[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
mail:
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Click here for the text in ancient Greek.]
Ἑλληνική

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]
Italiano

[Link to a series of help pages]
Help
[Link to the next level up]
Up
[Link to my homepage]
Home

[image ALT: link to previous section]
Greek
Parallels:
Agis and Cleomenes

This webpage reproduces one of
The Parallel Lives

by
Plutarch

published in Vol. X
of the Loeb Classical Library edition,
1921

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

[image ALT: a blank space]

(Vol. X) Plutarch, The Parallel Lives

p145 The Life of Tiberius Gracchus

1 1 Now that we have duly finished the first part of our story, we have to contemplate fates no less tragic than those of Agis and Cleomenes in the lives of the Roman couple, Tiberius and Caius, which we set in parallel. They were sons of Tiberius Gracchus, who, although he had been censor at Rome, twice consul, and had celebrated two triumphs, derived his more illustrious dignity from his virtue. 2 Therefore, after the death1 of the Scipio who conquered Hannibal, although Tiberius had not been his friend, but actually at variance with him, he was judged worthy to take Scipio's daughter Cornelia in marriage. We are told, moreover, that he once caught a pair of serpents on his bed, and that the soothsayers, after considering the prodigy, forbade him to kill both serpents or to let both go, but to decide the fate of one or the other of them, declaring also that the male serpent, if killed, would bring death to Tiberius, and the female, to Cornelia. 3 Tiberius, accordingly, who loved his wife, and thought that since she was still young and he was older it was more fitting that he should die, killed the male serpent, but let the female go. A short time afterwards, as the story p147goes, he died,2 leaving Cornelia with twelve children by him.

4 Cornelia took charge of the children and of the estate, and showed herself so discreet, so good a mother, and so magnanimous, that Tiberius was thought to have been made no bad decision when he elected to die instead of such a woman. For when Ptolemy3 the king offered to share his crown with her and sought her hand in marriage, she refused him, and remained a widow. 5 In this state she lost most of her children, but three survived; one daughter, who married Scipio the younger, and two sons, Tiberius and Caius, whose lives I now relate. These sons Cornelia reared with such scrupulous care that although confessedly no other Romans were so well endowed by nature, they were thought to owe their virtues more to education than to nature.

2 1 Now, just as, in spite of the likeness between Castor and Pollux as they are represented in sculpture and painting, there is a certain difference of shape between the boxer and the runner, so in the case of these young Romans, along with their strong resemblance to one another in bravery and self-command, as well as in liberality, eloquence, and magnanimity, in their actions and political careers great unlikenesses blossomed out, as it were, and came to light. Therefore I think it not amiss to set these forth before going further.

2 In the first place, then, as regards cast of features and look and bearing, Tiberius was gentle and sedate, p149while Caius was high-strung and vehement, so that even when haranguing the people the one stood composedly in one spot, while the other was the first Roman to walk about upon the rostra and pull his toga off his shoulder as he spoke. So Cleon the Athenian is said to have been the first of the popular orators to strip away his mantle and smite his thigh.4 3 In the second place, the speech of Caius was awe-inspiring and passionate to exaggeration, while that of Tiberius was more agreeable and more conducive to pity. The style also of Tiberius was pure and elaborated to a nicety, while that of Caius was persuasive and ornate. So also as regards their table and mode of life, Tiberius was simple and plain, while Caius, although temperate and austere as compared with others, in contrast with his brother was ostentatious and fastidious. 4 Hence men like Drusus found fault with him because he bought silver dolphins at twelve hundred and fifty drachmas the pound. Again, their tempers were no less different than their speech. Tiberius was reasonable and gentle, while Caius was harsh and fiery, so that against his better judgment he was often carried away by anger as he spoke, raising his voice to a high pitch and uttering abuse and losing the thread of his discourse. 5 Wherefore, to guard against such digressions, he employed an intelligent servant, Licinius, who stood behind him when he was speaking, with a sounding instrument for giving the tones of the voice their pitches. Whenever this servant noticed that the voice of Caius was getting harsh and broken with anger, he would give out a soft key-note, on hearing which Caius was at once remit the vehemence of his passion and of p151his speech, grow gentle, and show himself easy to recall.a

3 1 The differences between them, then, were of this nature; but as regards bravery in the face of the enemy, just dealings with subject peoples, scrupulous fidelity in public office, and restraint in pleasurable indulgence, they were exactly alike. Tiberius, however, was nine years older than his brother; and this set a different period for the political activity of each, and more than anything else vitiated their undertakings. They did not rise to eminence at the same time, and so did not combine their powers into one. Such an united power would have proved irresistibly great. We must therefore give an account of each by himself, and of the elder first.

