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Where said – “the die is cast”?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Statue of Julius Caesar in Ariminum
Statue of Julius Caesar in Ariminum

Alea iacta est – this saying, literally meaning “the die is cast”, knows probably everyone who had any contact with the European Civilization, which arose, among others, from the Greco-Roman traditions. But where – in what place – Gaius Julius Caesar uttered (if not the apocrypha) those memorable words?

We all associate the mention of throwing dice together with Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon – the river that is the border of Italy in 704 AUC (49 BCE). Here is a brave commander, challenging the Senate and the Roman Republic, forcing the stormy river and setting his foot on the shore, knowing that there is no turning back, that he has started a civil war, he throws with a sigh, but also with confidence: “the die is cast”. True Hollywood vision, but rather not true. The Rubicon was not – and still is not – a great river, its importance can be compared to nineteenth-century Lithuania: it separated Italy from the province of Gaul Cispadana. He separated, let’s add, only recently. 31 years earlier, in 675 CE, dictator Sulla moves the pomerium – the Roman border – from the Esino River to the Rubicon River.

A small Latin colony, Ariminium (founded in 268 BCE) becomes the first city in Italy after crossing the border. This is where Julius Caesar’s army heads after crossing the Rubicon. From those times, only the urban layout of the two most important streets: Decumanus Maximus (today Corso d’Augusto) and Cardo Maximus (today Garibaldiego and 4 Listopada streets) and slightly reduced Forum Romanum (now Three Martyrs’ Square). There were no other monuments – the Arch of Augustus or the Trajan Bridge – in the times of Caesar.
Today, in the former Roman market square, there is a contemporary statue of the brave Julius and – more importantly – an ancient obelisk commemorating the chieftain’s stay in the city at this crucial moment in world history.

So was the Forum in a small town the place where – if they did – the words about throwing dice were spoken? This is more likely than when crossing the river (though perhaps less than, for example, in a legionary’s camp outside the city). It was possible for Caesar to gather his officers on the largest square in the city (the amphitheatre – partly preserved – yet) and with such a slogan – known to them: soldiers certainly played gambling – appeal to their minds.

And there was a lot to talk about: when entering the area of ​​pomerium Caesar and his army openly rebelled against the Roman Republic – no leader was allowed to bring an armed army into this area. Caesar’s soldiers, crossing the Rubicon, became, like their leader, outlawed criminals for whom – in the moment of defeat – death awaited, probably in the Roman way, that is, on the cross. This is probably what Julius wanted to make his soldiers aware of: we are on the road of no return, we have already thrown the dice, nothing will stop them, and they will fall and show the result. What will he be like? Julius Caesar, like other Romans, was very superstitious – he also believed in his lucky star, and he had to share this faith with his subordinates. He seems to have succeeded because – having a choice to lose and die or win – Caesar’s army chose the latter option.

Gaius Julius Caesar captured Italy and won the civil war becoming the sole ruler of the Republic. Ariminium – today’s Rimini, a well-known holiday resort – ceased to be a border town during the Principate and the Five Good Emperors and began to become rich, especially since Augustus again shifted the border Roman, this time leaning it against the Alpine chain.

Author: Adam Adamas (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)

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