When a certain Quintus Antyllius was beaten to death by angry crowd in 121, a chain of events, that left its mark to the Roman history forever, was set loose. This Antyllius was an attendant of L. Opimius, consul of the year, and his killers were supporters of C. Gracchus and M. Fulvius Flaccus. This murder, that Gracchus actually did not approve, was a needed pretext for Opimius to get a senatus consultum ultimum, an emergency degree of the Senate to defend the republic – also establishing this very dangerous political tool for future years to be used as ultimate measure in internal power struggles.
L. Opimius got the Senate to arm itself and to command all members of the equesterians to arm themselves along with two slaves each and to assemble next morning. At this point there was no turning back from the road of violence. Fulvius and his supporters armed themselves for the morning meeting from the spoils of Fulvius’ Gallic battles, but C. Gracchus refused both to wear armour and to arm himself with anything else than a dagger.
When Gracchus was leaving his home, his wife Licinia begged him not to go as she knew as well as he, that Gracchus would be killed if he went to the public meeting. When Gracchus went and left Licinia crying, the slaves carried devastated Licinia into her brother’s house.
After half-hearted attempt for negotiations L. Opimius ordered the violence to start and following tumult saw Fulvius to be put into death along with his oldest son and many supporters. Gracchus fled having taken no part into fighting and after a prayer in the temple of Diana at Mons Aventinus continued his escape into a grove across the river Tiber sacred to Furrina, where he committed a suicide.
Opimius had announced, that whomever brings the head of Gracchus to him will recieve its weight of gold. A certain Septimuleius did this and the head was weighted to be exceptionally heavy – Septimuleius had removed the brain and poured melted lead into the skull! The bodies of Gracchus, Fulvius and 3000 of their supporters were thrown into Tiber. The property of dead was confiscated and their wives were forbidden to mourn their husbands. Licinia was also stripped of her dowry. Opimius on the other hand built the temple of Concordia to the Forum Romanum – a distasteful act to many.
Later on Licinia’s cause was successfully defended by a half-brother of his father and she got the confiscated dowry back. Who was this Licinia?
She was daughter of P. Licinius Crassus Dives Mucianus, consul of the year 131. Father Mucianus was originally known as P. Mucius Scaevola and was a son of P. Mucius Scaevola (consul of 175) and Licinia (a sister of consul 171 P. Licinius Crassus and consul of 168 C. Licinius Crassus). Mucianus was adopted by consul of 171 Licinius Crassus, that is a brother of his mother. Mucianus married with Claudia, daughter of consul 177 C. Claudius Pulcher and unknown mother. Claudia’s brother was consul of 143 and her ancestors from father side were consuls in three generation. Also Mucianus was both biologically as well as through adoption of consular rank. So Licinia’s both parents were from the very top of Roman nobility of the 170’s.
Licinia’s husband C. Gracchus was also of very strong consular line. His father was consul of 177 and 163, the famous Ti. Sempronius Gracchus, who was one of the leading public figures of his era. Father Sempronius was allied with his consular colleague of 177, C. Claudius Pulcher and probably from this alliance also came wish to strengthen the alliance further by marriage of the offspring. Father Sempronius had son and Claudius had a grand daughter Licinia from his daughter Claudia. Licinia also brought family connections with Licinii Crassi and Mucii Scaevolae, both of which were leading families during the period. Interesting enough, C. Gracchus’ brother Tiberius was married with, you guessed it, Claudia, who was a daughter of consul 143 Ap. Claudius Pulcher, himself son of consul 177 Claudius! So the two families were very tightly allied.
C. Gracchus had very high profile family also from his mother’s side. His mother Cornelia Africana was a daughter of the Scipio the elder, P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus, consul of 205 and 194 and the hero of the Punic Wars. Cornelia’s mother was Aemilia Paulla, a daughter of L. Aemilius Paullus, consul of 219 and sister of L. Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus, consul of 182 and 168. Both Scipones and Aemilii Paulli were leading families of the previous era and Cornelia Africana surely the most high born lady of her time according to the Roman way of looking things.
One way to look at the life of Licinia is to view it as pre-arranged in many ways. With such high born parents she would be marrying some other equally high born man. The same goes with C. Gracchus. We do not know about their relationship anything else than the dramatic parting of Gracchus to meet his destiny, but perhaps we can read between the lines that the marriage was a happy one. Why Opimius also wanted to confiscate the dowry of Licinia? Perhaps there we can see also a hint of Licinia being politically active figure in some way too? The successful court case some years later, advocated by the consul of 133 P. Mucius Scaevola, a biological brother of Licinia’s father as well as a son of Licinia the elder (wife of consul 175 Scaevola), also tells us about changing political situation in Rome and perhaps a little something about Licinia and her position in the Roman society.
Still, the central influence of the family connections in the Roman politics is very clear. In fact, drawing the distinction between politics, family, life and death is difficult. C. Gracchus’ elder brother was murdered because of his politics. C. Gracchus continued and was in fact even more radical than his brother and was driven into suicide.
This can be seen also from the lives of two other of the closest women in C. Gracchus’ life: his mother and sister. The conservative opposition to the agenda of brothers Gracchi was lead by the Scipiones before L. Opimius. When the elder Scipio died in unclear circumstances, both Cornelia Africana, his own daughter and mother of Gracchi, as well as Sempronia, the sister of Gracchi were suspected of murdering him in their turn! Sempronia was also the wife of Scipio the younger (who was a biological child of L. Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus the consul of 182 and 168, i.e. brother of Cornelias mother Aemilia), and we know that their marriage was not a happy one.
The family connections designed to unite, did not necessarily work that way. At least when Licinia and C. Gracchus had such deep and diverse family connections on top of, or actually behind the more faster changing daily political struggles and alliances. For Licinia and Gracchus they were questions of life and death. They even controlled how Licinia was allowed to express her feelings for the death of his husband. What Licinia thought of all this, what she felt? We never know.
And what happened to L. Opimius? He was appointed as a commander to the Jugurthine War, was bribed by king Jugurtha to delay the war and spent rest of his days in exile.