4 1 Tiberius, then, as soon as he got past boyhood, was so widely known as to be thought worthy of a place among the priests called augurs; and this was due to his virtues rather than to his excellent birth, as was clearly shown by Appius Claudius. For Appius, who had been consul and censor, had been made Dean of the Roman senate5 by virtue of his dignity, and in loftiness of spirit far surpassed his contemporaries, at a banquet of the augurs6 addressed Tiberius with words of friendship, and asked him to become the husband of his daughter. 2 Tiberius gladly accepted the invitation, and the betrothal was thus arranged, and when Appius returned home, from the doorway where he stood he called his wife, and cried in a loud voice: "Antistia, I have betrothed our Claudia." And Antistia, in amazement, said: "Why so eager, or why so fast? If thou hadst only found p153Tiberius Gracchus for betrothal to her!" 3 I am aware that some7 refer this story to Tiberius the father of the Gracchi and Scipio Africanus Major, but the majority of writers tell it as I do, and Polybius says8 that after the death of Scipio Africanus the relatives of Cornelia chose out Tiberius in preference to all others and gave her to him, as one who had been left by her father unaffianced and unbetrothed.

4 The younger Tiberius, accordingly, serving in Africa under the younger Scipio,9 who had married his sister, and sharing his commander's tent, soon learned to understand that commander's nature (which produced many great incentives towards the emulation of virtue and its imitation in action), and soon led all the young men in discipline and bravery; 5 yes, he was first to scale the enemies' wall, as Fannius says, who writes also that he himself scaled the wall with Tiberius and shared in that exploit. While he remained with the army Tiberius was the object of much good will, and on leaving it he was greatly missed.

5 1 After this campaign he was elected quaestor, and had the fortune to serve in a war against Numantia under the consul Caius Mancinus,10 who was not bad as a man, but most unfortunate of the Romans as a general. Therefore in the midst of unexpected misfortunes and adverse circumstances not only did the sagacity and bravery of Tiberius shine forth all the more, but also — and this was astonishing — the great respect and honour in which he held his commander, who, under the pressure of disasters, forgot even that he was a general. For after he had p155been defeated in great battles, he attempted to abandon his camp and withdraw his forces by night; but the Numantines became aware of his attempt and promptly seized his camp. Then they fell upon his men as they fled, slew those who were in the rear, encompassed his whole army, and crowded them into regions that were full of difficulties and afforded no escape. Mancinus, despairing of forcing his way to safety, sent heralds to the enemy proposing a truce and terms of peace; 3 but the enemy declared that they had confidence in no Roman save only Tiberius, and ordered that he should be sent to them. They had this feeling towards the young man not only on his own account (for he was held in very high esteem by the Numantine soldiery), but also because they remembered his father Tiberius, who waged war against the Spaniards,11 and subdued many of them, but made a peace with the Numantines, to the observance of which with integrity and justice he always held the Roman people. 4 So Tiberius was sent and held conference with the enemy, and after getting them to accept some conditions, and himself accepting others, effected a truce, and thereby manifestly saved the lives of twenty thousand Roman citizens, besides attendants and camp followers.

6 1 However, all the property captured in the camp was retained by the Numantines and treated as plunder. Among this were also the ledgers of Tiberius, containing written accounts of his official expenses as quaestor. These he was very anxious to recover, and so, when the army was already well on its way, turned back towards the city, attended by p157three or four companions. 2 After summoning forth the magistrates of Numantia, he asked them to bring him his tablets, that he might not give his enemies opportunity to malign him by not being able to give an account of his administration. The Numantines, accordingly, delighted at the chance to do him a favour, invited him to enter the city; and as he stood deliberating the matter, they drew near and clasped his hands, and fervently entreated him no longer to regard them as enemies, but to treat and trust them as friends. 3 Tiberius, accordingly, decided to do this, both because he set great store by his tablets, and because he feared to exasperate the Numantines by showing them distrust. After he had entered the city, in the first place the Numantines set out a meal for him, and entreated him by all means to sit down and eat something in their company; next, they gave him back his tablets, and urged him to take whatever he wanted of the rest of his property. He took nothing, however, except the frankincense which he was wont to use in the public sacrifices, and after bidding them farewell with every expression of friendship, departed.

