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What is "the Ides of March?"

What are the Ides of March?

You’ve probably heard the phrase “beware the Ides of March,” but do you know what it means or where it came from?

The First Roman Calendar

The Ides of March occurs every year on the 15 of March. The day was originally instated as a part of the earliest Roman calendar, which was correspondent with the phases of the moon. In this calendar system, each month had three distinct periods, each represented by a different phase of the moon. The first was Kalends, which marked the first phase of the moon, and therefore the first day of the month. The second, Nones, acknowledged the first quarter moon and fell on wither the fifth or seventh of each month. Ides, denoting the full moon, fell on the 13 or 15 of every month.

This calendar system recognized Marius (now March) as the first month. This means that the Ides of March, or March 15, corresponded with the first full moon of the year.

Julius Caesar's Assassination

It was on the Ides of March in 44 B.C. that the Roman Republic’s “Dictator for Life,” Julius Caesar, was assassinated. Caesar held a lot of power, and his senators hated him. As a result of their hatred and fear of Caesar’s power, up to six men conspired against him and planned to kill him. Among these men was Marcus Brutus, who had been Caesar’s protégé. According to History.com, Caesar was scheduled to attend a meeting, and was offered a small scroll on his way there—a warning of what was to come. Caesar did not read it. Rather, he attended the meeting, where he was met by his senators who were wielding hidden daggers. The senators began stabbing Caesar, and when Brutus cut him, Caesar said “Et tu, Brute?” which translates to “You, too, Brutus?” These were reputed to have been Caesar’s last words. All in all, Caesar was stabbed 23 times by his conspirators.

Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar"

The phrase “beware the Ides of March” was popularized after William Shakespeare would write a play, “Julius Caesar” hundreds of years later. In Shakespeare’s production, a fortune teller cautions Caesar to “beware the Ides of March,” warning him of his impending doom, just as the man who handed Caesar the scroll had tried to in Rome in 44 B.C.

Is the Ides of March unlucky?

The Ides of March has been recognized since as an unlucky day, as many unfortunate things have occurred on March 15. The Smithsonian Magazine highlights a few of these, including a 1360 raid on Southern England, Germany occupying Czechoslovakia in 1939, the cancellation of the Ed Sullivan Show in 1971, and several others.


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