Tiberius Gracchus Olivia Shedden

Historical Context

Tiberius Gracchus


Ancient Italy was bounded by the Alps and the Adriatic, Mediterranean and Tyrrhenian seas. More specifically, Northern Italy was situated between the Alps and upper Apennines. This region of Italy was dominated by the fertile plain of the Po River. Central Italy was surrounded by Etruria, Latium, Campania, Umbria, Picenum and the 200 mile long Sabine territory on Adriatic Sea.

There was minimal coastal cities/harbors and so citizens were mostly farmers. A recorded 50 villages with shared language and religion later merged to 10-12 communities by 500 B.C.


Outline of ancient Italy's topography


Rome's economy focused on farming and trade. Olive oil and wine were Italy's main export. In return, they received a frequent grain supply from North Africa. The secondary industries included industrial and manufacturing. The mining of stones provided construction materials for buildings. Manufacturing production was on a small scale. Factories employed no more than 12 workers, however, some larger brick factories enlisted hundreds of workers.

Social Structure

The social hierarchy of ancient Italy.

There were multiple hierarchies in ancient Rome, some of which overlapped. Overall, the social system was patriarchal- the head of the household was always male, whom held special legal powers, including jurisdiction over family members.

The status of freeborn Romans during the Republic was established by;

* Ancestry- the most common divide was between patricians (minority group with monopolised political power) and plebeians (majority group of regular citizens).

* Census rank- this was based on wealth and political privilege.

* Attainment of honours.

* Citizenship- there were various rights and privileges surrounding this. For example, men living outside of Rome may have held citizenship but had no voting rights and free-born Roman women held citizenship but lacked the right to vote/hold political office.

Slaves, who were enlisted as a consequence of Rome's conquest of Greece, had no rights and were considered property. Descended from debtors and prisoners of war, children born to female slaves automatically became slaves themselves. Freedman were manumitted slaves, who thus obtained little rights and protection.

Political Structure

Ancient Rome was an autocracy. This system was influenced and embraced by warfare during Peloponnesian and Roman-Punic wars.

At the top of the political hierarchy was the emperor, whom had absolute power, and his family as well as the imperial court.

Below the emperor was the senatorial elite. The members' status was politically based and depended on favour of the emperor.

Next came the equestrian class. This political group was economically lacking, however, could gain social status through serving in the armed service.

At the bottom of the political hierarchy were the ordinary Roman citizens (plebeians).

During the late Roman Republic, the political faction known as the Populares was formed. Favouring the plebeians, this group supported laws such as the grain dole for the poor at a cheap price, land redistribution for the poor to farm and debt relief.

Opposing the Populares were the Optimates, whom represented a traditional Senatorial majority. They supported the idea of limiting the power of popular assemblies as well as the Tribunes of the Plebs and extending this power to the Senate. The Optimates faction also raised concern over the potential dominance of individual generals who could shift Senatorial power.

Religious Beliefs and Practices

As applicable to most ancient and modern societies, the Roman Empire valued religion. They were a polytheistic society, meaning they believed in an array of gods and spirits as well as Greek gods and foreign cults. Eventually, all belief in gods was diminished and replaced with Christianity.

The first Roman inhabitants believed that spirits were present in everything around them (animism) and that their ancestors, in particular, were watching over them.

While Greek colonies on the Lower Peninsula influenced the Roman gods to become more anthropomorphic (obtaining human characteristics), this immersion did not reach the extent of Greek mythology. Romans kept their religion practical and strict adherence to set rituals outweighed individual belief.

Jupiter the sky god

One of the most important Roman gods was Jupiter, whom was married to his sister Juno. Jupiter was the king of the gods; as the sky god, he maintained control over the weather, warning Romans via thunder. Rome grew, and so did Jupiter's significance. He eventually was gifted his own temple on Capitoline Hill.

Other significant gods include Minerva, goddess of commerce, industry, education and later also identified as goddess of war, doctors, musicians and craftsmen. Mars, the god of war, had a temple devoted to him and was offered sacrifices before and after battles. Martes (Tuesday) is named in honour of him.

