Double Crossing the Rubicon
April 12, 2004 1:56 PM   Subscribe

"Crossing the Rubicon" is a phrase widely believed to refer to the moment when Julius Caesar and his army crossed the stream separating Gaul from Italy, a move which meant civil war and commonly used to mean "point of no return". Now Swiss archaeologists are challenging that theory with a phrase that should be "Double Crossing the Rubicon".
posted by stbalbach (14 comments total)
I always thought of it as more a figurative term, such as like sometime in the next few years in the us when posse comitatus most likely gets smashed beyond recognition (not that it hasn't been slightly fractured already)

still, good link. damned swiss, always being right and stuff...
posted by dorian at 3:07 PM on April 12, 2004

Ok, so. There was a big battle at Rubigen where Julius fooled some suckas. Why is this connected to crossing the Rubicon?
posted by kavasa at 4:25 PM on April 12, 2004

But did he say 'alea iacta est'? And it was Cisalpine Gaul, which today is the northern chunk of Italy.

Note that when Caesar led his army into Italy proper, he was overstepping what we might call his 'constitutional' authority. Historians from Suetonius on down have used the event as a convenient milestone to mark when the erosion of the Roman Republic began, when Rome began to turn into an Empire--although, really, the process had been going on for some time.
posted by gimonca at 4:46 PM on April 12, 2004

Is this a belated April Fool's Joke? It's certainly the silliest thing I've heard in a long time.

...a minor episode - the crossing of the Rubicon - which, after all, was little more than a stream

Right, and since the Rio Grande is dry in the lower part of its course, crossing it must be completely meaningless! Try telling that to the border guards. The Rubicon, small as it was, was the border. That's why crossing it was a big deal—not because it required a lot of boats or something! Here, let Suetonius tell it:
Coming up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, which was the frontier of his province, he halted for a while, and revolving in his mind the importance of the step he meditated, he turned to those about him, saying: 'Still we can retreat! But once let us pass this little bridge, - and nothing is left but to fight it out with arms!'
(Latin here.) By crossing the Rubicon, he was leaving the province he was legally required to remain in and entering Italy itself. As for the verb, Suetonius says "traiecto exercitu," 'having moved the army across,' and Velleius Paterculus says "Caesar cum exercitu Rubiconem transiit," 'Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army' (transeo has a number of meanings, but none of them remotely resemble 'cheat, double-cross').

As for the idea of pulling the wool over the public eyes, come on—how stupid do you think the Romans were? If somebody told you "You know, people think 'Pearl Harbor' refers to a harbor the Japanese attacked, but really it's a kind of cocktail, and the Japanese never attacked Hawaii," would you just nod and accept it? I don't think so.

In short, this is utter bullshit, and it makes me think even less of the Swiss than I already did. Unless, of course, it is an April Fool's joke, in which case I'll credit them with a sense of humor.
posted by languagehat at 5:06 PM on April 12, 2004

Auf der Mauer says, "...and merged it with a minor episode - the crossing of the Rubicon - which, after all, was little more than a stream."

According to Suetonius, though, the crossing of the Rubicon was hardly a minor episode. Like your wikipedia link says, the Rubicon marked the military boundaries for Rome -- crossing that stream was to attack Rome. Why bother to combine the two incidents? Other attacks on tribes were well-documented by Rome's historians so why hide the attack on the Rubigensis tribe?

All of Switzerland was taken and ruled by Rome, which explains the presence of war chariots and statues of Roman gods. This is still nothing more than a coincidence of names.

Caesar's movements are already documented -- and although the writers of his history were biased, it's the closest we have to a true account of something that happened over 2,000 years ago. Unless written evidence of Caesar's presence in Rubigen can be found, this is wishful thinking on the part of the archaeologist.

Also, what languagehat beat me to.
posted by tracicle at 5:11 PM on April 12, 2004

Veni, vidi, volo in domum redire.
posted by homunculus at 5:44 PM on April 12, 2004

Visne saltare? Viam Latam Fungosam scio.
posted by dabitch at 6:10 PM on April 12, 2004

I think the article presents a plausible scenario. Caesar cheats the Rubigensis. It gets recorded in the history text of the time as "crossing the Rubicon" ie. cheating. Later in life Caesar needs to appease the tribes in the area so he twists the meaning of the words around into some great event that has nothing to do with cheating the Rubigensis. It sticks and we forget completely about the Rubigensis. Remember they didn't have the level of education or information technology we have today such things would have been easily manipulated.

It is not without precedent. Alexander the Great was never called "Great" until the Romans named him centuries later in a nod to his conquests as a way to justify and shed a positive light on Roman empire building. Up until that time Alexander was seen as a despot in much of the Ancient world but the Roman historians latched on to his accomplishments as something to emulate to help promote Romes agenda and put him on the throne by calling him "..the Great".. and it worked we still to do this day think of Alexander as a "Great Man" even though he arguably was not at all by many modern scholars. Alexander of Macedonia should be his real title, but Roman historical manipulation of a single word changed our perception.

BTW languagehat.. why do you hate Switzerland so much? Just kidding bad joke.
posted by stbalbach at 7:14 PM on April 12, 2004

Nisi mecum concubueris, phobistae vicerint!
posted by homunculus at 7:22 PM on April 12, 2004

Come on, how gullible are you people?

Google on Felix auf der Mauer, and you'll come up with this page, which when translated basically laughs at how this little (and obvious) April Fool's joke was taken seriously by a number of news sites.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:49 AM on April 13, 2004

I called it!
*points at stbalbach, laughs heartily*
And I hereby credit the Swiss with a sense of humor and withdraw the unmerited disdain.
posted by languagehat at 7:43 AM on April 13, 2004

Apart from the April 1st date, one of the pictures was a giveaway: "Kaeserei" is a cheese dairy, not a reference to Caesar.
posted by raygirvan at 3:37 PM on April 13, 2004

raygirvan, I wondered if I had just misinterpreted that sign, too. Damn.
posted by tracicle at 4:11 PM on April 13, 2004

lol *turns red* .. good catch languagehat and Ghost.
posted by stbalbach at 6:06 PM on April 13, 2004

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