133 BC Roman Land Reformer: Tiberius Graccus and his Lex Sempronia Agraria

Zardoz Greek zardos777 at yahoo.co.uk
Tue Aug 2 12:23:14 BST 2016

Tiberius Graccus Elected tribune in 133 B.C. Called on the state to distribute land to poor farmers, he, his brother and their followers were killed by senators and their hired thugs

 Tiberius Graccus and Land Reform

A very interesting situation in the ancient Roman Republic. Tiberius Graccus was a Tribune in 133. Heres a quick summery from wikipedia.

Tiberius Gracchus was elected tribune in 133 BC. He attempted to enact a law which would have limited the amount of land that any individual could own. The aristocrats, who stood to lose an enormous amount of money, were bitterly opposed to this proposal. Tiberius submitted this law to the Plebeian Council, but the law was vetoed by a tribune named Marcus Octavius. Tiberius then used the Plebeian Council to impeach Octavius. The theory, that a representative of the people ceases to be one when he acts against the wishes of the people, was counter to Roman constitutional theory. If carried to its logical end, this theory would remove all constitutional restraints on the popular will, and put the state under the absolute control of a temporary popular majority.[51] His law was enacted, but Tiberius was murdered when he stood for reelection to the tribunate.
The land reform was a type of redistribution of land to the poor and unemployed (much like popular land reform amung latin American socialists). 

The Aristocrats were taking land from desperate farmers, kicking out renters, forcing families to sell their land cheaply when soldiers were at war, the big aristocrats put the poor farmers out of buisiness and used slave labor instead of renting out land. (the whole situation reminds of me of the US, outsourcing, forclosures, layoffs, dispossesion and so on).

Interesting thing was he was an aristocratic officer in the army, that got popular by saving the lives of Roman soldiers by giving concessions to the Cartheginians, which pissed of the Senaters and Aristicrats who wanted roman glory or whatever. 

He almost made the Roman republic into a proper Roman democracy, after he land reform getting veto'd he essencially used the public assembally power to shut down the entire Roman State and then had Octavius (Basically a shrill of the aristocrats and senate aka Obama) removed through popular vote.

Problem is, he got killed, he got labeled as wanting to be king, which is treason. 

What happened next? His younger brother Gius tried to enacy more socialist like land reforms, and reforming the justice system to keep it out of the hands of the aristocrats. In the end .... well .... He got killed too.
However I think this is a great example of revolution through reformism, if the revolution continued who knows, Rome could have been a proper democratic republic.

THe whole system and history of the Roman republic reminds me SO much of the modern United States its scary.


When the soldiers returned from the legions, they had nowhere to go, so they went to Rome to join the mob of thousands of unemployed who roamed the city. Due to this, the number of men with enough assets to qualify for army duty was shrinking as was the military power of Rome. In 133 BC Tiberius was elected tribune of the people. Soon he started to legislate on the matter of the homeless legionaries.

Tiberius noted how much of the land was being concentrated into latifundia, being held by owners of large farms and worked by slaves, rather than small estates owned by small farmers working the land themselves.

In opposition to this, Tiberius proposed the laws called Lex Sempronia Agraria. They recommended that the government should confiscate public land that had previously been taken by the state in earlier wars, and was being held in amounts larger than the 500 iugera, approximately 310 acres (1.3 km²), allowed under previous land laws. Some of this land had been held by large land holders who had bought, settled, or rented the property in much earlier time periods, even several generations back. Sometimes it had been leased, rented, or resold to other holders after the initial sale or rental. In some ways, this was an attempt to implement the Licinian Laws passed in 367 B.C., which had never been repealed and never enforced. This would solve two problems: increase the number of men that could be levied for service and also take care of homeless war veterans.

The Senate and its conservative elements were strongly against the Sempronian agrarian reforms, and were also particularly opposed to Tiberius’s highly unorthodox method of passing the reforms. Because Tiberius clearly knew the Senate wouldn’t approve his reforms, he side stepped the Senate altogether by going straight to the Concilium Plebis (the Popular Assembly) who supported his measures. This was neither against the law or even against tradition (Mos Maiorum), but it was certainly insulting to the Senate and it alienated Senators who otherwise might show support.

