A person, remarkable, says Suetonius, for his noble aspect and graceful mien, appeared close at hand sitting by the wayside playing upon a pipe. When not only the shepherds herding their flocks thereabout, but a number of the legionaries also gathered round to hear this fellow play, and there happened to be among them some trumpeters, the piper suddenly snatched a trumpet from one of these, ran to the river, and, sounding the advance with a piercing blast, crossed to the other side. Upon which Caesar on a sudden impulse exclaimed: “Let us go whither the omens of the gods and the iniquity of our enemies call us. The die is cast.” And immediately at the head of his troops he crossed the river and found awaiting him the tribunes of the people who, having fled from Rome, had come to meet him. There in their presence he called upon the troops to pledge him their fidelity, with tears in his eyes, Suetonius assures us, and his garments rent from his bosom. And when he had received their oath he set out, and with his legion marched so fast the rest of the way that he reached Ariminum before morning and took it.
The fall of Ariminum was but a presage, as we know, of Caesar’s triumph. In three months he was master of all Italy. From Ravenna he had emerged to seize the lordship of the world, and out of a misery of chaos to create Europe.
RAVENNA IN THE TIME OF THE EMPIRE
That great revolutionary act of Julius Caesar’s may be said to have made manifest, and for the first time, the unique position of Ravenna in relation to Italy and Cisalpine Gaul. In the years which followed, that position remained always unchanged, and is, indeed, more prominent than ever in the civil wars between Antony and Octavianus which followed Caesar’s murder; but with the establishment of the empire by Octavianus and the universal peace, the pax romana, which it ensured, this position of Ravenna in relation to Italy and to Cisalpine Gaul sank into insignificance in comparison with her other unique advantage, her position upon the sea. For Octavianus, as we shall see, established her as the great naval port of Italy upon the east, and as such she chiefly appears to us during all the years of the unhampered government of the empire.
In the civil wars between Antony and Octavianus, however, she appears still as the key to the narrow pass between Italy and Cisalpine Gaul. Let us consider this for a moment.
Antony, as we know, after that great scene in the senate house when the supporters of Pompey and the aristocrats had succeeded in denying Caesar everything, had fled to Caesar at Ravenna. In the war which followed he had been Caesar’s chief lieutenant and friend. At the crucial battle of Pharsalus in 48 B.C. he had commanded, and with great success, the left wing. In 44 B.C. he had been consul with Caesar and had then offered him the crown at the festival