Beware the Ides of March! Today is March 15th, known as the Ides in Ancient Rome. It’s a fun day for celebrating Ancient Rome and stories of betrayal, often commemorated by people sporting togas and spouting “Et tu, Brute?” to their friends. But the Ides of March is a day which has a long trail of history following behind it, and few recognize just how important a day this is.
You might have wondered why we call this the Ides of March. What does that mean, and where did that name come from? Romans had a different way of referencing the days in a month than we do today. The Romans didn’t have days of the week; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday…those didn’t exist for citizens of Ancient Rome. They also didn’t number their days starting on the first of the month and leading up through the 30th or 31st of the month. Instead, the Romans had an interesting system that named only a few of the days in a month and then described all other days based on their relation to these special days. The Ides was one of these special days, and it fell on the 13th of most months or the 15th of March, May, July, and October. The Romans had two other special days they used, called the Kalends and the Nones. The Kalends fell on the first of every month, and the Nones fell on the 5th of most months, but similarly to the Ides, in March, May, July, and October, the Nones fell on the 7th. So, in Latin, today would be Idibus Martiis (“the Ides of March”).
All other days were named in relation to the Kalends, Nones, and Ides. To find a certain date, the Romans counted backwards inclusively from the next special day. So if you wanted to refer to the 29th of January, it would be ante diem quartum Kalendas Februarias ("the fourth day before the Kalends of February”). Note that the number of days is counted inclusively; we would only count 3 days between January 29th and February 1st, but the Romans would have counted the 29th, 30th, 31st, and the 1st of February in their numbering.
If you wanted to refer to a day that fell directly before a special day, the Romans had a word for that too! They used the word pridie to say “the day before,” so yesterday, March 14th, would have been pridie Idus Martias (“the day before the Ides of March). Now you can impress your friends with your Latin knowledge!
Of course, the Ides of March isn’t just interesting because of the strange way that the Romans named it. Today is also the anniversary of the assassination of one of Ancient Rome’s most famous dictators: Julius Caesar. On the Ides of March in 44 B.C., a crowd of senators stabbed Julius Caesar, then dictator perpetuo ("dictator in perpetuity") of Rome, 23 times outside the Senate. The senators feared that Caesar meant to overthrow the Senate and establish himself as a rex or “king” of Rome. The idea of a kingship in Rome was a huge deal, as Rome had been a Republic since around 509 B.C. when Lucius Junius Brutus (yes, ancestor to that Brutus who helped stab Caesar) led a revolution against the last king of Rome and forced him into exile. Since that time, the word rex was almost a dirty word in Ancient Rome, and anyone who sought kingship was quickly dispatched. So the idea that Julius Caesar might disband the Senate and declare himself king was one which left many senators terrified.
The events of the Ides of March in 44 B.C. had a lasting impact on Roman history, as it led to the fall of the Republic and the Principate period of the Roman Empire. The day is best remembered and commemorated by William Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, first published in the First Folio of 1623, which features the assassination and its aftermath.
So all in all, today is an important day with a loaded historical background for not just Ancient Rome but the entire world. The fact that we still celebrate and remember it today in 2016 just goes to show how far this history stretches.
So in honor of such an important day, we at CHB would like to advise you to beware the Ides of March and avoid any friends or senators who look a bit shady today. Perhaps it would be safest to just stay home and read a nice book instead? We have a few suggestions for those who wish to brush up on their Roman or Shakespearean knowledge:
Shakespeare may have written Julius Caesar as the first of his plays to be performed at the Globe, in 1599. For it, he turned to a key event in Roman history: Caesar's death at the hands of friends and fellow politicians. Renaissance writers disagreed over the assassination, seeing Brutus, a leading conspirator, as either hero or villain. Shakespeare's play keeps this debate alive.
A short biography of the life and career of Julius Caesar.
No Fear Shakespeare gives you the complete text of Julius Caesar on the left-hand page, side-by-side with an easy-to-understand translation on the right.
He came. He saw. He conquered. Julius Caesar was a force to be reckoned with as a savvy politician, an impressive orator, and a brave soldier. Born in Rome in 100 BC, he quickly climbed the ladder of Roman politics, making allies--and enemies--along the way. His victories in battle awarded him the support of the people, but flush from power, he named himself dictator for life.
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With her signature comic-strip style, Marcia Williams takes us behind the scenes of some of ancient Rome's most famous moments.
An unforgettable depiction of the Roman empire at the height of its power and reach, and an elegantly sensational retelling of the lives and times of the twelve Caesars
The Paris skies are gray, so Miss Clavel and the twelve little girls are leaving for brighter weather? spring in Rome. Rome has wonderful sights to see and delicious things to eat, but Madeline also finds an unexpected adventure, involving a thief, a chase, and many, many cats.
The #1 bestselling chapter book series of all time celebrates 25 years with new covers and a new, easy-to-use numbering system
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With extraordinary narrative power, New York Times bestselling author Colleen McCullough sweeps the reader into a whirlpool of pageantry and passion, bringing to vivid life the most glorious epoch in human history.
"All ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher combined."