Rubicon: The Name that None Knew
Rubicon: The Name that None Knew
I happen to see a jeep model called “Rubicon” at a parking lot this afternoon and decided to continue my own personal survey about consumer culture. I told the owner that I am a writer and conducting my own info-gathering, and she seemed receptive to the idea. I asked her whether she knew where the name “Rubicon” came from. (I think this was my fourth time taking this particular survey question.)
The Rubicon was the name of a shallow river which acted as the official northern border of Rome (and its friendly territory) in 49 B.C. After all the victories Julius Caesar had scored against the “barbarians” in what is now France and Germany and was on his way back to Rome, the Roman Senate gave Julius Caesar an ultimatum to disband his troops before crossing the Rubicon to return to Rome. I guess the senate believed that he had become too powerful for his own good. The Senate wanted him to humble himself as he returned to Rome home and be a “Joe Rome,” i.e., another citizen of the republic of Rome.
Historians say that Julius Caesar paused by the banks of the Rubicon and thought about the ultimatum. He knew his soldiers were dedicated to him and loyal to him. I guess he felt that he was special and couldn’t stomach the idea of “His Specialness” becoming just another Roman citizen. He knew there was a good chance he will score another major victory in the civil war, if it came to that, and decided to cross the Rubicon and took his chances.
As he and his troops marched cross the shallow Rubicon, he said “The die is cast,” meaning ‘I have passed the point of no return.’ (I guess that phrase was from an old Greek play.) He scored another major victory in that civil war. After he returned to Rome, the republic of Rome started its path toward becoming a dictatorship, toward an empire – and the rest is history.
So then, just what is the significance of the name of that jeep model Rubicon? Given that none of the owners I asked new what the name meant, I think this is an unusual case where the name of a product may not be for the consumer but more for the maker.
(Wikipedia: Prior to 1940 the term "jeep" had been used as U.S. Army slang for new recruits or vehicles, but the World War II "jeep" that went into production in 1941 specifically tied the name to this light military 4x4, arguably making them the oldest four-wheel drive mass-production vehicles now known as SUVs.)
I remember seeing the World War II/Korean War jeep as a family car in Korea when I was a child. I was told that the US Army sold their jeeps after the Korean War paused, instead of bringing them all home. So, I knew that the jeep was associated with the military. And I heard my uncle (who was an officer in the Korean Army), praising Julius Caesar as an outstanding military hero.
So, there you are! A very unusual case of the name of a product meaning more to the maker than the consumer. Could we then say that “Rubicon” might mean something like: ‘An adventure for a hero in the making’? Spend some money; and you, too, can be a hero!’
It’s a pity that none who owned a Rubicon, I spoke with, knew what “Rubicon” stood for. Could it be that they knew that Julius Caesar was murdered by his “own,” i.e., the members of the Roman Senate? No!
I guess they all bought a Rubicon because the name sounded cool and thought some that cool-ness might rub off on them.