Roman Bridge over the Rubicon River

Roman Bridge over the Rubicon River

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Why Did Caesar Cross the Rubicon?

On 10 January 49 BC, Roman general Julius Caesar defied an ultimatum set to him by the Senate. If he brought his veteran armies across the river Rubicon in northern Italy, the Republic would be in a state of civil war.

Fully aware of the momentous nature of his decision, Caesar ignored the warning and began to march south on Rome. To this day, the phrase “to cross the Rubicon” means to undertake an action so decisive that there can be no turning back.

The civil war that followed this decision is seen by historians as the inevitable culmination of a movement that had begun decades prior.


The Roman Bridge was featured in Season 5 of Game of Thrones, the hugely popular HBO TV series, set in a fantastical land of Seven Kingdoms. Enhanced by CGI, the ancient structure becomes the Long Bridge of Volantis.

We see a stunning aerial shot of the bridge in Episode 3, first shown in April 2015 - Tyrion Lannister and Varys, the Court fixer, are on their way from Pentos to Meereen (another Andalucian location: Osuna). Tyrion has been travelling inside a carriage for days, to keep his identity hidden (he's a wanted man), and wants to get out. The two men walk across the bridge, which is crammed with ramshackle buildings - they come upon houses, shops, a preaching priestess and then a brothel (Tyrion's preferred pastime).

The acting was all shot in the studio and the actors did not visit the bridge. A production team oversaw a drone which took a series of aerial sequences to be used as the base for the computer graphics seen in the final production. See the clip from Game of Thrones Season 5 Episode 3, High Sparrow, here.

Why’d He Do It

Julius Caesar spent his entire professional life running up huge debts and doing crimes. However, consuls and governors were immune from prosecution while they were in office. Caesar’s term as governor was nearing its end in 49 BC. He wanted to run for consul to extend his immunity however, he needed to physically be in Rome to run for office. You see the conundrum. He needed to run for office so that he could stay immune from prosecution. However, to run for office, he needed to give up his governorship and thus, his immunity. As soon as private citizen Julius Caesar set foot in Rome, he would have been arrested.

So, instead, Caesar returned to Rome to run for consul. He needed a legion though because his goon squad was the only thing keeping him from being arrested. The senate didn’t take kindly to Rome being invaded, they selected Pompey to fight Caesar’s legions, and the resulting civil war destroyed the republic.

Rubicon river rivalry in Italy to be settled with mock court case

David Cameron said last year he had "serious concerns" about crossing it. Mick Jagger sang with anguish on Streets of Love that he thought he might have done so. One man who definitely did make his way over the Rubicon, triggering civil war in ancient Rome and ensuring the river's place in common parlance for the millennia to come, was Julius Caesar.

But if anyone tried to follow in his footsteps now, they might have some difficulty. According to local historians in north-eastern Italy, the question of which modern waterway lays the greatest claim to being the famous river – or, at least, its closest descendant – is anything but settled.

On Saturday, in the usually peaceful town of San Mauro Pascoli, near Rimini, the centuries-old debate will be reopened in a mock trial that aims to deliver a verdict, once and for all, on the identity of the real Rubicon. It is a battle that pitches neighbouring towns against each other and divides impassioned locals into three equally zealous camps – one for each river in question.

Fierce as Caesar's battle with Pompey was, it may have nothing on this. The judge, however, is expected to draw the line at severed heads.

In 1933, a time when Benito Mussolini was fully versed in the rehabilitation of Rome's ancient glory for contemporary political purposes, he decided the debate over the Rubicon had gone on long enough. The fascist dictator renamed the little Fiumicino river in his native Emilia Romagna the Rubicone, and decreed that the town through which it ran should also henceforth be known as Savignano sul Rubicone.

But the official ruling did nothing to deter those who believed that their river – either the Uso or the Pisciatello – was the genuine article. "There was no definitive proof. The debate, which had been going on for centuries, was still open," said Paolo Turroni, a teacher and journalist from Cesena who will present the case for the Pisciatello on Saturday. "In reality, Mussolini had political reasons for doing what he did. At that time the podestà [mayor] of Savignano was an important figure in the Fascist party."

Over time, however, the Fiumicino's credentials have convinced many that it is indeed the right choice. Giancarlo Mazzuca, a newspaper editor, writer and former MP for Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom party, will argue at the mock trial that the Fiumicino deserves to keep its title due, among other things, to the Tabula Peutingeriana, a medieval copy of a Roman road map, which places the Rubicon 12 miles from Rimini on the Via Aemilia. The river also, he notes, has a bridge built in Roman times.

