What are the ‘Ides of March’?

Vincenzo Camuccini’s 1804-05 oil-on-canvas ‘La Morte di Cesare’ – The Death of Caesar. Notice the remarkable look of inconvenience on Caesar’s face, which I always find hilarious in this painting because it’s like he’s not scared, he’s just disappointed! Also the guy in the middle who seems to have missed the memo about stabbing so came armed with a truncheon! (Credit: Vincenzo Camuccini – Public Domain)

“Beware the Ides of March!” or so the saying goes, but why? What’s the problem with the ides of March? What the fuck is an ‘ide’? Why is it marching?

These are questions I’ve been asked by multiple people and thus it has become a part of my Curious Idiot™ memorised dialogue so let me explain.

Roman calendars were different to what we have today. They had days, months, etc. but much as we have arbitrary national days, holidays, saints days, labour days etc. they had various of their own national, political and religious observances.

Also, unlike we do today they didn’t necessarily number the days of their month from 1-31 (give or take, depending on month) but counted almost in segments, batches of days.

There were the;

Nones – 9 days before the Ides

Ides – the 13th-ish of most months, but the 15th of March, May, July and October.

And the;

Kalends – the 1st of the month.

The Ides of each month were Jupiter’s day. Jupiter is a very important, indeed a supreme deity in Roman tradition, and as explained in articles before, upholding religious observances (whether you were a ‘believer’ or not) was hugely important to the Roman people.

Besides Jupiter the Ides became a holy week for many deities, including Cybele (that Eastern Magna Mater we’ve talk about before) another very important deity to Romans.

The Ides of March was specifically associated with a festival of the end of the new year, celebrating Anna Perenna – The ring of the year. You see March was considered the start of the new year for Romans. As a result it was also one of the cut-off points for settling debts or, possibly, if you were a nice Roman, pardoning them.

But, let’s be honest, in 44 BCE, something happened that would basically forever change what the Ides of March meant.

The Roman ‘optimates’, so-called ‘best men’, a shower of poshos who couldn’t arrange a fuck in a lupanar, were a bit upset that a man with populist leanings named Gaius Julius Caesar, had effectively beaten them up, taken over control of the Roman state and looked to be, for all intents and purposes, getting shit done.

Now they couldn’t have this! Much like a competent civil servant walking into the office of Priti Patel, such a person would have to be degraded and berated. Well, instead of the usual one-on-one Patel-style bullying, in this case the entire Tory Party of Ancient Rome came together to conspire to stab Caesar, a lot.

According to Plutarch, Caesar was warned of coming harm no later than the Ides of March. “Beware the Ides of March” and all that. Well, on his way to the Theatre of Pompey near where he was stabbed, Caesar saw the seer again and said “In your dumb face! It’s the Ides and I’m all good! The Ides have come!” and the seer was like “Come, but ain’t done, binch!” – I might be paraphrasing.

The line “Beware the Ides of March!” is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and, like so much Shakespeare, is a total meme.

Anyway, Caesar got stabbed (by many people, including Cassisus, and the famous Brutus of ‘Et tu, Brute?’ Brutus – another Caesar’s death meme…Man he got them in, didn’t he!?), sparking a crisis, leading to another couple of decades of civil war until Marcus Agrippa managed to settle it all down and then gave the keys to the Empire to his mate Augustus. Most of the conspirators were either killed in the proscriptions (government sanctioned murders) of the Second Triumvirate (Gaius Octavian, Marcus Antonius and Marcus Lepidus) or killed themselves after losing battles to the Triumvirs before they turned on each other, as was tradition, at this point!

And thus ‘The Ides of March’ became a meme that spanned thousands of years. Going from an innocent celebration of new year and Jupiter to a reminder that every now and then we should always come to together to stab anyone not politically expedient to our ends in the back, preferably in a large group.*

*We Lack Discipline does not support, condone or endorse politically motivated assassinations.

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

An overly curious lovechild of Grumpy of the Seven Dwarfs and the kitsch pen section of Paperchase. Karl is on a mission to expose the seedy underbelly of academia, and thus making it appealing to wrong 'uns.

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