Gracchi, The, two Roman brothers who championed the cause of the common people against the wealthy. Their father, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (210?–151 B.C.), had served two terms as consul, or chief magistrate, of the Roman Republic. Their mother was Cornelia, daughter of Scipio Africanus the Elder. The Gracchi were the first to oppose the growing power of the aristocratic Senate.

Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus

(163–133 B.C.), the older brother, fought under Scipio the Younger and won fame in the Third Punic War. He became concerned at seeing the small farmers crushed by the rich landowners. The wealthy had illegally taken most of the public lands and were using slaves to cultivate their large estates. The small farmers were forced into the cities, where they lived in poverty. In 133 B.C. Tiberius was elected to the post of tribune, and secured passage of a law to recover public land from the wealthy and to distribute it to the poor. One aim of the law was to strengthen the Roman legions by increasing the number of small farmers, who alone were eligible for conscription.

Another tribune, Octavius, tried to veto the law, but Tiberius, contrary to constitutional practice, had the people recall Octavius from office. Tiberius, desiring to continue his reforms beyond his one-year term, ran for reelection, which at that time was also contrary to Roman practice. In riots instigated by his enemies, a mob killed Tiberius and 300 of his followers.

Gaius Sempronius Gracchus

(153–121 B.C.) resolved to enforce his brother's land reform law, which had been ignored since his brother's death. He was elected tribune in 123. Gaius carried out land reform and secured the adoption of other measures designed to ensure his popularity, such as the providing of low-cost grain to all poor citizens. He also built many roads and other public works, and established new colonies, most notably one on the site of Carthage in North Africa. He was reelected in 122.

Gaius proposed that Roman citizenship be extended to residents of all Latin communities in Italy. This proposal antagonized many citizens who had supported his earlier reforms, and Gaius was not reelected in 121. Later he was killed by soldiers sent by the Senate under the guise of quelling a riot.