« EelmineJätka »
THE FIGHT ON THE AVENTINE
of Diana and the neighbouring streets were barricaded, and emissaries ran round the city calling the multitude to arms, and even promising freedom to any slaves who should join them. This last anarchic proposal must have disposed of any chance that Caius might gain support among his old allies of the equestrian order. The very name of a slave-rising was enough to make an Optimate of every man of independent means.
It was probably the perception of the fact that the number of their partisans on the Aventine was much smaller than they had expected, which led the Democratic leaders to negotiate before opening hostilities. When they received the message from the Senate, which bade them come down and justify their actions, Caius, it is said, seriously proposed to take his life in his hands and obey the summons. But Flaccus objected to put himself in the power of the enemy. He would only consent to send his son Quintus with a reply, in which the garrison of the Aventine offered to lay down its arms and disperse, if a complete amnesty was offered to every citizen, small or great. It is said that many of the senators were not indisposed to accept these terms : except to fanatics, anything is better than civil war. But Opimius carried a majority with him when he declared that traitors could not send ambassadors, but should come in person to surrender themselves to justice before they sued for mercy. The young Flaccus was sent back to his father, and told not to come again, unless he brought with him an offer of unconditional surrender.
After some futile debating between the leaders of the Democrats, the proposal to capitulate without terms was negatived, and the son of Flaccus was once more despatched to the Senate with a second set of offers. Opimius told him that he had been warned not to return, and that he had forfeited any claims to be considered an ambassador. He cast the young man into prison, and ordered his armed bands to converge upon the Aventine. Then he published a notice that any one who laid down his arms before fighting began should be granted an amnesty, but that Gracchus and Fulvius were public enemies, and that whoever brought their heads to the consuls should be paid for them their actual weight in gold.
The rumour of this proclamation, and the sight of the Optimate bands working upwards among the streets that lead to the summit of the Aventine, was too much for the resolution of most of the Democrats. A great many slunk off to their houses while yet it was time. But enough remained to defend the barricades, and for some little space there was sharp fighting between the two parties. But the Cretan archers so galled the Democrats that ere long they gave back from their position, and the assailants stormed the hill-top and burst in among them. Then followed a massacre ; no less than three thousand persons are said to have been slain, and their bodies cast into the Tiber. Fulvius Flaccus and his elder son Marcus hid themselves in the house of a client, but when their pursuers threatened to burn down the whole street unless they were given up, an informer was promptly forthcoming. They were beheaded on the spot without form of trial. Caius Gracchus was not found
the Aventine. No one had seen him during the fighting : he had shut himself up in the temple of Diana, and proposed to commit suicide when the barricades were forced. But two of his friends, the knights Pomponius and Laetorius, took his dagger from him, and persuaded him to fly before it was yet too late : there was still of
escape by the Porta Trigemina and the Sublician bridge. Before leaving the temple, Caius is said to have fallen upon his knees, and with upraised hands to have prayed to the
THE DEATH OF CAIUS
85 goddess " that the people of Rome, for their ingratitude and base desertion of their friend, might be slaves for ever.” If the story is true, it well explains the mood of sullen despair which had lain heavy on his soul for the last twenty-four hours. He had pushed things to extremity, and then his party had melted away from him. All his plans, as he now saw, had been futile from the first, because he had mistaken the urban rabble of to-day for the ancient citizens of Rome.
Caius and his two friends were sighted by some of the victorious Optimates as they fled down towards the Tiber. They made what speed they could, but the reformer presently stambled and fell, spraining his ankle, so that he could no longer move with ease. By the river gate the pursuers were nearing them; thereupon Pomponius bravely turned to bay, and held them back for a moment at the cost of his life. Laetorius did as much on the Sublician bridge, and by their sacrifice Caius, now accompanied only by a single slave, reached the suburb under the Janiculum beyond the water. As he hobbled on, supported by his retainer, the streets were full of idle spectators, who shouted to him to run his best, as if he were a competitor in the circus. But no one gave him the least assistance, though he kept calling for a horse as he went. Before the Optimates came up, he had got beyond the last houses, and reached the Grove of Furina, just outside the city. He was seen to enter it, but when the pursuers burst in after him, they found both him and his companion lying dead. At his master's orders the slave had stabbed him to the heart, and had then turned his weapon against himself. The head of the reformer was cut off and carried to the Consul: his body was cast into the Tiber. Opimius carried out his promise, and gave the bearer of the head its weight in gold-seventeen pounds eight ounces, as tradition recorded.1
1 Some call him Philocrates, others Euporus.
Thus miserably ended the career of the younger Gracchus, a man who, both as a politician and as an individual, was strangely compacted of strength and weakness. Clearly he was no single-minded enthusiast like his brother. He had studied statecraft, and had learnt not to be over-scrupulous in his methods. If, indeed, he was set on regenerating the people of Rome, he chose the strangest allies and employed the most doubtful means. He must have been perfectly well aware of what he was doing, when he purchased the support of the urban rabble by the gift of the corn-dole, and that of the greedy Equites by surrendering to them the unhappy province of Asia. When the means are so obviously immoral, one is driven into doubting the purity of the end which they are intended to subserve. Was Gracchus really set on saving Rome from the economic and constitutional perils which were sapping her strength ? Or was he rather an ambitious politician yearning for power at all costs, and eager to revenge on the Senate his brother's death ? It is easy to read his career in either light, yet each reading must be full of contradictions. If we hold, with Mommsen, that Caius was deliberately trying to make himself tyrant of Rome, we can easily understand all the less worthy episodes of his
The man with such an idea in his head would not have shrunk from using unworthy tools or practising any sort of political charlatanry. To purchase the aid of the rabble or the knights by bribes, to flatter the hopes of
1 A well-known story relates that the recipient of this sum, one L. Septimuleius, had taken out the brains and filled the cavity with lead, in order to defraud the consul. But how could the man have gone through this elaborate and disgusting operation in the crowded street, encompassed by the other pursuers who had been “in at the death?”