What Are the Ides of March

The Ides of March refer to March 15 and are a remnant of the old Roman calendar. While Shakespeare made the phrase "Beware the ides of March" famous worldwide, most people don't know what it actually means and why it is such a remarkable day.

What Are "Ides"?
The original calendar of Rome was based on the lunar cycles, and the phases of the moon were carefully tracked. Because the time between new moons is 29 to 30 days, a month was equal to one phase of the moon. Months with 30 days were more powerful than those with 29. These months included March, May and October, among others. March was an especially powerful month, named after the god of war, Mars.

The word "ides" comes from the Latin phrase "halfway." It was the day of the full moon in a month, or the halfway point of the month. March is not the only Roman month with "ides" on the 15th: May, July and October also have "ides." A full moon during an auspicious month like March was a powerful day indeed to the ancient Romans. The day was usually celebrated by festivals for the god Mars and military marches. Other Roman March events on the ides of March included elected Roman consuls taking office, as the day marked the beginning of the sessions for a time.

The Connection to Julius Caesar
Perhaps the most famous association with the ides of March is the assassination of Julius Caesar, whose story was brought to the Elizabethan stage by William Shakespeare's tragic play Julius Caesar. Based on the actual historic event, the play immortalized the phrase, "Beware the ides of March." The actual assassination took place in 44 BC by a group of conspirators in the Roman Senate who felt that Caesar held too much power. The group surrounded him as he read a petition in a room inside the Theater of Pompey. Historians estimate that around 50 to 60 men surrounded him and began stabbing him. The physician who examined the body reported that there were 23 stab wounds in the Roman leader's body. Caesar's death sparked a series of civil wars, where Caesar's nephew Octavian eventually emerged the victor.

The historic importance of that day resonated throughout the centuries as Rome's power decreased and the imperial rule diminished throughout the world. While today the ides of March is usually noted for its world historical significance, the day is not celebrated or otherwise recognized formally as anything other than an important historical footnote.

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