Ides of March 2021: meaning, when is the 74th day in the Roman calendar - and how is Julius Caesar involved?

Bad omens, assassinations and tragedies – the Ides of March give Friday 13th a run for its money

Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 9:05 am

Friday 13 may be the most famous date on which everybody gets a little bit superstitious and bad luck runs rife, but there is another date you might want to keep your eye on if you’re a bit of a fatalist.

The ‘Ides of March’ – 15 March.

“Beware the Ides of March,” they say, but why should you tread carefully on this most mythical of days?

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A bronze statue of emperor Julius Caesar in Rome (Photo: Shutterstock)

Here is everything you need to know about it.

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This is why Friday 13th is considered to be unlucky

What is the Ides of March?

In the time of the Romans, the 74th day in their calendar was marked by religious observances, and served as a deadline for settling debts.

Julius Caesar was killed on the Ides of March by a group of senators (Image: Edward Gooch Collection/Getty Images)

The name Ides comes from the way the Romans labelled their calendar.

Unlike modern calendars, which number each day of a month from first to day, the Romans counted backwards from three fixed points of the month.

The Nones represented what we would know as the 5th or 7th of the month, the Ides the 13th of most months (though the 15th in March, May, July, and October), and the Kalends the 1st of the following month.

The Ides of each month were sacred to the Romans' supreme deity Jupiter, and despite the day involving sacrificial sheep and old men dressed in animal skins being beaten and driven from the city, for most it was a rather inauspicious affair, a day for picnics, drinking and revelry.

The phrase 'beware the Ides of March' actually originates from the play Julius Caesar by Shakespeare, a dramatic retelling of the emperor's life (Photo: BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)

That was until 44BC.

What happened in 44BC?

That was the date that Julius Caesar was assassinated.

Pure happenstance perhaps, but according to Greek philosopher and historian Plutarch, a mystical seer had previously warned Caesar that harm would come to him no later than the Ides of March.

On his way to the Theatre of Pompey – the place of his assassination – Caesar is said to have passed the seer and joked, "The Ides of March are come", implying that the prophecy had not been fulfilled.

The seer is thought to have shot back with: "Aye, Caesar; but not gone."

It’s from this historical moment that we get the phrase “beware the Ides of March”, a famous line from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, in which the playwright dramatised Caesar’s aside to the seer.

Caesar’s death was a driving force in the demise of the Roman Empire, and triggered a civil war that sped the res publica to its end.

The Ides of March shouldn’t be confused with 2011’s George Clooney-directed political drama of the same name starring Ryan Gosling, though the Oscar nominated movie was named by Clooney after the Shakespeare reference.

Why is it known as a day of bad luck?

Since then, the date has been linked with bad omens, with a number of 20th century tragedies occurring on 15 March.

In 1939, Germany occupied Czechoslovakia, a diplomatic display of aggression that would ultimately culminate in the declaring of World War II, and just four years later, the war’s third Battle of Kharkov claimed the lives of nearly 50,000 people.

In 1974, 15 people were killed when Sterling Airways Flight 901 caught fire following a landing gear collapse at Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran, Iran, and in 1986, the Hotel New World in Singapore collapsed, killing 33 people.

In 2008, stockpiles of obsolete ammunition exploded at an ex-military depot in Albania, killing 26 people, and on 15 March 2011, the Syrian Civil War began.

When is the Ides of March?

The Ides of March always falls on the 15th of March.