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Rome (218 B.C.–84 A.D.). 1906.

The Gracchi

I. Fragments by Tiberius Gracchus

THE WILD beasts of Italy have their caves to retire to, but the brave men who spill their blood in her cause have nothing left but air and light. Without houses, without settled habitations, they wander from place to place with their wives and children; and their generals do but mock them when, at the head of their armies, they exhort their men to fight for their sepulchers and the gods of their hearths, for among such numbers perhaps there is not one Roman who has an altar that has belonged to his ancestors or a sepulcher in which their ashes rest. The private soldiers fight and die to advance the wealth and luxury of the great, and they are called masters of the world without having a sod to call their own.

Is it not just that what belongs to the people should be shared by the people? Is a man with no capacity for fighting more useful to his country than a soldier? Is a citizen inferior to a slave? Is an alien, or one who owns some of his country’s soil, the best patriot? You have won by war most of your possessions, and hope to acquire the rest of the habitable globe. But now it is but a hazard whether you gain the rest by bravery or whether by your weakness and discords you are robbed of what you have by your foes. Wherefore, in prospect of such acquisitions, you should if need be spontaneously, and of your own free will, yield up these lands to those who will rear children for the service of the State. Do not sacrifice a great thing while striving for a small, especially as you are to receive no contemptible compensation for your expenditure on the land, in free ownership of five hundred jugera secure forever, and in case you have sons, of two hundred and fifty more for each of them.

The person of a tribune, I acknowledge, is sacred and inviolable, because he is consecrated to the people, and takes their interests under his protection. But when he deserts those interests, and becomes an oppressor of the people; when he retrenches their privileges, and takes away their liberty of voting; by those acts he deprives himself, for he no longer keeps to the intention of his employment. Otherwise, if a tribune should demolish the Capitol, and burn the docks and naval stores, his person could not be touched. A man who should do such things as those, might still be a tribune, though a vile one; but he who diminishes the privileges of the people, ceases to be a tribune of the people.

Does it not shock you to think that a tribune should be able to imprison a consul, and the people not have it in their power to deprive a tribune of his authority, when he uses it against those who gave it? For the tribunes, as well as the consuls, are elected by the people. Kingly government seems to comprehend all authority in itself, and kings are consecrated with the most awful ceremonies; yet the citizens expelled Tarqin, when his administration became iniquitous, and, for the offense of one man, the ancient government, under whose auspices Rome was erected, was entirely abolished.

What is there in Rome so sacred and venerable as the Vestal Virgins who keep the perpetual fire? yet if any of them transgress the rules of her order, she is buried alive. For they who are guilty of impiety against the gods, lose that sacred character, which they had only for the sake of the gods. So a tribune who injures the people can be no longer sacred or inviolable on the people’s account. He destroys that power in which alone his strength lay. If it is just for him to be invested with the tribunal authority by a majority of tribes, is it not more just for him to be deposed by the suffrages of them all? What is more sacred and inviolable than the offerings in the temples of the gods? yet no one pretends to hinder the people from making use of them, or removing them, whenever they please. And, indeed, that the tribune’s office is not inviolable or unremovable, appears from hence, that several have voluntarily laid it down, or been discharged at their own request.