Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

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The Gracchus brothers, by Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugène Guillaume .

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus (* 153 BC ; † 121 BC ) was a Roman politician of the 2nd century BC. He was the younger brother of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and, like him, pursued a popular political program , which led to conservative forces in the Roman Senate knocking him out and massacring his supporters.



Gaius Sempronius Gracchus was born in 153 BC. As the son of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus , consul of the year 177 BC. BC, and Cornelia Africana was born. The Gracchi , although not of patrician origin, were a branch of the Sempronian family , who belonged to the Roman nobility , of great political influence and were among the richest and most powerful families in Rome. Gaius' mother was a daughter of Scipio Africanus , his older brother Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus became an influential politician and his sister Sempronia was the wife of Scipio Aemilianus , the conqueror of Carthage . Gaius was raised by his mother, a Roman matron of high moral standards.

Start of political career

Gaius' military career began in Numantia as a military tribune with the staff of his brother-in-law Scipio Aemilianus . As a young man he watched the political turmoil caused by his older brother Tiberius when he tried illegally and against the Senate majority to pass agrarian reform laws. Tiberius was born in 133 BC. BC near the Capitol in an armed confrontation with political opponents led by his cousin Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio . After Tiberius' death Gaius inherited the enormous fortune of the Gracchi family, but at the same time, according to Roman understanding, also the duty to take revenge for his older brother.

Gaius began his active political career six years later, in 126 BC. BC, as quaestor of the consul Lucius Aurelius Orestes in Sardinia .

First Tribunate

After a few years of political peace in Rome, Gaius Gracchus was appointed for the year 123 BC. BC, like his father and brother, elected tribune of the people - much to the displeasure of the Optimates . Gaius had goals similar to Tiberius, but initially proceeded more cautiously due to the failure of his brother. On the other hand, his concerns were far more radical: Since he - not without reason - blamed the Senate majority for his brother's death, he sought revenge on the Senate. Knowing this, his opponents made a compromise impossible from the start. Modern research has indicated that the Gracchian reform project is primarily to be understood in the context of escalating competition within the Senate, in which the weaker side - the popular - sought support from the people.

To implement his reform plans, Gaius Gracchus, like his brother Tiberius, made use of the ius agendi cum plebe , i.e. the right of the tribune to lead the people's assembly and to pass binding resolutions. Like his brother, he disregarded the old principle of coordinating with the Senate beforehand. Gaius Gracchus gained great popularity by introducing plebeian- friendly legislative proposals and among other things set the lex agraria , which the agricultural commission reinstated for the distribution of state land to the plebeians, the "lex frumentaria", which guaranteed a grain supply for the plebs at fixed prices, and the "lex militaris", which guaranteed the supply of soldiers by the state and exempted under-17s from military service. He also tried to limit the number of years and campaigns a man was obliged to serve in the army. Other measures included the creation of a court against extortion to punish illegal income from Senate members. He also accommodated the knights by assuring them that only judges would be appointed by a law. Not only was it a welcome success for them, it was of direct economic importance. Since the number of complaints against the tax tenants from the provinces was increasing, they were content to have the litigation in their hands. They were able to keep the worst away from their peers and continue the plundering of the provinces. The knights thus became the second support of the Gracchus alongside the people.

All these reforms naturally aroused the displeasure of the Senate majority, who did not miss the fact that Gracchus systematically established a power base among the people and the equestrian class in order to be able to take action against his peers.

Second Tribunate

In 123 BC Gaius applied for another term of office (for the year of office 122 BC - the year of office of a tribune began on December 10th) as a tribune. In doing so, he violated the ban on iterations , which strictly forbade uninterrupted office successes (in order to be able to legally prosecute magistrates), but was elected with the overwhelming support of the Roman plebs . It was foreseeable that the Senate majority would try to take countermeasures to prevent a further loss of power and to protect itself from Gracchus' revenge. She was given the opportunity to do this because Marcus Livius Drusus was appointed to his fellow tribune. This was a young politician close to the Optimates and he was to play the decisive role in the dismantling of Gaius Gracchus. From now on Livius Drusus wooed the people with promises that went far beyond those of Gaius Gracchus. Colonization policy had always been a particular concern of Gaius and his followers. They had campaigned for the establishment of two new colonies on the Italian peninsula, namely near Capua and Taranto , and another on the site of the destroyed Carthage in North Africa. (A colonia was a city whose inhabitants continued to retain Roman citizenship.) When Gaius Gracchus was chosen to oversee the development of this colony, called Junonia, Livy Drusus took advantage of his absence. Since colonization in Italy was always more popular than such projects outside of Italy, he in turn applied for the establishment of twelve new colonies on Italian soil. He also demanded that only Roman citizens should be involved, not, as Gracchus had suggested, also all Italians allied with Rome . This project, which brought Drusus the enthusiasm of the Roman plebeians, was never implemented and must be understood from the outset as pure demagoguery , especially since there was not enough land available in Italy at that time for the establishment of so many colonies.

