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The Gracchi brothers remain one of the most famous events in the history of the late Roman Republic. Today they are remembered for 3 main reasons that forever changed the history of the world.
The Gracchi brothers of the late Roman Republic are remembered today for 3 main reasons. First, the Gracchi attempted to extend citizenship to the Latins. Second, the events of the Gracchi started a long chain of violent uprisings in Roman politics. Third, the Gracchi mark a changing point where powerful Roman families started using the people of Rome to obtain power.
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Without further ado, here are the 3 reasons that the Gracchi are remembered today.
Who Were The Gracchi Brothers and What They Did
Before we can discuss why the Gracchi Brothers are remembered today we should touch upon who they were and what they did.
Many historians debate when exactly the late Roman Republic began. Some state that it was Sulla’s dictatorship of 82 BC while others state it was much earlier during the time of the Gracchi. Today the Gracchi are remembered for their public stance and sacrifice to help the urban poor of Rome. The events of the Gracchi brothers were so important to the Romans that they were cataloged and referred to for centuries after the deaths of both Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus.
Who The Gracchi Brothers Were
The Gracchi Brothers were two brothers born into a highly influential family in Rome. Each of the boys were incredibly gifted from an early age in the arts of rhetoric and leadership. On top of this, the Gracchi Brothers were born at the end of the middle Republic when Rome was starting to expand outwards. This was the perfect time to rise up through the Roman ranks and become a powerful senator; which every Roman aspired to be.
Tiberius was the older of the two Gracchi Brothers. Tiberius was known to be a skilled orator and an even better military commander. It was rumored that Tiberius was a hero of the Third Punic War where he was the first Roman to scale the walls of Carthage. Because of this Tiberius was known throughout the Roman army as a man of courage and leadership. After Tiberius’s military service he would turn his attention to a political career.
The younger brother was named Gaius. Gaius was known for his clever wit along with being a capable orator who could evoke emotion. Besides this, not much is known about the personality of Gaius Gracchus. However, this ability to invoke emotion through a speech was a rare gift. This meant that a large group of Romans could easily gather around and support Gaius through the power of his oratory alone. This made Gaius a strong politician.
These two brothers would both be elected to the office of Tribune of the Plebs. This was a political office that held the power over veto and could propose laws. In theory, the Tribunship was one of the most powerful offices in Republican Rome. Normally this office of the Tribune would work with the Roman senate to help pass laws with the support of the people. The Gracchi Brothers on the other hand would use the power of their office to attempt to push through popularis legislation that the Senate did not support.
What The Gracchi Brothers Did
The Gracchi brothers held the office of Tribune of the Plebs. In this office, they would propose laws that the people of Rome would vote upon. Both Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus would seek to help the Roman poor obtain wealth and financial security. This however would come at the expense of the wealth of the Roman Senate. As a result, both Gaius and Tiberius would ultimately meet the same fate.
The oldest brother, Tiberius Gracchus, would become Tribune of the Plebs in 133 BC. While in this office Tiberius would seek to obtain land reform across Rome. This was because at this point all public land was held by senatorial families. This prevented the average Roman from becoming wealthy or holding any power over Roman society.
Naturally, the actions of land redistribution from the wealthy Senatorial elite to the urban poor of Rome marked Tiberius Gracchus as an enemy in the Senate. In 133 BC the Roman Senate marched into the public Roman Forum and had Tiberius and a portion of his supporters clubbed. This astonished the Roman people. Now their champion and his supporters had been struck down in the street for standing up to the Roman Senate.
This was the first use of violence to solve internal Roman politics in almost a half millennium. This use of violence marked the start of the time period we call the late Roman Republic.
Gaius Gracchus would follow in his brother’s footsteps a decade later. In 123 BC Gaius would run and win the office of Tribune of the Plebs.
Almost immediately the Roman Senate became fearful that Gaius would begin the same process of land redistribution that his brother did nearly a decade earlier. Gaius attempted to start the land redistribution that his brother worked towards but was met with various degrees of hostility. However in the end Gaius did succeed in obtaining some degree of land redistribution through the use of his persuasive oratory.
However, Gaius made one crucial mistake. Gaius in 121 BC attempted to extend Roman citizenship to the Lain tribes surrounding the city of Rome. The average poor Roman did not have much, but at least in their eyes, they were Roman. This was unacceptable and now the Roman Senate and the people of Rome marched against the Gracchi.