7 1 When he came back to Rome, the whole transaction was blamed and denounced as a terrible disgrace to the city, although the relatives and friends of the soldiers, who formed a large part of the people, came flocking to Tiberius, imputing the disgrace in what had happened to his commander, but insisting that it was due to Tiberius that the lives of so many citizens had been saved. 2 Those, however, who were displeased at what had been done urged for imitation the example of their ancestors, who flung to the enemy unarmed the generals p159themselves who had been satisfied to be let go by the Samnites, and in like manner cast forth those who had taken hand and share in the treaty, as for instance the quaestors and military tribunes, turning upon their heads the guilt of perjury and violation of the pact.12 3 In the present affair, indeed, more than at any other time, the people showed their good will and affection towards Tiberius. For they voted to deliver up the consul unarmed and in bonds to the Numantines, but spared all the other officers for the sake of Tiberius. It would seem, too, that Scipio, who was then the greatest and most influential man at Rome, helped to save them; but none the less he was blamed13 for not saving Mancinus, and for not insisting that the treaty with the Numantines, which had been made through the agency of his kinsman and friend Tiberius, should be kept inviolate. 4 It would appear that the disagreement between the two men arose chiefly through the ambition of Tiberius and from the friends and sophists who urged him on. But this disagreement certainly resulted in no mischief past remedy. And in my opinion Tiberius would never have met with his great misfortunes if Scipio Africanus had been present at Rome during his political activity. But as it was, Scipio was already at Numantia14 and waging war there when Tiberius began to agitate his agrarian laws. The occasion of this was as follows.

8 1 Of the territory which the Romans won in war from their neighbours, a part they sold, and a p161part they made common land, and assigned it for occupation to the poor and indigent among the citizens, on payment of a small rent into the public treasury. 2 And when the rich began to offer larger rents and drove out the poor, a law was enacted forbidding the holding by one person of more than five hundred acres of land. For a short time this enactment gave a check to the rapacity of the rich, and was of assistance to the poor, who remained in their places on the land which they had rented and occupied the allotment which each had held from the outset. 3 But later on the neighbouring rich men, by means of fictitious personages, transferred these rentals to themselves, and finally held most of the land openly in their own names. Then the poor, who had been ejected from their land, no longer showed themselves eager for military service, and neglected the bringing up of children, so that soon all Italy was conscious of a dearth of freemen, and was filled with gangs of foreign slaves, by whose aid the rich cultivated their estates, from which they had driven away the free citizens. 4 An attempt was therefore made to rectify this evil, and by Caius Laelius the comrade of Scipio; but the men of influence opposed his measures, and he, fearing the disturbance which might ensue, desisted, and received the surname of Wise or Prudent (for the Latin word "sapiens" would seem to have either meaning). Tiberius, however, on being elected tribune of the people, took the matter directly in hand. He was incited to this step, as most writers say, by Diophanes the rhetorician and Blossius the philosopher. 5 Diophanes was an exile from Mitylene, but Blossius p163was a native Italian from Cumae, had been an intimate friend of Antipater of Tarsus at Rome, and had been honoured by him with the dedication of philosophical treatises. But some put part of the blame upon Cornelia the mother of Tiberius, who often reproached her sons because the Romans still called her the mother-in‑law of Scipio, but not yet the mother of the Gracchi. 6 Others again say that a certain Spurius Postumius was to blame. He was of the same age as Tiberius, and a rival of his in reputation as an advocate; and when Tiberius came back from his campaign and found that his rival had far outstripped him in reputation and influence and was an object of public admiration, he determined, as it would seem, to outdo him by engaging in a bold political measure which would arouse great expectations among the people. 7 But his brother Caius, in a certain pamphlet,15 has written that as Tiberius was passing through Tuscany on his way to Numantia, and observed the dearth of inhabitants in the country, and that those who tilled its soil or tended its flocks there were barbarian slaves, he then first conceived the public policy which was the cause of countless ills to the two brothers. However, the energy and ambition of Tiberius were most of all kindled by the people themselves, who posted writings on porticoes, house-walls, and monuments, calling upon him to recover for the poor the public land.

9 1 He did not, however, draw up his law by himself, but took counsel with the citizens who were foremost in virtue and reputation, among whom were Crassus the pontifex maximus, Mucius Scaevola the p165jurist, who was then consul, and Appius Claudius, his father-in‑law. 2 And it is thought that a law dealing with injustice and rapacity so great was never drawn up in milder and gentler terms. For men who ought to have been punished for their disobedience and to have surrendered with payment of a fine the land which they were illegally enjoying, these men it merely ordered to abandon their unjust acquisitions upon being paid the value, and to admit into ownership of them such citizens as needed assistance. 3 But although the rectification of the wrong was so considerate, the people were satisfied to let bygones be bygones if they could be secure from such wrong in the future; the men of wealth and substance, however, were led by their greed to hate the law, and by their wrath and contentiousness to hate the law-giver, and tried to dissuade the people by alleging that Tiberius was introducing a re-distribution of land for the confusion of the body politic, and was stirring up a general revolution.