"This history is often overlooked due to the fact that the person who gave this order was Benito Mussolini. On the other hand, the foreign press, including the Times of London, had already said in 1932 … that the real Rubicon of Julius Caesar is indeed that of Savignano," he wrote in notes for the Sammauroindustria cultural association, which is organising the event.

For others, though, this is a historical injustice. Turroni says he will use various pieces of evidence including Vatican maps, ancient parchments and even Giovanni Boccaccio, author of The Decameron, to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Pisciatello is the closest thing to the ancient Rubicon as is possible given the huge territorial changes that have taken place since 49BC. He and his fellow believers say they have evidence identifying their river as the Rubicon dating as far back as the 10th century, and claim that its colloquial name – the Urgòn – could easily have evolved from Rubicon.

Meanwhile, archaeologist Cristina Ravara Montebelli will fight the case for the Uso, which she says has long been regarded by historians and writers from Rimini as the original river. Her argument will hinge, among other points, on the existence of Roman-era ruins in the area. Even in 1750, she says, the spot had come to be considered by some to mark the ancient border with Cisalpine Gaul – in other words, the Rubicon.

The mock trial on Saturday will not be the first set up by the Sammauroindustria, whose president, Gianfranco Miro Gori, came up with the idea as a means of exploring history in an inventive and exciting way. Past years have put on trial issues surrounding characters such as unification hero Giuseppe Garibaldi and Mussolini himself. "The Rubicon is very local in one way, but has international dimensions," he said.

Turroni said the Rubicon issue had regained its prominence over the past 20 years. Locals, he added, were proud of their river's origins. But, despite the rivalry, "it's always in good cheer and never anger," he added.

Down to the River

The day before the crossing, Caesar acted as if nothing unusual was happening. The conqueror of Gaul attended a public event in Ravenna and carefully examined plans for a gladiator school. Secretly, he had ordered his cohorts to proceed to the banks of the river and wait for him there. Later, during dinner that night, he told his guests he would have to leave them for a moment. A chariot pulled by mules from a nearby bakery was waiting for him outside, and after a considerable delay in finding the exact position of his troops, he eventually managed to join them on the bank. Here he mulled the agonizing choice that lay before him.

Writing around a century and a half later, the historian Suetonius produced an account of this moment that reveals the legendary status the event had attained in the Roman mind. Still unsure whether to advance, a man of extraordinary height and beauty appeared, clearly sent by the gods. “The apparition snatched a trumpet from one of them, rushed to the river, and sounding the war-note with mighty blast, strode to the opposite bank. Then Caesar cried: ‘Take we the course which the signs of the gods and the false dealing of our foes point out. The die is cast.’”

This Day In History: Julius Caesar Crosses the Rubicon (55 BC)

This day in history in 55 B.C.- Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon River and starts a civil war in the Roman Republic. There had been many civil wars in the previous century but the one started by Caesar was to change Roman history forever. The river Rubicon was considered to be the dividing line between Italy and the rest of the Empire. Any general who led an army across this river was committing an act of treason against the state and was officially a traitor. Caesar took this extraordinary action in order to ensure that he retained control of his army. He had used this army to conquer Gaul but he had refused to relinquish command of this army at the appointed time. At this time the legions of Rome were personally loyal to their commander and not to the Senate of Rome. The legionaries in Caesar&rsquos army were more loyal to him than Rome. This was a real problem for Rome and it resulted in an endless series of wars in the First Century B.C.

Flickr (Statue of Julius Caesar at the Louvre)

He believed that if he did that his many enemies in Rome would have him imprisoned or even executed. Caesar felt that he had no choice but to defy the Roman Senate which he believed wanted him sidelined or even dead. When he crossed the Rubicon, he was well-aware of the consequences but he was as ever prepared for a fight.