Roman religion was challenged by Judaism and Christianity. Both religions refused to take part in Roman god worship or make sacrifices at temples. Jews were present in the empire, however, emperors often used them as scapegoats, blaming them for any issues within the empire. Over time, Christianity spread amongst the empire. This religion appealed to women, slaves, intellects and the illiterate. Opposing this was a popular opinion that Christianity resented the peace of the gods.

Emperor Diocletian encouraged the burning of Christian churches. His successor, Emperor Constantine, finally recognised Christianity as a valid religion in 313 C.E.

Background and Rise to Prominence

Family Background

Tiberius Gracchus the Elder

Tiberius Gracchus was son of Tiberius Gracchus the Elder and Cornelia Africana. Tiberius Gracchus the Elder was a Roman politician in the 2nd century B.C. He was part of the well-connected family gens Sempronia. He was a highly respected consul and censor, however, it was his character which outshone his political and military achievements.

In the year 172 B.C, at age 45, Gracchus the Elder married Africana, aged 18. Africana was an exemplary Roman woman. The couple birthed 12 children, however, only daughter Sempronia Gracchae and sons Tiberius and Gauis Gracchus lived to reach adulthood.

Gracchus the Elder died in 154 B.C. Africana refused to remarry and devoted her life to raising and educating her sons, until she died in 100 B.C.

Cornelia with her children

Early Life

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was born around 164 B.C and was assassinated in June of 133 B.C. He was born into an aristocratic family with a nexus of connections. This mean that he was heir to a plethora of political privileges. Through his mother, who was daughter of the conqueror of Hannibal, and his sister, who's husband Scipio Aemillanus was the destroyer of Carthage, Gracchus was connected to the most continuously successful Roman family- the Cornelii Scipiones.

Rise to Power

Tiberius' military career began in the Third Punic War. He was appointed military tribune to the staff of his brother-in-law, Scipio Aemilianus. During this term, Tiberius' bravery was brought to light; he was the first to scale enemy walls.

In 137 B.C, Tiberius was appointed quaestor to consul Gaius Hostilius Mancinus in Numantia, part of the Numantine War. Manicus' army were unsuccessful. From a strong family reputation and sense of personal integrity, Tiberius saved the army from destruction, however son in a contentious way.

He signed a peace treaty with the Numantines, which was a particularly controversial action since this decision was generally reserved for a Legate (equivalent to modern general officer).

Tiberius' persuasion of the Numantines was successful due to his recollection of his father's peace agreement with the Numantines in a Spanish war.

Opponents of Tiberius argued that the peace treaty portrayed Rome in a sense of weakness. They believed that Rome had practically lost the war by sacrificing its honour. Tiberius' supporters, on the other hand, ignited the idea that general Mancinus was at defeat and his attempted retreat was inoble. They also maintained that without Tiberius' negotiation, many soldiers would have been executed.



Tiberius Gracchus, along with his younger brother Gaius Gracchus, was a tribune of the plebeians throughout 2nd Century B.C. The pair were both members of the Populares political group, thus opposing the Optimates, and have been named the founding fathers of socialism and populism.

Tiberius was elected tribune of the plebeians in 133 B.C. Tribune of the plebeians was the first Roman political position available for plebeians. Amongst several powers, the most significant power was the ability to veto (override) the actions of consuls and other magistrates. This ensured that plebeian interests were protected.

Additionally, tribunes were in charge of the people's assembly, were able to summon the senate, propose legislation and get involved with legal matters on behalf of plebeians.

Lex Agraria: Impacts, Motives and Methods

Tiberius' Lex Agraria bill proposal

During his personal military experience, Tiberius identified the lack of manpower in the Roman army. Peasants owning land, the ideal candidates for military service, were on the decline while landless citizens were increasing. Thus, the Lex Agraria bill was born. This notable proposal aimed to heighten the list of those eligible for military service, since a traditional prerequisite was the possession of land.

Tiberius was an advocate of the redistribution of land. His proposal restricted any one citizen from possessing more than 500 acres, with the addition of 250 acres for each of up to two sons) of public land acquired during Second Punic War. This potential loss of land was compensated by the grant of a hereditary rent-free lease. Excess land was to be given to the state and thus redistributed to the poor and homeless in small amounts (30 acres per family).

