March: Beware the Ides!


With the onset of March, things are brought to mind which have no relation to today whatsoever—things that were very common in those very, very olden days. In the days of old Rome, for example, the expression, Ides of March, was everyday language and did not induce a feeling of apprehension. It was simply the way of referring to the fifteenth of March.

It was a Roman astrologer’s warning to Caesar, which has colored that phrase with an element of trepidation. March is here … so beware the ides! The one man in the history of our world who should have heeded that counsel, did not. Unfortunately, Julius Caesar let his guard down on the wrong day, namely, March 15, 44 B.C., and he was brutally assassinated by his friend and protégé, Marcus Brutus. Since that event, the Ides of March has become a day associated with foreboding and ill-fated omens.

In Roman days, the Ides were simply the fifteenth of every month. The term comes from the earliest Roman calendar, created by the fabled founder of Rome, Romulus, or some other character with a knack for complicating things. The Romans did not count the days from the first to the thirty-first. Only three days in each month had names: Kalends were the first, Nones were the seventh, and the Ides were the fifteenth. This was the same for every month. But can one say the Ides of August or the Ides of October in contemporary times? Yes, there are those who might say that, but it would sound weird. What was common then, makes no sense now. Just like saying, It’s March- Beware the Ides!

This perplexing system of Kalends, Nones, and Ides remained in use well into the sixteenth century. The Ides of March is only one of the months out of twelve that the Ides occurred. Even Shakespeare, sixteen centuries later, used the term, Ides of March, in his plays, but with little reaction from his audience. The word calendar is derived from Kalends, whose origin is from the Latin, Kalendrium, meaning, account book. Kalend was the first day of every month. It was the day in Rome that all bills were paid. Some things have not changed much over the centuries!

If you lived in those times and you wanted to refer to another day like, the twelfth, for example, you would say, 4 days before the Ides, or IV Ides. The tenth of the month would be 6 days before the Ides, or VI  Ides. The third of the month would be 5 days before the Nones. V Nones in Roman terms. (All days were included in the count.)

It is easy to imagine the confusion  ….

“Oh, I thought you said 5 days before the Nones.”
“No! The Ides! Next week. V Ides!”
“But I’m leaving town on XI Kalends for a month.”
“Then we’ll have to make it III Nones before the Ides of June!”
How did the citizens ever manage to keep an appointment in those days. Romans!

Forward into the twenty-first century, and for people living today, March is the month our modern-day thoughts turn to corned beef and cabbage, clover leafs and ale, and the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick….that festive cleric whose name brings to mind fanciful things like leprechauns and faeries, wooded glens and little green elves, four-leaf clovers and, of course, partying! Who would not want to celebrate with this guy? He’s gregarious, he likes to drink, and he doesn’t mind being called Patty. Did St. Patrick worry about the Ides of March? Unlikely. March seventeenth is two days after the Ides and fourteen days before the Kalends. That would be XV Kalends.

They say that if March comes in like a Lion, beware the ides, and it will go out like a Lamb. This is, most likely, a reference to the weather. So if it’s stormy on the Kalends, the sun should be shining at least twelve days after the Ides of March. Or V Kalends to a Roman …

Long live the Gregorian Calendar!

Editorial by Christine Schlichte

Ancient History
National Geographic

One Response to "March: Beware the Ides!"

  1. Irene Mathis   March 8, 2014 at 7:57 am

    Amazing history! great article


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