Julius Caesar & the Crossing of the Rubicon

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Julius Caesar was one of Rome's most powerful and iconic rulers, but do you know how he seized control of Rome? In this lesson, you will learn about Caesar's decision to cross the Rubicon.

The First Triumvirate

First things first - what events brought Caesar to the Rubicon? The story starts back in 60 B.C. when Julius Caesar and two other men named Crassus and Pompey formed a political alliance called the First Triumvirate. The goal of the First Triumvirate was simple: use their money, influence, and cunning to take control of Rome. Caesar became a consul, or one of two leaders of Rome (kind of like co-presidents) and helped Crassus and Pompey push a number of laws and acts through the Roman Senate that personally benefited the three men. After Caesar's consulship, he secured himself a nice cushy position as governor of Gaul where he planned to spend the next few years of his life getting rich and powerful.

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar

Unfortunately for Caesar, the First Triumvirate fell apart, and his master plan began to crumble. Caesar's daughter Julia Caesaris was married to Pompey, but she died in childbirth. Crassus also met an untimely end. Friendship and kinship no longer held Caesar and Pompey together, and their political alliance was done. Pompey was now the most powerful political and military leader in Rome, and he was tired of Caesar's shenanigans in Gaul. To make matters worse for Caesar, the Senate considered many of the things he did as consul to be illegal. With Pompey's encouragement, the Senate took away Caesar's governorship and demanded he come back to Rome as a regular citizen.


Crossing the Rubicon

Losing his governorship was a slap in the face to Caesar, but returning to Rome as a private citizen was even worse. If and when he returned to Rome, the Senate was going to put him on trial for all of the sneaky, underhanded, and questionable things he did as consul. As governor of Gaul, Caesar had built himself a large army. Armies today are usually controlled by countries, but in Ancient Rome anyone with money and power had a personal army of their own. According to Roman law, if a governor brought their personal army with them from whatever province they controlled, they faced two major consequences:

  • the governor lost his title and right to rule
  • the governor and his army would be killed

So what was Caesar to do? He had already lost his title as governor, and if he showed up without an army, he was definitely going to be prosecuted. At this point, he didn't have much to lose. He decided to cross the Rubicon, a river that separated the province of Gaul from Rome, and bring his army with him. This, of course, was considered to be an act of war. Caesar decided his best bet was to enter Rome ready to fight and crossed the Rubicon with his army in January of 49 B.C.

Pompey and his anti-Caesar friends panicked. Caesar was a tough general and had spent seven years conquering the wild tribes in Gaul. If he brought his army to Rome, then they were in for some serious trouble. To avoid the wrath of Caesar, Pompey and many other Roman leaders fled the city. In reality, they could have defended themselves against Caesar. He only brought one small part of his army (not the whole thing). Over the next four years, Caesar and Pompey fought a civil war for control of Rome. Ultimately, Pompey was killed in Egypt, and Caesar returned to Rome where he became the 'dictator for life'.

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