This Isn’t Caesar’s Ides of March (Why I Commemorate It on the 28th)
Mar 15, 2023
Before anything else, I would just like to wish a happy birthday to my friend J who passed away from tetanus a few months ago. He always had such pride in having an Ides of March birthday. I miss you, buddy.
Beware the Ides of March
Some of you may have been stuck reading "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar" by William Shakespeare while you were in school. It is a play about the murder of Julius Caesar, which occurred on March 15th of 44 BCE. In the play, a soothsayer tells Julius Caesar to "Beware the Ides of March", which Julius Caesar generally ignores before ultimately being murdered on the Ides of March. Every month has an Ides, but the Ides of March is the most famous, due to murder of Julius Caesar.
What is an Ides?
The Ides of a month is a little bit before halfway through that month. On months that are 31 days long, the Ides are on the 15th, and on all other months, the Ides are on the 13th.
How did Julius Caesar get murdered?
On March 15th, 44 BCE, there was a Senate meeting where at least 60 Senators, led by Marcus Junius Brutus, Gaius Cassius Longinus, and Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus, had conspired to assassinate Julius Caesar by stabbing him with daggers. The assassination was successful, with Julius Caesar being stabbed a total of 23 times, although likely only 5 of those happened before his death.
An excellent video by the YouTube channel "Historia Civilis" that talks about the assassination in great detail is linked below.
The Assassination of Julius Caesar (The Ides of March, 44 B.C.E.)
But it's the 15th today, why wait until the 28th?
Starting in 45 BCE, a calendar system proposed by Julius Caesar went into effect, called the "Julian calendar". The rules of this calendar will sound very familiar to people. There are 365 days in a year, but every 4th year will have an extra day added to February, making the total amount of days in those years 366 days. Julius Caesar's calendar was in effect in 44 BCE, the year he was murdered.
Around 312 AD, Emperor Constantine I converted to Christianity and called for a council of Christian Bishops to meet in Nicaea starting in 325 AD, called the Council of Nicaea. One of the things that came out of the First Council of Nicaea was the standardization of Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the start of Spring, which they defined as March 21st.
By 1582 AD, Pope Gregoriy XIII was aware that the Earth did not take 365.25 days to go around the sun. The difference of the solar year from the Julian year meant the actual Spring Equinox was drifting further away from March 21st, which meant Easter was at higher risk of being incorrect. To fix this, Pope Gregory XIII put into place a calendar reform that removed leap years on years ending in 00 unless the year was also divisible by 400, and then removed 10 days in October of 1582 AD, making October 15th the day immediately after October 4th.
Since 1582 AD, there have been 3 more skipped leap years, which were in 1700, 1800, and 1900. Years 1600 and 2000 were leap years. This means that the total difference in days between the Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar is 13 days.
Why I wait until the 28th
The calendar system we use now is the Gregorian calendar, which is heavily based on, but not the same, as the Julian calendar. An image of the Gregorian calendar for March 2023 is shown below.
The Julian calendar was the calendar in use when Julius Caesar was killed on the Ides of March. While today is the 15th of March for us, our calendar is 13 days ahead of the Julian calendar, so it would have been the 2nd of March for Julius Caesar under his calendar. This can be seen in the image below.
That is why I wait 13 days and commemorate the Ides of March in relation to Julius Caesar's death on March 28th instead of March 15th.
Today may be the Ides of March, but it's not Caesar's Ides of March.