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Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (Latin: TI·SEMPRONIVS·TI·F·P·N·GRACCVS) (163 BC-132 BC) was a Roman politician of the 2nd century BC. In his short life he caused a political turmoil in the Republic, by his attempts, as plebeian tribune, to legislate agrarian reforms. Tiberius' political ideals eventually got him killed by the conservative faction of the senate.
Tiberius was born in 163 BC, son of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and Cornelia Africana. The Gracchii, though not of patrician stock, were one of the most politically important families of Rome, very rich and well connected. His mother was daughter of Scipio Africanus Major and his sister Sempronia was the wife of Scipio Aemilianus, another important general. Tiberius was raised by his mother, with his sister and his brother Gaius Gracchus.
Tiberius's military career started in the Third Punic War, as military tribune appointed to the staff of his brother in law, Scipio Aemilianus. In 137 BC he was appointed quaestor to consul Gaius Hostilius Mancinus and served his term in Numantia (Hispania province). The campaign was not successful and Mancinius' army suffered a major defeat. It was Tiberius, as quaestor, that saved the army from destruction by signing a peace treaty with the enemy. Back in Rome, Scipio Aemilianus considered the attitude as cowardice and convinced the senate to nullify the treaty. This was the start of the political enmity between Tiberius and the senate.
Rome's internal political situation was not peaceful. In the last hundred years, there had been several wars. Since legionaries were required to serve in a complete campaign no matter how long it was, soldiers often left their farms in the hands of wives and children. As estates in this situation went steadily into bankruptcy and were bought up by the wealthy upper class, latifundi or large estates, were formed. Furthermore some lands ended up being taken by the state in war both in provinces in Italy and elsewhere. After the war was over much of the land would then be sold to or rented to various members of the populace.
When the soldiers returned from the legions, they had nowhere to go, so they went to Rome to join the mob of thousands of unemployed who roamed the city. Due to this, the number of men with enough assets to qualify to army duty was shrinking as the military power of Rome. In 133 BC Tiberius was elected tribune of the plebs. Soon he started to legislate on the matter of the homeless legionaries.
Tiberius noted how much of the land was being concentrated into large estates called "latifundi", being held by owners of large estates being worked by slaves, rather than small estates being owned by small farmers owning and working the land themselves.
In opposition to this, Tiberius proposed to the Assembly laws called Lex Sempronia agraria. In them, the government would buy back land that had previously been taken by the state in earlier wars, and was then either sold or rented to the populace in estates exceeding 500 acres (2 km²). Some of this land had been held by large land holders who had bought or rented the property in much earlier time periods, even several generations back. Sometimes it had been leased, rented, or resold to other holders after the initial sale or rental. In some ways, this was an attempt to implement the Licinian Laws passed in 367 B.C., which had never been repealed and never enforced. This would solve two problems: increase the number of men that could be levied for service and also take care of homeless war veterans.
The Senate and its conservative elements were strongly against the Sempronian agrarian reforms, and persuaded Octavius, another tribune, to prevent by his veto the submission of the bills to the Assembly. Gracchus then moved that any tribune who acted contrary to the wishes of his constituents should be immediately deposed. The lictors of Tiberius then then forcibly removed Octavius from the tribune's bench and the Assembly then passed the laws. The Assembly, then fearing for Gracchus' safety, escorted him home.
The Senate refused funds to the agrarian commission that had been appointed to execute Tiberius's laws. However, late in 133, king Attalus III of Pergamon died and left his entire fortune to Rome. Tiberius saw his chance and immediately used his tribunician powers to allocate the fortune to fund the new law. This was a direct attack on senatorial power, since it was traditionally responsible for the management of the treasury and for decisions regarding overseas affairs. Senate opposition increased.
His overruling of the tribunician veto was considered to be illegal, and the opponents of Tiberius Gracchus determined to impeach him at the end of his one year term, as having violated the constitution and having used force against a tribune. To protect himself further he flouted the constitution by seeking re-election to the tribunate in 132 B.C, promising to shorten the term of military service, to abolish the exclusive right of senators to act as jurors, and to admit Italian allies to Roman citizenship.
On election day, Tiberius Gracchus appeared in the Forum with armed guards and in mourning costume, implying that his defeat would mean his impeachment and death. As the voting proceeded, violence broke out on both sides. Scipio Nasica, saying that Gracchus wished to make himself king, led the senators into the Forum. In the resulting confrontation, Gracchus was killed, and several hundred of his followers perished with him.
The Senate then sought to placate the plebs by consenting to the enforcement of the Gracchan laws. An increase in the register of citizens in the next decade suggests a large number of land allotments. Nonetheless, the agrarian commission found itself faced with many difficulties and obstacles.
Tiberius was married to Claudia Pulcheria, daughter of Appius Claudius Pulcher (consul in 143 BC), and had three sons that died young. His main heir was his younger brother, Gaius Gracchus which, a decade later, would share his fate while trying to apply even more revolutionary legislation.
See also: Scipio-Paullus-Gracchus family tree
Plutarch, Life of Tiberius and Gaius Gracchusjensine
Appian, The Civil War
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