However, the Senators had a trick up their sleeves: a tribune who said “No”, or used a veto, always prevailed. So, in an effort to stop Tiberius, the Senate persuaded Octavius, another tribune, to use his veto to prevent the submission of the bills to the Assembly. Gracchus then moved that Octavius, as a tribune who acted contrary to the wishes of his constituents, should be immediately deposed. Octavius remained resolute. The people began to vote to depose Octavius, but the tribune vetoed their actions. Tiberius had him forcefully removed from the meeting place of the Assembly and proceeded with the vote to depose him.

These actions violated Octavius' right of sacrosanctity and worried Tiberius' supporters, and so instead of moving to depose him, Tiberius commenced to use his veto on daily ceremonial rites in which Tribunes were asked if they would allow for key public buildings, for example the Markets and the Temples, to be opened in this way he effectively shut down the entire city of Rome including all businesses, trade, and production, until the Senate and the Assembly passed the laws. The Assembly, fearing for Tiberius's safety, escorted him home.

The Senate gave trivial funds to the agrarian commission that had been appointed to execute Tiberius's laws. However, late in 133 BC, king Attalus III of Pergamum died and left his entire fortune (including the whole kingdom of Pergamum) to Rome. Tiberius saw his chance and immediately used his tribunician powers to allocate the fortune to fund the new law. This was a direct attack on Senatorial power, since it was traditionally responsible for the management of the treasury and for decisions regarding overseas affairs. The opposition of the Senate to Gracchus increased.

The Roman Senate was corrupted by sudden wealth, especially the flood of new slaves. They also lent money to the soldiers who were like the ones stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan. Troops were restive, the ones who did manage to get home were homeless...sounds familiar? And there was violence in the streets. They didn't have tasers back then, by the way. The concept of turning soldiers from land owners into mercenaries was right around the corner, after the Gracchi were wiped out, the 'professional' soldier appeared and became slowly, a slave of the state machinery. But also a great way to climb from plebian to ruler! Power grows from wielding the sword in the bitter end!

When the US got rid of the draft, the only way we could have an army that was 'professional' was if we kept out of all colonial and imperial wars. Instead, since Congress and the Presidency was every bit as corrupt as the Romans, this was seen as a great new tool! Bush Sr, in his infamous 'New World Order' speech he gave on 9/11/91, a super-magical day for him and his family, he boasted about how the US could make money selling the bodies of our soldiers to foreign powers unwilling to fight, themselves! Wonderful, I sighed. The trade deficit that year was, for the ONLY time in 35 years, positive! Ergo: doing this was a great idea!

Note how this has evolved: the Republic now is deeper and deeper into debt. Our 'professional' military was totally incompetent to the point of being open to real accusations of complicity in the 9/11/1 attacks which landed on that funky magic number day so dear to the Bushes. Instead of punishing the 'professional' military, it was greatly expanded, vast sums were given to it and now it eats up half a trillion and more a year, this equalling our budget gap. Like in ancient Rome, to keep the plebian mobs happy, the rulers throw out games and bread. The Romans didn't figure out how to make money totally magically. This is no longer a hinderance! Today, it can be made via publishing numbers. That's all it takes. So the debts swell.


Tiberius Gracchus' overruling of the tribunician veto was considered illegal, and his opponents were determined to impeach him at the end of his one year term, since he was regarded as having violated the constitution and having used force against a tribune. To protect himself further, Tiberius Gracchus sought re-election to the tribunate in 133 B.C, promising to shorten the term of military service, abolish the exclusive right of senators to act as jurors, and admit allies to Roman citizenship.
On election day, Tiberius Gracchus appeared in the Roman senate with armed guards and in a mourning costume, implying that his defeat would mean his impeachment and death. As the voting proceeded, violence broke out on both sides. Tiberius's cousin, Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica, saying that Tiberius wished to make himself king, led the senators down towards Tiberius. In the resulting confrontation, Tiberius was killed. Several hundred of his followers, who were waiting outside the senate, perished with him. Plutarch says "Tiberius' death in the senate was short and quick although he was armed it did not help him against the many senators of the day."


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