Gracchi, The: The Lives and Legacies of the Brothers Who Attempted to Reform the Roman Republic

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Synopsis

According to tradition, the Roman Republic came into being in 509 B.C. following the overthrow of the monarchy, and it ended in 27 B.C. when Augustus became the first emperor. During this period of nearly 500 years, Rome grew from a relatively small Italian city to a superpower that dominated the entire Mediterranean world, but the Roman Republic was characterized by an interminable internal power struggle between the aristocratic and populist factions (the Optimates and Populares) for control of the state and the distribution of its wealth. The changes brought about by the Gracchi Brothers, in particular during the 2nd century B.C., was part of a campaign to wrest power from the aristocratic party, the Optimates, and they would prove pivotal in preparing the way for Rome's ultimate transition into an Imperialist government.

Despite the fact that they belonged to the upper class, the Gracchi brothers were the first to actively champion the interests of the poor in Roman politics, and in doing so, they created a new partisan divide in the government, which separated politicians into two factions: those who appealed to the rights of the common people (the Populares), and those who believed that power should reside firmly in the hands of the aristocracy (the Optimates).[1] The office of tribune, in particular, came to be used by Populares who used their influence with the people to pass similar reforms relating to land ownership and the rights of citizens, building their political platforms on the premise of giving more power to the people. As leaders of the Populares, the Gracchi brothers would have never advocated a monarchical political system themselves, but their role in Rome's political history was to lay the foundations that led to the rise of Caesar and Augustus.

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