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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor

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THE DEATH OF TIBERIUS GRACCHUS

[266] TIBERIUS did all that was possible to influence the people in the short time that was his before the votes were to be taken. He appeared before them clad in mourning, and bade them guard his young son should he not escape from the coming contest with his life.

The citizens were easily moved, and his eloquent words and sombre garb appealed to their imagination. They flocked to his side, escorted him to his home, and promised to give him their support on the morrow.

That night Tiberius arranged to give his friends a sign—to raise his hand to his head—should he think it necessary to use force.

Early the next morning the people assembled on the Capitol, and Gracchus left his house to join them, although he was warned that danger would overtake him.

Omens of ill were rife. As he left his house, Tiberius stumbled and wounded his great toe so severely that the blood dripped from his shoe. In spite of this accident he went on, and before long he noticed two ravens fighting on the top of a house. Gracchus was at the moment surrounded by people, yet a stone struck from the building by one of the ravens fell at his feet.

Even the boldest of his friends was daunted by such occurrences. It was plain that it would be wise for him to return to his home after such distinct warnings of disaster.

But Gracchus went on toward the Capitol, where he was joyfully greeted by his friends.

The voting began almost immediately, but again and [267] again it was interrupted by the enemies of Gracchus, until at length he determined to settle the matter by force.

He gave the signal he had arranged with his followers, and they flew to his aid. Before long a riot had begun, and the opponents of Gracchus were driven away by a fierce attack of stones and cudgels.

The Optimates were enraged by this rebuff. They declared in their anger that Gracchus wished to overthrow the nobles that he might become king.

They had seen him raise his hand to his head. It was the signal he had arranged to give his friends, but they said that it was a sign to the people that he hoped to wear a crown. Some even asserted that he had already been presented with a royal diadem and a purple robe.

The Consul, they agreed, ought to employ force to scatter the followers of Gracchus.

But Mucius Scævola was a wise Consul, and refused to kill a single citizen without a trial.

"Since the Consul betrays the republic," cried Scipio Nasica, "I call upon those men to follow me who desire to preserve the laws of our country." Then, drawing his toga over his head, Nasica marched against the followers of Gracchus at the head of a band of senators and knights.

The people saw the officers of state marching towards them, and stricken with fear they fled, leaving Gracchus, whom they had promised to defend, alone and unprotected.

Tiberius hastened toward the temple of Jupiter, thinking that he would find shelter there, but the priest had closed the door.

As he turned away he stumbled for the second time that day. But he quickly raised himself, only, however, to be struck brutally on the head by one of his enemies. Before he could recover from the blow, a second stroke ended the life of the unfortunate man. Three hundred of his followers were slain before the tumult ended, and the bodies of the victims were thrown into the Tiber.

[268] Gaius begged that he might be allowed to bury his brother, but his request was refused, and the body of Tiberius was also dragged to the river and flung into the tide.

Tiberius had paid with his life for his reforms, but he had been successful in wresting the land laws from the patricians, and in shaking the power of the Senate by his appeal to the people. Nor was the law repealed after his death.

The place left empty on the committee by the murder of Tiberius was filled by Publius Crassus, the father-in-law of Gaius, and the division of land for the good of the people was slowly carried on.


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