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AN INCONSISTENT CAREER
the Italians who desired the franchise, would be appropriate moves for one who aimed at repeating the career of Cypselus or Peisistratus. But this theory leaves unexplained the reluctance which Caius manifested at the end to engage in actual civil war, the want of energy which he displayed in organising his party for the final conflict, and the melancholy apathy which he showed during the last twenty-four hours of his life. If he had really aimed at supreme power, such conduct could be explained by physical cowardice alone, and of that not even his enemies dared to accuse him. A would-be tyrant would have armed and organised bravos, have attacked the Senate instead of assuming the defensive, and have thrown himself into the battle with frantic energy. All the doings of Caius, on the other hand, are those of a man forced into violence against his will, and obviously doubting whether death was not preferable to the guilt of stirring up civil war. They are not the acts of one who wishes to grasp at supreme power and cares not how it is attained.
On the other hand, as we have already seen, it is still more impossible to explain his career by representing him as a single-hearted friend of the people, who thought nothing of himself, and only aimed at regenerating the Roman state. Ambition, revenge, the reckless use of unworthy methods, are too easily discernible in many of his actions.
Probably the true way of reconciling the contradictions of the life of Caius is to realise that though he possessed many of the instincts of the tyrant and the demagogue, there was also latent in him much of the ancient Roman civic virtue. He loved to rule, he was unscrupulous in his methods, he hated fiercely the Optimates and all their works; but at the same time he had a genuine wish to serve the state; he showed it by persisting in his
schemes for transmarine colonisation and the enfranchisement of the Italians long after they had become unpopular. A mere self-seeker would have dropped them the moment that he was certain that they failed to please the rabble of the Comitia. When at last he found himself borne on irresistibly toward civil war, Caius was deeply grieved. He faced it with reluctance, and finally had it thrust upon him, against his will, by the reckless folly of his subordinates. The responsibility, no doubt, must ultimately rest upon his shoulders : he might have retired to bide his time instead of fighting. But to do so was almost impossible: he was surrounded by excited partisans whom he could not control, and if he had gone back, he would have seemed to be betraying them to his and their enemies. The outburst of actual war and the reformer's dreadful end were melancholy but inevitable.
B.C. 121-88. Caius GRACCHUS was a striking example of the truth of the melancholy adage that
1 The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones.”
For among all the many measures that he brought before the Roman people, precisely those which were evil in their tendencies survived him, while those wherein lay the seeds of good were thrust aside and ignored for another generation. The corn-dole which he had invented proved so popular that the victorious Optimates dared not meddle with it. It remained as a permanent curse, pauperising and demoralising the city multitude, and ruining what was left of Italian agriculture. The new equestrian jurycourts sold justice so shamelessly, for the next thirty years, that men began at last to talk of the period when the senators had been judges as the good old times. The Asiatic tithe-farming went on, and gradually ruined that fine province, besides provoking therein such a virulent hatred of Rome, that (as we have already pointed out) when the Asiatics got their first chance of revolt, in the days of King Mithradates, they rose like one man and massacred 80,000 Roman citizens in a single day.
But the two really valuable remedies for the ills of the state which Gracchus had advocated were thrust aside, if not forgotten. Transmarine colonisation was stopped, and
furthed which can before
the new settlement at Carthage was destroyed. The Italians were commanded to give up all idea of obtaining the franchise ; indeed, special care was taken to close the various avenues by which individuals had hitherto found it possible to slip into the citizen body.
As to the Agrarian Law, which Tiberius had framed and Caius had re-enacted, the Senate did not formally repeal it, nor did they give back the confiscated land to the possessores. They simply removed, one by one, the Gracchan checks on the economic tendency of the times, and allowed the new farmers to die out by slow extinction. Livius Drusus, it will be remembered, had made the Gracchan allotments alienable, and abolished the ground-rent due from them, even before Caius fell. In B.C. 119 a law was passed which dissolved the Land Commission, so that no further distribution could be made; it also provided that such domain land as still remained in the hands of the original possessores should be secured to them on condition of their paying a small rent, which was to be employed in subsidising the ever-growing needs of the corn-dole. Lastly, in B.C. III, a third law was passed, which removed this rent and made the land into the freehold private property of the occupiers. The moment that they got the opportunity of alienating their farms, under the law of Drusus, the Gracchan holders began to dispose of them. Agriculture did not, and could not, pay; political economy exerted its iron law, and the allotments were sold, for what they would fetch, to the nearest capitalist. The latifundia once more commenced to grow up, and the decrease in the number of small landowners is marked from B.C. 118 onward by the regular shrinkage of the census-returns. By the end of the century it is probable that the whole effect of the Gracchan
1 The territory of ancient Capua, the Ager Campanus, was now the only important tract of public property remaining.
IMPOTENCE OF THE SENATE
redistribution of land had passed away. Only a few years later it was said, doubtless with gross exaggeration, that the larger part of the land of Roman Italy was in the hands of no more than 2000 proprietors.
Meanwhile it must be remembered that the Senate never thoroughly recovered that undisputed control of all the machinery of the state which it had possessed in the old days before the appearance of the Gracchi. It never dared to strike at the Equestrian Order, which remained as a permanent check on its omnipotence. Even when the abuse of the law-courts by the knights had grown into a perfect scandal, the Senate refused to commit itself to an attack upon such a powerful body of enemies. Apparently the leading Optimates lived in a state of constant apprehension that a new Gracchus might at any moment arise to dispute their authority, and wished to do no more than to avoid friction and hang on to the emoluments of power. They managed, by a policy of short-sighted opportunism, to maintain their ascendency from year to year, till at last, after a considerable interval, the Democratic party again found leaders and a programme, and civic strife recommenced.
From the death of Caius Gracchus in B.C. 121, down to the appearance of Marius on the political stage in B.C. 106, the Democratic programme lay dormant. The history of the time turns mainly on questions of foreign policy, and it was by their incompetent management of those questions that the Optimates finally gave their adversaries a chance of raising their heads. It was not an age of peace: all through these years the people were muttering and murmuring; occasionally there were riots, or an unpopular magistrate was impeached, or a law backed by the Senate was rejected in the Comitia. But there was no continuous agitation for any definite political end, nor did any leader succeed