4 But they accomplished nothing; for Tiberius, striving to support a measure which was honourable and just with an eloquence that would have adorned even a meaner cause, was formidable and invincible, whenever, with the people crowding around the rostra, he took his stand there and pleaded for the poor. "The wild beasts that roam over Italy," he would say, "have every one of them a cave or lair to lurk in; 5 but the men who fight and die for Italy enjoy the common air and light, indeed, but nothing else; houseless and homeless they wander about with their wives and children. And it is with lying lips that their imperators exhort the soldiers in their battles to p167defend sepulchres and shrines from the enemy; for not a man of them has an hereditary altar, not one of all these many Romans an ancestral tomb, but they fight and die to support others in wealth and luxury, and though they are styled masters of the world, they have not a single clod of earth that is their own."

10 1 Such words as these, the product of a lofty spirit and genuine feeling, and falling upon the ears of a people profoundly moved and fully aroused to the speaker's support, no adversary of Tiberius could successfully withstand. Abandoning therefore all counter-pleading, they addressed themselves to Marcus Octavius, one of the popular tribunes, a young man of sober character, discreet, and an intimate companion of Tiberius. 2 On this account Octavius at first tried to hold himself aloof, out of regard for Tiberius; but he was forced from his position, as it were, by the prayers and supplications of many influential men, so he set himself in opposition to Tiberius and staved off the passage of the law. Now, the decisive power is in the hands of any tribune who interposes his veto; for the wishes of the majority avail not if one tribune is in opposition. 3 Incensed at this procedure, Tiberius withdrew his considerate law, and introduced this time one which was more agreeable to the multitude and more severe against the wrongdoers, since it simply ordered them to vacate without compensation the land which they had acquired in violation of the earlier laws.

4 Almost every day, therefore, there were forensic contests between Tiberius and Octavius, in which, as we are told, although both strove together with the utmost earnestness and rivalry, neither abused the other or let fall a single word about the other which p169anger made unseemly. For not only "in Bacchic revelries," as it appears, but also in the exercise of rivalry and wrath, a noble nature and a sound training restrain and regulate the mind. 5 Moreover, when Tiberius observed that Octavius himself was amenable to the law as a large holder of the public land, he begged him to remit his opposition, promising to pay him the value of the land out of his own means, although these were not splendid. But Octavius would not consent to this, and therefore Tiberius issued an edict forbidding all the other magistrates to transact any public business until such time as the vote should be cast either for or against his law. 6 He also put his private seal upon the temple of Saturn, in order that the quaestors might not take any money from its treasury or pay any into it, and he made proclamation that a penalty would be imposed upon such praetors as disobeyed, so that all magistrates grew fearful and ceased performing their several functions. 7 Thereupon the men of property put on the garb of mourning and went about the forum in pitiful and lowly guise; but in secret they plotted against the life of Tiberius and tried to raise a band of assassins to take him off, so that Tiberius on his part — and everybody knew it — wore a concealed short-sword such as brigands use (the name for it is "dolo").

11 1 When the appointed day was come and Tiberius was summoning the people to the vote, the voting urns were stolen away by the party of the rich, and great confusion arose. However, the supporters of Tiberius were numerous enough to force the issue, and were banding together for this purpose, when p171Manlius and Fulvius, men of consular dignity, fell down before Tiberius, clasped his hands, and with tears besought him to desist. 2 Tiberius, conscious that the future was now all but desperate, and moved by respect for the men, asked them what they would have him do. They replied that they were not competent to advise in so grave a crisis, and urged him with entreaties to submit the case to the senate. To this Tiberius consented.

But the senate in its session accomplished nothing, owing to the prevailing influence of the wealthy class in it, and therefore Tiberius resorted to a measure which was illegal and unseemly, the ejection of Octavius from his office; but he was unable in any other way to bring his law to the vote. 3 In the first place, however, he begged Octavius in public, addressing him with kindly words and clasping his hands, to give in and gratify the people, who demanded only their just rights, and would receive only a trifling return for great toils and perils. But Octavius rejected the petition, and therefore Tiberius, after premising that, since they were colleagues in office with equal powers and differed on weighty measures, it was impossible for them to complete their term of office without open war, said he saw only one remedy for this, and that was for one or the other of them to give up his office. 4 Indeed, he urged Octavius to put to the people a vote on his own case first, promising to retire at once to private life if this should be the will of the citizens. But Octavius was unwilling, and therefore Tiberius declared that he would put the case of Octavius unless Octavius should change his mind upon reflection.

