Julius Caesar and the Crossing of the Rubicon

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• Part 2: The Rest of the Story

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Part 1: Setting the Scene

The Rubicon was a relatively minor waterway in northern Italy. It wasn't even very wide. It could easily be crossed on foot by Roman legionaries, slaves, generals, and whoever else might be traveling with a Roman army. But since ancient times, the Rubicon River had marked the northernmost boundary of Rome proper. Across the boundary a Roman general could not go while at the head of his army. For such a man to lead his troops in battle gear into the heart of Rome was against one of the oldest laws on the Roman law books. It was treason.

Treason was an offense against the Roman government, against the very heart of Roman society. Treason was punishable by death. Someone who committed treason would inevitably be hunted down by Roman soldiers and dragged to the Roman Senate, where he would be tried, with the very likely outcome being a guilty verdict and a death sentence.

In 49 B.C., the frontiers of Rome were expanding. A young general named Julius Caesar was making quite a name for himself in Gaul, which is mostly what we now call France. Caesar and his army had spent several years of hard fighting defeating the native Celts and Germanic peoples of Gaul, and Caesar now ruled the area with an iron fist. Elsewhere in the Republic, Pompey, the other surviving consul of the First Triumvirate, was conquering vast territories in the east and south. At the time that Caesar's army arrived in northern Italy, Pompey and his army were in Spain, relatively far away by ancient transportation standards.

By this time, Pompey and Caesar had grown quite jealous of each other. The attempt at familial reconciliation had worked for a time, as Caesar's daughter Julia had married Pompey; but Julia died in childbirth, and so no blood ties kept the men together anymore. By this time, also, Caesar had become such a favorite of the common people of Rome (who outnumbered the wealthy) that his name was a household word throughout much of the Republic. Pompey, on the other hand, was a master general and favorite of the wealthy and of the Senate, but he considered himself much more than Caesar's equal, both in governmental terms and on the battlefield.

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