Tiberius Gracchus and the Roman Senate


The 2nd Punic war between Rome and its rival Carthage caused severe economic and social problems. The countryside was devastated by the war, and many of the farms were in terrible condition. Many people sold their land to the benefactors of the war and moved to the city in search of employment. But, many jobs that they could have taken were occupied by slaves. In desperation, many tried to enter the army, but according to Roman law, only land-holders could enter the army. The people, having sold their land, would as a result be rejected if they tried to apply for the army.

Around 133 BC, a tribune, Tiberius Gracchus, wanted to fix the land problem. He tried to re-establish an old principle: To take excess public land held by citizens and give it to the government for the people. To some people, Tiberius was a popular reformer who was seeking the good of the poor. To others, he was an ambitious politician whose disrespect for the Roman tradition was a dangerous sign. How did he go against Roman tradition? Well, Tiberius bypassed the Senate, and brought his land bill directly to the concilium plebis, going against Roman tradition. The bill passed, but that was not the end of the matter for Tiberius.

The senate refused to fund the bill, but Tiberius got lucky when the king of Pergamum gave his kingdom to Rome. Tiberius then said that the tax revenues from Pergamum would fund his land bill. But, this infringes on the senate’s traditional custodianship of both finances and foreign affairs. Marcus Octavius, a tribune, was influenced by the senate to veto the bill. Tiberius urged his resignation and then held a vote to impeach Octavius. After 17 votes out of 35 were cast in favor of the impeachment, Tiberius pleaded with Octavius to withdraw his veto. Octavius did not give in, so he was impeached. Later Tiberius tried to run again for re-election, also against Roman tradition, but was murdered at a political rally with some of his followers by members of the senate because they falsely thought that he was calling for a crown.


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