Every year, March 15 is branded with a mysterious and gloomy connotation. Movies, books and television specials have associated this day with a bad omen. What is the real meaning and historical significance of this day?
During ancient times, the Roman Empire used the lunar phases to mark particular dates of the month. Ides, for instance, referred to the first full moon of a given month, which usually fell between the thirteenth and the fifteenth. This is why the Ides of March falls specifically on the middle day of the lunar month, when the full moon appears bright in the sky.
This month’s half-way marker became useful when it came to settling debts each month in the Roman Empire. When debtors saw themselves unable to repay a debt, the fast-approaching Ides would be a cause for concern and fear, since not paying a debt could result in forced slavery or a prison sentence.
Historical events and the shadowy undertone
In 44 BC, March 15 was the day on which the Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was assassinated by his senators, who feared that the ruler would become a dictator. This assassination, aimed at defending the Roman Republic, led to a civil war and later to the Principate period of the Roman Empire.
According to Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, the unfortunate fate had been announced by a soothsayer, who advised the emperor to “beware the Ides of March.” The recounting of this historical event by the English playwright took the form of a tragedy, which is believed to have distorted the facts in an attempt to cause a deep impression in the audience.
The subsequent adaptations of the story to movies, books and television shows further highlighted the lamentable destiny of the emperor, reinforcing the idea that the “Ides of March” is a date of ill fate.
Observing the Ides of March
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While March 15 is not an official holiday, the Ides of March is a great opportunity to honor the legacy of the Roman Civilization. When it falls on the weekend, a toga party is a popular way to celebrate this date; but there are many simple ways to commemorate it, as well.
Make a mini adventure by visiting Ancient Roman exhibits at a museum, visit the library for some books on Roman culture, or watch a good movie or documentary about the Roman Empire and Julius Caesar’s life. All or any of these activities will help you appreciate the beauty and wonder of this majestic civilization.
Foodies will want to indulge in the culinary treats of the time. Lucky for us, author Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa has compiled over 200 recipes from the records of classic Roman writers in her book A Taste of Ancient Rome, making it easy to create and sample the authentic dishes that Romans used to enjoy centuries back.
However you choose to commemorate the date, remember that the Ides of March, with its full moon, once signified the new year; which meant ample festivities and rejoicing. By cultivating curiosity, and then satisfying it, you will find that numerous former civilizations have left invaluable cultural legacies worth reviving and celebrating every day.