The Latins would not obtain Roman citizenship. Without the support of the Roman people Gaius was declared an enemy of the state and executed by the Roman Senate.
Reason 1: The Gracchi Attempted To Extend Roman Citizenship To The Latins
One of the main reasons that the Gracchi are remembered today is due to the attempted extension of Italian citizenship to the Latins under Gaius Gracchus.
While Rome had extended its power overseas and across the Mediterranean the political power basis of Rome was constrained to the citizens of the city. This drastically limited the power of the average poor Roman. The Senate of Rome could run unchecked. Because of this, any extension of citizenship would significantly reduce the power of the Roman Senate.
Before the late Roman Republic, the people of Rome were literally just considered the people who physically lived in the city of Rome. However, during the late Roman Republic, the city of Rome had become so big it was hard to determine who was Romand and who was not. Gaius attempted to get ahead of this by giving the Latins Roman citizenship but he was about 40 years too early.
One of the primary reasons that we remember the Gracchi today was because Gaius Gracchus attempted to extend Roman citizenship out across the Latins that lived around the city of Rome. While Gaius was not successful in doing this he did set the precedent and 40 years later the Roman Social War would finally give the Latins citizenship in the Roman state.
Had the reforms of Gaius Gracchus taken place this would have allowed the power of the Tribune of the Plebs to drastically increase with the swelling of Roman citizens who could vote to have a law passed. As such we remember the Gracchi today for their attempt at extending Roman citizenship to the surrounding Latins.
Reason 2: The Events Of The Gracchi Started A Long Chain Of Violent Uprisings In Roman Politics
One of the main reasons that the Gracchi are remembered today was because of their actions which started a series of violent uprisings in the Roman forum.
Before Tiberius Gaius had attempted to create a land reform policy the Roman Forum had not seen violence in over 4 centuries. When the Roman Senate killed Tiberius they set a precedent that they were willing to use violence to achieve their ends. This is a major thing that all students of Roman history need to know. When Tiberius was killed in the Roman Forum this demonstrated that violence could be used to force your opposition to concede a vote.
This set off a series of chain events throughout the period of the late Roman Republic. Now those in power could use violence against their fellow Romans to achieve their political ambitions. Nearly every other major political event in the late Roman Republic had some degree of violence associated with it. This trend did not stop until the crowing of Augustus nearly 100 years after the death of the Gracchi.
Simply put, one of the main reasons why the Gracchi are remembered today is because their deaths marked the trend of politicians using violence in the Roman Forum. People like Julius Caesar, Sulla, and Gais Marius would all use violence to seek their political ambitions. This would have been impossible without the events of the Gracchi Brothers.
Reason 3: The Gracchi Mark A Changing Point Where Powerful Roman Families Started Using The People Of Rome To Obtain Power.
Another reason that we remember the Gracchi today is because of their use of the people of Rome to further their political ambitions.
Before the time of the Gracchi Roman politicians did attempt to use the people of Rome to push political agendas. We know about this through Cicero’s histories of what he calls the Concordia Ordinum or conflict of the orders.
During the middle Republic, the people of Rome and the senate achieved an uneasy peace regarding political power in Rome. From this we get the ability for the Tribune to veto and pass laws for example. However, as the Senatorial families became wealthier and more powerful this balance between the Roman people and the Senate was destabilized.
The events surrounding the Gracchi mark a moment in time where the power of the orator in Rome became absolute. Now good public speakers could wield the power of the people of Rome to pass their own political agendas. This was because a good public speaker in Rome could galvanize the population to act in favor of the speaker.
This was massive. Now one person could control nearly unlimited amounts of power in the political system of Rome. As you might assume this was not sustainable and over the period of just one century Rome would transition from a Republic to an Empire.
As such the Gracchi demonstrated the power of the Roman orator to convince large crowds of Romans to act on their behalf. This directly set the Roman Republic on a crash course with civil war and a transition into the Roman Empire. This remains one of the main reasons that we remember the Gracchi today.
There you have it; an entire article that goes over the 3 reasons that the Gracchi are remembered today.
Few historians have touched upon the concept of memory of the Gracchi and how it impacts the development of our modern society. Prospective graduate students will find a wealth of information regarding these two famous brothers that today’s society remembers.
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