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Mary Macgregor

Cæsar Crosses the Rubicon

While Cæsar was winning glory for himself and for his country in Gaul, Crassus was also fighting against a foreign foe, and in 53 b.c. he was tricked into leading his men into an ambush and was slain. Pompey was the only member of the Triumvirate in Rome.

The more the Senate approved of Pompey's rule, the more he wished that there was no Cæsar to come home to share his power. And however the Senate might receive the victorious general, Pompey knew that Cæsar was still remembered and adored by the people.

He himself had gradually withdrawn his sympathy from the popular party, and he now threw his influence wholly on the side of the Optimates, who disliked Cæsar, and like Pompey himself, dreaded his return.

Meanwhile Rome was in need of a strong ruler, for disorder and lawlessness was rife within the city, and the Senate seemed unable to restore order.

In the streets riots took place, which often ended in bloodshed. And while there was violence among the people, among the nobles there was bribery.

The Senate in despair determined to appoint only one Consul for the year 52 b.c. If only one person was responsible for law and justice, it thought that order might be restored. The choice of the Senate naturally fell upon Pompey, and through its influence he was appointed sole Consul. But the people were not pleased, and muttered that Cæsar should have been elected as the colleague of Pompey.

To avoid this, for he was determined not to share his power with Cæsar, Pompey, after ruling alone for six months, arranged that Metellus Scipio should be chosen as second Consul.

There was no beautiful Julia now at hand to persuade Pompey to be true to Cæsar, and from this time the Consul showed plainly that he meant to separate his fortunes from those of his father-in-law. And what was worse was that he used his power to undermine the influence of the absent general to whom his faith was pledged.

Cæsar, who was always in touch with Rome knew what was being done. His friends, too, warned him that Pompey would soon be too strong for him unless he speedily returned to the city. But Cæsar was not yet ready to leave Gaul.

The Senate soon showed how it meant to treat the absent general. It proposed, more than once, that Cæsar should dismiss his army before being elected Consul for the year 48 b.c.

Pompey heard these proposals and at first said nothing, although he must have remembered the arrangement he and Crassus had made with Cæsar at Lucca.

When the Senate repeated its wish more decidedly, he said only, that what the Senate ordered Cæsar would doubtless do. But this he could scarcely have found it easy to believe.

While the Senate still hesitated to order Cæsar to lay down his command, Pompey fell ill. It was believed that his life was in danger, and throughout Italy prayers were offered for his recovery. In time Pompey grew better, but he was deceived by the anxiety the people had shown, and believed their affection for him was greater than it really was. He found it pleasant to think that they had forgotten Cæsar and were devoted to him alone.

Some foolish person told him that even his soldiers were ready to desert Cæsar. Pompey seemed to believe this also, and remarked complacently that he, if he but stamped his foot, would find soldiers ready to follow him from every town and village in Italy.

At length, in the autumn of 50 b.c. , the Senate determined to act, and accordingly it sent a message to Cæsar, bidding him lay down his command and dismiss his army.

Cæsar answered without the least hesitation, "If Pompey will give up his command and dismiss his army, I will do the same." But this, as you know, Pompey had not the least intention to do. The people of Rome began to tremble at the thought that civil war was drawing near. For if neither of the two great generals would yield, it seemed inevitable.

"There is no hope of peace beyond the year's end," wrote a friend to Cicero. "Pompey is determined Cæsar shall not be chosen Consul till he has given up his province and army. Cæsar is convinced that he cannot leave his army safely."

In Rome, the strife between Pompey's friends and those of Cæsar grew daily more bitter. At length the Senate boldly proposed that Cæsar should be told to give up his province on a certain day, otherwise he would be denounced as a traitor.

Mark Antony and another tribune, both of whom were friends of Cæsar, rose to their feet to protest against such a decree. But the Senate was in no mood to listen to them, and the tribunes were expelled from the house.

In the city, they soon found that their lives were not safe. So they disguised themselves, dressing in old clothes that had belonged to slaves. Then hiring carts they lay in the foot of them, covered with sacking, and thus passed safely through the city gates. Still in this strange garb they at length reached Cæsar's camp at Ravenna.

It was at Ravenna, in January 49 b.c. , that the great general was told of the decree of the Senate.

He had only one legion with him, but leaving orders for the others to follow, he at once began to march toward the Rubicon. The Rubicon was the stream which divided his province from Italy.

Should he cross the stream with his army, it would be a declaration that he had determined on war.

So momentous was the decision, that as Cæsar drew near to the Rubicon he hesitated. Looking down upon the stream, he stood for a time deep in thought, while his soldiers watched him anxiously from the distance.


Looking down upon the stream, he stood awhile deep in thought.

Turning at length to his officers, he said, "Even now we may draw back."

At that moment, so it is said, a shepherd on the other side of the stream, began to pipe carelessly upon his flute.

Over the stream dashed some of the soldiers, perhaps to dance to the shepherd's lilting measure.

It was an omen! Cæsar at once made up his mind. "Let us go where the omen of the gods and the iniquity of our enemies call us," he cried. "The die is cast."

Then at the head of his army, on the 16th January 49 b.c. , Cæsar crossed the Rubicon.

So important was the decision, that the words, "to cross the Rubicon," grew into a proverb. And still to-day, when one takes the first step towards a great undertaking, one is said to have "crossed the Rubicon."