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What are Ides?

JuliuscaesarThe Ides of March: a historic turning point in Roman history, when Caesar was assassinated and the great shift from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire commenced (oh my!) but….what are…ides? Fear not, your top five Ides of March Questions will (finally) be answered.

1. Why do they say, “Beware the Ides of March”?

This is the line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar spoken by the soothsayer that predicts harm will come to the emperor before the Ides of March. On his way to the Senate building that fateful day when he was surrounded by a group of conspirators and stabbed (23 times!) Caesar passed the soothsayer on the road and said “the Ides of March have come,” implying that he had made it through to which the soothsayer replayed, “Aye Caesar, but not gone.”

2. Can I see where Caesar was really assassinated?

Sadly no. By Caesar’s time the Senate was so big that they would hold meetings in various large spaces around the city and on March 15th, 44B.C. the meeting was held in the Theatre of Pompey. None of this building remains but it was located in what now is the Largo Argentina area.

3. So what is that mound of dirt in the Roman Forum all about?

Ah yes, the dirt mound. When you enter the ancient Roman Forum, you will see tourists clustering around the base of what used to be the Temple of Julius Caesar. They are all hurrying around a stone edifice, craning their necks and jostling each other in order to see the location where Caesar was supposedly cremated after his assassination. But (watch!) they almost all invariably shrug or say something along the lines of “that’s it?”

Yes, that’s it. It’s a mound. Of dirt. I’m not sure why. I would prefer some kind of holographic projection re-enacting the stabbing or perhaps the cremation ceremony in which Marc Antony delivered such an incredibly moving eulogy that he inspired women to literally tear off their jewelry, sobbing, and throw it into the flames in tribute to their dead leader whose cremation ceremony launched a murderous raid throughout the city as the grief-stricken and desperate citizens of Rome tried to hunt down the assassins. Instead, there is a dirt mound.

4. Why was his assassination so momentous that we are still talking about it…2,058 years later?

Caesar’s death marked a turning point in Rome’s history from the Roman Republic (albeit a republic far more corrupt and ineffective than the one originally conceived of centuries before) to Imperial Rome. He is considered the last of the Emperors of the republic but he changed the structure of government so much that some think of him as the first of the Imperial emperors. Regardless, after his death and the ensuing bloodbath of a civil war from which Octavian emerged triumphant, Rome’s semblance of democracy was over and done with. Emperors would rule Rome (and therefore most of Europe) for the next 5 centuries.

5. Ok seriously now, what are these ides!

Alright, you’ve waited this long. The Ides are a part of the old Roman calendar. Instead of having a chronological number of days in a month like we do (March 1 to March 31st, for example) the Romans counted backwards from three points: The Nones (the 5th or 7th day of a month for 30 day and 31 day months respectively) The Ides (the 13th or 15th) and the Kalends (the 1st of the following month).

For example:

March 12 = 4 Ides March

March 13 = 3 Ides March

March 14 = Pridie Ides March (the day before Ides, Nones or Kalends was called Pridie, just to make it that much more confusing)

March 15 = The Ides March

Confusing? Indeed.

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