Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."


Crossing the Rubicon

To "Cross the Rubicon" is to pass a point of no return -- to commit yourself to something. In late 50 B.C., the Roman senate ordered Julius Caesar (then Governor of Gaul, a military hero whom the Senate feared) to disband his army and return to Rome. Since his term as Proconsul had ended, and the Senate forbade Caesar from running for a second term in absentia, Caesar knew he would be politically marginalized -- and possibly imprisoned -- if he returned to Rome without the immunity of a Consul.

So, on the 10th of January in 49 B.C. (converted to the Gregorian calendar), Caesar crossed the southern border of Cisalpine Gaul and entered Italy with one legion, Legio XIII Gemina. Since armies were forbidden by Roman law to enter Italy proper (primarily to defend against internal military threats), Caesar's actions marked the beginning of the Roman civil war. He is reported to have said "Alea iacta est" ("The die is cast"), hence our modern association of "Crossing the Rubicon" with passing a point of no return.

What's ironic is you can learn far more about "Fiume Rubicone" (literally "River Rubicon") from Webster's Dictionary and Wikipedia than you can from Rand-McNally. On a March 1994 trip to Europe with my then-girlfriend, I harbored a plot to "pop the question" on the bank of the Rubicon -- after crossing it in our rental car while driving from Venice to Assisi. (If there had been 'blogs in 1994, the dawn of the old NCSA Mosaic web browser, I would have probably done like Dan at tdaxp.... :-)

Only by consulting some large maps at the Navy lab where I worked was I able to find the river. And when we saw it in person, I had a brief pang of regret that I didn't ask Renee to marry me while we were on a gondola floating on the Canale Grande in Venice the night before. But since I had a plan, I stuck to it -- the arrow below shows the spot, and the "scenic grandeur" of what was simply an archaic border between Roman provinces (or a ditch by modern standards):

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At 10/1/08 14:03 , Blogger Dan tdaxp said...

So instead of Venice -- the site of an Italian constitutional crisis? An Italian constitutional crisis?

I'm glad I'm not the only history nerd out there ;-)

At 10/1/08 14:23 , Blogger deichmans said...

Thx Dan - I am but a mere shadow of the true ZenPundit Master!

At 10/1/08 18:46 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post Shane.

I like the way they handled the crossing of the Rubicon in "Rome" (HBO/BBC) - Vorenus, Pullo and co splash across the stream like infantrymen everywhere ("no big deal, just another river"), while a boy fishes on the bank.

At 12/1/08 13:07 , Blogger mark said...

Gracias Shane.

Caesar did not fear imprisonment as ancient Rome had no prisons per se. In fact, Caesar himself had suggested imprisonment for the lead plotters in the Cataline Conspiracy as an alternative to execution and had been voted down at Cicero's urging on the basis that the Senate lacked any such facilities or legal precedent for such a punishment.

What Caesar feared, was a campaign of lawsuits and slander by Cato and other Optimate reactionaries and a denial of the traditional dignitas due to him as a former consul and provincial governor. Which is exactly what Cato was trying to orchestrate, in order to force Caesar into exile.

Cato and his Optimate allies were in violation of normal Roman political practice with the vehemence and extent to which they were taking their public feud with Caesar - sort of Caesar-Derangement-Syndrome. At times their implacable rage even disturbed Pompeii, who had more pragmatic concerns regarding his fellow Triumvir.

Historians speculate, that much of the hatred dirtected at Caesar was for intensely personal reasons ranging from thwarted glory to Caesar bedding the wives of many of his enemies as well as keeping Cato's sister as a long term mistress.

At 14/1/08 06:53 , Blogger deichmans said...

Zen, Thanks for the correction. My penumbra has shrunk even more!


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