The Brothers Gracchi

Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus wanted to introduce land reform and other populist legislation in ancient Rome. They are considered the founding fathers of both socialism and populism.

Tiberius Gracchus, born in 168 BCE, was the older of the Gracchi brothers. Under Tiberius' proposal, no one citizen would be able to possess more than 500 iugera of public land that was acquired during wars. Any excess land would be confiscated by the state and redistributed to the poor and homeless in small plots of about 30 iugera per family.

The Senate resisted agrarian reform because its members owned most of the land, which was the basis of their wealth. Therefore, Tiberius was very unpopular with the senatorial elite. His main opponent was Marcus Octavius, another tribune who vetoed Tiberius' bills from entering the Assembly.

When King Attalus III of Pergamon died, he left his entire fortune to the people of Rome. Pergamon was one of the richest cities in the ancient world, and Tiberius wanted to use its wealth to fund his agrarian law. This was a direct attack on senatorial power. Senate's opposition to Tiberius began to increase.

With his term coming to an end, Tiberius sought re-election as tribune for the following year. This was unprecedented, and his opponents claimed that it was illegal, and that Tiberius was trying to become a tyrant. Tiberius and nearly 300 of his supporters were beaten to death with wooden chairs. These deaths marked a turning point in the history of the Roman Republic and a long-lasting association between violence and the office of the tribune.

Tiberius was succeeded by his younger brother, Gaius Gracchus, who was also a social reformer. He had a legislative agenda that extended beyond agrarian reform. Some of his laws might have been directed toward the people responsible for his brother's death.

Gaius renewed Tiberius' land law and founded new colonies in Italy and Carthage. He introduced a law banning conscription of Romans under age 17 and requiring the state to pay for basic military equipment. Like his brother, he also funded state-subsidized grain. Another law passed by Gaius imposed the death penalty on any judge who accepted a bribe to convict another Roman.

Gaius lost his popular appeal by 121 BCE. After a riot broke out on Capitoline Hill and one of Gaius' opponents was killed, the ultimate decree of the Senate was passed for the first time. This law gave the Senate the power to declare anyone an enemy of the state and execute him without trial by a jury. A mob was then raised to assassinate Gaius. Knowing that his death was imminent, Gaius committed suicide. All his reforms were undermined except for his grain laws.

Source: The Brothers Gracchi
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