Cross the Rubicon

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In 49 BCE, Julius Caesar, Governor, and general commanding troops, in Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy) led his forces across the river Rubicon which marked the boundary between Cisalpine Gaul and the Italian homeland of the Roman Empire to the south. (This was against a law forbidding any general to bring an armed force into Italy - one made for good reason, as the outcome shows.) By so doing, he effectively declared war on his great rival Pompey and began the Civil War, which lasted for the next four years. (The Rubicon river of ancient Rome is now identified by many with the Fiumicino in modern Italy. It has changed its course since Caesar's day.)

Caesar is reported to have said as he took the fatal step "Alea iacta est", or "the die is cast."
  • Hence 'to cross the Rubicon' means 'to take an irrevocable step', 'to pass the point of no return'. It is an idiom not often seen nowadays, in part because of the decline in study and knowledge of the Classics.