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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE DEATH OF GAIUS GRACCHUS

[269] THERE were some citizens who did not fear to show their regret for the death of Tiberius Gracchus, and one of these was named Carbo.

That the populace was sorry that it had forsaken Gracchus at the critical moment was proved by the sympathy it gave to Carbo, and by its choice of him as their tribune in 131 B.C.

Carbo determined to carry on the reforms of Tiberius Gracchus, and his first measure was to try to make it legal for a tribune to be elected for two years in succession.

In the Assembly of the people Scipio Africanus opposed this, and also declared that Tiberius was put to death justly for trying to be elected tribune a second time.

Ominous mutterings were heard among the crowd at these words.

But Scipio was always masterful, and, annoyed at the interruption, he sternly said: "Let no man speak to whom Italy is but a stepmother."

He said this to remind the people that many of them had been conquered by the Romans, and had not even the full rights of citizens.

Not to have the full rights of citizenship was a sore point with the Italians, and at so bitter a taunt they grew the more threatening.

"Do you think," added Scipio scornfully, as he noticed their attitude, "do you think I fear the men whom I brought here in chains now that they are set free?"

[270] The influence of Scipio was so great that Carbo's bill was rejected.

In 129 B.C. Scipio was at the height of his power, and more popular than ever before. Crowds gathered to watch and admire him as he went to and fro from his house to the Senate.

One day as he left the Forum his progress was like a triumph. He left his admirerers early that evening, and took his writing tablets to his room to prepare a speech which he intended to give the next day. But when morning came he was found dead in bed. At his funeral it was plain that he had been respected not only by his friends but by those too who did not agree with his views. His great success at Carthage was never forgotten, and in him Rome knew that she had lost one of her truest and noblest citizens.

Meanwhile, after the murder of his brother, Gaius Gracchus lived quietly in his own home.

The enemies of Tiberius began to hope that Gaius would prove unlike his brother, and be willing to leave the laws of his country alone. But they forgot that Cornelia had trained Gaius even as she had trained her elder son. Gaius never dreamed of letting his brother's fate keep him from serving his country. He was but waiting for the best opportunity to follow in his footsteps.

In 123 B.C. Gaius was elected tribune. The Optimates, it is true, did their utmost to defeat him. But, as in the time of Tiberius, the people flocked from all parts of Italy to vote for him.

In the place of Assembly many could find no room. But, rather than be thwarted, the excited people climbed on the roofs of the neighbouring buildings, and raised their voices in favour of Gaius.

The younger Gracchus was even more eloquent than his brother, and his quick, passionate words swayed the people this way or that, as he willed.

[271] Sometimes in his earnestness he lost control of his voice, and spoke more loudly than was pleasant, and he had invented a curious way to check this habit.

When he spoke in public a slave always stood near to him, a flute in his hand. Should his master's voice rise, the slave would strike a few soft notes on his flute, and Gaius hearing, would remember, and strive to regain control of his voice.

After his election Gaius reminded the people of his brother's cruel death, and they wept. He told them that he meant to carry on the reforms for which Tiberius had died, and they applauded.

The first effort of the young tribune was to try to punish Octavius for having opposed his brother.

He brought forward a bill proposing that any man who had been deposed from one office should henceforth be incapable of being elected to another.

Octavius had been deposed, and if this bill became law he could no longer hope to serve his country in a public position.

But Cornelia was wiser than her son, and knowing that such a law would only anger the people, she persuaded Gaius to withdraw his bill.

In many ways Gaius tried to keep the affections of the people. He built bridges, and ordered milestones to be erected for their benefit. He brought in laws making grain cheaper for the poor, and this greatly increased his popularity. Above all, he was eager to give the full rights of citizenship to all Italians.

The laws passed for these and other measures were called the Sempronian laws, as Sempronius was the name of the family to which the Gracchi belonged.

Meanwhile the Senate was growing alarmed. Gaius Gracchus promised to give more trouble even than his brother had done. Reforms were being carried out too rapidly to please either the Senate or the patricians. His [272] enemies resolved not to kill him as they had killed his brother, for they believed that they could injure him in a more subtle way.

