Alea iacta est

Alea iacta est

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Alea iacta est is a Latin phrase attributed by Suetonius
Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, commonly known as Suetonius , was a Roman historian belonging to the equestrian order in the early Imperial era....

 (as iacta alea est ˈjakta ˈaːlea est) to Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general and statesman and a distinguished writer of Latin prose. He played a critical role in the gradual transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire....

 on January 10, 49 BC as he led his army across the River Rubicon
The Rubicon is a shallow river in northeastern Italy, about 80 kilometres long, running from the Apennine Mountains to the Adriatic Sea through the southern Emilia-Romagna region, between the towns of Rimini and Cesena. The Latin word rubico comes from the adjective "rubeus", meaning "red"...

 in Northern Italy
Northern Italy
Northern Italy is a wide cultural, historical and geographical definition, without any administrative usage, used to indicate the northern part of the Italian state, also referred as Settentrione or Alta Italia...

. With this step, he entered Italy at the head of his army in defiance and began his long civil war
Caesar's civil war
The Great Roman Civil War , also known as Caesar's Civil War, was one of the last politico-military conflicts in the Roman Republic before the establishment of the Roman Empire...

 against Pompey
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, also known as Pompey or Pompey the Great , was a military and political leader of the late Roman Republic...

 and the Optimates
The optimates were the traditionalist majority of the late Roman Republic. They wished to limit the power of the popular assemblies and the Tribunes of the Plebs, and to extend the power of the Senate, which was viewed as more dedicated to the interests of the aristocrats who held the reins of power...


Meaning and form

The historian Frances Titchener has given a stylized description of the context of Caesar's pronouncement:
The phrase is still used today to mean that events have passed a point of no return
Point of no return
The point of no return is the point beyond which one must continue on his or her current course of action because turning back is physically impossible, prohibitively expensive or dangerous. It is also used when the distance or effort required to get back would be greater than the remainder of the...

, that something inevitable will happen. Caesar was said to have borrowed the phrase from Menander
Menander , Greek dramatist, the best-known representative of Athenian New Comedy, was the son of well-to-do parents; his father Diopeithes is identified by some with the Athenian general and governor of the Thracian Chersonese known from the speech of Demosthenes De Chersoneso...

, his favourite Greek
Ancient Greece
Ancient Greece is a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history that lasted from the Archaic period of the 8th to 6th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Included in Ancient Greece is the...

 writer of comedy; the phrase appears in “Ἀρρηφόρος” (Arrephoros,) (or possibly “The Flute-Girl”), as quoted in Deipnosophistae
The Deipnosophistae may be translated as The Banquet of the Learned or Philosophers at Dinner or The Gastronomers...

Book 13, paragraph 8. Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 reports that these words were said in Greek:
This was then re-told by Suetonius as
It is generally assumed, e.g. by Shakespeare, that Caesar here meant, "The die has been cast"; i.e., "The die is now cast", and not, "The die was cast."

Lewis and Short, citing Casaubon and Ruhnk, suggest that the text of Suetonius should read Jacta alea esto, which they translate as "Let the die be cast!", or "Let the game be ventured!". This matches Plutarch's third-person imperative ().

By the first century AD alea refers to the early form of backgammon
Backgammon is one of the oldest board games for two players. The playing pieces are moved according to the roll of dice, and players win by removing all of their pieces from the board. There are many variants of backgammon, most of which share common traits...

 that was played in Caesar's time. Augustus
Augustus ;23 September 63 BC – 19 August AD 14) is considered the first emperor of the Roman Empire, which he ruled alone from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD.The dates of his rule are contemporary dates; Augustus lived under two calendars, the Roman Republican until 45 BC, and the Julian...

 (Octavian) mentions winning this game in a letter. Dice were commonly known in Roman times and generally known as cubus.

Literary references

The phrase is used repeatedly to comic effect in the French Asterix
Asterix or The Adventures of Asterix is a series of French comic books written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo . The series first appeared in French in the magazine Pilote on October 29, 1959...

 comic books along with other Latin phrases such as "Veni, vidi, but not quite vici
Veni, vidi, vici
"Veni, vidi, vici" is a Latin sentence reportedly written by Julius Caesar in 47 BC as a comment on his short war with Pharnaces II of Pontus in the city of Zela ....


External links