Gaius Gracchus

Gaius Gracchus

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus (Latin: C·SEMPRONIVS·TI·F·P·N·GRACCVS) (154 BC-121 BC) was a Roman politician of the 2nd century BC. He was the younger brother of Tiberius Gracchus and, like him, pursued a popular political agenda that ultimately ended in his death. Gaius was indirectly killed by the Roman faction of the Optimates, which some believe convinced his slave to kill him.

Early life

Gaius was born in 154 BC, the son of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (Tiberius Gracchus Major, who died in the same year) and Cornelia Africana, and brother of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus. The Gracchi were of noble descent and were one of the politically most important families of Rome, very rich and well connected. His mother, Cornelia Africana, was daughter of Scipio Africanus Major and his sister Sempronia was the wife of Scipio Aemilianus, another important general. Gaius was raised by his mother, a Roman "matrona" of high moral standards and virtue.

Gaius’ military career started in Numantia, as a military tribune appointed to the staff of his brother in law, Scipio Aemilianus. As a young man, he watched the political turmoil caused by his older brother Tiberius Gracchus, as he tried to pass laws for agrarian reforms. Tiberius was killed in 133 BC near the Capitol, during an armed confrontation with political enemies, led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica, their cousin. With this death, Gaius inherited the estate of the Gracchii family. History would prove that he inherited his brother's ideals too.

Political career

Quaestorship and first tribunate

Gaius had been on the Agrarian commission along with his brother and Appius Claudius. Gaius started his political career in 126 BC, as quaestor to consul Lucius Aurelius Orestes in Sardinia. After a few years of political peace in Rome, in 123 BC, Gaius was elected for the tribunate of the plebs, as every man in his family before him. The conservatives soon understood that they might expect trouble from him and attempted to prosecute him on various charges however he succeeded in clearing himself. Gaius had similar ideals as Tiberius, but he had time to learn from his brother's mistakes. His program included not only agrarian laws, that stated that lands illegally acquired by the rich should be redistributed to the poor, but also laws that regulated the price of grain. He made provision for the creation of new secondary roads in Italy, in order to reduce unemployment and help the new landowners to sell their produce. To stimulate industrial revival he carried a supplementary bill for the creation of new colonies at Capua, Tarentum and, most notably, the territory of Carthage where the proposed settlement would be called Junonia. [A history of Rome, M Cary and H Scullard p208-9]

He also tried to limit the number of years and campaigns a man was obliged to serve in the army. Other measures included the reformation of the extortion court, which prosecuted illegal appropriations of money by members of the Senate and a law concerned with the constitution of juries, which were previously composed only of Senators, subject to bribery, who would judge their peers. His law changed the jury-draft pool to include equites. He also proposed the extension of Roman citizenship to several Italian allied nations. A final enactment provided that in future the Senate should decide which two provinces were to be administered by consuls before the election of the pair was known in order to prevent it taking likes and dislikes into account in the allocation of provinces to governors. All of this displeased the more conservative Senators, who used another tribune M. Livius Drusus against him. Drusus sought to outbid Gracchus with a similar but rival set of proposals.

econd tribunate and death

In 122 BC, Gaius ran for another term as tribune of the plebs – and succeeded, with the overwhelming support of Rome's lower classes. During this year, he continued to pursue his reforms and to deal with increasing opposition of the senate. Gaius tried to run for a third time, with Marcus Fulvius Flaccus as his colleague and partner, but they lost and could do nothing but watch the removal of all their laws by the new conservative consuls, Quintus Fabius Maximus and Lucius Opimius. In order to prevent the loss of all his work, Gaius and Fulvius Flaccus resorted to violent measures. The senate responded by tagging them as enemies of the Republic and they eventually had to run. Fulvius Flaccus was murdered with his sons, but Gaius managed to escape with Philocrates, his faithful slave. Upon coming to the Grove of the Furies, he likely ordered Philocrates to kill him. Following his death, about 3,000 men suspected of supporting him were killed and their estates were confiscated. According to Plutarch's "Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans" Gaius Gracchus was killed by Philocrates, who then killed himself. One of Gracchus's enemies decapitated the body, and the head was taken by Septimuleius (a client of Opimius) who, it was said, cracked the skull open and filled it with molten lead, which was then taken to Opimius. It weighed in on the scale at over seventeen pounds, so Opimius paid Septimuleius this weight in gold, as he had promised. [Plutarch. "Gracchus". (75 A.C.E.). Retrieved on September 4, 2006.]


Gaius Gracchus married Licinia Crassa, the second daughter of Publius Licinius Crassus (consul in 131 BC) and Claudia. They had a son and daughter. The name and fate of their son is unknown. Their daughter Sempronia Gracchae (about 123 BC - 63 BC), who became the future heiress to the Gracchi estate, married Marcus Fulvius Flaccus Bambalio, son to his political ally Marcus Fulvius Flaccus (consul 125 BC). Their only child was Fulvia Flacca Bambula. Fulvia married the Roman politicians Publius Clodius Pulcher, Gaius Scribonius Curio and Mark Antony."See also": Scipio-Paullus-Gracchus family tree


* "Life of Gaius Gracchus" and "Life of Tiberius Gracchus" from "Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans" by Plutarch:
** [ Dryden's translation of Plutarch's "Life of Gaius Gracchus" on the MIT classics website]
** [ 19th century translation of Plutarch's "Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans" on the Project Gutenberg website]

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