The Republic is at a precipice. Elections are happening like nobody’s ever seen. Demagogues preach the politics of
violence in the streets. Vast amounts of foreign labor instill fear
in the native workforce. And the rich sit simply consuming all they can, blind to the poor masses that can only take so much before they break and overthrow them. All the while, the political elite is desperately trying to stop the very monster they created. But the political elite have gotten so stale,
so tied to the interests of money, that they can’t think to do anything
but more of the same. The year is 121 BCE, and this is how republics fall. But 121 BCE is a long way off yet,
because to tell the tale of 121 BCE we have to talk about the things that led up to it. To start with, we have to speak of the growth of Rome, for you would be hard pressed to find a century more filled with war and expansion experienced by a single people. The second century BCE was when the Roman Empire was won. From the dawn of the second century to the 130’s the Romans smashed the Carthaginian Empire, taking back all of modern Spain and getting a foothold in North Africa. They fought the Macedonians and the Seleucids to obtain total control of Greece. They threw back the Gauls and the Ligurians, finally conquering all of Northern Italy. They captured the eastern coast of the Adriatic. The Roman Republic more than doubled in size in a single generation. And all of this conquest was born on the backs of the veteran army, the citizen soldiers that fought the later Punic Wars. They conquered the globe for Rome, or at least what seemed like the globe to them. But what was their reward? What happened to them when they returned home? To answer that, we have to answer another question: what came from all these wars? What happend to the defeated peoples? Well, they were made slaves and sold back in Roman markets. So Rome was now flooded with slaves. As tribe after tribe, country after country fell before the victorious Roman armies, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people were sent back to Italy in chains. And this changed the economy of all of Rome. Where once the engine of production had been the small landholder, the family that farmed their own land, now wealth, unimaginable wealth started to coalesce. Vast estates were gathered, worked solely by slaves. This new cheap foreign labor completely displaced the blue-collar working citizens of Rome. And as the new cheap labor flooded in, those that could afford to buy that labor needed even more land to put it to work on. And how did they get that land? Well, remember that the Roman army had a property requirement to enlist: you had to be able to buy your own gear. Armor, helmet, shield, pilum, and gladius, these were all paid for by the soldier who carried them. It was a mark of pride amongst Romans to be of the class that could afford to join the army. You might not be super rich, but you were doing well enough to do your duty for the State. And for a long time, this worked, because most of Rome’s wars were fought in Italy, only going abroad for brief campaigns, or in the most dire of emergencies, like that death struggle with Carthage. But that was no longer the case. We look to that map and we see a long campaign in Spain and Greece. These just weren’t 6 month local affairs anymore. And those that served were often called up time and again for the nearly continuous wars that Rome found itself in. But, you can’t leave a farm unattended for years on end. And as these citizen soldiers marched across far away plains, thier farms lay fallow. And so, as they were out serving Rome,
they went bankrupt. And even those who still had
something to come home to found that they couldn’t compete against the vast slave farms. And soon sold to the owners of the much larger estates and were turned off their lands to be replaced
by foreign slaves. And so the farms of the rich who stayed in Rome grew and grew with every war. Never before had Rome seen such a disparity in income. I mean, Rome had never been a place of equality, but outside the city, what might be called the middle class had all but vanished. Smaller landholders began to trickle and then flood into Rome, looking for work, looking for a place where they might earn a living for themselves and for their families, now that the trade that they had always practiced was disappearing. But many of them never found work, or worked odd jobs that didn’t fill their days. And this gave them time. Time to sit and stew, time to be angry, time to be angry without even really being sure who they were angry at. Time to feel mistrated. And into this world, two boys are born. One named Tiberius, one named Gaius. They were born plebeians but of the most notable heritage. Their father had been a consul, and their mother was the daughter of Scipio Africanus. Yes, that one. Tiberius was the elder by ten years, more even in temperament, more measured in speech. It’s him we’ll follow first. Tiberius was born in the 160’s. His father was a celebrated man: twice consul, twice given a triumph. Hailed for his moral fiber. But his father was old when Tiberius was born and died when the boy was somwhere between 10 and 15 years of age. Tiberius was raised in the Roman arts: rhetoric, philosophy, religion, and of course war. As soon as he was able, he became a military tribune, the first rank on the Roman political ladder. And he shipped off to serve with his half brother, the famed Scipio Aemilianus, in the final and utter destruction of Rome’s ancient enemy, Carthage. And of all Romans, according to legend, he was the first over the wall of that great city when it fell. And through the campaign, he learned much from his half brother, modeling himself after the great general. He was hailed for his courage and loved by the men. Upon his return to Rome he was elected quaestor, that second rank of the cursus honorum, the political circuit of Rome. As quaestor, he was sent to serve in the Numantian Wars, the fight to pacify Hispania. But he had the misfortune to serve under Gaius Mancinus, who led the legions to defeat after defeat. All the while Tiberius, a man of sober disposition, mantained his respect for the general and for the authority of comand. Then in the dead of night, after yet another defeat, the nerve of Gaius Mancinus broke, and he tried to have the army withdraw and abandon their camp. But the Numantians heard them and were upon them like the wind. They were in the camp. They smashed through the rearguard and drove the once proud legion unto impossible terrain. Mancinus, utterly defeated, sent envoys to treat for terms of surrender, but the envoys were rebuffed. The Numantians said they would speak to no man but Tiberius. They had heard of him and they respected him. But more than that, they remembered the deeds of his father. For his father too had fought in these lands, winning great victories for Rome, and then always making sure that Rome abided by the terms of its peace. So while Gaius cowered, Tiberius met the Numantians. By the negotiations end, Tiberius had secured the lives of 20 thousand Roman citizens and all of those that attended them from becoming slaves or slaughter. And so, the defeated army marched back to Rome. But, back at Rome, he met his first taste of ingratitude and the dangers of Roman politics, for many among the elite were crying that the campaign was a disgrace, that by signing the peace treaty they had made Rome look weak, look like a loser, that Tiberius had bought his own safety with dishonorable surrender. But here he also met with his first taste of populism, for the families of those who he had saved cheered him. And so, when the vote came to decide the fate of Tiberius and all the officers of the expedition, the people voted to see him saved. Only Gaius Mancinus would be handed over to the Numantians, naked and in chains. And, though this victory surely had also to do with the intercession of his all powerful brother-in-law Scipio, Tiberius had learned the power of the people. A power he would soon put to use.