It means to take a decision which is irreversible. Usually it will be a decision which is momentous, bold and life changing.
The phrase comes from a decision of Julius Caesar. Ancient Rome lived in fear of the potential might of Generals who commanded the loyalty of their soldiers. The Roman Senate didn't like the idea of Generals returning from the provinces bringing their troops to the neighbourhood of Rome itself. Rome might not be able to defend itself if such a General then decided to bring his troops into the city itself and exert his military power over the Senate. Rome therefore imposed a series of boundaries hundreds of kilometres around the city, beyond which Generals could not bring their troops. This would give Rome time to prepare its defences against any such threat. One such boundary was a small river in Northern Italy, the Rubicon.
Julius Caesar in 49 BC was a general who not happy with the administration of Rome (and some in the Senate were not at all happy with him). Returning from war to Rome that year, he arrived at the Rubicon and had to make his decision. To leave his loyal soldiers and return to Rome alone to face the Senate (as he was supposed to), or to cross the Rubicon with his army. He chose the latter. By doing so, he was threatening Rome and effectively commiting treason and there would be no turning back. Civil war would be inevitable. If he won, he would become absolute Dicatator of Rome. If he lost, he would be killed. He won, and history was changed.
But in 'crossing the Rubicon' he had made a momentous decision from which he could not draw back.
"to cross the Rubicon"?
In common language it means to cross the point of no return beyond which there is no turning back.
It means to make an ireversible and irrevocable move with immense implications and ramifications leading to profound changes.
It refers to Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon, a small river which was the boundary between Italy and Cisapline Gaul (Gaul on the Italian side of the Alps).
Julius Caesar commanded the Roman legions in Gaul and ancient Roman law prohibits a general to lead his troops across the Rubicon River into Italy. The purpose of the law being to prevent the legions from acting against the Senate.
The Senate had become fearful of Caesar's power and suspicious of him and demanded that he disband his legions. Instead, Caesar led one his legions, the Legio XIII Gemina, across the Rubicon on 10 January 49 BC -- in effect, declaring war on Rome itself.
It started a civil war in the Roman Republic with Caesar leading his legions and supporters, the faction known as the Populares against the legions of Pompey who supported the conservative faction of the Senate known as the Optimates.
The end of the civil war resulted ultimately in Rome remaining a republic in name but becoming an empire in fact under his successor, his nephew Octavian who became Rome's first emperor -- Augustus Caesar.
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To take a decisive step that commits one to a risky enterprise from which there is no retreat.
For example, a man may be said to cross the Rubicon when he stakes all the money he possesses on a horse. The origin of the phrase is as follows: in 49 B.C. Julius Caesar, at the head of an army, was proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul, the name then given to the part of Italy north of the little River Rubicon.
Caesar quarreled with the Government at Rome, and by crossing the Rubicon into Italy proper on January 6th, at the head of his troops -which as proconsul he had no right to do- he practically made a declaration of war.
'To cross the Rubicon' means to take a step that will lead to great changes. The Rubicon is a small river that once separated Italy from part of ancient Gaul. When Julius Caesar was governor of Gaul no provincial governor was allowed to bring his legions into Italy. Caesar believed that his enemy Pompey was plotting against him and so he disobeyed the Roman Senate and crossed the Rubicon into Italy with his soldiers in 49 BC. This was the start of the Civil War that led to the defeat and death of Pompey and Caesar's victory.
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