Tiberius Gracchus and the Senate

Tiberius Gracchus was a Roman politician and tribune.  His beliefs attracted negative attention by the Roman Senate by which he met his death in 133 B.C.

The soldiers in the Roman military had to all be landowners.  If one did not own land, he could not enter into the military.  After the Second Punic War, the soldiers returned to Rome to find that their farms and land were devastated by the Carthaginian army.  They, having no hope to resuscitate their farms, sold their land and went into the city seeking jobs.  But all the jobs were already performed by slave-labor.  The men concluded that they should just re-enter into the military.  But Roman law stated that men had to own land to be in the military.

This problem Tiberius Gracchus was bent on solving.  He wanted a land commission bill passed to give excess land of the rich back to the poor.  The idea gained some support in the Senate.  Some called him a champion of the people, others titled him an ambitious, dangerous politician who had no respect for tradition.  Tiberius, instead of taking the bill to the Senate, directly bypassed it to the concilium plebis, or Plebian Assembly.  This action gave him his reputation.

The bill was passed, but the Senate refuted its funding.  However, the king of Pergamum died afterward, and he bestowed his kingdom to Rome.  Tiberius mentioned that taxes from Pergamum should fund the bill.  Contradicting this was the Senate’s duty of managing finances and foreign affairs.  Before the land commission succeeded though, Tiberius’ term as tribune ended and he decided to campaign for re-election to ensure its passage, violating yet another Roman tradition.

At one of his rallies, he sensed danger was upon him, moving his hand to his head as the story goes.  The senators took this to mean he was calling for a crown.  Angered to the very brink, the senators broke benches and tables and took the legs of them, beating Tiberius and those who defended him.  Tiberius was murdered.  Placating the people, the land commission was passed and gained many accomplishments.

Why did Tiberius Gracchus attract so much suspicion from the Roman Senate?  Were they afraid of his goals or his methods?  I think they were afraid of his methods.  He repeatedly broke traditions and rules, possibly causing the Senate to believe he wanted to take their power away and make himself a dictator.  Maybe they thought he wanted more control for himself than anyone else.  Whatever the reason, they shouldn’t have killed him in cold blood.  They passed the law he tried so hard to do himself (because of their disapproval) after they killed him!  This fact leads my conclusion to their fear of his methods, not his goals.


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