Beware the Ides of March…Why?

by Lesley-Anne Longo

Published at 2017-03-15


If you haven't looked at a calendar yet today, you might not know that today, March 15, is actually the Ides of March. I'm sure you've heard of it before, but what exactly is this special day all about?


History of the Ides of March

The origin story of the Ides of March is actually pretty nondescript. Ides was one of the ancient markers used to reference dates in relation to the lunar phases, along with Nones and Kalends. Ides just referred to the first full moon of a given month, which usually fell between the 13th and 15th.


The Ides of March is also known as a time of renewal and rebirth, with the advent of spring and the departure of winter.  This was actually a very important day in early Roman times, as March was actually the first month of the year, and the Ides fell on a full moon, which marked the official “new year’s day” to ancient Romans, a day which would be filled with celebrations and rejoicing. The Ides meant winter was over and spring was here, especially considering the planting season.


During this time of rebirth, one of the deities worshipped was Anna Perenna. The names “Anna,” meaning “to live through a year,” and “Perenna,” meaning “to last many years,” have lasted throughout history, as these names are where the modern English terms for plants being either “annuals” or “perennials” come from.


The Ides in Literature

The Ides of March is perhaps most well-known as the date of Julius Caesar’s murder in 44 B.C. Caesar was killed by Brutus, Cassius, and over 60 members of his cabinet, over fears he was becoming too powerful. This event was also dramatized by Shakespeare in his play, Julius Caesar, in which a prophet warned Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March.” The prophet issued a warning that harm would come to Caesar no later than the Ides of March. The date rolled around, and as Caesar was walking to the Senate (where he would meet his doom), he saw the prophet and said:


“The Ides of March are come.” The prophet said, “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.” (—Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1)


Ironically, Caesar’s death occurred on a day normally reserved for celebration, as mentioned above—at least, it was…until he decided that instead of occurring on the Ides of March, the new year would occur in January.


Unfortunate Series of Ides Events

The Ides of March wasn’t a bad (well, the worst) day just for Julius Caesar. Unfortunately, lots of unpleasant things have happened on this date over the years.

  • In 1889, a Samoan cyclone destroyed six warships (three US, three German), leaving more than 200 sailors dead (but also likely averting a war, since both countries were competing to annex the Samoan Islands).
  • On March 15, 1917, Czar Nicholas II signed his abdication papers, thus ending a royal dynasty that had lasted 304 years and ushering in Bolshevik rule, which eventually led to the deaths of himself and his family.
  • As recently as 2003, the Ides of March was the day that the World Health Organization issued its heightened global alert for the SARS virus.
  • And just this year, Britain very nearly hosted its own unfortunate Ides-related event when the Prime Minister’s office picked March 15 as the date to trigger Brexit. Thankfully, they heeded the calls to “beware the Ides of March,” and after considering the symbolism, opted to choose another date instead.


Celebrate with Your Own Traditions

If you want to celebrate the Ides of March this year, I can offer a few ideas. You could watch the movie The Ides of March (starring George Clooney and Ryan Gosling), in which an idealistic presidential campaign worker (Gosling) gets caught up in scandal after the integrity of the candidate (Clooney) is threatened in one of the presidential primaries.


You could also watch one of the many episodes of television shows with Ides of March­–related titles: Party of Five, The Simpsons, and Xena: Warrior Princess all have Ides episodes (all of which feature rather unpleasant plot points).


You could, of course, read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, or Thornton Wilder’s novel The Ides of March. Or you could simply kick back with a nice glass of Italian wine!


What We’re Doing

We are doing some celebrating of our own: The TEC team will be heading out for a celebratory lunch, to mark the passing of two three-year work anniversaries (Barbara’s and my own), and a birthday. At TEC, we’re making sure the Ides only has good things in store for us!