Gaius Gracchus: The Years 128-125 BCE


  • Gaius Gracchus serves on Sardinia as the consul Lucius Aurelius Orestes’ quaestor (126-125 BCE);
  • The consul Marcus Fulvius Flaccus introduces a bill to grant full Roman citizenship to Rome’s Latin and Italian allies, but it is withdrawn after encountering stiff opposition from both the Senate and the people (125 BCE);
  • The Latin colony of Fregellae rebels against the Romans and is subsequently destroyed by the praetor Lucius Opimius (125 BCE);
  • The consul Marcus Fulvius Flaccus defeats the Salluvii and Vocontii of Southern Gaul and is awarded a triumph (125 BCE).

During the years discussed here, the storm caused by the Gracchan land reforms seems to have subsided. The Lex Sempronia agraria was not repealed, nor did the land reform committee cease its activities, but we do not hear of any serious problems. This may have been because the Senate had stripped the committee of its judicial power. The Senate was still a conservative bastion, but some politicians with popularis sympathies managed to get themselves elected as consuls. One of them was Lucius Cassius Longinus, who was consul in 127 BCE. He had been responsible for the Lex Cassia de suffragiis of 137 BCE, which had introduced the secret ballot for non-capital trials. He would serve as censor two years later.

The famous people’s tribune Gaius Gracchus, illustration by Silvestre David Mirys (1742-1810).

Gaius Gracchus, still a member of the land reform committee, was elected quaestor for the year 126 BCE. He was nine years younger than his brother Tiberius and was now in his late twenties or early thirties. Lots were drawn, and Gaius was added to the staff of the consul Lucius Aurelius Orestes. Orestes may have been the son of the consul of 157 BCE, who had exactly the same name. He was sent to Sardinia where a rebellion against Roman rule had once again broken out. The rebellion was quickly quelled, and young Gaius Gracchus performed exceptionally well. As a quaestor, his tasks were chiefly financial and organisational. He convinced the Sardinian cities – which had been given dispensation by the Senate – to provide the Roman soldiers with warm clothes during the cold winter months. His excellent relations with King Micipsa of Numidia made sure that plenty of African grain found its way to the Mediterranean island. Plutarchus claims that Gracchus’ popularity led to envy among the senators.

No citizenship for the Italian allies

In 125 BCE, Gaius Gracchus’ friend and popularis ally Marcus Fulvius Flaccus served as consul. He was also still a member of the land reform committee. Aided by others, Flaccus drafted a proposal to grant full Roman citizenship to all the Latin and Italian allies. According to Appianus, this measure was intended to calm the tensions caused by the Gracchan land reform. The allies responded enthusiastically, for Roman citizenship was widely coveted. Granting citizenship – either with or without the right to vote – was an old Roman strategy for rewarding allies for their loyalty. In the late fourth and early third century BCE, citizenship sine suffragio had for instance been awarded to the Capuans. A good example from the second century BCE is the grant of citizenship with full voting rights to the citizens of Formiae, Arpinum and Fundi in 188 BCE. But the Romans had not always been generous, and this had led some of the Latin allies to search for loopholes to obtain Roman citizenship anyway (see 194 BCE, 187 BCE and 177 BCE).

Equipment of a warrior from Picenum. The Piceni were Roman allies and served in the Roman armies. The famous general and politician Gnaeus Pompeius was from Picenum.

Now it looked as if finally Rome was going to reward her Latin and Italian allies for all the services they had rendered the Romans for so many decades or even centuries. But the proposal was fervently opposed by the optimates. Granting full citizenship to the allies meant that Latin and Italian noblemen could become candidates for all the Roman public offices of the cursus honorum. They could become quaestors, aediles, praetors, consuls and even censors. In other words, Flaccus’ proposal would create serious political rivals for the Roman élite and increase the competition for the few offices for which annual elections were held. Latins and Italians would also become eligible for enrolment in the Senate. And in spite of the fact that granting citizenship was a typical popularis measure, the proposal was not popular with the common people either. The average Roman may not have been rich, but he had one thing that gave him a marked advantage over non-Romans: he was a Roman citizen, and as such eligible to vote. Many poor and middle-class Romans were not willing to share that privilege with their Latin and Italian neighbours. In the face of this stiff opposition, the consul withdrew his proposal.

Military campaigns

It was probably because of this withdrawal that the town of Fregellae revolted against Roman rule this year. Fregellae was a Latin colony in Southern Latium. It has been founded in the late fourth century BCE and had been among the 18 Latin colonies that had continued to provide the Romans with troops at the height of the Second Punic War (see 209 BCE). The town’s territories had been devastated by Hannibal during his march on Rome in 211 BCE and horsemen from Fregellae had bravely defended the consuls Marcellus and Crispinus when they had been ambushed by the same Hannibal three years later. After the war, Fregellae recovered well and soon it was flourishing again. It was probably for this reason that groups of Samnites and Paeligni (non-Latin Italian tribes) settled in Fregellae as well (see 177 BCE).

As consistently loyal allies, the Fregellans had expected to be granted full Roman citizenship. Now that Flaccus’ proposal was off the table, they took up arms. Had they rebelled some 30 years later, they might have been joined by other Latin and Italian cities. But now Fregellae stood alone against the might of Rome. The praetor Lucius Opimius was sent to the town with an army and quickly forced the Fregellans to surrender. Opimius severely punished the rebels by razing their town to the ground. It would be replaced by a new colony that was called Fabrateria.

The consul Marcus Fulvius Flaccus had in the meantime been sent on a military expedition against the Salluvii, a tribe or confederation of tribes living in Southern Gaul. The pretext for the Roman intervention was, according to Florus, the fact that the tribesmen had been attacking the territories of Rome’s loyal ally Massilia. Some thirty years ago, Rome had protected Massilia against Ligurian tribes and now she would protect the city against the Salluvii. Although details of the campaign have not survived, it was a Roman success. Flaccus defeated the Salluvii and their allies the Vocontii. He was awarded a triumph for his victories which, according to the Fasti, he celebrated two years later.

Map of Southern Gaul (source: Ancient World Mapping Center. “À-la-carte”; CC BY 4.0)


Primary sources


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