What are the Ides, anyway?

March 16th, 2022 – Kayla Thompson, Adult Services

Shakespeare is famous for coining the phrase “Beware the Ides of March” in his play Julius Caesar, but what exactly are the “Ides of March”? Shakespeare, as a playwright, had a flare for the dramatics. So it is safe to assume that the Ides are not some yearly curse or plague that the public should be aware of, but what are the Ides’ origin exactly?

The Ides, along with Kalends and Nones, were actually markers on the Roman calendar that were reference dates in relation to the lunar phases. Ides are actually a reference to the first new moon of a given month usually occurring between the 13th and 15th day of the month. Once upon a time, the Ides of March used to be celebrated as the beginning of the new year (www.history.com). It was actually Julius Caesar who changed the new year to January 1st. 

The irony of the Ides and how we understand them all comes down to Julius Caesar. It is his death/assassination on March 15th, 44 BC that truly changed the Ides from a celebration to a darker and gloomier remembrance. On this day, a group of senators from the Roman Senate stabbed and murdered Caesar triggering a series of civil wars that ended the Roman Republic and birthed the Roman Empire as we know it today. This idea was only heightened when Shakespeare came along with his adaptation of the historic event. Now the Ides are a day that the internet remembers with memes of Julius Caesar-themed pencil holders and Mean Girls quotes like “We should all just stab Caesar”. 

Still, the Ides represent a turning point in history with its important changes (no matter how dramatically they may be remembered). It marks an event that changed history and set up the Roman Empire for its rise and fall. Without it, the world might look very different today. Below is a list of library items that teach about Roman history and the place that the Ides have within it.

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
Caesar and Cleopatra by George Shaw
The Conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar
Rome: The Biography of a City by Christopher Hibbert
The Storm Before the Storm: The Beginning of the End of the Roman Republic by Mike Duncan
The Death of Caesar by Barry Strauss
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard
Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine by Barry Strauss

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