Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in History



Major Advisor

Katherine V. Huntley, Ph.D.


Lisa McClain, Ph.D


Lee Ann Turner, Ph.D.


This thesis examines mid-second century BCE Roman society to determine the forces at work that resulted in the passing of a radical piece of legislation known as the lex Sempronia agraria. The advent of this legislation, named for the tribune of the plebs who promulgated it, Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus in 133 BCE, has been heralded as a signal event, a turning point in the Roman Republic that led to revolution and the eventual overthrow of the Republic by Julius Caesar.

The historiography up through the twentieth century portrayed this event as a rising of the poor and down-trodden masses against the elite senatorial class of Rome. However, as will be shown, many factors were in play that brought Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus to the acme of his political career and made his lex Sempronia agraria the law of the land. Among these, Roman society was war-weary, having suffered through several military setbacks at the hands of the Spanish, and their legions were being bested by slave armies in Sicily as well. What it meant to be Roman was being continually assaulted under the onslaught of Hellenism through Roman contacts with the Greek east. The economy was shifting from agrarian to a more commercial-centered one.

This thesis challenges the simplified notion that this event, the passing of the lex Sempronia agraria came about as a result of class warfare and was the kick-starter to revolution and instead demonstrates that this legislation was in fact, the result, on one hand of a former military officer taking care of the men he had fought alongside, suffered with and eventually brought home to safety and on the other hand came about through the efforts of a plebeian political cabal that recognized the need to incentivize enlistment in a period of low morale amongst the fighting-age men of the Roman Republic.