Gateway to the Classics: Plutarch's Lives for Boys and Girls by W.H. Weston
Plutarch's Lives for Boys and Girls by  W.H. Weston

The Gracchi

T HE two Gracchi, brothers in blood, were both inspired with the sense of the evils produced by the decrease in the number of freemen and the increase in the number of slaves in the Roman state, and by the tendency of wealth to pass more and more into the hands of the few at the expense of the many.

Both Tiberius and Caius set themselves to remedy these evils, and, just as they were alike in the objects to which they devoted their lives, so they were also alike in suffering cruel and unjust deaths at the hands of their opponents.

Both brothers were inspired by noble and worthy motives, but of the two Tiberius, the elder, was the nobler and purer character. It must, however, be allowed that even Tiberius, in the heat of party strife, broke the laws in order to attain his ends. The handle which he gave to his enemies by so doing furnishes, however, little or no excuse for his brutal murder.

Caius, moved by a more fiery and vehement temper, and also perhaps by resentment at his brother's fate, was more violent and headstrong in his measures, and less free from personal ambition than Tiberius. Indeed, it is generally admitted that, though most of his measures effected useful reforms, yet some were injurious to the state in the long-run. Nothing, however, can excuse the means by which the senate succeeded in compassing his death.

The murders of the Gracchi and of their adherents mark the beginning of the series of bloody reigns of terror by which triumphant political parties avenged themselves upon their opponents during the latter years of the Roman Republic. The death of the two brothers left the nobles triumphant, until there arose to power the terrible, low-born Caius Marius, who took savage vengeance upon their party. Indeed, this violent and bloodthirsty party spirit in Rome furnishes the key to much that you will read in those lives which follow in this book; the lives of the Gracchi, of Caius Marius, of Julius Caesar, and of Brutus.

Tiberius Gracchus perished in 133 B.c., Caius twelve years later.

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