Before he was a god, before he was a dictator, before he was a governor or consul, Gaius Iulius Caesar was a crafty military leader who wore gear like this in the Roman Republic.

Photograph by Albert Moldvay, National Geographic

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  • On January 10, 49 BCE, General Julius Caesar entered Roman territory by crossing the Rubicon, a stream in what is now Northern Italy. In crossing the Rubicon, Caesar began a civil war that signaled the end of the Roman Republic.
    Julius Caesar was a very popular military and political leader who expanded the borders of the Roman Republic through what are today France, Spain, and the island of Great Britain. Caesar’s popularity and independence created tension between him and other elected officials in Rome.
    The Rubicon was a shallow river that served as a boundary between Rome and its provinces. Caesar crossed from a part of Gaul, where he was serving as governor. It was against the law to cross into Roman territory with an army, and Caesar knew this—he knew he was starting a civil war. He may have quoted one of his favorite plays when crossing the stream—Alea iacta est, the die is cast. (Romans were familiar with throwing (casting) dice as a game of chance.)
    The Roman civil war that followed lasted five years. It ended with Caesar being named Rome’s “dictator for life.” Years later, the Roman Republic dissolved and the Roman Empire emerged—with Caesar’s adopted son, Augustus, serving as its first emperor.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    adopt Verb

    to formally raise and care for a child of other biological parents.

    border Noun

    natural or artificial line separating two pieces of land.

    Encyclopedic Entry: border
    boundary Noun

    line separating geographical areas.

    Encyclopedic Entry: boundary
    cast Verb

    to throw or toss.

    civil war Noun

    conflict between groups in the same country or nation.

    dice Plural Noun

    small cubes marked with numbers or other symbols on each side, tossed and used in games of chance.

    dictator Noun

    person with complete control of a government.

    dissolve Verb

    to break up or disintegrate.

    emerge Verb

    to develop or come into view.

    emperor Noun

    ruler of an empire.

    expand Verb

    to grow or get larger.

    Gaul Noun

    Western European civilization that became a major part of ancient Rome.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    political Adjective

    having to do with public policy, government, administration, or elected office.

    province Noun

    division of a country larger than a town or county.

    Encyclopedic Entry: province
    republic Noun

    system of government where power rests in citizens who vote and representatives who stand for those citizens. The United States is a republic.

    Roman Empire Noun

    (27 BCE-476 CE) period in the history of ancient Rome when the state was ruled by an emperor.

    signal Verb

    to communicate using signs.

    stream Noun

    body of flowing fluid.

    tension Noun

    uncomfortable relationship between two people or groups.

    territory Noun

    land an animal, human, or government protects from intruders.