Many of us know the legend of the Roman Empire. What we might not know are some of the scandalous details. One was the story of the Gracchi murders.

Jean-Baptiste Claude Eugène Guillaume [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Hard Issues

The oligarchy could not handle the new issues. They had never seen anything like the vast need for land reform, which ultimately shaped the Roman military, and the desire of so many to be considered Roman citizens. Growing pains began to be felt. Each member of the oligarchy was searching for a solution where everyone won, especially them.

The Right Partnership

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and Gaius Gracchus were brothers who saw a chance to make reforms that would ease the pain from the new Roman acquisitions and advance their own careers. Between the two of them, they proposed reforms that would benefit the military and the economic status of the Republic. Each reform was met with resistance.


When Gaius rose up as tribune, he sought reforms that also found opposition. His grain distribution law was aimed at fixing the grain at reasonable prices. In addition to this, he proposed citizenship changes that would give “full citizenship to half citizens and half citizenship to non-citizens.” Gaius established the minimum military age and tried to further his brother’s land distribution proposal.

Fear Takes Over

The oligarchy saw the actions of the Gracchi brothers as a group “attempting to manoeuvre itself into a position where, by ‘stealing’ its opponents’ clientage and controlling an arm of government, it could control Rome in a quasi-regal fashion.” Fear rose up in the oligarchy as they saw the move toward a kingship. For many, the organization of the Republic was to prevent one person or family ruling over them. The interest of individuals was rising up above that of the Republic.

A Forever Changed Rome

These murderous acts changed Rome forever. Everyone was out for themselves. The oligarchy declared that all their actions were to protect the Republic, and good arguments could be made to support this. Yet, all those actions also served to protect their own positions and status of power. What was done to save the Republic was what brought the Republic down and opened it up to the very regal rule that was feared. Self-interest and protection of the state became entwined and undistinguishable. In the end, the Senate acted in its own self-interest under the guise of protecting Rome.


- Mackay, Christopher S. Ancient Rome: A Military and Political History. New York: Cambridge, 2007.

Writer for ten years, lover of education, and degrees in business, history, and English. Striving to become a Renassiance woman.

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