Beware the Ides of March

The Ides of March fall on 15 March and are known as the day the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was murdered in 44BC by senators who feared his thirst for absolute power.  He was murdered on his way to a senate meeting at the Theatre of Pompey. He had been warned by a seer in February that March would turn out to be a dangerous month, but that the danger would pass on the Ides of March. Caesar’s wife Calpurnia warned him not to go to the meeting because she had been experiencing nightmares – even Caesar’s doctor warned him not to go. He was stabbed 23 times by a bunch of vengeful senators – but his death sparked a war to avenge his murder. His famous last words were “Et tu, Brute” to his old friend, Brutus, though there is doubt whether, given the savagery of the attack, he would have had the time to utter this. It is thought Brutus turned against Caesar after the emperor declared himself perpetual ruler and deified himself earlier in 44BC.

In Ancient Rome, the Ides of March was also the celebration of the circle of the year, known as the Anna Perenna, after the god of the circle of the year, Perenna – the origin of the word “perennial”. The celebrations involved festivities and was a family time, when people gathered on the via Flaminia on the banks of the River Tiber to hold picnics.

These days the phrase “Beware the Ides of March” is attributed to the warnings Caesar were given before his killing – which we use as a general warning of anything that might be dangerous or a betrayal. The phrase did not originate with Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, as is sometimes thought – the Ides of March marked the first full moon of the New Year in the Roman Calendar and fell either on 13 or 15 March, so simply was a way of expressing the start of the New Year and only came to be a warning after Caesar’s death.

Julius Caesar is my many times great grandfather, so I cannot help but feel some sympathy for him, because without him I would not be here. But in the end, he was more human than divine.

Moral of the story? Try and remain level headed about your success – and if you see 23 angry senators heading your way – run. Very fast. And, of course, always listen to your wife – and beware the Ides of March.


Tusculum portrait Julius Caesar
Emperor Julius Caesar


Featured Image: Piazza Navona,  Image © Angela Meredith 2015

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