Features October 2016
Populism, II: Populares & populists
On the proto-populist movements of the Roman Republic.
It was the summer of 133 B.C. In Rome, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, Tribune of the Plebs, and his supporters gathered in the pre-dawn hours and occupied the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill high above the Forum. The political situation was tense and had been escalating ever since he passed a land reform bill over the Senate’s opposition earlier that year. To protect himself and his legislation, Gracchus was now running for an unprecedented second term in succession as tribune. The Senate opposed this unconstitutional procedure. Many Senators thought that Gracchus wanted to ride a wave of popular support to make himself tyrant. For their part, Gracchus and their supporters feared for their lives.
Rome was a republic. Its champions saw it as the epitome of what the ancients called a mixed constitution. The historian Polybius, writing...
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