12 1 With this understanding, he dissolved the p173assembly for that day; but on the following day, after the people had come together, he mounted the rostra and once more attempted to persuade Octavius. When, however, Octavius was not to be persuaded, Tiberius introduced a law depriving him of his tribuneship, and summoned the citizens to cast their votes upon it at once. 2 Now, there were five and thirty tribes, and when seventeen of them had cast their votes, and the addition of one more would make it necessary for Octavius to become a private citizen, Tiberius called a halt in the voting, and again entreated Octavius, embracing him and kissing him in the sight of the people, and fervently begging him not to allow himself to be dishonoured, and not to attach to a friend responsibility for a measure so grievous and severe.

3 On hearing these entreaties, we are told, Octavius was not altogether untouched or unmoved; his eyes filled with tears and he stood silent for a long time. But when he turned his gaze towards the men of wealth and substance who were standing in a body together, his awe of them, as it would seem, and his fear of ill repute among them, led him to take every risk with boldness and bid Tiberius do what he pleased. 4 And so the law was passed, and Tiberius ordered one of his freedmen to drag Octavius from the rostra; for Tiberius used his freedmen as officers, and this made the sight of Octavius dragged along with contumely a more pitiful one. 5 Moreover, people made a rush at him, and though the men of wealth ran in a body to his assistance and spread out their hands against the crowd, it was with difficulty that Octavius was snatched away and safely rescued from the crowd; and a trusty servant of his who p175stood in front of his master and protected him, had his eyes torn out, against the protest of Tiberius, who, when he perceived what has going on, ran down with great haste to appease the tumult.

13 1 After this the agrarian law was passed, and three men were chosen for the survey and distribution of the public land, Tiberius himself, Appius Claudius his father-in‑law, and Caius Gracchus his brother, who was not at Rome, but was serving under Scipio in the expedition against Numantia. 2 These measures were carried out by Tiberius quietly and without opposition, and, besides, he procured the election of a tribune in the place of Octavius. The new tribune was not a man of rank or note, but a certain Mucius, a client of Tiberius. The aristocrats, however, who were vexed at these proceedings and feared the growing power of Tiberius, heaped insult upon him in the senate. When he asked for the customary tent at public expense, for his use when dividing up the public land, 3 they would not give it, although other men had often obtained one for less important purposes; and they fixed his daily allowance for expenses at nine obols.16 These things were done on motion of Publius Nasica, who surrendered completely to his hatred of Tiberius. For he was a very large holder of public land, and bitterly resented his being forced to give it up.

4 But the people were all the more inflamed; and when a friend of Tiberius died suddenly and his body broke out all over with evil spots, they ran in throngs to the man's funeral, crying out that he had been poisoned to death, and they carried the bier themselves, p177and stood by at the last ceremonies. And their suspicions of poison were thought to be not without reason. 5 For the dead body burst open and a great quantity of corrupt humours gushed forth, so that the flame of the funeral pyre was extinguished. And when fresh fire was brought, again the body would not burn, until it was carried to another place, where, after much trouble, the fire at last took hold of it. Upon this, Tiberius, that he might exasperate the multitude still more, put on a garb of mourning, brought his children before the assembly, and begged the people to care for them and their mother, saying that he despaired of his own life.

14 1 And now Attalus Philometor died,17 and Eudemus of Pergamum brought to Rome the king's last will and testament, by which the Roman people was made his heir. At once Tiberius courted popular favour by bringing in a bill which provided that the money of King Attalus, when brought to Rome, should be given to the citizens who received a parcel of the public land, to aid them in stocking and tilling their farms. 2 And as regarded the cities which were included in the kingdom of Attalus, he said it did not belong to the senate to deliberate about them, but he himself would submit a pertinent resolution to the people. By this proceeding he gave more offence than ever to the senate; and Pompeius, rising to speak there, said that he was a neighbour of Tiberius, and therefore knew that Eudemus of Pergamum had presented Tiberius with a royal diadem and purple robe, believing that he was going to be king in Rome. 3 Moreover, Quintus Metellus upbraided Tiberius with the reminder that whenever p179his father, during his censorship, was returning home after a supper, the citizens put out their lights, for fear they might be thought to be indulging immoderately in entertainments and drinking bouts, whereas Tiberius himself was lighted on his way at night by the neediest and most reckless of the populace. 4 Titus Annius, too, a man of no high character or sobriety, but held to be invincible in arguments carried on by question and answer, challenged Tiberius to a judicial wager,18 solemnly asserting that he had branded with infamy his colleague, who was sacred and inviolable by law. As many senators applauded this speech, Tiberius dashed out of the senate-house, called the people together, and ordered Annius to be brought before them, with the intention of denouncing him. 5 But Annius, who was far inferior to Tiberius in both eloquence and in reputation, had recourse to his own particular art, and called upon Tiberius to answer a few questions before the argument began. Tiberius assented to this and silence was made, whereupon Annius said: "If thou wish to heap insult upon me and degrade me, and I invoke the aid of one of thy colleagues in office, and he mount the rostra to speak in my defence, and thou fly into a passion, come, wilt thou deprive that colleague of his office?" 6 At this question, we are told, Tiberius was so disconcerted that, although he was of all men most ready in speech and most vehement in courage, he held his peace.

