What does it mean to 'cross the Rubicon'?
The Rubicon is a small river in northern Italy, so why is crossing it considered such a significant thing to do?
The expression means to make a difficult decision with irreversible consequences – in short, to pass the point of no return.
It refers back to a decision made by Julius Caesar in January 49 BC that changed ancient Rome forever. As a successful governor of the Roman province of Gaul (modern-day France), many in Rome feared Caesar’s growing power so the Senate ordered him to disband his legions and return to Rome.
Caesar marched a single legion to the boundary between Gaul and Italy, marked by the small river, and he knew that to go any further was forbidden. In the eyes of Rome, he would be an enemy of the state but he still crossed the Rubicon, sparking civil war. It was at this moment that Caesar said the now famous phrase, “The die is cast.”
- Read more | How did Caesar achieve victory over Pompey at the battle of Pharsalus?
Having won the civil war – defeating the de facto leader of the Roman state, Pompey – Caesar named himself as the dictator of Rome. But it only lasted five years as he famously did not heed the warning of another famous idiom – “Beware the Ides of March” – and was stabbed to death.
- Read more | The death of Caesar: do we know the whole story?
This article was taken from BBC History Revealed
Subscribe to BBC History Magazine and receive a signed copy of 2023 edition Windrush: 75 years of modern Britain by Mike Phillips and Trevor Philips
As a print subscriber you will also get FREE access to HistoryExtra.com worth £34.99