With his disrespect for the senate, undisguised populism and political boldness, Tiberius was pushing for a change in the nature of Roman politics. His bill was supported by the popular assembly, however, Tribune Octavius overruled the law.

In effect of Octavius' dismissal, Tiberius continued to overrule any other government action until his own bill was dealt with by the government. The bill was reintroduced, only to pass through the assembly and be overturned by Octavius once more. The next assembly saw Tiberius propose Octavius deposition from office. This was unconstitutional, however, the assembly voted in favour and the agrarian bill transitioned to law.

Political Supporters

Tiberius and his brother Gaius Gracchus

Similarly to Tiberius, Gaius served as a tribune in the late 2nd century B.C. Ten years after Tiberius' election, in 123 B.C, Gaius took office. Being more practical minded than his brother, the senate considered Gaius to be more dangerous.

Carrying on his brother's revolutionary legacy, Gaius revived the agrarian land reform law. He also gained support from the equestrians who were yet to become senators. This equestrian class had the privilege of controlling courts overviewing cases of misconduct performed by senators. Therefore, Gaius quickly became an enemy of the senate.

Gaius also improved grain prices for the urban plebeians and condoned citizenship improvements for those outside the city of Rome.

A broad group of supporters led Gaius to holding office for two years (he won an unconstitutional re-election).

Gaius' downfall began as his non-Roman Italian rights bill was vetoed. This result turned plebeians against him, which gave consul Lucius Opimius the ability to form an assassination mob.

Knowing his death was in the very near future, Gaius committed suicide in 121 B.C.

Political Opponents

Much like Tiberius, Marcus Octavius was a Roman tribune in 133 B.C. The two were, however, major rivals.

Octavius' reputation grew via his influential public speaking. Once a friend of Tiberius, Octavius suddenly became aware of Tiberius' agenda. This led to the repetition of vetoing Tiberius' agrarian reform.

Aforementioned, Tiberius eventually ejected Octavius out of the Plebeian Assembly, which was an unprecedented action, and thus led to confrontation between traditionalists and reformers.

Octavius' vetoing portrayed Tiberius as a tyrant, thus alienating his supporters. By not conforming to tradition, Tiberius' methods were viewed as illegal. Tiberius, however, was merely a revolutionist who continued to introduce his bill for the benefit of Rome. He justified his efforts by arguing that tribunes who ignored the will of the people, were simply not tribunes.

Despite kicking Octavius out of office and thus passing the agrarian land reform bill, Tiberius reached a financial halt. He had expected the senate to provide the funding, as per tradition. Scipio Nascia, and elder and senator, limited the funding to an inadequate amount.

Fortunately, for the plebeians sake, the King of Pergamum had died in 134 B.C and had devoted his wealth to Rome. Tiberius claimed the riches in name of the people, thus interfering with the senate's responsibility of public finance and foreign affairs.

For such sneaky methods, Tiberius was threatened with execution once completing his tribune term. Before the Centuriate Assembly, Tiberius was to be charged with violating tribune Octavius' immunity.


The re-election of Tiberius as tribune was crucial for his survival. He himself as well as his supporters were very aware of plots being organised against him by his opposition. The title of tribune protected the bearer from all prosecution, however, back-to-back terms had never existed in Rome.

Tiberius introduced new laws thus forming a new agenda designed to strengthen his popularity among the people and minimise the power of the senate.

Leading up to the election, Tiberius' opponents had a strong lead, due to 31 of the 35 tribes being situated in rural areas. Harvest time prevented Tiberius' urban supporters to attend.

However, upon approaching the Capitoline on election day, Tiberius was welcomed with a mass of cheers. Senator Fulvius Flaccus approached Tiberius, warning him that the aristocracy planned to kill him. At this moment, those surrounding Tiberius bore their clubs and weapons.

Tiberius signalled to his supporters amongst the crowd that he was being attacked. The senate mistook this gesture as a demand to be crowned king, and so the senators, led by Publius Nascia, marched into the crowd bearing weapons.