From that time, if Gaius proposed a measure for the good of the people, one of the Optimates would suggest another, that would be sure to please them more than that of Gaius.

Drusus was the man employed by the enemies of Gracchus to undermine his influence in this way. He was rich, and eloquent as Gaius himself, and little by little he wormed his way into the favour of the people. The more Drusus grew in favour with the plebeians, the less popular became Gaius.

Now Gracchus believed that if the poor people in Italy were sent out to settle in the new lands which the Romans had conquered they would soon grow more prosperous than was possible at home.

His colleague had proposed to make Carthage, in Africa, one of these new colonies, for a city was being built on the old site, in spite of the curse that had been pronounced over it by Scipio.

The Senate agreed to make Carthage one of the new colonies, and gladly sent Gaius out to take charge of the scheme. He would be forgotten by the people while he was away.

During his absence, which, after all, only lasted for sixty days, Drusus introduced a much greater scheme for the settling of the people in colonies. His colonies were not to be far away, as were those of Gracchus and his colleague, but in Italy herself. Besides, Drusus promised that there should be no taxes to pay in his colonies, while Gracchus had made no such concession.

It did not matter to the people that it was unlikely, if not impossible, that Drusus's plan could be carried out. That he had proposed it was enough. When Gracchus came back from Africa he at once saw how coldly the people welcomed him, how little they trusted him.

[273] But he determined not to be disheartened. He would yet win back the confidence of the people. So he left his house on the Palatine, where the nobles lived, and dwelt near the Forum, in the midst of the poorer citizens of Rome.

But Gaius was too impetuous to be wise, and his next move did not win the favour of the citizens, although it may have pleased the rabble.

One day he noticed that stands were being put up round the ground where public games were to be held. These stands were for the rich, who could afford to pay for them. As they took up a great deal of room, and would spoil the view of many of the poorer folk, Gaius begged that they might be removed. But his request was refused, and he himself was ridiculed by his enemies.

Then Gaius took the matter into his own rash hands.

The evening before the games were to take place he ordered workmen to pull down the stands and level the ground, so that on the morrow rich and poor would be forced to stand side by side if they were to see the games.

Soon after this the election of tribunes took place, and although Gaius had done much for the sake of the people's welfare, they showed no gratitude. In 121 B.C. he was not again chosen as their tribune.

What was even more serious was that the Consuls for the year, Fabius Maximus and Opimius, were leaders of the Optimates, so that the enemies of Gaius were now powerful enough to attack him publicly.

First they worked upon the superstitious fears of the populace. They reminded the people that the site of Carthage had been cursed, yet here were Gracchus and his friends venturing to build a new city on the very spot.

Omens, too, had been ignored. His enemies told how the boundary stones of the new city and the measuring poles had been torn out of the ground by wild beasts and carried [274] away. Such things, they said, must portend the wrath of gods.

Thus they paved the way for the blow which they hoped to inflict upon Gracchus. For they now called the tribes together and asked them to repeal the law permitting the building and colonising of Carthage. The people themselves had passed the law only the year before.

Gracchus and his friends determined to fight against the repeal of this law. But while Gracchus hoped to avoid violence, his friends were ready to use force to gain their ends.

The anger of both parties was roused, and lest one side should take advantage of the other, both took up their position on the Capitol, meaning to spend the night on the hill. But it was unlikely to be a quiet night. Any moment a spark might set the flames of anger alight.

As Gracchus walked up and down, speaking to one and another, the servant of the Consul came from the temple carrying away part of the sacrifice that had just been offered, and shouting in a rude manner to the people to leave room for him to pass.

When he drew near to Gracchus the people imagined that he threatened their leader.

At once the mob was in a panic. Some one cried that the life of Gaius was in danger, and in a moment the insolent servant was killed.

Gracchus was deeply grieved that one of his party should have been so rash. It gave to his enemies the very opportunity which they wished.

The Senate, indeed, showed great horror at such a deed of violence, and ordered the body of the dead man to be held up to the people. "This is how Gracchus and his friends treat the poor," was what the Senate wished the people to think. It then denounced Gaius and his party as enemies of the republic.