15 1 For the present, then, he dissolved the assembly; but perceiving that the course he had taken with regard to Octavius was very displeasing, not only to the nobles, but also to the multitude (for p181it was thought that the high and honourable dignity of the tribunate, so carefully guarded up to that time, had been insulted and destroyed), he made a lengthy speech before the people, a few of the arguments of which it will not be out of place to lay before the reader, that he may get a conception of the man's subtlety and persuasiveness. 2 A tribune, he said, was sacred and inviolable, because he was consecrated to the people and was a champion of the people. "If, then," said Tiberius, "he should change about, wrong the people, maim its power, and rob it of the privilege of voting, he has by his own acts deprived himself of his honourable office by not fulfilling the conditions on which he received it; 3 for otherwise there would be no interference with a tribune even though he should try to demolish the Capitol or set fire to the naval arsenal. If a tribune does these things, he is a bad tribune; but if he annuls the power of the people, he is no tribune at all. Is it not, then, a monstrous thing that a tribune should have power to hale a consul to prison, while the people cannot deprive a tribune of his power when he employs it against the very ones who bestowed it? For consul and tribune alike are elected by the people. 4 And surely the kingly office, besides comprehending in itself every civil function, is also consecrated to the Deity by the performance of the most solemn religious rites; and yet Tarquin was expelled by the city for his wrong-doing, and because of one man's insolence the power which had founded Rome and descended from father to son was overthrown. Again, what institution at Rome is so holy and venerable as that of the virgins who tend and watch the undying fire? And yet if one of these p183breaks her vows, she is buried alive; for when they sin against the gods, they do not preserve that inviolable character which is given them for their service to the gods. 5 Therefore it is not just that a tribune who wrοngs the people should retain that inviolable character which is given him for service to the people, since he is destroying the very power which is the source of his own power. And surely, if it is right for him to be made tribune by a majority of the votes of the tribes, it must be even more right for him to be deprived of his tribuneship by a unanimous vote. 6 And again, nothing is so sacred and inviolate as objects consecrated to the gods; and yet no one had hindered the people from using such objects, or moving them, or changing their position in such manner as may be desired. It is therefore permissible for the people to transfer the tribunate also, as a consecrated thing, from one man to another. And that the office is not inviolable or irremovable is plain from the fact that many times men holding it resign it under oath of disability, and of their own accord beg to be relieved of it."

16 1 Such were the chief points in the justification of his course which Tiberius made. And now his friends, observing the threats and the hostile combination against him, thought that he ought to be made tribune again for the following year. Once more, therefore, Tiberius sought to win the favour of the multitude by fresh laws, reducing the time of military service, granting appeal to the people from the verdicts of the judges, adding to the judges, who at that time were composed of senators only, an equal number from the equestrian order, 2 and in every way at length trying to maim the power of the senate p185from motives of anger and contentiousness rather than from calculations of justice and the public good. And when, as the voting was going on, the friends of Tiberius perceived that their opponents were getting the better of the contest, since all the people were not present, in the first place they resorted to abuse of his fellow tribunes, and so protracted the time; next, they dismissed the assembly, and ordered that it should convene on the following day. 3 Then Tiberius, going down into the forum, at first supplicated the citizens in a humble manner and with tears in his eyes; next, he declared he was afraid that his enemies would break into his house by night and kill him, and thereby so wrought upon his hearers that great numbers of them took up their station about his house and spent the night there on guard.

