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Alea iacta est

The Rubicon is a shallow river that starts in the Apennine mountains and drains into the Adriatic sea. In ancient Rome, it was like a Line of Control – any promagistrate (or army general) who crossed the river at the head of his troops automatically lost his right to command – such was Roman law.

On 10 January 49 BC, General Julius Caesar led one legion – the Legio XIII Gemina – and stopped at the river’s edge to contemplate: whether to take off his helmet and cross the river alone, or to lead his troops on and thus initiate civil war. In the words of historian Frances Titchener:

We know from [Caesar’s journals] that Caesar is not taking this lightly. He knows that if he marches on Rome with his armies, then he is a public enemy, and that he will either have to win, or die. For a Roman patrician like Julius Caesar there is no life without military service; there is no life without service to the state … he does realise that if he goes back to Rome, he would be killed. At this time the northernmost border of the Roman territory in Italy is the River Rubicon. Once someone crosses the River Rubicon, he’s in Roman territory. A general must not cross that boundary with his army – he must do what the Romans call lay down his command, which means surrender his right to order troops, and certainly not be carrying weapons.

Caesar and his armies hesitate quite awhile at this river while Caesar decides what to do, and Caesar tells us that he informs his soldiers that it’s a little tiny bridge across the river, but once they cross it they’ll have to fight their way all the way to Rome, and Caesar is well aware that he’s risking not just his own life, but those of his loyal soldiers, and he might not win …

Finally he makes a decision, it’s time to go … he says ‘Roll the dice’: ‘Alea jacta esto’.

Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, and the die was cast.

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