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The Story of the Romans by  H. A. Guerber

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CAIUS GRACCHUS

[151] THE Plebeians, in search of a new leader, soon chose Caius Gracchus, the brother of the murdered Tiberius, and twice elected him to the office of tribune. He, too, was clever and brave, and he, too, boldly took up the cause of the poor and oppressed against the rich.

Thanks to the efforts of Caius, the price of grain was soon reduced so that the hungry people could secure bread at reasonable rates. But every day the senators grew more and more angry at the new champion and more anxious to get him out of their way.

As the life of a tribune was sacred, they had to wait until his term of office was ended before they dared attack him; for no one was bold enough to imitate Scipio Nasica. But, at the end of the second year, Caius was deserted by many of the people, and was not again elected. Shortly after this, the consuls publicly declared that any one who brought them his head should receive its weight in gold.

In fear for his life, Caius Gracchus retreated to the Aventine hill, where many of his followers had gathered. There they were attacked and soon scattered by the consul and his troops, and three thousand of them were afterwards thrown into prison and slain. Caius saw that he would fall into the hands of his cruel foes if he did not flee; so he made a desperate effort to escape, with two of his friends and a faithful slave.

They were soon overtaken, however, and fought like tigers; but their foes were so numerous that the two friends fell. Caius then rushed away into a grove, on the [152] other side of the Tiber. Here he made his slave put him to death, so that he should not fall alive into the enemy's hands.

The faithful slave, who had followed his master's fortunes to the last, killed himself just as the soldiers burst into the grove. The fallen leader's head was cut off by the first man who found the body, and carried away on the point of a spear.

This man, however, did not immediately exchange the ghastly trophy for the promised reward. On the contrary, he first carried it home, took out the brains, replaced them with molten lead, and then brought it to the consul, who gave him seventeen pounds of gold!

The headless body was flung into the Tiber, but pulled out again by compassionate people and carried to Cornelia. This devoted mother had now lost both her sons, and her life was very sad indeed. She mourned these brave youths as long as she lived; and when she died, her dearest wish was fulfilled, for the people set up a statue of her, and on the pedestal was the inscription: "Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi."

The murder of Caius decided the question between the rich and the poor. The people had twice lost their champions, and more than three thousand brave men had died in the vain hope of securing their rights. The government was now entirely in the hands of the senators, who, instead of making a generous use of their power, thought only of themselves. The Romans now thought more of themselves than of their country, and the history of this period is made up of a long list of crimes and violent deeds of every kind.


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