Ides of March

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The Death of Julius Caesar (1806) by Vincenzo Camuccini

The Ides of March (/dz/; Latin: Idus Martiae, Medieval Latin: Idus Martii)[1] is the day on the Roman calendar marked as the Idus, roughly the midpoint of a month, of Martius, corresponding to 15 March on the Gregorian calendar. It was marked by several major religious observances. In 44 BC, it became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar, which made the Ides of March a turning point in Roman history.


The Romans did not number each day of a month from the first to the last day. Instead, they counted back from three fixed points of the month: the Nones (the 5th or 7th, eight days before the Ides), the Ides (the 13th for most months, but the 15th in March, May, July, and October), and the Kalends (1st of the following month).

Originally the Ides were supposed to be determined by the full moon, reflecting the lunar origin of the Roman calendar. Martius (March) was the first month of the Roman year until as late as the mid-2nd century BC, an order reflected in the numerical names of the months of September (the seventh month) through December (the tenth month) not corresponding to their current position on the Gregorian calendar. In the earliest Roman calendar, the Ides of March would have been the first full moon of the new year.[2] As a fixed point in the month, the Ides accumulated functions set to occur every month, and was the day when debt payments and rents were due.[3][4]

Religious observances[edit]

Panel thought to depict the Mamuralia, from a mosaic of the months in which March is positioned at the beginning of the year (first half of the 3rd century AD, from El Djem, Tunisia, in Roman Africa)

The month of Martius was named for the god Mars, whose "birthday" was celebrated on the 1st, but the Ides of each month were sacred to Jupiter, the Romans' supreme deity. The Flamen Dialis, Jupiter's high priest, led the "Ides sheep" (ovis Idulis) in procession along the Via Sacra to the arx, where it was sacrificed.[5]

March retained many of its new-year ceremonies even when it was preceded on the calendar by January and February. In addition to the monthly sacrifice, the Ides of March was also the occasion of the Feast of Anna Perenna, a goddess of the year (Latin annus) whose festival originally concluded the ceremonies of the new year. The day was enthusiastically celebrated among the common people with picnics, drinking, and revelry.[6] One source from late antiquity also places the Mamuralia on the Ides of March.[7] This observance, which has aspects of scapegoat or ancient Greek pharmakos ritual, involved beating an old man dressed in animal skins and perhaps driving him from the city. The ritual may have been a new year festival representing the expulsion of the old year.[8][9]

In the later Imperial period, the Ides began a "holy week" of festivals celebrating Cybele and Attis,[10][11][12] being the day Canna intrat ("The Reed enters"), when Attis was born and found among the reeds of a Phrygian river.[13] He was discovered by shepherds or the goddess Cybele, who was also known as the Magna Mater ("Great Mother") (narratives differ).[14] A week later, on 22 March, the solemn commemoration of Arbor intrat ("The Tree enters") commemorated the death of Attis under a pine tree. A college of priests, the dendrophoroi ("tree bearers") annually cut down a tree,[15] hung from it an image of Attis,[16] and carried it to the temple of the Magna Mater with lamentations. The day was formalized as part of the official Roman calendar under Claudius (d. 54 AD).[17] A three-day period of mourning followed,[18] culminating with celebrating the rebirth of Attis on 25 March, the date of the vernal equinox on the Julian calendar.[19]

Assassination of Caesar[edit]

Reverse side of the Ides of March Coin (a denarius) issued by Caesar's assassin Brutus in the autumn of 42 BC, with the abbreviation EID MAR (Eidibus Martiis – "on the Ides of March") under a "cap of freedom" between two daggers

In modern times, the Ides of March is best known as the date on which Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Caesar was stabbed to death at a meeting of the Senate. As many as 60 conspirators, led by Brutus and Cassius, were involved. According to Plutarch,[20] a seer had warned that harm would come to Caesar on the Ides of March. On his way to the Theatre of Pompey, where he would be assassinated, Caesar passed the seer and joked, "Well, the Ides of March are come", implying that the prophecy had not been fulfilled, to which the seer replied "Aye, they are come, but they are not gone."[20] This meeting is famously dramatised in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, when Caesar is warned by the soothsayer to "beware the Ides of March."[21][22] The Roman biographer Suetonius[23] identifies the "seer" as a haruspex named Spurinna.

