Most of us associate the “Ides of March” with the assassination of Julius Caesar as told by the immortal bard, William Shakespeare.
A bad day!
The Death of Caesar (1798) by Vincenzo Camuccini
In the oldest Roman calendar, however, March was actually the first month of the year and the “Ides” of March marked the new moon. This usually appeared around the 15th of March and was cause for celebration.
The Romans did not number days of a month sequentially from the first through the last day. Instead, they counted back from three fixed points of the month: the Nones (5th or 7th, depending on the length of the month), the Ides (13th or 15th), and the Kalends (1st of the following month). The Ides occurred near the midpoint, on the 13th for most months, but on the 15th in the months of March, May, July, and October. (Wikipedia)
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) (Wikipedia)
One of the problems that Julius Caesar wanted to solve was that of the calendar. The old republican calendar did have twelve months that were supposed to be more or less as long as the moon cycles. However, twelve lunar months correspond to 355 days; the deficiency was made up by the random additions of “intercalary” months. In Caesar’s days, the calendar was seriously out of pace with the seasons. Following an advice of Cleopatra’s court astronomer, he added 67 days to the year 45 BCE and introduced the modern European calendar with twelve months of 30 and 31 days. (livius.org)
In 44 BC, after the murder of Caesar, Brutus fled to Greece and Macedonia. During his travels, Brutus had a large number of coins struck to commemorate liberty and victory. Most famous of all these is the coin commemorating Caesar’s death, with the reverse displaying a pileus between two daggers and the legend EID MAR (the ides of March, referring to the date of the assassination). The pileus was worn by freedman after they had been set free, and so placing it on a coin was a powerful reminder of the rhetoric surrounding Caesar’s death and the republican cause. The imagery was not lost on those in the ancient world: Dio (47.25.1) records that “Brutus stamped upon the coins which were being minted his own likeness and a cap and two daggers, indicating by this and by the inscription that he and Cassius had liberated the fatherland.” (humanities.mq.edu.au)
Reverse side of a coin issued by Caesar’s assassin Brutus in the autumn of 42 BC (Wikipedia)
Although historians can enumerate other “Beware the Ides of March” happenings on March 15 through the years, such as:
- Czar Nicholas II of Russia abdicating in 1917, ending a 304-year-old royal dynasty and ushering in Bolshevik rule;
- Nazi troops seize the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia in 1939, effectively wiping Czechoslovakia off the map; and
- NASA reporting in 1988 that the ozone layer over the Northern Hemisphere has been depleted three times faster than predicted, (smithsonianmag.com)
this writer prefers to see March 15 as another step closer to Spring here in the Northern hemisphere – even if it is still a little on the cold side.
A good day!