Beware the Ides of March

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Beware the Ides of March; a saying that can often be heard around this time. But why? Why are we warned to 'beware the Ides of March' and what is the story behind it? 

You may be surprised to know that the Ides was not actually considered to be dangerous or associated with death. In fact, the Ides was a day in the Roman calendar that was used to (approximately) mark the middle of the month. 

Without making this confusing, the Roman calendar revolved around the use of three days. The Kalends which was the first day of the month, the Nones, falling on the seventh day of the month in March, May, July and October or the fifth day in other months, and finally the Ides which fell on the 15th day of the month in March, May, July and October, or the 13th for the other Roman calendar months. 

The Ides of March fell on the 15th day in March then and was usually marked by several religious observances. March was the beginning of a new year and so it was filled with joy and celebrations. 

However, the Ides of March became famous in history as the day that Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44BC, signalling the change from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.   

If you were to read Suetonius’s The Lives of the Caesars, you would read that Caesar’s death was foretold to him. A soothsayer warned him of a danger that would come no later than the Ides of March, and on the night before it was said that he had a dream that involved a stabbing. 

He debated on going to the senate that day but was persuaded to carry on as normal by Decimus Brutus. On his way there, Caesar was passed many notes of warning, but left them to read later. When he arrived unharmed, he started to believe that the prophet was false. 

However just because he had arrived unharmed did not mean that he would necessarily leave unharmed, as the Ides of March had not passed. It was within the walls of the senate that the threat lay in wait. It is said that Caesar was stabbed 23 times, but it was the second stab wound that would have been the fatal one. 

The story of Caesar’s assassination has become well-known - it is depicted in movies and video games, as well as in plays. The most famous perhaps is Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar which coined the phrase ‘Beware the Ides of March’. 

Although many still use the phrase ‘Beware the Ides of March’ today, there is nothing particularly threatening about the day itself - it was simply a day of celebration which also coincided with the assassination of Julius Caesar. 

By Katie Ruffley