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The Tribunate Of Tiberius Gracchus Notes

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

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Analyse the tribunate of Tiberius Gracchus in 133 BC. What problems was he trying to address? Why did he encounter opposition?
Tiberius Gracchus came from one of the most powerful, politically connected families in Rome; he was the grandson of the great Scipio Africanus and brother-in-law of Scipio Aemilianus, as well as having many other extremely important friends and associates. For that reason it is important to consider firstly why he seemed to show such vehement concern for the plebeians and then why he concerned encountered such fierce opposition he may well have been beaten to death by a group of senators. The problems he was trying to address with his agrarian bill were deeply ingrained both socially and economically; the nature of Roman society created a situation in which, as a result of successful foreign conflict, the rich got richer, but the lower classes, who actually did the fighting, only got worse off. In the aftermath of the second Punic war there were numerous land confiscations from those cities which had sided with Hannibal against the Romans; this ager publicus was given to rich and poor alike on the agreement that they could farm it for a rent of about one tenth of arable produce and one fifth of orchard produce. The rich then used force or their economic advantages to acquire the land around their property in order to create very large estates. "The wealthy men began to offer larger rents and drive the poor people out" (Plutarch) Furthermore Livy tells us that the actions of the senate as far back as 200 added to this fundamental problem with the use of public land. He says that they gave creditors the legal right to use and derive profit from the land confiscated in the Punic wars and so their action contributed to the growth of large estates and the agrarian crisis . This problem was made possible and exacerbated by the fact that the lower land owning classes were crushed under the burden of military obligations which fell on an increasingly dwindling number of men; since they were unable to resist the advances of the rich men or even attend their property very much anyway, the ager publicus fell under the control of a relatively small number of men. As the length of service and distance involved in military campaigns got greater, sometimes as long as six years in the Spanish wars, the men spent less and less time on their properties and furthermore since some thirty thousand men were needed to fill the six legions on active service this took a considerable proportion of those who were actually qualified to serve in them. Upon returning from long service the men found they had accumulated such debt they were forced to travel to the urban centres for work which was plentiful until the economic recession of the 130s when a lull in trade coincided with the slave revolt which led to a grain shortage. This effectively turned a group of land owning rural farmers into an urban proletariat who lacked the skills of foreign slaves and so could not find work easily. The result of this was a sharp reduction of the men who were actually qualified to serve in the legions, something which required a minimum amount of property.

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