The Ides of March, a day on which a great tragedy is said to potentially to befall the world, fall this week (15 March).
The Ides of March was originally a day in the Roman calendar on which several religious observances marked it as a deadline for settling debts.
But how did we arrive at the current meaning of the phrase and day? Here is everything you need to know about it.
Where did the Ides of March come from?
The origins of the phrase’s modern association with bad luck and the downfall of the powerful originate with Julius Caesar, and particularly William Shakespeare’s retelling of his story, which brought the phrase to widespread attention.
In the play - as is thought to have been the case in real history - Caesar is stabbed in the back by his colleagues on 15 March 44BC. The idea was that if they all stabbed him in the back, no one individual could be accused of his murder, an idea that would certainly not stand up in court today.
However, the notion of stabbing someone in the back endures in our culture today. When our friends or coworkers betray us suddenly, when we don't see the attack coming, when we feel safe and comfortable, we describe it as being stabbed in the back.
Naturally, stabbing someone in the back is viewed as a cowardly way to attack someone; it is much better and more honest to face them head-on if there is a disagreement. Caesar's murder proved to be a watershed moment in Roman history and aided in the fall of the empire.
What does ‘Ides’ mean?
The Romans did not number each day of a month from the first to the last day, and instead counted back from three fixed points of the month: the Nones, the Ides and the Kalends.
The Ides corresponded to the 13th day of most months, but the 15th in March, May, July, and October.
Originally the Ides were supposed to be determined by the full moon, reflecting the lunar origin of the Roman calendar. In the earliest calendar, the Ides of March would have been the first full moon of the new year.
Is there any truth to the suspicion?
It has since been said that 15 March is a day to be wary of, as great tragedies have often taken place on this date. Whether you believe in such superstition is a matter of personal preference, but there have been a number of notable world events that have fallen on 15 March, adding weight to the argument.
In 1939, Nazi troops seized the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, effectively wiping Czechoslovakia off the map and moving the world ever closer to its Second World War.
The world’s record rainfall was also detected on this date in 1952 on the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion, when 74 inches (nearly two metres) fell in a 24-hour period.
In 1988, NASA reported that the ozone layer over the Northern Hemisphere had depleted three times faster than predicted, and in 2003 a mysterious respiratory disease afflicting patients and healthcare workers in China caused the World Health Organisation issues a heightened global health alert for SARS.
Last year, the 2022 Sri Lankan protests began amidst the nation’s economic collapse. With the eyes of the world still firmly fixed on already tragic global events in Ukraine, many will be hoping that the Ides of March does not bring with it more widespread suffering in 2023.