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What does ‘Beware the Ides of March’ mean and why is the date marked on March 15?


THE phrase “Beware the Ides of March” originally comes from William Shakespeare in his historical tragedy Julius Caesar.

The Ides of March refers to March 15 which originally marked various religious observances but nowadays is more associated with bad omens.

 Marlon Brando as Mark Anthony in the 1963 film version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

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Marlon Brando as Mark Anthony in the 1963 film version of Shakespeare’s Julius CaesarCredit: Corbis – Getty

What does ‘Beware the Ides of March’ mean?

The phrase in Shakespeare’s play, written in 1599, is uttered by a soothsayer telling Julius Caesar that his life is in danger and he should stay at home on March 15 and be careful what he does.

The Roman emperor was assassinated on the day in 44BC.

Since being used as a warning to Caesar in Shakespeare’s play, the phrase has been used to foreshadow something bad happening.

Where did the phrase ‘Ides of March’ come from?

The Ides of March is the 74th day in the Roman calendar, which corresponds to March 15.

It was a notable date for the Romans as the deadline for settling debts, and the day was also marked by several religious observances.

The Ides of each month were marked by a sheep sacrifice to Jupiter, the Romans’s top god.

Particular to the Ides of March marked the Feast of Anna Perenna, a goddess whose festival marked the end of the ceremonies for the new year.

Towards the end of the Roman period the Ides also marked the start of a week-long period marking various festivals celebrating Cybele and Attis, two mythical gods.

The date then became best known as the day of assassination of Julius Caesar in 44BC. That’s when the Ides of March became a turning point in Roman history.

The phrase became especially famous when the words “Beware the Ides of March” were used in Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar.”

 Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March of 44 BC

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Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March of 44 BCCredit: Hulton Archive – Getty

How did Ides of March become superstitious?

Caesar was stabbed to death during a meeting of the Senate on the Ides of March in 44BC which may have involved as many as 60 conspirators and led by Brutus and Cassius.

According to the Greek biographer Plutarch, a seer had warned that harm would come to Caesar no later than the Ides of March.

On his way to the Senate, Caesar is said to have passed the seer and joked: “The Ides of March are come”, implying that the prophecy had not been fulfilled, to which the seer replied “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.”

Shakespeare dramatised the assassination and its aftermath, and as the words were used a warning to Caesar in the play, the phrase has since been used as a warning in other situations and hence became superstitious.

Why is the Ides of March marked on March 15?

Instead of numbering the days of each month sequentially the Romans used three fixed points in the month and counted back from those fixed points.

The Nones were either on the 5th or 7th, the Ides on the 13th or 15th and the Kalends on the first of the following month.

The Ides were meant to be determined by the full moon and Romans based their calendar on the lunar cycles.

The Ides of March would have marked the first full moon of the year, according to their calendar.

In March, May, July, and October, the Ides fell on the 15th day.


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