By Alice Childs
For anyone who ever sat through history classes in Western Civilization or who read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in an English literature class, the term “crossing the Rubicon” will be familiar.
Before Julius Caesar became Emperor of Rome (thus becoming the first Caesar), he was a brilliant general. In his military campaigns against the Gauls, the man who would become the first Roman emperor was appointed governor of the region of southern Gaul and northern Italy. After his hugely successful military campaigns in Gaul, the Roman Senate ordered Julius Caesar to disband his army and return alone to Rome (where the Senate could better control their brilliant but highly ambitious general). Julius Caesar was ordered by the Senate to disband his armies and leave them in Northern Italy. He was explicitly ordered not to bring his army across the Rubicon River.
In the sight of the Senate, crossing the Rubicon River with his army would be viewed as an act of treason – an insurrection, and according to Roman law, an act of war. The Rubicon River was the northern boundary of Italy. However, in 49 BC, in defiance of the Roman Senate, Caesar brought his army across the Rubicon River headed towards Rome as he had ordered; but instead of returning alone, he brought with him his thirteenth legion – in complete defiance of the Senate’s orders.
Caesar’s response to their order to disband his army and return to Rome alone was “Alea iacta est” which means, “the die is cast.” This action was considered by the Senate to be a landmark defiance. Ever afterward, the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” became a metaphor that is synonymous with
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