What is it?
The phrase ‘Ides of March’, (e silent in Ides) may sound very sophisticated, but it was just a way of denoting the 15th of March on the Roman calendar. This calendar did not number the days of a month as we do, but divided a month into three sections namely Nones, Ides and Kalends.
Nones denoted the seventh day of March, May, July and October and the fifth day in the remaining months. Similarly Ides represented the fifteenth day of the above-mentioned months and the thirteenth day of the remaining months, whereas Kalends is the first day of every month.
Thus Ides does happen in all the months, not just March, but Ides of March is significant in many ways. Religious ceremonies and celebrations including Anna Perenna were observed widely in the Roman calendar on this day and it has been remembered for one grave reason in history as well: The assassination of Julius Caesar.
The Ides of March, for most of its part in the history, is understood as an omen that Julius Caeser had defied, ending up getting assassinated at the hands of his enemies. Caesar was assassinated by the Senate members of his court in 44 BC that marks an important political transition in the history of Rome, which became an empire from being a republic thereafter.
To the least interest of historians, The Ides of March is not everything to do with bad omen as it has been widely interpreted in history ever since Caesar was forewarned by a soothsayer with the phrase ‘Beware The Ides of March’, as used by William Shakespeare in his famous Julius Caesar.
Anyhow, the premonition has not been accepted universally by historians as it is being debated till date. Barry Strauss, a Cornell professor identifies the soothsayer as Spurinna who advised Caesar on Feb 15, to be watchful for the next 30 days and not just on the Ides of March (15th March), as there is an air of conspiracy among his elites to assassinate him.
On the Ides of March, when Caesar was walking to the Theatre of Pompey, where he was assassinated, he joked at the soothsayer ‘The Ides of March have come’ and nothing had happened as he is completely fine. The soothsayer accepted and replied, ‘Aye, Caesar, but not gone’, as quoted by Plutarch.
The conspiracy to assassinate Caesar was planned by Brutus and his brother-in-law Cassius in lead roles along with other Senate members calling themselves the Liberatores, in order to end the dictatorship of Caesar, who was declared as dictator perpetuo (dictator in perpetuity) by the Senate two months before the fateful day. They proclaimed to liberate Rome from the authoritative rule of Caesar, but the reality was something different then.
The senate members included mostly the conservative elites that found their positions not favourable for personal gains, as Caesar was a fair statesman that ruled the subjects with a conscience and was very popular among the middle and lower class of the social strata for his reforms.
Hence they decided to rest him in peace and various plots were discussed and finally everyone agreed to assassinate him on the Ides of March at the Theatre of Pompey. They were determined in their position as Caesar was about to go East to conquer the Parthian empire during the latter half of that March and may not be seen around in Rome for a couple of years.
When Caesar arrived at the spot, he had already got the Senate members waiting, each with their daggers covered. On arrival Lucius Tillius Cimber, a politician gave him a petition to recall his exiled brother; meanwhile he was surrounded by the rest of the conspirators under the pretext of their support, when Casca thrusted his dagger into Caesar’s neck.
Caesar, like any other soldier tried to defend himself before being stabbed 23 times soaking himself in blood, confronting his beloved friend Brutus by saying ‘Et Tu Brute’ (You Too Brutus?), which Professor Strauss claims to be a renaissance invention.
Caesar’s entrusted military commander Marcus Antonius, who knew the plot a day before tried to protect him, but in vain went his efforts as he was intercepted by some senators and directed him away. Marcus later took on to the streets of Rome, with his very famous speech in Shakespeare’s words starting ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears’, enraging the crowd against the conspirators.
Anyhow the conspirators did succeed only in the intention of killing Caesar, but not in making Rome dictator free thereafter. Thus Ides of March is not just a phrase but it has been carrying the legacy of one of the greatest emperors in the human history for thousands of years, for one reason as his memory is still alive in the hearts of many. Ides of March may denote time, but the legacy it carries is not confined by the limits of time.
Watch Antonio’s speech to the public in Julius Caesar (1953), played by Marlon Brando