Due to the agitation of Drusus, Gaius Gracchus, actually a demagogue himself, came under pressure on his return. There are different statements about the way in which he wanted to take back the initiative. Above all, it is unclear whether he was now calling for Roman citizenship only for the Latins or even for all Italians; in any case, of course, all new citizens would have become his loyal clients out of gratitude. His opponents absolutely had to prevent this. This succeeded, because Livius Drusus was able to score points over Gracchus on this point too, since his proposal naturally stood in opposition to the egoism of those who already had Roman citizenship and all the privileges associated with it and did not want to share it. Drusus, however, only demanded the equality of the Latins in the Roman army and their exemption from corporal punishment. This suggestion was again widely approved by the urban Roman population.


Gaius tried to get a third term as tribune (with Marcus Fulvius Flaccus as a partner). But this time they lost the vote and had to watch as many of their laws were withdrawn by the new consuls Quintus Fabius Maximus Allobrogicus and Lucius Opimius . Without an office, Gracchus was defenseless against the legal stalking of his opponents; a conviction for the various legal violations was only a matter of time.

When supporters from both sides gathered at the Capitol on voting day, an incident occurred. Because overzealous supporters of Gaius Gracchus killed a lictor named Antullius, probably due to a misunderstanding. However, this now gave Opimius the opportunity to proceed with all severity against Gracchus and his followers. For the first time in the history of Rome the Senate declared a state of emergency ( senatus consultum ultimum ), while at the same time Gracchus, in an act of desperation, called on the slaves to rise up against their masters - without much success. Fulvius Flaccus was killed with his sons, but Gaius managed to escape with Philocrates, his slave. Pursued by the men of the conservative faction, Gaius let himself be killed by his slave in a basement where he was hiding. Many more followers were killed in the clashes and executions that followed. Plutarch reports 3,000 fatalities.


Gaius Gracchus left only one daughter from his marriage to Licinia , Sempronia.

Post fame

Despite his failure, Gaius Gracchus, like his brother, became an icon of the popular and his work became a model for many subsequent politicians up to modern times. In memory of the supposedly just people's tribune and incorruptible republican , the French revolutionary and early socialist François Noël Babeuf adopted the nickname Gracchus; and found himself, like Gaius once, a violent death.

This socio-romantic image of the Gracchi has a great influence to this day, just as their motives are controversial. On the one hand, only recently have ancient historians increasingly pointed out that Tiberius and Gaius were typical representatives of the nobility who were primarily interested in their own careers and who the people only used as an instrument to oppose the majority of them To enforce peers what had catastrophic consequences for the republic. On the other hand, the Gracchian reform attempts were reactions to a profound social crisis caused by the Roman expansion, which endangered the existence of Rome and its institutions themselves.



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  • Klaus Bringmann : History of the Roman Republic. From the beginning to Augustus. Beck, Munich 2002, ISBN 3-406-49292-4 .
  • Karl Christ : Crisis and Fall of the Roman Republic. 4th, revised and updated edition. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2000, ISBN 3-534-14518-6 .
  • Raimund Ottow: The Gracchen and their reception in the political thinking of the early modern times. In: The State . Journal for state theory and constitutional history, German and European public law. Volume 42, 2003, pp. 557-581.
  • Karen Piepenbrink : Gracchen. In: Peter von Möllendorff , Annette Simonis, Linda Simonis (ed.): Historical figures of antiquity. Reception in literature, art and music (= Der Neue Pauly . Supplements. Volume 8). Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2013, ISBN 978-3-476-02468-8 , Sp. 459-468.

Web links

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