When the Roman Senate heard that Caesar had crossed the Rubicon there was uproar. However, they had no army with which to defend the city and the army of Caesar occupied the city and within weeks, the rest of Italy. Under the leadership of Pompey the Great, the senators assembled an army in the Balkans. Caesar crossed into the Balkans and he defeated the army of Pompey. However, the civil war was far from over. Soon there were anti-Caesarian revolts all over the Empire. Even the assassination of Pompey in Egypt did not end the Civil War. Eventually, Caesar was able to subdue the Empire and he made himself the dictator of Rome. He was a king in all but name. This aroused the resentment of many in the elite, although the people loved Caesar. There was a conspiracy against Caesar and he was assassinated as he entered the Roman Senate House. This started another civil war and this was one by Mark Anthony and Octavian. In a later civil war, Octavian (grand-nephew of Caesar) defeated Mark Anthony. Octavian later became Augustus, the de-facto first Emperor of Rome. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon he set off a chain of events that led to the fall of the Roman Republic and the emergence of an Imperial system in Rome.


In 1974 the Minato Bridge, linking the city of Ōsaka with neighbouring Amagasaki, became one of the world’s longest-spanning cantilever truss bridges, at 502 metres (1,673 feet). In 1989 two other impressive and innovative bridges were completed for the purpose of carrying major highways over the port facilities of Ōsaka Harbour. The Konohana suspension bridge carries a four-lane highway on a slender, steel box-beam deck only 3 metres (10 feet) deep. The bridge is self-anchored—that is, the deck has been put into horizontal compression, like that on a cable-stayed bridge, so that there is no force of horizontal tension pulling from the ground at the anchorages. Spanning 295 metres (984 feet), it is the first major suspension bridge to use a single cable. The towers are delta-shaped, with diagonal suspenders running from the cable down the centre of the deck. On the same road as the Konohana is the Ajigawa cable-stayed bridge, with a span of 344 metres (1,148 feet) and an elegantly thin deck just over three metres deep.


When Caesar finally reached Gergovia, he surprised the inhabitants. At first, all was going well for the Romans in the conflict, but then fresh Gallic troops arrived. Many of Caesar's troops did not hear when he called for a retreat. Instead, they continued to fight and try to plunder the city. Many were killed but they still did not stop. Finally, ending the day's engagement, Vercingetorix, as the victor, called off the fight for the day when new Roman legions arrived. Adrian Goldsworthy says an estimated 700 Roman soldiers and 46 centurions were killed.

Caesar dismissed two important Aeduans, Viridomarus and Eporedorix, who went to the Aeduan town of Noviodunum on the Loire, where they learned that further negotiations were being made between the Aeduans and the Arvernians. They burned the town so the Romans couldn't feed themselves from it and began to build up armed garrisons around the river.

When Caesar heard of these developments he thought he should put down the revolt quickly before the armed force grew too large. This he did, and after his troops had surprised the Aeduans, they took the food and cattle they found in the fields and then marched off to the territory of the Senones.

Meanwhile, other Gallic tribes heard of the revolt of the Aedui. Caesar's very competent legate, Labienus, found himself surrounded by two newly rebelling groups and so needed to move out his troops by stealth. The Gauls under Camulogenus were tricked by his maneuvers and then defeated in a battle where Camulogenus was slain. Labienus then led his men to join Caesar.

Meanwhile, Vercingetorix had thousands of cavalry from the Aedui and Segusiani. He sent other troops against the Helvii whom he defeated while he led his mena and allies against the Allobroges. To deal with Vercingetorix' attack against the Allobroges, Caesar sent for cavalry and light-armed infantry help from the Germanic tribes beyond the Rhine.

Vercingetorix decided the time was right to attack the Roman forces whom he judged to be inadequate in number, as well as encumbered with their baggage. The Arverni and allies divided into three groups to attack. Caesar divided his troops in three, too, and fought back, with the Germans obtaining a hilltop formerly in Arverni possession. The Germans pursued the Gallic enemy to the river where Vercingetorix was stationed with his infantry. When the Germans started to kill the Averni, they fled. Many of Caesar's enemies were slaughtered, Vercingetorix' cavalry was routed, and some of the tribal leaders were captured.

Walks Around Marple No. 2 - The Roman Bridge & Lakes

One myth can be dispelled immediately: neither the lakes nor the bridge have any connection with the Romans. This walk passes many of the sites of one of Marple's 18th century benefactors, Samuel Oldknow. Before Oldknow's time Marple was mainly a collection of isolated homesteads involved in the cottage industries of the time. [The black and white photos on this page are 80 to 100 years old]

1) We start in the Memorial Park in the centre of Marple, home of Thomas Carver one of the owners of Hollins Mill and another of Marple's benefactors in a later period. (Memorial Park was gifted to the people of Marple in July 1922).

Hollins House in Marple Memorial Park & The dedication of Marple's War Memorial in July 1922.