After this both the parties left the Capitol, Gracchus and [275] his friends taking up their position on the Aventine hill early the following morning.

Before he left home Gaius refused to wear armour, but put on his gown as though he were simply going to an Assembly of the people. He did, however, wear a short dagger beneath his tunic.

As he reached the threshold his wife rushed after him and caught him with one hand, while with the other she clasped one of her children.

"You go now," she said to her husband, "to expose your body to the murderers of Tiberius, unarmed, indeed, and rightly so, choosing rather to suffer the worst of injuries than do the least yourself."

But Gaius would listen to no more. Gently he withdrew himself from her hold, and stricken with grief, his wife fell to the ground.

When Opimius, the Consul, heard of the gathering on the Aventine, he declared that it was an act of war to seize a position within the city and hold it against the Senate. He ordered it to be proclaimed that he would give its weight in gold to any one who brought him the head of Gaius Gracchus. Then, with a troop of soldiers and archers, Opimius prepared to march against those whom he had declared rebels.

The leader of the mob, for indeed it was little else, was Fulvius, who had been both tribune and Consul.

He now sent his young son, of eighteen years of age, to propose to the Senate that peace should be arranged without having recourse to arms.

The lad was sent back to say that the rebels must disperse, and Gracchus and Fulvius appear before the Senate to answer for what they had done, before it was possible to think of terms.

Gracchus would have agreed to do this, but Fulvius refused to give way, and sent his son back to the Senate with other proposals.

[276] This time the messenger was not sent back, but was kept prisoner by Opimius, who without further delay went forward toward the Aventine hill.

Fulvius had not courage to face the troops of the Consul, and he fled and hid himself in a bath, from which he was soon dragged ignominiously, and put to death.

Gracchus did not attempt to lead his followers against the soldiers. He may have felt it was hopeless to do so.

His friends urged him to escape, but he, it is said, first fell upon his knees, and in the bitterness of his heart besought the goddess Diana to punish the fickle, ungrateful people of Rome by sending them into unending slavery.

Then he fled down the hill toward the river Tiber, followed by two of his most faithful friends and a slave.

One of his friends fell and sprained his foot. He quickly rose and faced the pursuers, resolved to hinder them as long as might be. But he was soon put to death.

At the bridge that crossed the Tiber the other friend stopped. Here it would be possible, he thought, to hold the enemy at bay for a time. Perhaps as he stood at his post he thought of the old Roman hero, Horatius Cocles, who had so nobly held the bridge against the foes of Rome. But ere long he too was slain.


[Illustration]

Here it would be possible, he thought, to hold the enemy at bay.

Then Gaius, knowing that all hope was at an end, called for a horse. But his enemies were watching, and no one dared to answer his request.

Yet taken alive he would never be! So with desperate speed he ran on until he reached a little grove, which was consecrated to the Furies, and here for a few brief moments he was hidden from his pursuers. Then in a stern voice he bade his slave, who was now alone with him, to kill him before he was discovered by his enemies.

His slave obeyed, and, faithful to the end, slew himself as well as his master.

Here in the grove his enemies found the body of Gaius Gracchus, covered by that of his devoted slave.

[277] The head of the dead man was cut off, and to increase its weight was filled with lead. This was done, it is told, by one who was once his friend. But this we cannot easily believe. It was, however, taken to the Consul, who gave for it the promised reward—its weight in gold.

The body of Gaius was then dragged through the streets, and thrown into the Tiber.

And Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi?

She bore the loss of her two sons as she had borne all the disasters of her life, with an undaunted spirit.

Her friends marvelled to hear her speak of her sons with no outward sign of grief, but Cornelia was too proud of the service they had done for Rome to weep. Yet she left the city and lived in retirement, for, with all her fortitude, she could not bear to meet those who had approved of the murder of her sons.

In after years the Romans learned to be ashamed of their treatment of the Gracchi, and in reverence for the noble matron who had borne them they erected a bronze statue in the Forum. On it were inscribed these simple words: "To Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi."


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