Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
CORNELIA, THE MOTHER OF THE GRACCHI
 CORNELIA and her two sons, Tiberius and Gaius, are famous in the
annals of Roman history.
The mother of the Gracchi was the daughter of the first
Scipio Africanus. With her father's consent, Cornelia
married a young plebeian, named Tiberius Gracchus.
Her husband died while her children were still young,
and from that time Cornelia lived to train and educate
Princes in foreign countries heard of the wisdom and
goodness of the noble matron, and journeyed to Rome to
beseech her to bestow her hand upon them. Even King
Ptolemy of Egypt wished to make her his queen.
But Cornelia steadfastly refused each suitor, that she
might be free to watch over her sons. From their
childhood she taught them to love their country,
telling them tales of those who had served Rome well,
and had even given their lives for love of her.
And so the lads grew up longing that they too, like the
heroes of old, might live and die for their country.
But their mother taught them lessons the heroes of old
had never learned, and one of these lessons was to care
for the poor and oppressed.
One day, while her children were still young, a lady
came to visit Cornelia. She was a rich lady, and proud
of her jewels and her wealth.
Cornelia listened quietly as her guest told her of the
precious stones and ornaments she possessed. When at
length she grew tired of talking of her own beautiful
 things, she said she would like to see the treasures of
So Cornelia led the lady to another room. There, in
bed, fast asleep, lay her children. Pointing to the
little ones, she said to the bewildered visitor,
"These are my jewels; the only ones of which I am
Tiberius was nine years older than his brother Gaius.
The elder boy was gentle and deliberate, both in his
ways and in his speech, the younger was vehement and
impetuous. As they grew up, the differences between
them grew more marked.
Both were great orators, but Tiberius spoke without
gestures, and seldom stirred from one spot while he
addressed his audience.
Gaius, on the other hand, was never still for a moment.
His quick, passionate words were emphasised by his
gestures, and as he talked he would walk up and down,
sometimes in his excitement throwing his gown off his
The two brothers were known as "The Gracchi." They
had a sister who was named Sempronia, and she had
married the younger Scipio. Tiberius served under his
brother-in-law in Africa, and he was the first to mount
the wall when the suburb of Megara was attacked.
In 137 B.C., soon after he returned to Italy, he was
sent to Spain to serve with the army there.
On his way he passed through Etruria, where the land
was divided into large estates. These estates belonged
to rich people, who employed gangs of slaves to
cultivate their fields.
Tiberius saw the slaves at work as he journeyed through
the country. He noticed that they were loaded with
chains and bent with the hard tasks that their masters
forced them to do.
The young man looked at these poor creatures with pity,
for Cornelia had taught her boys that slaves were human
beings, and should be treated justly and kindly.
 Why should the land belong only to the rich? Tiberius
wondered. Had these very fields and estates not been
won for Rome by her citizen soldiers? Yet many of the
soldiers were now struggling with poverty, instead of
owning part of the soil for which they had fought.
As he thought of the slaves, and of the unfair division
of land, Tiberius remembered that the old Licinian
laws forbade any one man to own large tracts of land.
So he determined that when he went back to Rome he
would plead with the Senate to enforce these old laws,
that the poor might share the land with the rich.
After he had made this resolution, Gracchus went on his
way with happy thoughts.
Soon no chained slaves would be seen toiling in the
fields, but citizen farmers, like Cincinnatus of old,
would live on their own land and till their own fields.
And he, Tiberius Gracchus, would have freed his country
from a great evil.
The dreams of the young Roman that night were happy
When the time came for Tiberius to return to Rome, his
mind was still full of reform. No sooner did he reach
home, than he told to his noble mother his plans for
helping the slaves and the poorer citizens of Rome, and
begged for her advice.
Cornelia was full of interest in all that her son had
to tell. She was pleased that he should wish to help
the oppressed, and she knew that it was she herself who
had taught him to be thus pitiful.
"I have been called the daughter of Scipio, but in
days to come I shall be known as the mother of the
Gracchi," she told Tiberius, for Cornelia believed that
both her boys would be honoured by the country they
sought to serve.
So in 133 B.C. Tiberius offered himself as one of the
people's tribunes. He was young, it was true, but
already the citizens knew that he was their friend, and
he was elected without difficulty.