From the front of Hollins House, now council offices and Citizens Advice Bureau, head towards the war memorial. You now have a choice of routes:

Alternative Route:
If time permits, take the path down the centre of the park with the bowling green to your left. This offers magnificent views towards Mellor Church on your right. After about 150 yards, the path forks to the right and down to the canal by Lock 10. Turn right here to follow the towpath and rejoin the main route. Another alternative, which is particularly enjoyable in spring when the daffodils and bluebells are in flower, is to cut back inside the park from lock 10 and follow the path through the trees on the perimeter running parallel with the canal. You would then rejoin the original route when you reach the opening onto the canal towpath at lock 12.

Views toward Mellor & Lock 10 on the Peak Forest Canal

Gordon's original route:
Take the path passing to the right of the skateboard area, down to the canal towpath near Lock 12. Turn right and make your way towards Posset Bridge where Oldknow supplied ale posset to the workers to ensure the bridge was completed on time. Notice that there are two arches at the bridge the blocked-off one on the left led to an arm of the canal running towards the Lime Kilns.

Climb up the steps at the bridge and turn left. As you cross the bridge look to your right this is how the scene would have looked in the 1920s. Today, on the grassed area where the canal arm used to run is a flowerbed display know as "Lock 17" that was created as a joint project by Friends of Marple Memorial Park and Marple Locks Heritage Society.

In September 2009 a bronze plaque was unveiled by Gordon Mills' widow, Barbara, and the display was dedicated in his memory. Gordon's family are shown below next to the bronze plaque, which features the cover images of this and the Marple Locks and Brabyns Park walks. Use this link to learn more about the "Lock 17" project.

The canal arm running alongside Strines Road to the loading house below the lime kilns & Gordon's family next to the plaque dedicating Lock 17 to his memory in 2009.

Proceed down Oldknow Road.

2) At the junction with Arkright Road cross over and down Lakes Road. On the left where there is now a group of bungalows stood the cottages of Stone Row. The 35 cottages were built by Oldknow to house the workers at his nearby mill and their families.

Stone Row as it was in Oldknow's day & as it is now.

Carry on ahead past Beechwood Manor, formerly a house belonging to the railway but now private flats. Beechwood Manor was once the residence of Edward Ross, secretary of the M.S.L. Railway. When Ross lived here there was a footbridge connecting the manor to the garden above Marple South Tunnel. Sadly this was removed sometime in the 1970s but you can still see where it was attached to the stonework on both sides.

As we descend the hill we can appreciate the difficulties the railway engineers must have experienced when carving the line along the hillside.

Beechwood Manor. Notice the footbridge over the roadway & Beechwood Manor today

3) At the bridge over the River Goyt stood, on the far side, Mellor Lodge, Samuel Oldknow's house and on this side Marple Lodge, the mill manager's house.

In the 1930s Oldknow's fine house became a girls' school but later it was vandalised when it stood empty and was demolished in 1949.

Mellor Lodge, the home Oldknow built for himself & Marple Lodge (left) and Mellor Lodge.

4) Cross the bridge and bear right at the fork. You will need a powerful imagination to picture the scene here over a 100 years ago. On the left was Oldknow's Mellor Mill or Bottoms Mill as it was also known. The brick built building was over 400 feet long and was powered by 3 massive water wheels, the largest of which was 22 feet in diameter and 17½ feet wide.

Mellor Mill - front view facing the river & The Corn Mill.

In 1892 a disastrous fire destroyed the mill but the Corn Mill, which was a little apart from the main mill, escaped damage and survived until the 1930s. The Corn Mill stood close to this junction of the two paths. Little remains of Mellor Mill or Oldknow's other buildings in this area but close investigation of the site will reveal a number of underground tunnels and foundations. In 2009 the Mellor Archaeological Trust exposed the foundations of the Corn Mill and led guided walks around the remains.

Tunnels from Mellor Mill as they are today & Foundations of the Corn Mill exposed in March 2009.

Looking to the left as we make our way up Lakes Road we can see the mill pool, which was adjacent to the back of the mill. The oval shaped shuttle stone, dated 1790, that can be made out in the triangular pediment at the top of the mill in the old image below is now in Marple Memorial Park. You can see it in the foreground of the image of Hollins House at step 1 of this guide.

Rear view of Mellor Mill and the mill pond & Today the mill pond is used for canoe training.

