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Ides of March

The Roman calendar, which dates back to 753 BCE, had three fixed points throughout the month: Nones, Ides, and Kalends. Ides took place around the midpoint of each month, occurring on the 13th or 15th. In March it took place on the 15th.

The Ides of March is most remembered as being the anniversary of the day that Julius Caesar was assassinated, in 44 BCE. The day did, however, have some significance before this infamous event. It had long been a day of religious observances. The Ides of each month was sacred to Jupiter, Rome's supreme deity. Flamen Dialis, Jupiter's high priest, would traditionally lead an "Ides sheep" along the streets of Rome before it was sacrificed. The first part of March consisted of new year's celebrations, as March was the first month of the Roman calendar. The Feast of Anna Perenna, a goddess of the year, was a festival held on the Ides that closed down the new year's celebrations. Celebrants gathered outside of Rome, along the banks of the Tiber River, for food, drink, music, and sacrifices to Anna Perenna for a prosperous new year. The Ides of March was also used by Romans as a deadline for settling debts.

Today the Ides of March is most associated with the death of Julius Caesar. In 60 BCE, Caesar began working for the office of consul. This was the most powerful position that could be held in the Roman Republic, and it was shared by two politicians on an annual basis. Consuls commanded the army, presided over the Senate, and represented the state in foreign affairs. Caesar formed an alliance called the First Triumvirate with Crassus and Pompey, and was elected to consul in 59 BCE. He was opposed by many in the Senate but liked by many Romans because of his land reforms. He was given four Roman legions in 58 BCE and used them to expand Rome's reach. He conquered Gaul and made Rome's first forays into Britain.

Caesar's alliance with Pompey eventually collapsed. He also was told by the Senate to give up his army but refused to. He crossed the Rubicon into Italy in January 49 BCE, declaring war on Pompey, and launching a civil war. Caesar eventually prevailed and was appointed Roman consul and dictator. After traveling the Empire, he returned to Rome in 45 BCE, and was named "dictator for life." He launched reforms, created the Julian calendar, and planned more expansions for the Empire.

It is believed that a seer had warned Caesar that harm would come to him on the Ides of March. In William Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, the seer has ascribed the phrase "Beware the Ides of March." Caesar was stabbed to death at a meeting of the Senate at the Theatre of Pompey. There were possibly 60 conspirators, led by Brutus and Cassius. The conspirators thought the assassination would help restore the Republic, but instead it became a pivotal point in the transition from the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire. It marked the end of the long Crisis of the Republic and ushered in another civil war. This eventually led to the rise of Octavian, Caesar's grand-nephew, who later became known as Augustus.

How to Observe Ides of March

Celebrate the day by reading a book about Caesar, or by reading Shakespeare's play. Make sure to use the phrase "Beware the Ides of March" today, and have yourself a Caesar salad in Julius Caesar's honor.

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