How the real Rubicon was crossed – tracing the source of the phrase

The idiom David Cameron used while talking about press regulation harks back to the days of Julius Caesar

David Cameron suggested Britain would be crossing the Rubicon by writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land.

But if he ever gathers the courage, the town of Savignano sul Rubicone in Italy, where the river is reckoned to pass – there are doubts about which river is the historical Rubicon – would give him a warm reception.

“We do get tourist groups and had some British tourists a year ago, but more would be welcome,” said a town hall official on Friday.

Crowds are thinner on the ground today than in 49BC, when Julius Caesar showed up with 50,000 soldiers and famously crossed the river on his way to seize power in Rome, ushering in the Roman empire.

The river, which was small then and is small today, served as a boundary between the Roman Republic and its provinces further north, and law dictated that any general crossing the river back into the Republic gave up his command. If he did not, he was guilty of treason and faced the death penalty.

As he crossed, keeping his troops by his side and knowing he would either conquer Rome or be killed, Caesar said: “The die has been cast.”

Because local rivers changed courses over the centuries, doubts lingered over which one was the Rubicon, until that latter day emperor Benito Mussolini decided it was the river flowing through Savignano, renaming the town Savignano sul Rubicone, to the delight of local postcard sellers. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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