Tiberius Gracchus (168-133 BC)
Tiberius and his brother Gaius Gracchus were men from Rome's very elite, their father a famous consul and military leader and their mother a Scipio (one of the most distinguished potrician families) who, when widowed turned down an offer of marriage from teh King of Egypt.
All the more unusual does their background appear once one learns that they were to become politicians whose political reforms and championship of the poor and needy did most to upset the established order in republican Rome.
As all young men of his social class, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus werved in the army. This he did with considerable disticntion and was elected quaestor. In a campaign in Numantia in Spain, his talent in negotiations saved the lives of 20'000 Romans and countless auxiliaries and campfollowers from annihilation. But the surrender did not go down well in Rome. Largely thanks to his brother-in-law, another notable member of the Scipio clan, Tiberius and his fellow officers were spared any further indignity, but their commanding officer was put in irons and returned to the enemy.
Tiberius then turned to politics and was elected Tribune of teh People for 133 BC. The main reform he proposed was teh redistribution of large tracts of land which had been acquired by the state in its conquests of Italy to smallholders with guaranteed tenure in return for rent. Those currently living on the land would be restricted to what had for some time been the legal limit of ownership (500 acres plus 250 acres for each of up to two sons; i.e. 1000 acres), and would be compensated by being granted a hereditary rent-free lease.
This was a significant political package at a time of general unrest and of expension abroad. It also restored to the list of those eligible for military service (for which a tradition of qualification was teh possession of land) a section of society which had fallen out of the reckoning.
Though teh bill had teh backing of several prominent members of teh senate Tiberius questionable tactics in trying to get the law passed were reflective of what was to follow in later years.
Instead of submitting the bill to the senate Gracchus went straight to the comitia tributa, where it was bound to succeed.
This obviously annoyed the senate which therefore persuaded one of the tribunes to veto it as it was being read out. Tiberius retaliated by envoking his own right as tribune to suspend all business. Then, instead of listening to any advice to refer teh bill to the senate, he took teh unprecedented step of asking the comitia tributa to vote the tribune who'd vetoed him out of office, which it promptly did.
The bill wsa subsequently passed and three commissioners were appointed to administer the scheme; Tiberius himse, his younger brother Gaius Sempronius Gracchus and Appius Claudis Pulcher, 'leader' of the senate - and Tiberius' father-in-law.
The commission began work at once and in all about 75'000 smallholding may have been created and farmed as a result.
As the commission began to run out of money Tiberius simply proposed to the comitia tributa to use the confiscated funds from the newly acquired kingdom of Pergamum. The senate was in no mood to be outwitted again, particularly not on matters of finance, which were its prerogative. It unwillingly passed the proposal. But Tiberius was not making any friends.
Roman state officials could not be prosecuted during their term of office, however, they be brought to court afterwards for acts commited during their term. Hence Tiberius was in a vulnerable position.
His solution to this problem though was unconstitutional, as he simply announced his candiday for tribune for a second term in office. The senate failed in an attempt to bar him from standing again, but a group of enraged senators charged into a electioneering meeting of Tiberius', broke it up and, alas, clubbed him to death.
Gaius Gracchus (ca. 159-121 BC)
After the violent death of Tiberius Gracchus, the Gracchus family wasn't finished yet. Nine years after Tiberius' assassination, Gaius Sempronius Gracchus was elected tribune of teh people. And he was unopposedly re-elected the following year. There is the suggestion that one of his first acts of office was to repeal the law whereby a man could not hold office for two years in a row; teh very problem which had doomed his brother.
Gaius was a different and much formidable proposition than Tiberius. He was more flambyont and a very powerful speaker and demagogue.
His reforms passed by the comitia tributa were wide-ranging and designed to benefit all interests, except of course the Gracchus' old enemies, - the senate. He reaffirmed his brothers land laws and established smallholdings in Toman territory abroad. For the city dwellers who couldn't be persuaded to leave the teeming streets of Rome, he introduced corn laws which entitled every citizen on demand to a monthly ration at a fixed price.
Whilst the nobility still dominated the senate, wealth and trade lay largely with the equestrian class. Gaius Gracchus gave them greater power, and yet more opportunity to further enrich themselves, by awarding them the right to contract for the collecting of the enormous taxes due from the newly created province of Asia. Also he granted the knights teh right to act as jurors (instead of senators !) in cases of extortion brought by teh state against provincial governors. Further he forced through massive expenditure on public works, wuch as roads and harbours, which again benefitted the business community.
His most enlightend piece of legislation fell foul however, even of the comitia tributa. This was teh proposal to extand full Roman citizenship, including voting rights, to the population of teh surrounding area of Latium and to give all states in Italy teh rights so far enjoyed by teh Latins, such as trade and intermarriage with Romans.
When Gaius Gracchus in 121 BC stood for yet another term of tribune, teh senate conspired to put forward their own candidate with an entirely fallacious programme which was by its very nature simply designed to be yet more populist than anything Gracchus proposed.
Naturally, this straw candidate was elected. Gaius Gracchus' supporters held an angry mass demonstration on the Aventine Hill, making the mistake of carrying weapons.
The consul Lucius Opimius, armed with an order of highest authority, a senatus consultum optimum which gave which gave him senatoral backing to take action against those who were endangering the stability of the state, raised a large group of citizens, backed up by a company of solderis and archers, to disperse the demonstrators. The scene turned very ugly, resulting in a literal massacre on the side of Gracchus' demonstrators. Gaius himself escaped the first wave of violence, but recognising that the cause was hopeless he ordered his personal slave to stab him to death. It is said that 3'000 of his supporters were rounded up and thrown into jail where they were strangled.
The actions of the Gracchus brothers and the way of their demise represented a watershed in Roman politics. Their legistlation showed up
the links between poverty, the army, land ownership and the extentoin and retention of an empire. The sheer fact that political conflict surrounding such matters had twice resulted in violence had changed the rules of teh game, which subsequently is understood to having sparked of periods of anarchy and civil war.