Ides referred to the first full moon of a given month, which usually
fell between the 13th and 15th of March.
The Ides Of March refers to how the Romans kept track of the days in a month, which is quite different from how we do it. While we count the days sequentially from the first day all the way to the last day, the Romans used a different system. They counted backward from three fixed points of the month. For instance, the Nones usually fell on the 7th, the Ides on the 15th and the Kalends was the beginning of the month.
This day was also considered a day that was sacred to the deity Jupiter and the Romans would sacrifice a sheep to Jupiter. The Ides of March also marked the beginning of several religious festivals – most notably the festivals of Cybele and Attis.
However, after Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, this day would forever be remembered for that and not those religious holidays.
By Martin Stezano – HISTORY.com
The Roman leader Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times by a mob of mutinous senators in 44 B.C. Could he possibly have survived long enough to utter his famous last words?
“Beware the ides of March” was famously scribbled by William Shakespeare in his play “Julius Caesar” as the ominous warning given by a soothsayer to the soon-to-be ex-Roman emperor as he made his way to the Capitol that fateful day in 44 BC. And although good old Bill probably thought it was far from a throwaway line, even the great poet and playwright could not have imagined the life it’s taken on the 500 years since.
Not only did Shakespeare’s words stick, they branded the phrase with a dark and gloomy connotation that will forever make people uncomfortable. It’s probable that many people who use the phrase today don’t know it’s true origin. In fact, just about every pop culture reference to the Ides—save for those appearing in actual history-based books, movies or television specials—makes it seem like the day itself is cursed.
But the Ides of March actually has a non-threatening origin story. Kalends, Nones and Ides were ancient markers used to reference dates in relation to lunar phases. Ides simply referred to the first full moon of a given month, which usually fell between the 13th and 15th. In fact, the Ides of March once signified the new year, which meant celebrations and rejoicing.
Did the death of Caesar curse the day, or was it just Shakespeare’s mastery of language that forever darkened an otherwise normal box on the calendar? If you look through history, you can certainly find enough horrible things that happened on 15 March.
Or, perhaps it was Julius Caesar himself (and not the famous dramatist) who caused all the drama. After all, he’s the one who uprooted Rome’s New Year celebration from their traditional March 15 date to January… just two years before he was betrayed and butchered by members of the Roman senate.