Tiberius Gracchus the Elder

For other Romans with the same name, see Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (disambiguation).

Tiberius Gracchus major (maior, Latin for "the elder"—to distinguish him from his eldest son, the famous tribune; Latin: TI·SEMPRONIVS·P·F·TI·N·GRACCVS) (c. 217 BC – 154 BC) or Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was a Roman politician of the 2nd century BC. Tiberius was of Plebs or 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-times 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, and the 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 Major 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 like any common criminal. 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 Africana 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 179 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 (the Roman Hispania) and conciliated various tribes. He was awarded a triumph upon his return.

In 177 BC, he was elected consul. He obtained Sardinia for his province, where he had to carry on a war against the revolted inhabitants. He gained 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 enemy, and reduced 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, 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.

In 163 BC, Tiberius was elected consul again. When performing the auspices before the next consular elections, he committed a procedural error.[1] 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 c. 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's family

Tiberius married the eighteen-years-old Cornelia Africana in 172 BC when he was about 45 years, thus considerably her senior. 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 Gracchae (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.

See also


  1. Plutarch, Life of Marcellus, 5; T. R. Broughton, The magistrates of the Roman Republic, p. 442.


Political offices
Preceded by
Marcus Iunius Brutus and Aulus Manlius Vulso
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Gaius Claudius Pulcher
177 BC
Succeeded by
Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Hispallus and Quintus Petillius and Gaius Valerius Laevinus (Suffect)
Preceded by
Aulus Manlius Torquatus and Quintus Cassius Longinus
Consul of the Roman Republic
with Manius Iuventius Thalna
163 BC
Succeeded by
Publius Cornelius Scipio Nasica Corculum and Quintus Marcius Figulus
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