“Beware the Ides of March”.
This is one of the most famous prophecies in literature (and history). It was said by a soothsayer to the great Julius Caesar – Dictator Perpetuo (“dictator in perpetuity”).
The Ides of March (Idus Martiae) refer to a date, specifically March 15. The ancient Romans did not number the days of the month but instead referred to three specific dates within a month. The Ides referred to the middle of the month.
The Ides of March have become an infamous date due to an event that changed the course of Roman history – the assassination of Julius Caesar.
Julius Caesar became the sole leader of the Roman Republic after a great civil war. There was much dissent from the senate, who had lost much of their power through Caesar’s uprising. On March 15, 44BC, Brutus (Caesar’s adopted son) and members of the senate conspired to assassinate Caesar to end his rule.
In William Shakespeare’s eponymous play, it is said that Caesar passed the soothsayer who had warned him of this day and said to him: “The Ides of March are come”, mocking the failed prophecy. The seer simply replied: “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.”
Not long after, Caesar was ambushed by 60 men led by Brutus and was stabbed multiple times to his death. With his dying breath, he uttered: “Et tu, Brute?” – meaning “You too, Brutus?”, showing his despair at the betrayal by his own son.
The Ides of March was traditionally the date when Romans would settle their debt. Perhaps Brutus, who had actually fought against his father in the civil war but then forgiven by Caesar, chose this date to symbolise settling the political tension of the time – to liberate Rome from Caesar’s monarchy.
Ironically, the assassination triggered a series of events that led to another civil war, ultimately causing the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire, led by Caesar’s other adopted heir, Octavian (later known as Augustus). Augustus proceeded to round up 300 conspirators complicit in the murder of Caesar and executed them as a tribute to the now deified Caesar – Divus Julius.