Nipissing University  -- History 2055 -- Ancient Civilizations

Reading for February 12, 2001

Plutarch:  Life of Tiberius Gracchus

Introduction (Muhlberger):

Plutarch, a Greek-speaking Roman citizen of the 2nd century A.D., was a prolific biographer and is our main source for many details about important figures and events of much earlier times.

A full translation of the Life of Tiberius Gracchus can be found at:

What problems, according to Plutarch's account, existed in the time of Tiberius Gracchus?   Would everyone have agreed on the nature of these problems.   Plutarch seems to show that there were different evaluations of Tiberius Gracchus' character and motivation.   What were they?   Why did such different evaluations exist?

     Of the land which the Romans gained by conquest from their neighbours, part they sold publicly, and turned the
     remainder into common; this common land they assigned to such of the citizens as were poor and indigent, for
     which they were to pay only a small acknowledgment into the public treasury. But when the wealthy men began to
     offer larger rents, and drive the poorer people out, it was enacted by law that no person whatever should enjoy
     more than five hundred acres of ground. This act for some time checked the avarice of the richer, and was of great
     assistance to the poorer people, who retained under it their respective proportions of ground, as they had been
     formerly rented by them. Afterwards the rich men of the neighbourhood contrived to get these lands again into
     their possession, under other people's names, and at last would not stick to claim most of them publicly in their
     own. The poor, who were thus deprived of their farms, were no longer either ready, as they had formerly been, to
     serve in war or careful in the education of their children; insomuch that in a short time there were comparatively
     few freemen remaining in all Italy, which swarmed with workhouses full of foreign-born slaves. These the rich men
     employed in cultivating their ground of which they dispossessed the citizens. Caius Laelius, the intimate friend of
     Scipio, undertook to reform this abuse; but meeting with opposition from men of authority, and fearing a
     disturbance, he soon desisted, and received the name of the Wise or the Prudent, both which meanings belong to
     the Latin word Sapiens.

     But Tiberius, being elected tribune of the people, entered upon that design without delay, at the instigation, as is
     most commonly stated, of Diophanes, the rhetorician, and Blossius, the philosopher. Diophanes was a refugee
     from Mitylene, the other was an Italian, of the city of Cuma, and was educated there under Antipater of Tarsus,
     who afterwards did him the honour to dedicate some of his philosophical lectures to him.

     Some have also charged Cornelia, the mother of Tiberius, with contributing towards it, because she frequently
     upbraided her sons, that the Romans as yet rather called her the daughter of Scipio, than the mother of the
     Gracchi. Others again say that Spurius Postumius was the chief occasion. He was a man of the same age with
     Tiberius, and his rival for reputation as a public speaker; and when Tiberius, at his return from the campaign, found
     him to have got far beyond him in fame and influence, and to be much looked up to, he thought to outdo him, by
     attempting a popular enterprise of this difficulty and of such great consequence. But his brother Caius has left it us
     in writing, that when Tiberius went through Tuscany to Numantia, and found the country almost depopulated, there
     being hardly any free husbandmen or shepherds, but for the most part only barbarian, imported slaves, he then first
     conceived the course of policy which in the sequel proved so fatal to his family. Though it is also most certain that
     the people themselves chiefly excited his zeal and determination in the prosecution of it, by setting up writings upon
     the porches, walls, and monuments, calling upon him to reinstate the poor citizens in their former possessions.