In 49 BCE, Julius Caesar rested with his army on the Gaul side of the Rubicon River. By crossing the Rubicon, he would be moving his forces without authorization from Gaul into Italy, officially igniting a rebellion against the Roman Senate and Pompey. To honor the momentous occasion before plunging the Roman Republic into civil war, Julius Caesar reportedly delivered one of his greatest phrases. Suetonius, representing the Latin tradition, claimed that Julius Caesar crossed the river after stating, “the die is cast” (The Twelve Caesars, Divius Julius 32). Plutarch, representing the Greek tradition, instead wrote that Caesar proclaimed, “let the die be cast,” and commented that the phrase was actually a quite commonly-used quote by people who are about to expose their fortunes to peril (Life of Caesar, 32).
The line was a well-known saying because it had been coined centuries before Caesar by the Greek dramatist and comic playwright, Menander (c. 342-291 BCE), who allegedly wrote over a hundred plays during his career. Regardless, what Caesar said at the Rubicon is still debated. Was it coincidence, or paraphrasing, or simply a later embellishment added by commentators? Julius Caesar’s own memoirs only add more questions to the conversation, as he did not deem whatever he said at the Rubicon to be worth recording in his war commentaries.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Julius Caesar “Crossing the Rubicon” from Abbott, Jacob, 1803-1879, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, translated by Robert Graves and edited by James B. Rives. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007.