17 1 At break of day there came to the house the man who brought the birds with which auspices are taken, and threw food before them. But the birds would not come out of the cage, with the exception of one, though the keeper shook the cage right hard; and even the one that came out would not touch the food, but raised its left wing, stretched out its leg, and then ran back into the cage. This reminded Tiberius of an omen that had happened earlier. 2 He had a helmet which he wore in battle, exceptionally adorned and splendid; into this serpents crawled unnoticed, laid eggs there and hatched them out. For this reason Tiberius was all the more disturbed by the signs from the birds. But nevertheless he set out, on learning that the people were assembled on the Capitol; 3 and before he got out of the house, he stumbled against the threshold. The blow was so severe that the nail of his great toe p187was broken and the blood ran out through his shoe. He had gone but a little way when ravens were seen fighting on the roof of a house to his left hand; and though there were many people, as was natural, passing by, a stone dislodged by one of the ravens fell at the foot of Tiberius himself. This caused even the boldest of his followers to pause; 4 but Blossius of Cumae, who was present, said it would be a shame and a great disgrace if Tiberius, a son of Gracchus, a grandson of Scipio Africanus, and a champion of the Roman people, for fear of a raven should refuse to obey the summons of his fellow citizens; such shameful conduct, moreover, would not be made a mere matter of ridicule by his enemies, but they would decry him to the people as one who was at last giving himself the airs of a tyrant. 5 At the same time also many of his friends on the Capitol came running to Tiberius with urgent appeals to hasten thither, since matters there were going well. And in fact things turned out splendidly for Tiberius at first; as soon as he came into view the crowd raised a friendly shout, and as he came up the hill they gave him a cordial welcome and ranged themselves about him, that no stranger might approach.

18 1 But after Mucius began once more to summon the tribes to the vote, none of the customary forms could be observed because of the disturbance that arose on the outskirt of the throng, where there was crowding back and forth between the friends of Tiberius and their opponents, who were striving to force their way in and mingle with the rest. Moreover, at this juncture Fulvius Flaccus, a senator, posted himself in a conspicuous place, and since it was impossible to make his voice heard so p189far, indicated with his hand that he wished to tell Tiberius something meant for his ear alone. 2 Tiberius ordered the crowd to part for Flavius, who made his way up to him with difficulty, and told him that at a session of the senate the party of the rich, since they could not prevail upon the consul to do so, were purposing to kill Tiberius themselves, and for this purpose had under arms a multitude of their friends and slaves.

19 1 Tiberius, accordingly, reported this to those who stood about him, and they at once girded up their togas, and breaking in pieces the spear-shafts with which the officers keep back the crowd, distributed the fragments among themselves, that they might defend themselves against their assailants. 2 Those who were farther off, however, wondered at what was going on and asked what it meant. Whereupon Tiberius put his hand to his head, making this visible sign that his life was in danger, since the questioners could not hear his voice. But his opponents, on seeing this, ran to the senate and told that body that Tiberius was asking for a crown; and that his putting his hand to his head was a sign having that meaning. 3 All the senators, of course, were greatly disturbed, and Nasica demanded that the consul should come to the rescue of the state and put down the tyrant. The consul replied with mildness that he would resort to no violence and would put no citizen to death without a trial; if, however, the people, under persuasion or compulsion from Tiberius, should vote anything that was unlawful, he would not regard this vote as binding. Thereupon Nasica sprang to his feet and said: "Since, then, the chief magistrate betrays the state, do ye p191who wish to succour the laws follow me." 4 With these words he covered his head with the skirt of his toga and set out for the Capitol. All the senators who followed him wrapped their togas about their left arms and pushed aside those who stood in their path, no man opposing them, in view of their dignity, but all taking to flight and trampling upon one another.

5 Now, the attendants of the senators carried clubs and staves which they had brought from home; but the senators themselves seized the fragments and legs of the benches that were shattered by the crowd in its flight, and went up against Tiberius, at the same time smiting those who were drawn up to protect him. Of these there was a rout and a slaughter, and as Tiberius himself turned to fly, someone laid hold of his garments. 6 So he let his toga go and fled in his tunic. But he stumbled and fell to the ground among some bodies that lay in front of him. As he strove to rise to his feet, he received his first blow, as everybody admits, from Publius Satyreius, one of his colleagues, who smote him on the head with the leg of a bench; to the second blow claim was made by Lucius Rufus, who plumed himself upon it as upon some noble deed. And of the rest more than three hundred were slain by blows from sticks and stones, but not one by the sword.

20 1 This is said to have been the first sedition at Rome, since the abolition of royal power, to end in bloodshed and the death of citizens; the rest though neither trifling nor raised for trifling objects, were settled by mutual concessions, the nobles yielding from fear of the multitude, and the people out of respect for the senate. And it was thought that even p193on this occasion Tiberius would have given way without difficulty had persuasion been brought to bear upon him, and would have yielded still more easily if his assailants had not resorted to wounds and bloodshed; 2 for his adherents numbered not more than three thousand. But the combination against him would seem to have arisen from the hatred and anger of the rich rather than from the pretexts which they alleged; and there is strong proof of this in their lawless and savage treatment of his dead body. For they would not listen to his brother's request that he might take up the body and bury it by night, but threw it into the river along with the other dead. 3 Nor was this all; they banished some of his friends without a trial and others they arrested and put to death. Among these Diophanes the rhetorician also perished. A certain Caius Villius they shut up in a cage, and then put in vipers and serpents, and in this way killed him. Blossius of Cumae was brought before the consuls, and when he was asked about what had passed, he admitted that he had done everything at the bidding of Tiberius. 4 Then Nasica said to him, "What, then, if Tiberius had ordered thee to set fire to the Capitol?" Blossius at first replied that Tiberius would not have given such an order; but when the same question was put to him often and by many persons, he said: "If such a man as Tiberius had ordered such a thing, it would also have been right for me to do it; for Tiberius would not have given such an order if it had not been for the interest of the people."19 Well, then, Blossius was acquitted, and afterwards went to p195Aristonicus20 in Asia, and when the cause of Aristonicus was lost, slew himself.

