That was on January 7th. Five days later Caesar was on his way at the head of his troops to invade Italy and, without knowing it, to found the empire, that universal government out of which we are come.
It was with one legion that Caesar undertook his great adventure. That legion, the Thirteenth, had been stationed near Tergeste (Trieste), but at Caesar’s orders it had marched into Ravenna in the first days of January. Upon the fateful twelfth, with some secrecy, while Caesar himself attended a public spectacle, examined the model of a fencing school, which he proposed to build, and, as usual, sat down to table with a numerous party of friends, the first companies of this legion left Ravenna by the Rimini gate, to be followed after sunset by its great commander; still with all possible secrecy it seems, for mules were put to his carriage, a hired one, at a mill outside Ravenna and he went almost alone.
[Footnote 1: Plutarch says “Caesar had not then with him more than 300 horse and 5000 foot. The rest of his forces were left on the other side of the Alps.”]
[Footnote 2: So Suetonius; but Plutarch says “As for himself, he spent the day at a public show of gladiators, and a little before evening bathed, and then went into the apartment, where he entertained company. When it was growing dark, he left the company, having desired them to make merry till his return, which they would not have long to wait for.”]
The road he travelled was not the great way to Rimini, but a by-way across the marshes, and it would seem to have been in a wretched state. At any rate Caesar lost his way, the lights of his little company were extinguished, his carriage had to be abandoned, and it was only after wandering about for a long time that, with the help of a peasant whom he found towards daybreak, he was able to get on, afoot now, and at last to reach the great highway. That night must have tried even the iron nerves and dauntless courage of the greatest soldier of all time.
Caesar came up with his troops on the banks of the Rubicon, the sacred boundary of Italy and Cisalpine Gaul in the narrow pass between the mountains and the sea. “There,” says Suetonius, whose account I have followed, “he halted for a while revolving in his mind the importance of the step he was about to take. At last turning to those about him, he said: ’We may still retreat; but if we pass this little bridge nothing is left us but to fight it out in arms.’”
Now while he was thus hesitating, staggered, even he, by the greatness of what he would attempt, doubtless resolving in silence arguments for and against it, and, if we may believe Plutarch, “many times changing his opinion,” the following strange incident is said to have happened.