Caesar's assassination opened the final chapter in the crisis of the Roman Republic. After his victory in Caesar's civil war, his death triggered a series of further Roman civil wars that would finally result in the rise to sole power of his adopted heir Octavian. In 27 BC, Octavian became emperor Augustus, and thus he finally terminated the Roman Republic.[24] Writing under Augustus, Ovid portrays the murder as a sacrilege, since Caesar was also the pontifex maximus of Rome and a priest of Vesta.[25] On the fourth anniversary of Caesar's death in 40 BC, after achieving a victory at the siege of Perugia, Octavian executed 300 senators and equites who had fought against him under Lucius Antonius, the brother of Mark Antony.[26] The executions were one of a series of actions taken by Octavian to avenge Caesar's death. Suetonius and the historian Cassius Dio characterised the slaughter as a religious sacrifice,[27][28] noting that it occurred on the Ides of March at the new altar to the deified Julius.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anscombe, Alfred (1908). The Anglo-Saxon Computation of Historic Time in the Ninth Century (PDF). British Numismatic Society. p. 396. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022.
  2. ^ Scullard, H.H. (1981). Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. Cornell University Press. pp. 42–43. ISBN 9780801414022.
  3. ^ Sarit Kattan Gribetz, "A Matter of Time: Writing Jewish Memory into Roman History," AJS Review 40:1 (2016), p. 58, n. 4.
  4. ^ Agnes Kirsopp Michels, The Calendar of the Roman Republic (Princeton University Press, 1967), p. 78.
  5. ^ Scullard, H.H. Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. p. 43.
  6. ^ Scullard, H.H. Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic. p. 90.
  7. ^ Lydus, John (6th century). De mensibus 4.36.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link) Other sources place it on 14 March.
  8. ^ Salzman, Michele Renee (1990). On Roman Time: The Codex-Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity. University of California Press. pp. 124& 128–129. ISBN 9780520065666.
  9. ^ Fowler, William Warde (1908). The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic. London: Macmillan. pp. 44–50.
  10. ^ Lancellotti, Maria Grazia (2002). Attis, Between Myth and History: King, Priest, and God. Brill. p. 81.
  11. ^ Lançon, Bertrand (2001). Rome in Late Antiquity. Routledge. p. 91.
  12. ^ Borgeaud, Philippe (2004). Mother of the Gods: From Cybele to the Virgin Mary & Hochroth, Lysa (Translator). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 51, 90, 123, 164.
  13. ^ Gary Forsythe, Time in Roman Religion: One Thousand Years of Religious History (Routledge, 2012), p. 88; Lancellotti, Attis, Between Myth and History, p. 81.
  14. ^ Michele Renee Salzman, On Roman Time: The Codex Calendar of 354 and the Rhythms of Urban Life in Late Antiquity (University of California Press, 1990), p. 166.
  15. ^ Jaime Alvar, Romanising Oriental Gods: Myth, Salvation and Ethics in the Cults of Cybele, Isis and Mithras, translated by Richard Gordon (Brill, 2008), pp. 288–289.
  16. ^ Firmicus Maternus, De errore profanarum religionum, 27.1; Rabun Taylor, "Roman Oscilla: An Assessment", RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 48 (Autumn 2005), p. 97.
  17. ^ Lydus, De Mensibus 4.59; Suetonius, Otho 8.3; Forsythe, Time in Roman Religion, p. 88.
  18. ^ Forsythe, Time in Roman Religion, p. 88.
  19. ^ Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.21.10; Forsythe, Time in Roman Religion, p. 88; Salzman, On Roman Time, p. 168.
  20. ^ a b Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Caesar 63
  21. ^ "William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene II". The Literature Network. Jalic, Inc. 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
  22. ^ "William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene I". The Literature Network. Jalic, Inc. 2010. Retrieved 15 March 2010.
  23. ^ Suetonius, Divus Julius 81.
  24. ^ "Forum in Rome," Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome, p. 215.
  25. ^ Ovid, Fasti 3.697–710; A.M. Keith, entry on "Ovid," Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome, p. 128; Geraldine Herbert-Brown, Ovid and the Fasti: An Historical Study (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), p. 70.
  26. ^ Melissa Barden Dowling, Clemency and Cruelty in the Roman World (University of Michigan Press, 2006), pp. 50–51; Arthur Keaveney, The Army in the Roman Revolution (Routledge, 2007), p. 15.
  27. ^ Suetonius, Life of Augustus 15. Archived 31 July 2022 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ Cassius Dio 48.14.2. Archived 22 November 2022 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]