21 1 But the senate, trying to conciliate the people now that matters had gone too far, no longer opposed the distribution of the public land, and proposed that the people should elect a commissioner in place of Tiberius. So they took a ballot and elected Publius Crassus, who was a relative of Gracchus; for his daughter Licinia was the wife of Caius Gracchus. 2 And yet Cornelius Nepos21 says that it was not the daughter of Crassus, but of the Brutus who triumphed over the Lusitanians, whom Caius married; the majority of writers, however, state the matter as I have done. Moreover, since the people felt bitterly over the death of Tiberius and were clearly awaiting an opportunity for revenge, and since Nasica was already threatened with prosecutions, the senate, fearing for his safety, voted to send him to Asia, although it had no need of him there. 3 For when people met Nasica, they did not try to hide their hatred of him, but grew savage and cried out upon him wherever he chanced to be, calling him an accursed man and a tyrant, who had defiled with the murder of an inviolable and sacred person the holiest and most awe-inspiring of the city's sanctuaries. And so Nasica stealthily left Italy, although he was bound there by the most important and sacred functions; for he was pontifex maximus.b He roamed and wandered about in foreign lands ignominiously, and after a short time ended his life at Pergamum. 4 Now, it is no wonder that the people so much hated p197Nasica, when even Scipio Africanus, than whom no one would seem to have been more justly or more deeply loved by the Romans, came within a little of forfeiting the popular favour because, to begin with, at Numantia, when he learned of the death of Tiberius, he recited in a loud voice the verse of Homer:—22

"So perish also all others who on such wickedness venture,"

5 and because, in the second place, when Caius and Fulvius asked him in an assembly of the people what he thought about the death of Tiberius, he made a reply which showed his dislike of the measures advocated by him. Consequently the people began to interrupt him as he was speaking, a thing which they had never done before, and Scipio himself was thereby led on to abuse the people. Of these matters I have written circumstantially in my Life of Scipio.23


The Editor's Notes:

1 In 183 B.C.

2 He was consul for the second time in 163 B.C. The year of his death is unknown. This story is told and commented on by Cicero in De divinatione I.18.36; II.29.62.

3 Probably Ptolemy VI, surnamed Philometor, king of Egypt 181‑146 B.C.

4 See the Nicias, viii.3.

5 Princeps Senatus.

6 Presumably at the induction of Tiberius into office.

7 Cf. Livy, XXXVIII.57.

8 Cf. Polybius, XXXII.13.

Thayer's Note: I've been unable to find anything relevant to this anywhere in the text of Polybius.

9 In the campaign of 146 B.C., which ended with the destruction of Carthage.

10 Consul in 137 B.C.

11 In 180‑179 B.C.

12 In 312 B.C. Cf. Cicero, De off., III.30.109.

13 By Tiberius and his friends.

14 Scipio was sent against Numantia in 134 B.C., and took and destroyed the city in the following year, in which year also Tiberius was killed.

15 Probably a political pamphlet in the form of a letter. Cf. Cicero, de div. II.29.62.

16 That is, in Roman money, nine sestertii, equivalent to about twenty pence, or forty cents.

Thayer's Note: A reminder that this equivalent dates to 1921 (notice the pound at $4.80); in 2004, this per diem living allowance works out to about $3.80 or £2.40.

17 In 133 B.C.

18 Cf. the Cato Major, xxii.5.

19 For the story of Blossius, cf. Cicero, De am. 11.37; Valerius Maximus, IV.7.1.

20 The pretender to the throne of Attalus Philometor (xiv.1). He was defeated and taken prisoner by the Romans in 130 B.C.

21 In a lost biography.

22 Odyssey, I.47 (Athena, of Aegisthus).

23 One of the lost biographies.


Thayer's Notes:

a See also Gell. I.10.10‑16.

b According to Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, s.v. Pontifex, it was actually forbidden for a pontifex maximus to leave Italy, and none had done so before this time.


[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 4 May 12