The Significance of the Gracchi
Uploaded by gorringe on Aug 05, 2002
“When Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus sought to establish the liberty of the common people and expose the crimes of the oligarchs, the guilty nobles took fright and opposed their proceedings by every means at their disposal” – Cicero. The Gracchi brothers were clearly well intentioned men who had the interests of Rome at heart, instead of their own, which was a common attitude amongst the other senators. The reforms of the Gracchi were long over-due and their programs were genuine attempts to deal with Rome’s problems. During the Gracchi’s existence, Rome was facing a number of social, political and economic problems. They were frustrated with the conservatism and selfishness of the oligarchy and so adopted methods which threatened the balance between the senate, the magistrates and the people which had existed for a very long time – in this way they can be regarded as revolutionary. It is likely that they interpreted the problems far too simply, and they failed to see that Roman society had changed. The Senate also failed to see these changes and reacted to the Gracchi’s actions in the only way they could – violence. The senate felt threatened by the Gracchi’s methods, and as a result violence was used for the first time in Roman politics.
In order to understand why the Gracchi attempted to solve these problems, one must examine the circumstances of Rome at the time, as well as the background of the two brothers. After the Second Punic War, the Senate became the supreme power and as a result, many changes occurred throughout Rome. Most notably, the ruling Oligarchy (specifically the nobiles) abused their power, caring more for their own material interests and gloria than the welfare of the republic. As a result major problems occurred throughout Rome. Serious economic social problems occurred, both rural and urban, causing grave distress among many Roman citizens. There was a military crisis, with lack of eligible recruits for the legions, aggravated by the Spanish and Sicilian wars. There was tension in the oligarchy between leading factions (Claudii / Sempronii and the Scipios) as they struggled for political superiority. And amongst all these problems was the failure of the ruling nobility within the senate to deal with these problems.
In order to determine the significance of both Gracchi, one must examine both Tiberius’ and Gaius’ actions and the effects they had at the time. In 133, Tiberius...