The city of God

The City of God: Book 3: Chapters Twenty-Three and Twenty-Four

Chapter 23

I must turn now to recount, as briefly as possible, those misfortunes which were so distressing because they struck so close at home—our uncivilized civil discords, seditions that were, rather, open wars between cities, in which blood was shed in torrents, in which fraternal enmity was not expressed in electoral struggles and mutual recriminations, but in the rattle and rage of weapons. Social wars, slave wars, civil wars—they all spilled Roman blood, they made a waste and desert of Italy!

Before the Latins arose against Rome in the social war, all the domestic animals, like dogs, horses, donkeys, oxen, and other cattle subject to man, suddenly went mad. Forgetting their domestic gentleness, they broke out from their barns and stalls, wandered at large, and kept at a distance not only strangers, but even their own masters who attempted to approach them. Anyone who dared to come near them did so at the risk of life and limb. If this phenomenon was an omen of evil, how dreadful must the evil have been! If it was not, it was in itself evil enough. If such a prodigy had occurred in our times, we would have to endure in our pagan accusers a more ferocious horde of beasts than the older Romans did in their maddened animals.

Chapter 24

The first of the civil upheavals was the revolt of the Gracchi, provoked by the agrarian laws. The Gracchi’s proposal was that the lands unjustly held by the aristocracy should be divided among the people. But, the bold attempt to abolish the deep-rooted abuse turned out to be even more ruinous than risky. What slaughter followed the assassination of the first Gracchus and that of his brother not long after! It was not only a matter of public executions, but it was by mob violence and by bloody rioting that patricians and plebeians slew one another.

After the assassination of the younger Gracchus, the consul Lucius Opimius, who had raised an army against him within the city, and had overthrown and slain both Gracchus and his confederates, then massacred a vast number of citizens. He instituted a trial, and by way of judicial inquest found the rest guilty, and, we are informed, put three thousand men to death. One can imagine how great was the toll of victims claimed by the armed violence of the mobs, when a deliberate judicial trial could take so many lives. Gracchus’ assassin sold his victim’s head to the consul for its weight in gold, a bargain concluded before the massacre. In this, the ex-consul, Marcus Fulvius, also lost his life, together with his children.

Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books I–VII

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