Young Folks' History of Rome eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 220 pages of information about Young Folks' History of Rome.

Young Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, the eldest of Cornelia’s jewels, was sent in the year 137 to join the Roman army in Spain.  As he went through Etruria, which, as every one knew, had been a thickly peopled, fertile country in old times, he was shocked to see its dreariness and desolation.  Instead of farms and vineyards, there were great bare spaces of land, where sheep, kids, or goats were feeding.  These vast tracts belonged to Romans, who kept slaves to attend to the flocks; while all the corn that was used in Rome came from Sicily or Africa, and the poorer Romans lived in the city itself—­idle men, chiefly trusting to distributions of corn, and unable to work for themselves because they had no ground to till; and as to trades and handicrafts, the rich men had everything they wanted made in their own houses by their slaves.

[Illustration:  CORNELIA AND HER SONS.]

No wonder the Romans were losing their old character.  This was the very thing that the Licinian law had been intended to prevent, by forbidding any citizen to have more than a certain quantity of land, and giving the state the power of resuming it.  The law was still there, but it had been disused and forgotten; estates had been gathered into the hands of families and handed down, till now, though there were 400,000 citizens, only 2,000 were men of property.

While Tiberius was serving in Spain, he decided on his plan.  As his family was plebeian, he could be a tribune of the people, and as soon as he came home he stood and was elected.  Then he proposed reviving the Licinian law, that nobody should have more than 500 acres, and that the rest should be divided among those who had nothing, leaving, however, a larger portion to those who had many children.

There was, of course, a terrible uproar; the populace clamoring for their rights, and the rich trying to stop the measure.  They bribed one of the other tribunes to forbid it; but there was a fight, in which Tiberius prevailed, and he and his young brother Caius, and his father-in-law Appius Claudius, were appointed as triumvers to see the law carried out.  Then the rich men followed their old plan of spreading reports among the people that Tiberius wanted to make himself a king, and had accepted a crown and purple robe from some foreign envoy.  When his year of office was coming to an end, he sought to be elected tribune again, but the patricians said it was against the law.  There was a great tumult, in the course of which he put his hand to his head, either to guard it from a blow or to beckon his friends.  “He demands the diadem,” shouted his enemies, and there was a great struggle, in which three hundred people were killed.  Tiberius tried to take refuge in the Temple of Jupiter, but the doors were closed against him; he stumbled, was knocked down with a club, and killed.

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Young Folks' History of Rome from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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