After the death of his brother Tiberius, Gaius Gracchus would make an even bigger splash on the Roman political scene. Following a similar path, he served under Scipio Aemilianus, and then was elected Consul, in which he spent two years governing Sardinia. Returning to Rome he was elected to two consecutive terms as Tribune of the Plebes in 123 and 122 BC. In the position of harnessing the power of the Roman masses, Gaius had far wider reaching plans for administrative reforms and social equity issues.
Initially, his measures saw to the exile of the Consul Popolius for his involvement in the death of Tiberius Gracchus. To cement the authority of this action, he initiated a law stating that any magistrate who had been deposed from office by the will of the people would, in the future, be ineligible to ever serve in any capacity at all. Avenging the murder of Tiberius, he then set about a new strategy of popular political legislation. His next proposal was a direct strike against the Gracchi enemies in the Senate. Through another Tribune, Glabrio M' Acilius, the Lex Acilia provided for judices to be chosen from the equestrian class rather than the senate. Damaging both the prestige of the conservative optimates and its potential for revenue through the court system, and giving more power to the equestrians, he then looked to implement direct policies aiding the lower classes.
The taxation of Asia Minor, which had recently become a province through the will of King Attalus III of Pergamum, was then completely overhauled to cause further economic damage to the Senate. Equestrians were awarded the right to contract for the collecting of the enormous taxes due from there, rather than senatorial agents. The mob was won over further when he next proposed a state subsidized grain law, which allowed every citizen to buy grain at half the market price, directly from the Roman state. His brother's agrarian law, which was revoked after Tiberius' death, was then re-adopted to allow the Plebes more access, once again, to available public land. Additional legislation was put forward to protect provincial residents from the greed, corruption and excessive taxation by local governors and other officials. Furthermore, Gaius forced through huge expenditures on public works, such as roads harbors and baths, which once more mainly benefited the equestrian business community. An orator of great magnitude, later admired by one of history's great orator's, Cicero, his laws and proposals were far more successful than those of his brother. While surpassing the success of Tiberius, he redeemed the legacy of the Gracchus name and forever put the family into the annals of history.
By 122 BC, Gaius was firmly entrenched as the champion of the people, but one piece of legislation proved to be his eventual undoing. Complaints from Italian Latin rights citizens that the agrarian laws were helping the lower classes of Rome, while leaving the Italians behind didn't fall on deaf ears. Through his political ally, M.Fulvius Flaccus, who was fresh back from the conquest of Gallia Narbonensis, Gauis next proposed a law to incorporate all the Latin rights citizens into full citizenship. Unfortunately for Gaius and his allies, this move was extremely unpopular with not only the Senate, but the head count of Rome as well. The lower classes of Roman citizenship would be forced to share their land allotments with the Italians, and the Senate saw an opportunity to strike at Gaius. A senate backed Tribune, Livius Drusus, began to propose laws far more liberal and beneficial to the Roman head count, while decisively against the Italian allies. While not a position traditionally backed by the Senate it was at least not as harmful as complete inclusion of the Italian tribes would have been. It had the added benefit of keeping the Roman mob happy, while temporarily replacing the Gracchus status of popular champion with their own man, Drusus. The laws of Drusus, however, were never intended to be permanent, and were only supported by the Senate long enough to do damage to Gracchus. Rapidly losing popularity, Gaius' attempt for a third straight election to Tribune failed in 121 BC.
Realizing the tactics of the Senate too late to counter them, Gracchus, along with Flaccus and thousands of their supporters, led a protest in the streets of Rome. A large angry mob turned out in favor of Gracchus on the Aventine Hill, but unfortunately, the protest escalated into an armed revolt. The Consul Lucius Opimius, an obvious political enemy of the populares party, was all too happy to see this occur. The unlawful carrying of weapons by Gracchus' supporters was all the excuse needed for the Senate to act out. Charging Opimius with the first ever, and soon to be regular occurring, Senatus Consultum Ultimatum (the ultimate decree of martial law), he set out after the protestors with an armed militia of legionary infantry and auxilia archers. Swooping down on the Aventine, all hope was lost for the Gracchus party. Ordering his own slave to stab him to death, the political career of the famous Gracchi came to a violent end. In the end, thousands of the mob were killed outright, and later, up to 3,000 more Gracchus supporters were rounded up, arrested and strangled.
The legacy of the Gracchi brothers was one of social upheaval and the eventual disintegration of the Roman political and governing system. Their violent deaths were the first of many more political riots and executions to come over the next 100 years. Traditional powers of the Senate and the people were being torn apart, rebuilt and torn apart again. Ambitious politicians now had many new ways to exploit a system teetering on collapse and powerful men and political parties began to develop in extreme polar opposites. The voice of violence, riots and mob tactics was quickly to become the mainstay throughout the perilous era in Roman history. The Senate even, once steadfast in cooperation against the Tribunes of the Plebes, now even began to splinter off against one another. With the fast rise and fall of the Brothers Gracchi, the stage was set for the rise of Marius, Sulla, Pompey and the eventual last dictator, Gaius Julius Caesar.
Did you know...?
The Aventine Hill is one of the seven hills that ancient Rome was built on.