It was the night between January 9th and 10th 49 BC. Imagine a difficult decision, the most difficult decision of your life. A decision for which there is no turning back and that would have immense consequences. Caesar faced that decision on the banks of the Rubicon River.
It’s a fascinating story and we have an account of that night painted by Suetonius. Of course, winners write history but there are certain historical facts that frame the circumstances that made Caesar cross the Rubicon and change history.
Caesar was enjoying amazing popularity and support from people because of his successful Gauly campaign – a very difficult endeavor. Along with his great leadership, he demonstrated his courage, value and tactical savvy on the field.
Crumbling Rome was under the rotten influence of Pompey. It’s worth mentioning that Caesar had given his daughter Julia to Pompey as spouse and that she later died trying to give birth to their son. They both perished. Those kinds of marriages were really alliances, a way to establish trust or to secure power.
Pompey called Caesar back to Rome not to celebrate him but to control him. He was going back with the understanding that no “promotion” was waiting for him. He would have to resign and go back to being a regular citizen.
The Rubicon is a river in central Italy (Romagna) that runs into the Adriatic. It marked the border between Gaul and Rome. Crossing it with an army meant attacking or threatening Rome. Would Caesar be considered a liberator, a traitor, a nut? Winners write history.
Caesar was plotting to attack and take power over the Roman Empire. He must have known Rome’s weak points – apathy and corruption among others - and he must have had extreme confidence in his loyal 13th legion. However, I cannot picture Caesar moving forward with complete confidence in a successful initiative. He had some degree of faith but the famous phrase “the die is cast” leaves no doubt that once the decision was made, everything was in the hands of destiny.
Soldiers secretly moved ahead and waited on the banks of the Rubicon. Caesar arrived much later than planned and greeted them. The wait must have been excruciating. Things seem to stall. Waiting was perhaps worse than taking action.
Picture for a second the paintings and statues of him horse-riding across the river, sword in hand. That’s the winners’ account. “We can still turn back” but then something unexpected happened. A tall, handsome man was standing a bit aside playing a reed flute. The legionnaires had moved closer to listen to his music. The night was dark, the river cold. Suddenly, the man grabbed a trumpet from one of the soldiers and started going across the tiny wooden bridge playing a battle tune. There was no turning back then! Caesar understood that that was the divine sign he was unknowably waiting for.
Ariminum (Rimini) was conquered and Rome was in target at that point.
A private group I designed a custom tour for between the Adriatic and the Apennines specifically requested incorporating the crossing of the Rubicon in their program. I loved it when they made this request. I look forward to taking them there and to take group pictures next to Caesar on the river banks of the Rubicon. The die is cast.
Bridge in Savignano sul Rubicone with statue - a bust of Caesar is also present in Gatteo a Mare and in Calisese
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