What is the Ides of March? Find out the history of the Roman calendar day

A picture taken on February 27, 2019 shows the Colosseum in Rome, Italy. (Photo credit should read Laurent Emmanuel/AFP via Getty Images)

Every March 15, the dark history behind the 74th day in the Roman calendar has led many to think of bad omens and doom, but the day has a deep history and purpose. 

The date has been used in a variety of media in both theater, television and novels to betray the death of Roman general Julius Caesar

Spiritual prophecies made during this day about Caesar's death helped the Ides of March stay relevant into modern times. 

However, the Ides of March had a useful purpose in determining when the full moon would appear for the first time in the year — and it was an important religious date during pre-Christian Rome. 

What does the Ides of March mean?

The Ides of March translates in Latin to "Idus Martias," which means the middle of the month in March.

The Romans commonly used these terms during this period to define certain points and numerical dates throughout the year. 

The Roman Calendar used Ides to designate the middle of the month for May, July and October.

During the month, not only did the dates always fall on the 15th, but the full moon would also appear in the sky, which was the original use of the term Ides and the lunar origin of the Roman Calendar. 

The Ides of March in the early Roman Calendar were originally designated to determine when the first full moon of the new year occurred. 

The Romans did not use a typical numerical count of each day of the month; instead, they counted from three fixed points during a month, which consisted of the Nones, the 5th or 7th; the Ides, which was commonly the 13th except on the specific months previously mentioned; and the Kalends, which was the 1st of the next month. 

What happened on the Ides of March?


(Original Caption) Lydia, Caesar's wife admonishing Caesar not to go to the Senate on the ides of March, 44 B. C. via Getty Images

One of the reasons the Ides of March is so popular in contemporary media and culture is because of its relation to the death of Julius Caesar. 

The former Roman dictator was assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 BC by dozens of prominent Roman senators and even some political allies, including Brutus and Cassius. 

Caesar's death shocked the public and threw the Republic into a civil war that resulted in the creation of the Roman Empire led by Caesar's heir Octavian. 

Historical accounts during the day Caesar was assassinated claim that before the Roman dictator met with the Senate, he was greeted by a seer, the ancient word for prophet — who told Caesar that the Ides of March was "to come" to warn about his impending death. 

William Shakespeare recreated this scene in his play "Julius Caesar" — with the soothsayer uttering the famous line, "Beware the Ides of March."

Four years later, on the anniversary of Caesar's death on the Ides of March, Octavian, known at the time as Augustus, the first ruler of the Roman Empire, executed hundreds of Roman politicians and soldiers who sided with his enemy during the civil war. 

What is the religious importance?

Throughout pre-Christian Roman history, the Ides of March also acted as days to celebrate Roman gods. 

The middle, or Ides, of every month of the year, were used to worship the god Jupiter through a variety of celebrations that included the sacrificing of a sheep. 

Other festivals that occurred on this day include the Feast of Goddess Anna Perenna — and an entire holy week dedicated to the deities of Cybele and Attis.

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