What are the Ides of March, and why should you beware?
What are the Ides of March?
Beware the Ides of March! But why? In the ancient Roman calendar, the Ides of March were equivalent to our March 15. The Romans considered the day a deadline for settling debts, maybe similar to our looming Tax Day here in the U.S. But it’s more likely that, today – in 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.
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.
Then, two acts later, Caesar is assassinated on the steps of the Senate.
Marking the months
In the play – and in reality – Julius Caesar was indeed assassinated on the Ides of March, or March 15, in the year 44 BCE. So, while Julius Caesar should have been wary about the Ides of March, the rest of us don’t need to worry.
In the ancient Roman calendar, each month had an Ides. For the months of 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 that means to divide. In the beginning, the Ides marked 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: the Kalends. Our word calendar derives from Kalends.
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.
Bottom line: The Ides of March corresponded to March 15 in ancient Rome. We remember them thanks to William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.