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Crossing the Rubicon

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  Alex I Askaroff

Alex has spent a lifetime in the sewing industry and is considered one of the foremost experts of pioneering machines and their inventors. He has written extensively for trade magazines, radio, television, books and publications world wide.



Crossing the Rubicon

Over the years I had often heard the term “Crossing the Rubicon” or “You’ve crossed the Rubicon now”. I wondered what it meant. I had a vague idea but one day I took the time to find out where the old saying came from. It is a fascinating story. Today 'Rubicon' is on a thousand items from motorbikes to drinks, so why is this ancient name so famous?

The Rubicon was a small river in northern Italy, approximately 200 miles north of Rome and considered the frontier boundary of the country (the ancient boundary between Gaul and Italy). The river is long lost to history now and although there are several rivers that people say could have been part of the ancient Rubicon, no one really knows.

In Roman times it flowed into the Adriatic Sea between Ariminum (Rimini) and Caesena (Cesena). Today the closest rivers are the Pisciatello and the Fiumicino as it reaches the sea.

The point of no return

So what does “Crossing the Rubicon” actually mean and why has it gone down in history? Crossing the Rubicon has come to imply going past a point of no return but why? I’ll tell you.

The Rubicon was considered to mark the boundary where any Roman General coming home from war had to disband his army before continuing onward and entering Rome. Bringing a standing army into the city was considered an act of war punishable by death in the public arena.

So basically, for the safety of Rome, the Republic passed a law which forbade any general from crossing the shallow river with a standing army. Anywhere north of the Rubicon armies were disbanded and travelled back in small units to their separate vicinities or garrisons.

This was to protect the Republic from any internal military threat. The river was chosen as it traversed the country in a natural border that could not be mistaken.

Julius Caesar, A legend is born

Now let us jump to 49BC. In January 49BC the all-conquering Julius Caesar was returning victorious from years of campaigning against the barbaric hoards of the North (that would be my family and other distant relations).

On his long march back, at the head of his faithful legions, news came to him that in Rome they were getting ready to dispose of him by any means fair or foul. He had become too powerful and too popular for his own good. The chances were that as soon as possible he would be arrested or assassinated.

The Republic could not tolerate one all-powerful man. It relied on the collaboration of the many nobles (however corrupt) not one man. Caesar was in big trouble.

His choice was simple, to gamble on his political prowess and popularity with the common people (that would be those plebs down the market) or take Rome by force. As a warring general the answer was obvious, take Rome by force, rely on his sword and his loyal legions.

So in the winter of 49BC Caesar decide to take his army across the Rubicon and start a civil war. By crossing the Rubicon he had passed the point of no return, committed everything and gambled all. As he crossed the Rubicon he turned to his men and shouted the immortal words, "The die is cast."

On January 10th, Caesar, with his faithful 13th Legion marched on Rome. Over the next five years he fought, bribed and negotiated his bloody way to the top.

Caesar became the first Emperor of Rome and instigated the seeds that would see Octavian (in 27BC) replacing the Republic that had governed the ancient empire. Julius Caesar had started the first line of emperors.

Lot of good it did him, getting stabbed in the back-an-all on the 15 March 44BC. Those ungrateful dogs!

Mind you he did become the most powerful man in the world, start a new political system, become one of the most famous men in history and have a fling with a real stunner, Cleo, before he bit the dust. I do that most weeks!

An old portrait of Cleopatra on the Frister & Rossmann sewing machine

So the phrase "crossing the Rubicon" has survived to refer to any person who commits themselves irrevocably past the point of no return. On their wedding day perhaps!

See I told you it was fascinating!

Let me know what you thought: alexsussex@aol.com


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Hello, Alex,

Thank you for sharing the info on crossing the Rubicon. I am a realtime captioner who works with a hard-of-hearing student for communication access in the classroom. The historical account came up in class. It sounded like the teacher said Octavian crossed the Rubicon, but needed to clarify that it was not Octavian but Julius Caesar, so I researched it.

Your account of the historical event was very helpful with a touch of humor. Great job!

Thank you very much for this.







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