Tiberius' protectors were beat to death. Tiberius himself tripped over his supporters' bloodied and lifeless bodies. Fellow tribune Publius Satyreius delivered the deadly blow.

Tiberius being beaten to death by members of the senate

The link below is a dramatized re-enactment of Tiberius' death day.


Impact and Influence

After killing Tiberius, Nasica was made to leave the country. This was due to a universal loathing of him in Rome. He fled to Asia despite having nothing to do there.

Tiberius' supporters were violently punished. Scipio Aemilianus was recruited to serve the state. While his aims were similar to those of Tiberius, his methods differed. In 129 B.C, Aemilianus was found in bed dead, believed to have been killed by Tiberius' supporters.

Traditional respect in regards to mos maiorum, the system of compromise and restraint, had been lost. Murder was the norm, especially the murder of tribunes, whose term of office frequently ended with their own murder. Thus Republic began to deteriorate.


Tiberius Gracchus was the beginning of the Roman revolution. The tribunates of both him and his brother began a progressive time for Rome's domestic politics. The careers and deaths of the Gracchus brothers place emphasis on the pros and cons of the position of tribune.

From his death, the senators and Tiberius' opponents had conveyed the message that rebellious individuals or groups would be killed. This now re-enforced legacy dated back to the lost power of the pre-Republic Roman kings. This legacy was further exemplified through the death of Gaius Gracchus as he followed in his brother's footsteps.


It was not Tiberius' motives that painted him as a tyrant, but more so his methods of the introduction and passing of legislation. Many historians, including the Roman senate, have claimed Tiberius' methods to be tyrannical in nature, due to his omission of mos maiorum (Roman traditionalism) and the Concordia principle (the ideology of a stable society).

However, it is quite arguable that Tiberius' methods defied the norm due to the inefficient process of the senate. Tiberius was not rebelling to gain supporters- he already had a vast following. He also refrained from enlisting the military force to influence political decisions. What Tiberius did do was introduce "constitutional innovations" to reach success. On the other hand, the senate utilised violence to get their way.

Also arguable is the idea that Tiberius conveyed a mature sense of compromise and conciliation. His actions aimed to benefit Rome as a whole from the reformation of land. If anything, the senate promoted political violence to achieve goals, thus forming a precedent for later years to follow, which can ultimately be blamed for the fall of the Republic.

Overall, while Tiberius revolutionary actions did include ignoring the senate, removing another tribune from office and attempting to be re-elected, his actions remained legal and were supported by Roman citizens.


@. (n.d.). Roman Religion. Retrieved November 22, 2016, from http://www.ancient.eu/Roman_Religion/

Tiberius Gracchus. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiberius_Gracchushttp://medeaslair.net/tgracchus.html

Tiberius Gracchus. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2016, from http://medeaslair.net/tgracchus.html

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2016, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Tiberius-Sempronius-Gracchus

@. (n.d.). The Brothers Gracchi: The Tribunates of Tiberius & Gaius Gracchus. Retrieved November 25, 2016, from http://www.ancient.eu/article/95/

Tiberius Gracchus. (n.d.). Retrieved November 25, 2016, from http://www.roman-empire.net/republic/tib-gracchus.html

Tribune of the Plebs. (n.d.). Retrieved November 27, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribune_of_the_Plebs

Marcus Octavius. (n.d.). Retrieved November 27, 2016, from https://sites.psu.edu/deathoftiberiusgracchus/marcus-octavius/

B. (2010). Retrieved November 28, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8SaB7O2JRM

Gracchi. (n.d.). Retrieved December 01, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gracchi

Was Tiberius a Tyrant? (n.d.). Retrieved December 04, 2016, from https://sites.psu.edu/tiberiussemproniusgracchus/was-tiberius-a-tyrant/

Economy in Ancient Rome - Crystalinks. (n.d.). Retrieved December 05, 2016, from http://www.crystalinks.com/romeconomy.html

(n.d.). Retrieved December 05, 2016, from https://sites.psu.edu/tiberiusgracchus/background/

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.