« EelmineJätka »
were holders, on a greater or lesser scale, of public land. Possibly, as Mommsen suggests, the more moderate men wished at all costs to give Gracchus time to get cool, and to allow him a chance of discussing his bill in a less electric atmosphere than that of the Comitia. It argues an honest simplicity on the part of the reformer that he accepted the suggestion, and hurried off to the Senatehouse. Clearly he thought that his proposals must seem so reasonable to every good citizen, that the Senate would take sides in his favour, even against the private interest of the majority of its members. He was soon undeceived; there was much debate, but nothing was done. When he broached his request, he was met with insulting replies from prominent squatters, and finally the Senate refused to interfere with a tribune who was only exercising his undoubted constitutional privilege
Convinced now that he would get nothing by quiet means, and that all the upper classes were leagued against him, Tiberius rushed into mere violence and illegality. At the next meeting of the Comitia he made one more appeal to Octavius, taking him by the hand, and imploring him not to stand between the people and their will. When the expected negative was given to his impassioned appeal, Tiberius suddenly produced a new and startling proposal. “Two colleagues of equal power,” he said, “ when they differ on a capital point, cannot work together. They must always be engaged in hostilities, and the public weal must suffer. It would be better that one should be removed.” Accordingly he invited Octavius to take the sense of the meeting on their differences, with the understanding that the tribune found to be in a minority should abdicate from his office and withdraw. The notion was unprecedented and unconstitutional. Indeed, looking over the assembly, all clamorous for the Agrarian Law and new farms, Octavius must have
TIBERIUS DEPOSES OCTAVIUS 35 considered it a mockery as well as a solecism. Of course he refused to have anything to do with such a scheme. Tiberius told him to look out for the worst, and dismissed the Comitia for that day.
On the following morning he put before the tribes a very simple issue-Could the magistrate who opposed the will of the people be the people's true representative ? If he was setting himself up in opposition to them, ought he not to be removed? Of course the argument was as illogical as it was unconstitutional, for “the will of the people” in the mouth of Gracchus meant merely the snap-vote of some particular assembly, of the 20,000 or 30,000 citizens who chanced to be in the Campus Martius that day. There is an end to all government, if magistrates can be made and unmade at the whim of any mob that gets together on a day of excitement. According to the Roman constitution, the idea of deposing a tribune was unthinkable ; once elected, he represented the majesty of the people, and could not be touched ; to harm him was sacrilege. Voluntary resignation or death were the only ways in which his place could become vacant. To remove him by a vote of the tribes, before his time was out, was as impossible as (let us say) it would be for a mass-meeting of the electors of Westminster to declare their member of Parliament deposed, and then to fill up his place.
Nevertheless, when the adjourned assembly met, Tiberius put before them the motion that Octavius should be deposed from office. His colleague simply observed that the whole proceeding was impossible and illegal. But the voice of the multitude was with the reformer. Seventeen tribes, one after another, gave their votes for the proposal; before the eighteenth had come up, and an actual majority had been registered (the number of tribes was thirty-five at this period), Tiberius gave Octavius a last chance, telling him that if his veto were withdrawn the vote should proceed no further. But the Optimate was neither to be intimidated nor to be coaxed; he maintained his obdurate attitude until the voting was over. Then, when told to depart, because he had been deposed and was no longer a tribune, he clung to the rostra, vociferating that the whole proceedings were null and void—a statement which was undoubtedly true, if there remained any force in the Roman constitution. Completely losing control of his temper, Tiberius had him dragged off the platform and thrust away. The mob below got him down, and nearly pulled him to pieces. He barely escaped with his life, and a faithful retainer who tried to protect him had his eyes torn out.
After this scandalous scene, in which he had narrowly escaped the guilt of causing his colleague's death, Tiberius proceeded to hold an illegal election meeting, and filled up the place of Octavius in the tribunicial college with an obscure client of his own, one Q. Mummius. There was now nothing to prevent the passing of the Agrarian Law, which was produced for the third time, and carried in its revised form, with the compensation clauses left out. We have already given its details. It only remains to add that when the three commissioners, agris dandis assignandis, had to be appointed, Tiberius showed a great want of political wisdom. He named himself, his younger brother, Caius -a youth of twenty—and his father-in-law, Appius Claudius. He aimed merely at securing stringent efficiency in action, and did not see how invidious it was to assign the grave and unpleasant work of confiscation to a mere family party.
There would have been a serious financial difficulty in starting the commission on its work, if it had not been for an unforeseen chance. Even if the domain lands were successfully torn from the possessores, and handed over to
THE PERGAMENE TREASURE
the would-be colonists, how were the latter to be fitted out for their experiment? Thousands of cottages must be built for them, tens of thousands of yokes of oxen purchased, hundreds of thousands of agricultural implements procured. How Tiberius had originally proposed to find the very large sums of money necessary for this purpose we are not told. The raising of the funds would certainly have involved him in a bitter conflict with the Senate, who always made finance their special province. But fortune intervened. Just at this moment there died Attalus III., the last king of Pergamus. He was an eccentric and tyrannical prince, who divided his time between the study of the fine arts and the extermination of his relatives. When he died suddenly of sunstroke, it was found that he had left his whole kingdom as a legacy to the Roman Republic. Those who knew him averred that he had often pondered over the most effective way of making his subjects unhappy, and had concluded that he could devise no better manner of doing so than this. There was an enormous accumulation of ready money in the coffers of Attalus. Tiberius resolved to seize upon it for his own purposes. Accordingly he brought forward a bill by which the Pergamene treasures were voted away to purchase ploughs and oxen, and to build barns and cottages for the new settlers. It mattered little that many districts of Asia broke out into rebellion rather than accept the Roman domination. The inland was up in arms under a certain Aristonicus (the son, it was said, of the daughter of an itinerant harper), who claimed to be a natural son of the father of Attalus III. But the capital, the coast cities, and, most important of all, the treasure, were safely made over to the Senate and People.
It was this ample stock which made it possible for Tiberius to set the Land Commission seriously to work. It is clear that before the end of his year of office a vast amount of land had been seized and distributed. But for one most important thing Tiberius made no provision. Evidently he had no conception of the need of it:—this was to secure that when the land was distri, buted, and stocked, and furnished with its barns and cotStages, it should prove a paying concern. Yet one would have thought that even a rash experimenter might have reflected that if the older race of farmers, with all the accumulated experience of ages spent on the same soil, could not make both ends meet, it was decidedly unlikely that their successors-city-bred men, or at least men who had taken refuge in the city and lived there for some time estranged from rural pursuits—would be able to accomplish the feat. But it is clear that the fact that agricultural depression had its roots not in “ the wickedness of the rich,” but in obscure economic changes, had never entered the reformer's head. Of the friction that must have accompanied the confiscations our authorities tell us little. We only know that there were an immense number of complicated lawsuits, and that the bitterness of feeling among the expropriated possessores grew more bitter as the year rolled on. If they had raged at the threat of eviction, it was but natural that they should grow absolutely desperate as, man after man, they were actually expelled from their holdings. There is no reason to doubt the truth of the statement that plots were made to assassinate Tiberius. He himself certainly believed it; and when one of his friends died of an obscure distemper, he accused his enemies of having poisoned him, and made
1 The man died with symptoms which his friends could not understand, and spots broke out on his body. This in Roman folk-lore was supposed to betoken poison, but to us it has the opposite meaning, and would tend to show that he died of some sort of eruptive fever. Poisons do not (in spite of ancient tradition) manifest themselves by eruptions.