depose Octavius, but he vetoed their actions. Tiberius had him forcefully removed from the meeting place of the Assembly and proceeded with the vote to depose him. These actions violated Octavius' right of sacrosanctity and worried Tiberius' supporters, and so instead of moving to depose him, Tiberius commenced to use his veto on daily ceremonial rites in which Tribunes were asked if they would allow for key public buildings, for example the Markets and the Temples, to be opened. In this way he effectively shut down the entire city of Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

, including all businesses, trade and production, until the Senate and the Assembly passed the laws. The Assembly, fearing for Tiberius's safety, escorted him home.

Tiberius justified the expulsion of Octavius by stating that a tribune was

sacred and inviolable, because he was consecrated to the people and was a champion of the people... If, then he should change about, wrong the people, maim its power, and rob it of the privilege of voting, he has by his own acts deprived himself of his honourable office by not fulfilling the conditions on which he received it; for otherwise there would be no interference with a tribune even though he should try to demolish the Capitol or set fire to the naval arsenal. If a tribune does these things, he is a bad tribune; but if he annuls the power of the people, he is no tribune at all... And surely, if it is right for him to be made tribune by a majority of the votes of the tribes, it must be even more right for him to be deprived of his tribuneship by a unanimous vote.

The Senate gave trivial funds to the agrarian commission that had been appointed to execute Tiberius' laws. However, late in 133 BC, king Attalus III
Attalus III
Attalus III Philometor Euergetes was the last Attalid king of Pergamon, ruling from 138 BC to 133 BC....

 of Pergamum died and left his entire fortune (including the whole kingdom of Pergamum) to Rome. Tiberius saw his chance and immediately used his tribunician powers to allocate the fortune to fund the new law. This was a direct attack on Senatorial power, since it was traditionally responsible for the management of the treasury and for decisions regarding overseas affairs. The opposition of the Senate to Gracchus increased. Quintus Pompeius addressed the Senate and said that he "was a neighbour of Tiberius, and therefore knew that Eudemus of Pergamum had presented Tiberius with a royal diadem and a purple robe, believing that he was going to be king in Rome." Pompeius's fears were reflective of a growing number of senators who were afraid that Tiberius was claiming too much power for himself.

Tiberius' death

Tiberius Gracchus' overruling of the tribunician veto was considered illegal, and his opponents were determined to prosecute him at the end of his one year term, since he was regarded as having violated the constitution and having used force against a tribune. To protect himself further, Tiberius Gracchus sought re-election to the tribunate in 133 BC, promising to shorten the term of military service, abolish the exclusive right of senators to act as jurors, and admit allies to Roman citizenship
Roman citizenship
Citizenship in ancient Rome was a privileged political and legal status afforded to certain free-born individuals with respect to laws, property, and governance....


As the voting proceeded, violence broke out on both sides. Tiberius' cousin, Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica
Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio
Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio , the son of Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum and his wife Cornelia Africana Major, was a member of the gens Cornelia and a politician of the ancient Roman Republic. He was consul in 138 BC.He was also a member of the gens Cornelia, a family of...

, saying that Tiberius wished to make himself king, led the senators down towards Tiberius. In the resulting confrontation, Tiberius was beaten to death with the chairs of the senators and thrown into the Tiber
The Tiber is the third-longest river in Italy, rising in the Apennine Mountains in Emilia-Romagna and flowing through Umbria and Lazio to the Tyrrhenian Sea. It drains a basin estimated at...

. Several hundred of his followers, who were waiting outside the senate, perished with him. Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 says, "Tiberius' death in the senate was short and quick. Although he was armed, it did not help him against the many senators of the day."

Opposition to Tiberius Gracchus

Tiberius was essentially opposed by three men: Marcus Octavius, Scipio Nasica and Scipio Aemilianus. Octavius opposed Tiberius because Tiberius would not let him veto the Lex Sempronia Agraria. This offended Octavius, who then entered into a conspiracy with Scipio Nasica and Scipio Aemilianus to assassinate Tiberius. Nasica would benefit from this because Tiberius had bought some land from a place that Nasica wanted. Because of this, Nasica lost out on 500 sesterces. Nasica would often bring this up in the senate to mock Tiberius. Aemilianus opposed Tiberius Gracchus because he saw the greatness of Rome in conquest rather than Tiberius's view of honor and honesty.
It should be noted here that, according to the historian Plutarch (in his Livesof the Gracchi), only Scipio Nasica was directly involved in actually leading the senators to simply kill Tiberius. Furthermore, the death of Tiberius Gracchus can hardly be called an assassination; it was an open attack much closer associated to a riot.

If Octavius were to benefit from this it would be wise to note that the most direct benefit would come from the lands he himself had in excess of 500 iugera. furthermore, it should then be noted that Tiberius (again according to the history of Plutarch)reputedly offered to pay Octavius for his own lost lands personally, and that the two were friends up until the weight of the wealthy/senate brought him as the opposition to Tiberius' law. Of course Appian's "Civil Wars : Gracchi" is more or less mutually-exclusive to this view, along with many other histories.

There is too great a conflict between the closest sources to the event to say with certainty the actual nature of Tiberius' death and his personal conflicts that lead up to it, but it is as certain as it gets with these things that Scipio Nasica was the man who lead the senators to attack Tiberius, that Octavius did oppose his law if nothing else and for whatever reasons, and last that Scipio Aemilianus did not agree with Tiberius' actions, even if it was not to the point that he would wish the man dead.


The Senate sought to placate the plebeians by consenting to the enforcement of the Gracchan laws. An increase in the register of citizens in the next decade suggests a large number of land allotments. Nonetheless, the agrarian commission found itself faced with many difficulties and obstacles.

Tiberius' heir was his younger brother Gaius
Gaius Gracchus
Gaius Sempronius Gracchus was a Roman Populari politician in the 2nd century BC and brother of the ill-fated reformer Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus...

, who would share Tiberius' fate, a decade later, while trying to apply even more revolutionary legislation.

Additional reading

  • Ian Scott-Kilvert, notes to Life of Tiberius Gracchus by Plutarch
    Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

    ; Penguin Classics
    Penguin Books
    Penguin Books is a publisher founded in 1935 by Sir Allen Lane and V.K. Krishna Menon. Penguin revolutionised publishing in the 1930s through its high quality, inexpensive paperbacks, sold through Woolworths and other high street stores for sixpence. Penguin's success demonstrated that large...

  • BBC - Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire
    Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire
    Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire is a 2006 BBC One docudrama series, with each episode looking at a different key turning point in the history of the Roman Empire.-Production:...

    Episode 4 - 2006 (Television series and accompanying book of same title)
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