What are the “Ides of March”? The meaning of the date and what happened

The expression “Ides of March” it is still used today to indicate an imminent threat: but why is it so famous? And what does the saying mean “Beware of the Ides of March“? At the time of the ancient Romans the term “ides” referred to the middle of the month, therefore 15th day of March, May, July and October and the 13th day of the other months of the year. The “ides of March” (in Latin Idus Martiaei.e. “in the middle of March”) represented a festive day for two reasons: the first was that on that date the ancient Roman divinity was celebrated with banquets and shows Anna Perenna, goddess of abundance who represented the renewal of the year. The second was that in that month the god of war was lavishly celebrated Mars with the “feriae Martis“, which were held from 1 to 24 March. Various ceremonies, theatrical performances and horse races were organized every day in his honor (in the famous Campus Martius). However, the term has entered the common imagination because it is the date on which it occurred the brutal murder, in 44 BCOf Julius Caesarthe Roman consul who after a series of political moves and military campaigns had managed to become dictator.

After defeating his former political ally (who later became his bitter enemy) Pompey the Great in the battle of Pharsalus (in Greece) of 48 BC, Caesar had achieved almost everything he aspired to: the beginning of a dictatorship for an indefinite period, the five-year consulate, and even the position of pontifex maximus. With his despotic choices, however, he had antagonized a good part of the senators, the “anti-Caesarians”, who did not look favorably on the end of the Republic and feared the beginning of a tyrannical dictatorship.

The enemies, however, were not only in the anti-Caesarian wing. Many men who had been his trusted collaborators and veterans of many military campaigns, in fact, harbored a great resentment in his regards. The hatred arose above all from the fact that they had not obtained top positions in the reform of the state. However, there were also those among them who thought that Cesare was cultivating relationships with ambiguous characters, who in the past had proven to be unreliable and who had not believed in his actions. The Caesarians who had been faithful to him felt deeply betrayed, and adding to the discontent prevailing in the Republican camp, there was all the potential for a conspiracy.

Gaius Cassius And Tenth Brutuswho hatched the plan to eliminate the dictator, decided to end his life on March 15, the day of sitting in the Senate.

Assassination of Julius Caesar

As the historian wrote Suetoniusthat date was heralded by unfortunate omens:

The day before the Ides, a small bird, with a twig of laurel in its beak, was flying towards the Curia of Pompey (seat of the Senate), when some birds, rising from the nearby woods, reached it and tore it to pieces.

On the night preceding the day of his death, Caesar himself dreamed of flying above the clouds and shaking hands with Jupiter; her wife instead dreamed that the top of the house collapsed and that her husband was killed in her arms. Then, suddenly, the bedroom doors opened by themselves.

Following these omens, but also due to the poor state of his health, he remained undecided for a long time whether to stay at home and postpone the business he had intended to deal with before the Senate. In the end, since Decimus Brutus urged him not to deprive the senators who had gathered in large numbers and were waiting for him of his presence, he went out.

About eighty senators joined the conspiracy, held in Pompey’s Curia, although in practice only twenty people actively participated in the murder (among them, in addition to some senators, there was also a consular and some praetors). In fact, Caesar was assassinated with 23 stab wounds, of which 22 were non-fatal. The one that killed him was the second, right in the chest. March 15, therefore, is historically remembered as the day of “cesaricide“, i.e. the murder of Caesar.

Even today in common jargon we use to say “Beware of the Ides of March” For alert someone from imminent danger. The phrase was coined by Shakespeare in his famous tragedy Julius Caesar.