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This webpage reproduces an article in
Classical Philology
Vol. 8, No. 3 (Jul. 1913), pp354‑356.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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p354 The Wife of Caius Gracchus and Her Dowry

We are told by Plutarch, C. Gracch. 17.4:º τὰς οὐσίας αὐτῶν (sc. the Gracchans) ἀπέδοντο πρὸς τὸ δημόσιον. Ἀπεῖπον δὲ πενθεῖν ταῖς γυναιξί· τὴν δὲ Γαΐου Λικιννίαν καὶ τῆς προικὸς ἀπεστέρησαν.

The statement has been generally accepted: Mommsen, II3.127: "aus dem Vermögen der getödteten oder verurtheilten Hochverräter, das bis auf die Mitgift ihrer Frauen confiscirt ward," etc.; Leo Bloch, Soziale Kämpfe im alten Rom, p115: "der Wittwe des Gracchus nahm man selbst ihre Mitgift."

Confiscation of a wife's dowry is, however, a most extraordinary measure, which it would be difficult to parallel in the entire course of Roman history except in those cases in which the wife is charged with direct complicity in her husband's guilt. Did the senate actually carry out such a measure here?

It may be noticed, in the first place, that the senate need not have specifically ordered the seizure of Licinia's dowry, in order to cause her to lose it. The dos, of course, was in possession of her husband up to the moment of his death. If the commissioners who were to carry out the confiscation took possession of all the property apparently belonging to Gaius Gracchus, they must necessarily have seized the res dotales as well in which Gracchus had only a usufruct. Licinia would in this case very effectively have been deprived of her property, although it could not be said to have been confiscated.

But we should have to admit the substantial accuracy of the report, if the dowry of Licinia had in this way been lost, even if there had technically been no confiscation. If however, the seizure was legally repudiated, the case is widely different. A passage which has seemingly been overlooked may throw light on the whole situation that followed the murder of Gaius:

Dig. 24.3.66, pr.: "In his rebus quas praeter numeratam pecuniam doti vir habet, dolum malum et culpam eum praestare oportere Servius ait. ea sententia Publii Mucii est: nam in Licinnia Gracchi uxore, quod res dotales in ea seditione qua Gracchus occisus erat, perissent, ait, quia Gracchi culpa ea seditio facta esset, Licinniae praestari oportere."

The passage comes from the 6th book of Iavolenus' commentaries on the posthumous writings of Labeo. Either through Labeo or directly, he quotes Servius Sulpicius Rufus (probably the de dotibus), and from the same source, the actual decision of Publius Scaevola himself. This is of course, incomparably better authority than either Plutarch or, indeed, any of his sources. We are dealing, as a matter of fact, with a contemporary record the transmission of which possesses unimpeachable authority.

It is clear that Licinia gets her dos back, or part of it. She does not lose it, either as a matter of law or fact. Plutarch is, therefore, wrong. The error probably arose from a misunderstood account of the suit of Licinia.1

p355But there are difficulties in the situation. Licinia sues, probably by the usual actio rei uxoriae, for the recovery of her dowry. But whom? Who had the property which formed part of her dos? Mommsen (op. cit.) states that the temple of Concord was erected from the proceeds of the Gracchan confiscations. This is nowhere stated in the sources. If the confiscated property was treated, as similar property was later in the Sullan proscriptions, it was sold at public auction like booty taken in war. Now, Licinia, in case of a divorce could have sued her husband for the return of her dowry. In the case of his death, his heirs. To whom could she look for relief, when, by the confiscation of Gracchus' property, the hereditas, as far as it was material, was destroyed? Evidently to those to whom the estate was knocked down by the auctioneer, to Gracchus' successors in title.

But in this case the res dotales were no longer in existence. It was accordingly not a fundus that was concerned, but personal property. Appian tells us (I.26): ὁ δὲ δῆμος αὐτῶν [sc. Γράκχου καὶ Φλάκκου] τὰς οἰκιάς διήρπαζε. Appian means, to be sure, not the δῆμος proper, the plebs Romana, but the hired thugs who formed the main part of the consul's forces, or possibly the non-Roman riff-raff of the city which seized the occasion to plunder. However that may be, the res dotales were gone. Licinia sues those who bid in the estate at the auction. Perhaps one man purchased it in bulk.2 The defense is that the res have perished by accident. By a rule of law, the husband or his successors in title are liable for losses incurred by gross negligence or the various species of fraud comprised in dolus. The case goes before a iudex — in this case, the pontifex maximus, Publius Scaevola. His decision is that, as Gaius was primarily responsible for the riot in which the goods disappeared they were lost by his culpa, Licinia was, therefore, entitled to compensation from the estate.

The reasoning seems strained. As a matter of fact, the impartiality of Scaevola might easily be challenged. He was a blood-brother of Publius Crassus Mucianus, who had become by adoption a brother of Licinia and was, indeed, her quasiguardian after Gaius' death. Scaevola, himself, we remember as the drafter of Tiberius' landbills and as consul in 133 B.C. when he refused to countenance the illegal proceedings of the estate. That some utterances of his, afterward, indicated little real sympathy for the Gracchans, may have been shifty prudence or the caution of the trained legalist. This decision, probably, was a characteristic political move on his part.

We are not told when the case was decided. Evidently long before the reaction in favor of the Gracchi which sent Rupilius Popilius Opimius and others into exile, for the responsibility for the riot is placed on Gaius. We p356cannot suppose that actual necessity impelled a woman living under the roof of the Crassus who was surnamed Dives, to sue for such meager personalty as could have been carried off or destroyed in a riot. We shall best understand the case as an attack on Gaius' enemies, directed by one to whom fine distinctions and forced interpretations were no new thing (cf. De Leg. II.53; Gellius 17.7.3). It qualifies our ideas of the orgy of violent repression, in which we are told Opimius indulged after the slaughter on the Aventine, to know that the ordinary processes of law might be instituted against the victors, and that the pontifex maximus, as iudex in a private case, did not hesitate to defy the resentment of a party, already impatient of his precision (cf. Plut. Tib. Gr. 19.3; Val. Max. 3.2.17), by a strained application of a rule of law.

Max Radix

Newton High School
New York City


The Author's Notes:

1 The suit would further settle the question of who Gaius' wife was. Plutarch, following the majority of writers, makes her name Licinia. Nepos (Plut. Tib. Gr. 21.2) stated that she was a daughter of Decimus Brutus Gallaecus. The same statement is made in the Liber Memorialis of Ampelius (19.4),º probably from Nepos. Gaius may have married twice.

2 Cf. the case of Antony when Pompey's property was sold (Cic. Phil. II.64). In the same oration (§ 62) Antony is called, to be sure ironically, the heres of Pompey.


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