This artwork, by an unknown artist, was commissioned by the American author, Jacob Abbot (c. 1803-1879), for use in his History of Julius Caesar, which was one piece in a larger collection known as the Makers of History series. Captured in the scene above is Julius Caesar’s famous crossing of the Rubicon—a small stream that, in Caesar’s day, marked the boundary between Cisalpine Gaul and Italy. The event occurred in 49 BCE, when Caesar’s political and military rivals in Rome wanted to isolate the popular general away from power and military command. Julius Caesar and his adversaries in the Roman Senate were at a stalemate; the Senate wanted Caesar to relinquish command of his army and to return to Rome as an average senator, whereas Caesar wanted to stay with his loyal army while his agents in Rome orchestrated a political campaign to elect Caesar to high office. The Senate, however, thwarted the general’s plans by refusing to allow Caesar to run for office in absentia. Caesar was uncomfortable with this decision, as he knew that he would be vulnerable to legal and physical attacks from his political enemies during that brief period of time between relinquishing his military command and successfully winning an election bid in Rome. Furthermore, Caesar’s opponents in the Senate had already declared their intention to prosecute him, and the skilled military leader, Pompey, was empowered in Rome to defend the state. Therefore, Caesar, unwilling to make himself powerless before his rivals, opted to go to war and crossed the Rubicon into Italy. By leading his forces out of his assigned province, Julius Caesar broke Roman law and defied the Senate, marking the beginning of the civil war that transitioned Rome from a republic into an authoritarian empire. As crossing the Rubicon was an iconic point-of-no-return moment, ancient writers narrating the moment often gave Caesar a pithy quote to emphasize the occasion. For more info on Caesar’s Rubicon quotes, click HERE.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- War Commentaries by Gaius Julius Caesar and Aulus Hirtius, translated by W. A. McDevitte and W. S. Bohn, 2014.
- The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, translated by Robert Graves and edited by James B. Rives. New York: Penguin Classics, 2007.
- Julius Caesar by Philip Freeman. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2008.
- Plutarch’s Lives edited by Charles W. Eliot in the Harvard Classics series. New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1909, 1937.