subscribe

Why beware the Ides of March?

The Ides of March are March 15. We in modern times probably wouldn’t know about them, if it weren’t for William Shakespeare.

The soothsayer tells Caesar to beware the Ides of March … but Caesar doesn’t listen. Image via History.com.

If you’ve heard of the Ides of March, you might know you’re supposed to beware of them. Why? In ancient Rome, the Ides of March were equivalent to our March 15. In the Roman calendar, this dates corresponded to several religious observances. The Romans considered the Ides of March as a deadline for settling debts. But – for our modern world – if you’ve heard of the Ides of March, it’s probably thanks to William Shakespeare. In his play Julius Caesar, a soothsayer attracts Caesar’s attention and tells him:

Beware the ides of March.

Caesar demands:

What man is that? Set him before me, let me see his face.

When the soothsayer repeats his warning, Caesar dismisses him, saying:

He is a dreamer; let us leave him. Pass.

Two acts later, Caesar is assassinated on the steps of the Senate.

In the play – and in reality – Julius Caesar was indeed assassinated on the ides of March – March 15 – in the year 44 B.C.

Read more: Reflections on the Ides of March by Mormon blogger Naomi Frandsen

The Tusculum portrait may be the only surviving sculpture of Julius Caesar made during his lifetime. It’s now in the Archaeological Museum in Turin, Italy. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

In the ancient Roman calendar, each month had an Ides. In March, May, July, and October, the Ides fell on the 15th day. In every other month, the Ides fell on the 13th day.

The word Ides derives from a Latin word, meaning to divide. The Ides were originally meant to mark the full moons, but because calendar months and lunar months were different lengths, they quickly got out of step.

The Romans also had a name for the first day of every month. It was known as the Kalends. It’s from this word that our word calendar is derived.

In fact, our modern calendar is very much like the one that Julius Caesar enacted the year before his death. It had 365 days and 12 months each year. It even took into account the fact that Earth’s orbit around the sun isn’t a whole number of days, by adding a leap day every few years.

Read more: When is the next leap year?

Image credit: veraukoion

Image via veraukoion.

Bottom line: The Ides of March corresponded to March 15 in ancient Rome. We remember them thanks to William Shakespeare, in whose play Julius Caesar a fortune teller tells Caesar to beware the Ides of March.

EarthSky

MORE ARTICLES