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Gaius Gracchus Notes

Classics Notes > Roman History; the Roman Republic from 146 BC to 46 BC Notes

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Analyse the political activity of C. Gracchus 123-122 BC. Did he change direction during his time in office, or do his proposals form and intelligible and coherent whole? Do you think he foresaw the consequences of his measures?
Gaius Gracchus passed numerous laws during his time as tribune, the aims of which were to provide advantage to the people; not surprising given his position and his popularity with the plebs. It also seems that he sought to curb the power of the senate as well as trying to promote the interests of the Italian and Latin allies. These aims may seem unrelated but if his overall intention was to increase the Roman franchise and widen the group of people with real power then they do form a coherent whole. The extent of these laws caused him to accumulate a huge degree of public popularity at the cost of support in the senate; this was to an even higher degree than Tiberius so it would be hard to imagine that he could not anticipate the violent reaction which befell him as it did his brother. It may be useful to divide Gaius' numerous laws into groups which fall under his three overall aims; helping the people, curbing the senatorial grip on power and promoting the interests of the allies. Firstly the laws which most directly benefit the people of which there are several. The lex de provocatione ensure that only the Roman people could authorize a capital sentence against a Roman citizen. It was initially set up in response to the senate punishing the alleged crimes of the supporters of Tiberius Gracchus but went beyond this is providing a right of appeal to all citizens against the decision of a magistrate. Gaius' own speeches are said to recall acts of arbitrary cruelty against the people by powerful men which he wanted to put a stop to with this law. Plutarch summarizes this law in his life of Gaius, "If any magistrate condemn a Roman to be banished without a legal trial, the people be authorized to take cognizance thereof." One of the Gaius' more socially forward thinking laws on behalf of the people was the lex frumentaria which provided a regular monthly distribution of grain to all Roman citizens at a fixed price of 6 1/3 asses per medius. Such a law had never been passed before and was in a way revolutionary as it provided protection to the poor from price fluctuations and profiteering at the expense of the state. He built stores to house grain for the inevitable periods of shortage, such as occurred when crops were devastated by the slave war in Sicily and then a plague of locusts in Africa, as well as introducing new levies and custom duties to provide the revenue needed to fund these new measures. In effect the rich paid tax to provide benefits to the poor in a way not dissimilar to a modern society, although such a comparison should not be taken too far, the law was certainly humanitarian rather than profitable. In this it is possible to see a reflection of his brother Tiberius who, according to Appian, introduced his agrarian law not to make the land more profitable but to increase the population of the Italians. It reveals the same genuine care for the well being of the plebs in both men and although it could be possible to view this law in purely cynical political terms

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