Ides of March Facts: Day of Doom and Debts

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In Roman times the Ides of March was mostly notable as a deadline for settling debts.

That calendar featured ides on the 15th in March, May, July, and October or on the 13th in the other months. The word's Latin roots mean "divide," and the date sought to split the month, originally at the rise of the full moon.

But because calendar months and the lunar cycle are slightly out of sync, this connection was soon lost.

Heroes or Murderers?

The ides of March took on special significance after Caesar's assassination—but observance of the anniversary at the time varied among Roman citizens.

"How they felt depended on their political position," said Philip Freeman, a classicist at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and the author of Julius Caesar.

"Some were thrilled that Caesar had died, and some were horrified," he said.

The debate about Caesar's fate has extended through the ages and was taken up by some major literary figures. In Dante's Inferno, for example, Caesar is in Limbo, a relatively pleasant place in hell reserved for virtuous non-Christians.

"But Brutus [one of the leaders of the assassination] is down in the very center of hell with Judas, being munched on by Satan—it's about as bad as you can get," Freeman said.

The Folger library's Ziegler thinks the Bard had a more balanced view.

"I think Shakespeare shows both of them as being humans with their own weaknesses and strong points," she said.

No matter whether they were heroes or murderers, the real-life assassins were subjected to less than pleasant outcomes.

"Within a couple of years Brutus and [fellow assassin] Cassius were dead," Freeman noted.

"They were not able to bring back the Republic, and really what they did was usher in more of a permanent dictatorship under the future Roman emperors—the opposite of what they intended."

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