Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Carthage and the fall of Gaius Gracchus (122-121 BC)

Gracchus addressing the Concilium Plebis

There is one further historical footnote to the destruction of Carthage by Rome - by the adoptive grandson of Scipio Africanus - and it involves another of the Scipio clan, Gaius Gracchus, the son of Africanus' daughter, Cornelia.

Gaius and his older brother Tiberius are famous in Roman history for their efforts to help the poorer people of Roman society. Tiberius fought under his brother-in-law and cousin Scipio Aemilianus in the Third Punic War (149-146 BC), where he was reportedly the first man over the wall during the siege of Carthage.

The brothers initiated a series of reforms - some implemented and some not. This was revolutionary and they made many powerful enemies. Tiberius was murdered for his trouble.

Subsequently, Carthage appears in the story. Gaius had proposed new colonies and when a proposal was made to re-colonise Carthage, Gaius was chosen as the person to organise it. Plutarch tells us that Gaius travelled to Northern Africa in order to help lay the foundation for a new colony called "Junonia" which would be built on the ruins of Carthage. The ironic link with the destruction of Carthage by his relative, Scipio Aemilianus, is obvious.

However, this abortive attempt to revive Carthage was the beginning of the end for Gracchus. [Carthage was rebuilt as a Roman city under Julius Caesar around 49-44 BC.]

Here is the story as told by Appian.

As he had lost the good will of the populace, Gracchus set sail for Africia along with Fulvius Flaccus, who, after his consulship, had been elected tribune through the same causes for which Gracchus had. A colony had been assigned to Africa, because of the reported richness of its soil, and these men had been selected as its founders for the very sake of getting rid of them for awhile, in order that the senate might be untrammeled by demagogy for a time.

They laid out a town for the colony in the same place where Carthage had formerly lain, paying no heed to the fact that Scipio, when he razed it, had consigned it with imprecations to eternal sheep-grazing. They allotted six thousand colonists to this town, as against the smaller number assigned by law in order thus to further conciliate the people. Then, returning to Rome, they solicited the six thousand from all Italy.

The managers that had remained in Africa laying out the town sent back word that wolves had dragged out and carried far and wide the boundary marks placed by Gracchus and Fulvius, and the sooth-sayers held this to be a bad omen for the colony. So the senate called together the comitia proposing to repeal the law authorizing the colony.

When Gracchus and Fulvius saw that they were about to fail in this affair they became desperate and charged that the senate had lied about the wolves. The rashest of the plebs, with daggers in hand, gathered about them and accompanied them to the assembly where the comitia was to be held in regard to the colony. The people were already assembled and Fulvius had commenced to address them about the matter when Gracchus reached the Capitol surrounded by a body-guard of his friends.

Agitated by his knowledge of the unwonted schemes in hand, he turned away from the meeting place of the comitia, passing into the porch, and walked about, waiting to learn what would take place. Just then a pleb by the name of Antyllus, who was making a sacrifice in the porch, saw him thus troubled in mind, and, grasping him by the hand, because he had either heard or guessed something or was prompted through some impulse to speak to him, begged him to spare his fatherland. Still more agitated and starting as if caught in the act of a crime, Gracchus gave a sharp glance at the man. One of his partisans, without any sign or order being given, gathered from the piercing look itself given by Gracchus to Antyllus, that the moment to strike was at hand, and thought he should render Gracchus a kindness by giving the first blow; so he drew forth his dagger and stabbed Antyllus.

An uproar was raised, the dead man being seen in the midst of the throng, and every one outside fled away from the temple, fearful of a similar fate.

Gracchus went into the comitia in order to exonerate himself of the act, but no one would even listen to him. Everyone turned away from him as from one tainted with bloodshed. Gracchus and Flaccus were confounded, and having missed the opportunity to carry out their plans, they hurried home along with their adherents.

The rest of the great mass of people stayed in the forum during the night, as if some fearful crisis were at hand. One of the consuls, who was staying in the city, Opimius, ordered an armed guard to be placed at the Capitol at daybreak and dispatched heralds to convene the senate. He stationed himself in the Temple of Castor and Pollux in the middle of the city, and awaited the outcome there.

Death of Gaius Gracchus
When these preparations had been made, the senate called Gracchus and Flaccus from their homes to the senate-house to make their defence, but with arms in their hands, they fled to the Aventine hill, hoping that if they could get possession of it first the senate would come to some understanding with them. They ran through the city promising liberty to slaves, but none paid heed to them. Nevertheless, with such troops as they had, they seized and barricaded the Temple of Diana and dispatched Quintus, the son of Flaccus, to the senate, trying to make terms and dwell in peace.

The senate sent back word for them to put down their arms, and to come to the senate-house and tell what they desired, or else send no more emissaries. As they sent Quintus a second time, the consul Opimius seized him, as no longer an envoy after being thus warned, and sent a force in arms against the followers of Gracchus.

Gracchus fled to a grove across the river by the wooden bridge, accompanied by one slave, to whom he bared his throat when on the point of being taken. Flaccus sought shelter in the shop of an acquaintance. As those pursuing him did not know what shop he was in they threatened to set fire to the whole line. The man that had given the suppliant refuge was loath to point out his hiding place, but told some one else to do so. Flaccus was caught and slain.

The heads of Gracchus and Flaccus were brought to Opimius and he gave an equal weight in gold to the ones presenting them. The mob pillaged their homes. Opimius seized their confederates and threw them into prison, ordering them to be strangled to death. After this a lustration on account of the bloodshed was made by the city and the senate ordered the erection of a temple to Harmony in the forum.


From: Appian, Civil Wars, I: I-3, in Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., The Library of Original Sources (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 77-89. Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. This text is part of the Internet Ancient History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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