"Would Be Savior or Destroyer of the Republic?"
The traditional dates for the Roman Republic are 509 to 27 B.C. The latter part of this period from 133 to 27 B.C. is known as the late Republic. It is also known as the Roman Revolution. The result of this revolution was the emergence of the Roman Empire and the catalyst has traditionally been linked to a single Roman citizen called Tiberius Gracchus. The wake of his brief political career left Rome much different than it had been. Like a crack in the wall of a dam, Tiberius revealed a weakness in the Roman system of government that would soon spider out of control until it could no longer hold back the deluge of the building political tension. What was this weakness?
This paper will focus on that weakness. It will argue against the supposition that Tiberius Gracchus was the destroyer of the Roman Republic. It will focus on the fallacies of the ironic traditional statement that Tiberius ultimately caused the destruction of the Republic that he was so desperately trying to preserve. Indeed, he may have in fact been the savior of the Republic had his inspired reforms been allowed to take root. After all, the strength and glorious achievements of the Republic up to that point had been built upon the militaristic rural-class small farmer. These peasants dutifully defended their home country of Rome; a country that they shared stock in. As these small farmers transformed into the urban poor, the Republic transformed also. Tiberius was simply the first to expose this transformation for the potential crisis that it turned out to be. He was the first to act on a proposed solution.
The two ancient sources used in this paper were Plutarch and Appian. Both were Greeks which presents one of the dilemmas inherent in using them. This problem is stated in John M. Riddle's book Tiberius Gracchus; Destroyer or Reformer of the Republic? He writes that "unfortunately both Plutarch and Appian . . . . were Greeks, writing around the second century A.D., whose understanding of the Roman constitution in the second century B.C. was limited. Furthermore, they both wrote in Greek, which inevitably makes it more difficult to determine exactly the original Latin words which they are translating." Since detailed parts from the works of Livy and other respected Roman authors that addressed this period have long since become part of the history they wrote about, Plutarch and Appian have become invaluable.
The Oxford Classical Dictionary's entry on Appian states that "since some of his valuable sources, especially on the civil wars, are otherwise lost, his work gains historical importance for us, even though it does not simply reproduce these sources. H. H. Sullard comments on Appian's use of sources in his book From the Gracchi to Nero; A History of Rome From 133 B.C. to A.D. 68. by writing that although he "understood the empire of his own day, Appian had little accurate personal knowledge of the Republic constitution and therefore on occasion may have misunderstood his source." Contrarily, Alvin H. Bernstein does not attribute Appian's "frequent inaccuracies and bias" as mere misunderstandings of the sources he was using. In his book Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus; Tradition and Apostasy, he writes that "if some of the speeches found on his pages are fabrications, they are almost certainly the creations not of Appian but of the source he was using." He is putting forth the idea that Appian tends to be very faithful to his sources and is very non-critical in his assessment of their work. Hypothetically, if he used Cicero as a source, then Cicero's biased opinion would be reflected in Appian's history. The biased opinions about the Gracchi can be attributed to the fact that the ancient contemporary sources and sources writing shortly after that in the late Republic, like Cicero, were from the upper-class --- the optimate class --- and were overwhelmingly opposed to his reforms. Therefore, their...
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