Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (consul 177 BC)
Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (c. 217 BC – 154 BC) was a Roman politician of the 2nd century BC. He served two consulships and was awarded two triumphs, with consulships in 177 and 163 BC. Tiberius is also noteworthy as the father of the two famous 'Gracchi' popularis reformers, Tiberius and Gaius.
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Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus
|Born||c. 217 BC|
|Office||Tribune of the plebs (187 BC)|
Consul (177, 163 BC)
Censor (169 BC)
|Children||Tiberius, Gaius, and Sempronia|
Tiberius was of plebeian status and was a member of the well-connected gens Sempronia, a family of ancient Rome. Tiberius was the son of Publius Sempronius Gracchus, apparently the younger brother of the two-time consul and general Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (killed 212 BC). His paternal grandfather was also a consul in 238 BC. His mother's identity is not known.
His father was not the same Publius Sempronius Gracchus who served as tribune of the plebs in 189 BC. Instead his father had possibly died during the Second Punic War, since no further references exist to him.
Tribune of the Plebs, and Scipio
After serving in the army, Tiberius was elected tribune of the plebs c. 187 BC, in which capacity he is recorded as having saved Scipio Africanus from prosecution by interposing his veto. Tiberius was no friend nor political ally to Scipio, but felt that the general's services to Rome merited his release from the threat of trial. Supposedly, in gratitude for this action, either Scipio or his son Publius Cornelius Scipio betrothed Scipio's youngest daughter to him.
However, accounts of this are mixed with similar accounts about the betrothal of the younger Tiberius Gracchus to his wife Claudia, so the facts are not certain. In both versions, the father hastens to make a betrothal to a Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, without consulting the mother (his wife), to which the wife protests until she is informed that the bridegroom is Gracchus.
Since Scipio died in 184 BC or 183 BC and retired into the country well before then, and his youngest daughter Cornelia was only 6 or 7 at his death, it is more likely that the betrothal took place after Scipio's death, or that Tiberius was betrothed c. 186 BC to an older daughter who died before the marriage could take place. Plutarch's Life of Scipio has been lost, along with Scipio's own memoirs, and no contemporary histories or biographies of Scipio or Tiberius exist.
Political and military achievements
Tiberius was elected praetor for 180 BC, in which year he would have been about 38 if born in 217 BC. During his praetorship, he successfully put down uprisings in Spain, conciliated various tribes, and brokered an equitable peace treaty with the Numantines. He was awarded a triumph upon his return.
In 177 BC, he was elected consul with Gaius Claudius Pulcher. He obtained Sardinia for his province, where he had to suppress a revolt. He achieved a brilliant victory over the enemy, and then led his army into winter quarters. In the following spring he continued his successful operations against the rebels, reducing them to submission. At the close of 175 BC, he returned to Rome and was honored with a triumph.
In 169 BC, he was chosen censor with his former consular colleague Gaius Claudius Pulcher, but his censorship was so strict that it provoked an attempted prosecution of his co-censor. Tiberius offered to go into exile with his co-censor, at which point the prosecution was dropped owing to Gracchus' popularity. Both censors appeared to have resigned, however, before completing the lustrum (the ritual cleansing of the Senate). While censor, Tiberius had the Basilica Sempronia constructed in the Roman Forum; at this time, he also served on a senatorial embassy to ratify a peace treaty between the Republic and Pergamum.
In 163 BC, Tiberius was elected consul again. When performing the auspices before the next consular elections, he committed a procedural error. His brother-in-law Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum, husband of his wife's elder sister, one of the consuls for 162 BC, was thus forced to resign. It is not clear if the loss of Scipio Nasica's first consulship led to strain or dissension between the brothers-in-law (Nasica was elected censor in 159 BC and again consul in 155 BC); however, their sons fell out politically some thirty years later, with fatal consequences to both.
Tiberius was fluent in Greek, addressing the people of Rhodes in 168 BC in that language. Despite his military and political achievements, he was more renowned for his character. He was a respected consul, and an even more respected (if controversial) censor. At his death in 154 BC, leaving several young children and a young widow, he would have been considered one of Rome's leading men.
Tiberius married the eighteen-year-old Cornelia in 172 BC when he was about 45 years old. Despite the age difference, the marriage was happy and fruitful. She bore him twelve children, but all of them were sickly and most of them died in infancy despite their parents' assiduous care. Three children survived to adulthood; a daughter, Sempronia (who was betrothed to her mother's first cousin Scipio Aemilianus), and two sons, the Roman politicians Tiberius Gracchus and Gaius Gracchus.
Tiberius is said to have loved his wife dearly (see anecdote below). Tiberius (and other Romans) also thought very highly of Cornelia as a wife and mother. When Tiberius died, Cornelia took charge of his property and the household; she refused to remarry, although she was offered marriage by several Roman senators and by the king of Egypt himself. Cornelia devoted the rest of her life to the education and upbringing of her sons.
Plutarch's life of Tiberius Gracchus (son of this Tiberius) narrates that the father demonstrated his love for his much younger wife in an unusual manner:
There is a story told, that he once found in his bedchamber a couple of snakes, and that the soothsayers, being consulted concerning the prodigy, advised, that he should neither kill them both nor let them both escape; adding, that if the male serpent was killed, Tiberius should die, and if the female, Cornelia. And that, therefore, Tiberius, who extremely loved his wife, and thought, besides, that it was much more his part, who was an old man, to die, than it was hers, who as yet was but a young woman, killed the male serpent, and let the female escape; and soon after himself died, leaving behind him twelve children borne to him by Cornelia.
Tiberius's own life and achievement are obscured, however, by the reputation of his widow Cornelia, Mother of the Gracchi and the deeds of his two surviving sons. The elder son Tiberius would have been in his youth, while the younger son Gaius was a mere infant at his death. Both sons were apparently raised as much in the household of their kinsman and brother-in-law Scipio Aemilianus as in their own house and would have been influenced and educated by men such as the historian Polybius, the philosopher Panaetius, the satirist Lucilius, and the slave-turned-playwright Terence, as well as Scipio's own circle of friends from the Roman elite.
- Duncan, Mike (2017). The Storm before the Storm. New York: PublicAffairs. ISBN 978-1-5417-2403-7. Details a broad narrative history of history from the death of the Gracchi brothers to the dictatorship of Sulla.
- Plutarch, Tiberius Gracchus.
- William Smith (ed.), Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, 1870.