Son of (1) and of Cornelia, served at Carthage under his cousin Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus, who married his sister. As quaestor in Spain (137 bc), he used his father's connections to save the army of Hostilius Mancinus by a treaty later disowned by the senate on Scipio's motion. His good faith thus discredited, he joined a group hostile to Scipio: his father‐in‐law Claudius Pulcher, princeps senatus and augur; the consul for 133 Mucius Scaevola and his brother Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus, both eminent lawyers and pontificēs (see pontifex). As tribune 133, in Scipio's absence, he proposed, with their aid and advice, a law designed to solve Rome's interlocking problems: departure or expulsion of small landowners from their properties, leading to insuperable difficulties in recruiting armies; danger from increasing numbers of slaves; and lack of an assured food supply for the capital. The law reaffirmed the long‐ignored limit of 500 iugera of arable public land per person (see ager publicus) and instituted a commission (to which he, his brother Gaius (see above) and his father‐in‐law were ultimately elected) to find and confiscate surplus land and distribute it in small lots to poor citizens. A compromise offering 250 additional iugera for each child was withdrawn when it failed to secure his opponents' acceptance of the law. Following good precedent and with his eminent supporters' approval, he submitted the law to the plebs without previous discussion in the senate. It was vetoed by Octavius, taken to the senate for adjudication, and rejected. Gracchus none the less resubmitted it, and Octavius persisted in his veto, both contrary to custom. To end the unprecedented impasse Gracchus had Octavius removed from office—again an unprecedented step, but without objection by the other tribunes, who did not veto it. When Pergamene envoys brought news of Attalus III's death and will, leaving his estate to Rome, Gracchus (with whom they probably stayed owing to his father's guest‐friendship with the dynasty) proposed to prejudge the issue of acceptance, ignoring the senate's traditional right to guide foreign affairs, and to distribute Attalus' property to Roman citizens, perhaps as equipment grants for his new allotment‐holders.
He next sought re‐election, to escape certain conviction on perduellio charges. This last unprecedented step alienated earlier supporters and increased fear of tyranny among opponents. When the consul Scaevola refused to stop him by force, the pontifex maximus Cornelius Scipio Nasica Serapio led a mob of senators and their clients ‘to save the republic’. Gracchus and many of his supporters were killed on the Capitol, others were later punished by a commission under Popillius Laenas, consul 132. The land commission, however, continued unimpeded until 129 (see cornelius scipio aemilianus africanus).
His tribunate marks the beginning of ‘the Roman Revolution’: the introduction of murder into politics and the breakdown of concordia (the tradition of not pushing legal powers to extremes) on which the republic was based. See also agrarian laws and policy.
Subjects: Classical Studies.