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Mary Macgregor

Tiberius and His Friend Octavius

The Senate and the wealthy landowners were displeased that Gracchus had been chosen as one of the tribunes. They knew that he was eager for reforms, which they had no wish to see carried out.

But Tiberius was too wise not to try to please those in authority. So his first measure was not so sweeping as his opponents had expected it to be. The young reformer even said, that those who would lose great estates, if the old Licinian laws were enforced, should have compensation.

But although the landowners had not expected this concession, they were very angry with Tiberius, and they did all that they could to make the people misunderstand him. If his wishes were made laws, the lot of the poor would only become more difficult, they told the plebeians, who did not know what to believe.

Then, lest the people should begin to think that the landowners knew better than he what was for their good, about their struggles and their poverty.

In the Assembly of the people his fervent words rang out.

"The wild beasts of Italy," he said, "have their caves and lairs, but to the men who fought and bled for Italy nothing remains except the open air and the light of heaven. Bereft of home and shelter, they wander about with their wives and families. It is a mere mockery and a delusion in a general to exhort his warriors before a battle by bidding them fight for the graves of their ancestors and for their household altars, for not one of them owns an altar bequeathed him by his father, nor the ground where his fathers are laid. They fight and fall that others may enjoy affluence and luxury; they are called lords of the earth, and have not a single clod which is their own."

These words, so full of pity for the treatment that they suffered, touched the hearts of the people, and they would no longer listen to a word against their tribune.

Among his fellow-tribunes, Tiberius scarcely looked for support, save, perhaps, from his friend Octavius.

At first, indeed, Octavius refused to oppose the bill Gracchus now brought forward, but in the end he yielded to the enemies of Gracchus, and promised to do so.

This was fatal to the success of the bill, for it was the rule that if one tribune disapproved of a measure, the others were powerless to do any more in the matter. It was allowed to drop out of sight. Tiberius was too much in earnest to be willing that this should happen. He met his friend and begged him not to persist in opposing the bill.

Octavius himself was a landowner, and Gracchus, careless, as it seemed, of his friend's feelings, even offered to compensate him for what he would lose if the law was passed.

But Octavius was neither to be persuaded nor bribed. He refused to do as Tiberius wished, and so it was still impossible to pass the bill.

Then Tiberius, who as tribune had exactly the same power as his friend, resolved to use it.

He opposed every measure brought before the State, just as Octavius had opposed his bill. He also put his seal on the treasury, so that no money could be obtained, and thus it was soon impossible to carry on public business.

The landowners knew that Tiberius would not rest until he had gained his end. To show their distress they put on mourning, and walked up and down the streets with a melancholy mien, for their estates were dear to them.

But they did more than parade their grief; they called together their followers that they might be ready to resist Gracchus by force, if it became necessary. Plots, too, were laid against his life, but Tiberius heard of these, and from that time he carried a dagger beneath his robe.

The landowners were right in believing that Gracchus would never be content until his bill had been voted either for or against by the people.

Not only did the tribune intend to have the vote taken, but he was resolved that it should be taken without delay. For the people had crowded into the city from all parts of the country to support him, and he feared lest they should have to go back to their homes before their vote had been given.

So he made another attempt to bring his bill before the popular Assembly, but again Octavius interfered, while some haughty nobles led their followers into the Assembly and overturned the urns in which the votes were placed.

Again Gracchus appealed to his friend, this time in the presence of the Senate, but once again his friend refused to yield to his entreaty.

Tiberius felt that he had done his utmost to win Octavius by kindness. He now determined to appeal to the people to remove his friend from the tribuneship.

This was to go in the face of law and justice, for a magistrate when appointed by the people was free to do as he thought right during his year of office, without interference from those who had given him authority.

But the influence of Gracchus was so great that seventeen out of thirty-five tribes had already voted that Octavius should be deposed, when Gracchus stopped the proceedings.

He saw that he was going to win, and he wished to give Octavius the chance to resign of his own free will.

But when Octavius disdained to accept this suggestion, the voting was continued, and Octavius was soon declared to be no longer tribune.

The unfortunate man was then dragged from his seat by the servants of Tiberius, and it was not without trouble that he escaped with his life from the fury of the people.

Now that the obstinate tribune was out of the way, Gracchus had no difficulty in passing his bill. But he was so angry with the landowners for the opposition with which they had treated it, that he dropped the clause saying they should have compensation for their loss.

Tiberius, his father-in-law Appius Claudius, and his brother Gaius were now appointed to survey and divide the land in accordance with the bill.

Summer passed, and soon Tiberius would no longer be tribune, and his enemies rejoiced. For when he was once more a private citizen they hoped to punish him for deposing Octavius.

But Tiberius did not mean to become a private citizen at the end of his year of office, if it was possible to avoid doing so.

It was true that it was against the law for a tribune to be re-elected for a second year. But the people had before now ignored this law, and Tiberius hoped that they would do so again for his sake. It may be that Tiberius was anxious to retain his authority, lest the new land law should suffer were he not able to see that it was enforced.

But the country folk had got what they wished, and would not flock to the city for the coming elections in such crowds as they had done when the passing of the law had depended on their presence.

Gracchus would have to depend, for the most part, on the city populace to vote for him. It was influenced, he was well aware, by the Optimates, that is, by the party that supported the Senate, so that Gracchus knew that the chance of re-election was small.

On the day of the election two tribes had, however, already voted for Gracchus, when the Optimates broke in upon the Assembly, saying that the proceedings were illegal.

The other tribunes sided with the Optimates, or at least they opposed the re-election of Gracchus, and, much against his will, Tiberius saw the election put off until the following day.