5) At the next junction take the path to the right. Through the trees you can see Bottoms Hall built in 1800. This is where some of the 100 apprentices lived who worked in Oldknow's mill. The children, both boys and girls, were mostly paupers from Clerkenwell in London. They worked 13 hours a day for 4 shillings (20p) a week, but it is understood that they were well treated by the standards of that time.

Bottoms Hall & Entrance to Roman Lake.

Continuing along the track we pass the Roman Lake. This was a very popular spot in Victorian and Edwardian times when excursion trains would bring hundreds of visitors to Marple Station. Besides the rowing boats available for a small charge there were tea rooms and a dance floor.

Boating on Roman Lake & Flood Gates Cottage as Webb's Tea Rooms.

A little further on the river runs alongside the track and under the viaduct. The weir is where Oldknow redirected the river to form the pools that would provide water power for his mill. On the left is Flood Gates Cottage which many years ago was a popular place for refreshments for the many visitors to the area.

Road past Roman Lake, Passing under the viaduct & Flood Gates Cottage.

6) The track moves away from the river and we turn right just by the "Roman Lodge" (following the sign to Strines) to reach the Roman Bridge. The "Roman" tag was coined in Victorian times to add a little romanticism to this packhorse bridge dating back to the 17th century.

Roman Bridge & Roman Bridge today.

Crossing the bridge we follow the path beside the river ignoring the steps on the right. The path joins a narrow road near two cottages and then makes its way up the hill to Strines Road. Cross over and up Plucksbridge Road. As the canal is reached, turn right to enter the towpath just before the bridge.

Looking back to Plucks Bridge & What you would have seen the other side 100 years ago.

7) This is the Peak Forest Canal and Oldknow was a major sponsor for this waterway. The canal runs 6½ miles to Whaley Bridge and Buxworth and it was here that limestone was brought down from the Peak District by tramway. As we make our way along the towpath there are extensive views across the valley to Cobden Edge and Mellor Church.

Peak Forest reflections, From bridge number 20 & Peak Forest towpath.

8) Some 200 yards short of Brickbridge the canal on the far side is a little wider, and marshy ground leads into a woody section. This was the site of one of Oldknow's coal mines used for burning of the lime in the kilns.

Brickbridge is a roving bridge where the towpath changes sides and you will notice that we pass under the bridge before circling round to cross it. This was to enable the rope of the horse drawn narrowboats to remain attached.

Brick Bridge with doorway in wall to All Saints' left & Brick Bridge on a recent frosty morning.

As you cross the bridge you will notice a door set in the wall ahead. This leads to another Oldknow coal mine and also a footpath leading up to All Saints' Church which was used by the apprentices on their way to Sunday worship.

9) Turning right to follow the towpath, ahead we can see a number of boats moored in a pool off the main canal. This was adjacent to the top of the Lime Kilns where the lime and coal was dropped into the kilns. Such was Oldknow's concern that the Lime Kilns did not present an eyesore, that he built them in a gothic style that led later to visitors to the area to assume it was a ruined abbey.

The Lime Kilns & The Lime Kilns in a recent spring-time.

Top Lock House was the site of James Jinks boat building yard. Cross the bridge at the Macclesfield Canal junction. [ If you would like too see what remains of the Lime Kilns cross the bridge at the end of the top lock and go on past the bungalows.]

Top Lock panorama.

Top Lock Boats & Top Lock around a century ago.

Make your way past the top four locks of this flight of sixteen. Pass under Posset Bridge using the short horse tunnel and make your way back to the car park.

Lock 16, Lock 15 & The Horse Tunnel.

Also in this Series

  • Marple Dale
  • Marple Locks and Brabyns Park
  • Chadkirk
  • Middlewood Way & Macclesfield Canal
  • Donkey Wood


This guide was originally designed and produced by Gordon Mills & Co. on behalf of Marple Community Council © 1998. It has been reproduced with permission by The Marple Website and Marple Local History Society and re-published in memory of Gordon Mills 1935 - 2006.

If you wish to show your appreciation, please make a small donation to the British Heart Foundation.


Information on these walks is provided in good faith and is intended as a general guide only. You are advised to verify the accuracy of information before relying on it. It is the responsibility of individuals to approach outdoor activities such as walking with caution. Walking can be strenuous and individuals should ensure that they are fit enough before embarking upon it. If in doubt consult a doctor.

Watch the video: Roman bridge over the Rubicon, Savignano sul Rubicone, Forlì-Cesena, Emilia-Romagna, Italy, Europe (August 2022).