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Gaius Gracchus

Gaius Gracchus

Gaius Gracchus's impact on Roman history can be found in continuing a tradition of political change begun by earlier members of the Gracchi era. His great skill as an orator led him to be one of the most powerful leaders in Rome at a time when change and upheaval was looming around the corner for the republic. The importance of Gaius Gracchus rests in his desire to implement societal reforms because of his firm belief that the senate could no longer carry out its functions properly.

Sources for the era in the Republic when Gaius Gracchus ruled are scattered and incomplete. Perhaps it is one of the reasons that the Empire period dominates in terms of scholarship and popular study. Between Suetonius, Cassius Dio, Tacitus, Seneca and others, sources for the Empire paint a more complete picture. Modern historians have these chronicles as well as official documents to recreate aspects of the Roman Empire that continue to fascinate us: corruption, debauchery, military triumph, dissolution, and achievement. For the earlier Republican period, however, sources are incomplete. Indeed, it was not until the end of the 3rd century BC that there developed any interest in the writing of Roman history. It was not until that time that scholars, both Greek and Roman, recognized that Rome was fast becoming a significant force in the ancient world. Even despite the extensive writings by Polybius and Livy, who incorporated numerous ancient official documents into their books, "the history of even of the middle Republic from the fourth to second centuries BC is a hazardous proceeding".

What is known of Gauis' rule usually begins with the exploits of his older brother Tiberius. In 133, Tiberius Gracchus, a patrician who had gotten himself elected to the Tribunician Assembly-and thereby alienating the Senate patriciate-began a long term effort to use public moneys to purchase land to be subsequently distributed to recently discharged veterans. If everything went as Tiberius envisioned, those veterans would father a new generation of young homesteaders who provide the backbone of the army. While Tiberius and, later, brother Gaius, were successful in establishing the land reform, at least on paper, both were eventually slain-Gaius after having been effectively outlawed by the Senate. The failure of the Gracchi ended any real effort a reestablishing a Roman rural yeomanry, an effort that was probably doomed from the start, given the actual military manpower requirements. Future efforts would be of a stop-gap nature and they would go far in undermining the Roman state.

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