|The Story of Rome|
|by Mary Macgregor|
|A vivid account of the story of Rome from the earliest times to the death of Augustus, retold for children, chronicling the birth of a city and its growth through storm and struggle to become a great world empire. Gives short accounts of battles and campaigns, and of the men who expanded the borders of the Roman empire to include all lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Ages 10-14 |
THE DEATH OF GAIUS GRACCHUS
 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
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
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?"
 The influence of Scipio was so great that Carbo's bill
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
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.
 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
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.
 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
 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
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
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
 away. Such things, they said, must portend the wrath
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
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
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
 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.
 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
Gracchus did not attempt to lead his followers against
the soldiers. He may have felt it was hopeless to do
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
Then he fled down the hill toward the river Tiber,
followed by two of his most faithful friends and a
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
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.
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
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.
 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
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
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