What and when is the Ides of March?

Rex Harrison as Julius Caesar in Cleopatra
The phrase the Ides of March relates to the death of Julius Caesar, played here by Rex Harrison in Cleopatra. (Picture: Getty)

‘Beware the Ides of March!’

In 2021, what exactly does this phrase mean? Does it mean we should avoid watching the 2011 George Clooney movie The Ides Of March?

Well, no. That film, which stars Clooney and Ryan Gosling, was inspired by the original phrase and its in relation to the killing of the tyrant Julius Caesar.

But when is the Ides of March (for it is singular)? And why should we be wary of it? Here’s the low-down…

What are the Ideas of March?

The Ides of March is a date on the Roman calendar, corresponding to March 15.

In Roman times it was the date of several religious festivals, including the Mamuralia and the Feast of Anna Perenna (goddess of years), and also it was the date when debts would be called in.

However, in 44BC the date became notorious as the date when the Emperor Julius Caesar was murdered.

The death of Julius Caesar by Joseph Court
The death of Julius Caesar, painted by Joseph Court. (Picture: Leemage/Corbis via Getty)

Caesar was stabbed to death by conspirators, led by Cassius and Brutus, at a meeting of the Senate.

The emperor had been warned by a seer that harm would come to him no later than the Ides of March, and when the day arrived he arrogantly assumed he’d be fine as he was still alive.

In fact, he met a soothsayer on the day of his death, and in William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, the leader is told: ‘Beware the Ides of March.’

After Caesar was killed a bloody civil war began, with Caesar’s heir Augustus eventually rising to power, and the fall-out of Caesar’s murder led many writers of the time to perceive his death as ‘sacrilege’.

After all, Caesar had been the Pontifex Maximus of Rome and a priest of Vesta, and an altar was placed at the site of his death.

The phrase ‘beware the Ides of March’ was immortalised by Shakespeare in his historical tragedy, which focuses on the plight of Brutus as he looks to the bloody task ahead.

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