Crossing the Rubicon
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Julius Caesar's crossing the Rubicon river was an event in 49 BC that precipitated the Roman Civil War, which ultimately led to Caesar's becoming dictator for life and the rise of the imperial era of Rome. Caesar had been appointed to a governorship over a region that ranged from southern Gaul to Illyricum (but not Italy). As his term of governorship ended, the Roman Senate ordered Caesar to disband his army and return to Rome. He was explicitly ordered not to bring his army across the Rubicon river, which was at that time a northern boundary of Italy. In January of 49 BC, Caesar brought the 13th legion across the river, which the Roman government considered insurrection, treason, and a declaration of war on the Roman Senate. According to some authors, he is said to have uttered the phrase "alea iacta est"—the die is cast— as his army marched through the shallow river.
Today, the phrase "crossing the Rubicon" is an idiom that means to pass a point of no return.
During the Roman republic, the river Rubicon marked the boundary between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the north-west and Italy proper (controlled directly by Rome and its allies) to the south. On the north-western side, the border was marked by the river Arno, a much wider and more important waterway, which flows westward from the Apennine Mountains (its source is not far from Rubicon's source) into the Tyrrhenian Sea.
Governors of Roman provinces were appointed promagistrates with imperium (roughly, "right to command") in one or more provinces. The governor then served as the general of the Roman army within the territory they ruled. Roman law specified that only the elected magistrates (consuls and praetors) could hold imperium within Italy. Any promagistrate who entered Italy at the head of his troops forfeited his imperium and was therefore no longer legally allowed to command troops.
Exercising imperium when forbidden by the law was a capital offence. Furthermore, obeying the commands of a general who did not legally possess imperium was a capital offence. If a general entered Italy in command of an army, both the general and his soldiers became outlaws and were automatically condemned to death. Generals were thus obliged to disband their armies before entering Italy.
In 49 BC, perhaps on January 10, C. Julius Caesar led a single legion, Legio XIII, south over the Rubicon from Cisalpine Gaul to Italy to make his way to Rome. In doing so, he (deliberately) broke the law on imperium and made armed conflict inevitable. Suetonius depicts Caesar as undecided as he approached the river, and attributes the crossing to a supernatural apparition. It was reported that Caesar dined with Sallust, Hirtius, Oppius, Lucius Balbus and Sulpicus Rufus on the night after his famous crossing into Italy January 10.
According to Suetonius, Caesar uttered the famous phrase ālea iacta est ("the die has been cast"). The phrase "crossing the Rubicon" has survived to refer to any individual or group committing itself irrevocably to a risky or revolutionary course of action, similar to the modern phrase "passing the point of no return". Caesar's decision for swift action forced Pompey, the lawful consuls (C. Claudius Marcellus and L. Cornelius Lentulus Crus), and a large part of the Roman Senate to flee Rome in fear. Caesar's subsequent victory in Caesar's Civil War ensured that he would never be punished for the infraction.
- Dando-Collins, Stephan (2002). The Epic Saga of Julius Caesars Tenth Legion and Rome. p. 67. ISBN 0-471-09570-2.
- Lives of the Caesars, "Divus Julius" sect. 32. Suetonius gives the Latin version, iacta alea est, although according to Plutarch's Parallel Lives, Caesar quoted a line from the playwright Menander: "ἀνερρίφθω κύβος", anerríphthō kȳbos, "let the die be cast". Suetonius' subtly different translation is often also quoted as alea iacta est. Alea was a game played with a die or dice rather than the actual dice themselves, so another translation might be "The game is afoot."
- Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Rubicon". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Livius.org: Rubico
- Rubicon in dictionary
- Pearce, M., R. Peretto, P. Tozzi, R. Talbert, T. Elliott, S. Gillies. "Places: 393484 (Rubico fl.)". Pleiades. Retrieved March 8, 2012.