Beware the Ides of March: From Caesar to COVID, is This Day Bad News?

Every year, you hear it whispered in worried hush: beware the Ides of March. As the middle of March approaches,

Beware the Ides of March: From Caesar to COVID

Every year, you hear it whispered in worried hush: beware the Ides of March. As the middle of March approaches, people step lightly and look twice before turning corners. Like Bruno Madrigal from Encanto, this is the time of year when people toss salt over their shoulder and knock on wood. But why? Why is it that the 15th of March inspires such anxiety and concern? It all started with an ancient assassination – and the mystery surrounding the Ides of March continues to this day. Here’s a look at where the superstition came from, and what it could mean for your day-to-day life.

Beware the Ides of March: How Julius Caesar’s Death Cursed a Day

Ides of March

First, it’s important to define what an “ide” is. After all, it’s not the kind of word we tend to use in our day-to-day life; until March, that is. So what is an ide? Simply put, it’s the middle of a month and the 7 days preceding it. Although March has 31 days, the 15th is celebrated as the middle – and therefore, the ide – of March. The ide is also the 15th day for May, July and October – and the 13th day for every other month in the calendar. The 7 days preceding the mid-day are called “the ides.” It comes from Roman times. But the Romanes also separated the month into the nones and kalends, so why do we mark the ides with such trepidation?

Well, for that you can blame Julius Caesar, or more precisely – his killera. In 44BC, Caesar was the head of the Roman Republic. But Caesar wasn’t an emperor – he was Dictator Perpetuo: dictator unending. A brilliant statesman, orator and politician, Caesar was beloved by many – and hated by those from whom he took power. That included the Roman Senate, who took matters into their own hands to “free Rome of Caesar.” On March 15, 44BC, around 40 senators and 60 co-conspirators assassinated Caesar, stabbing him on the Senate floor. The murderous coup was all led by someone Caesar trusted – a statesman named Marcus Junius Brutus. In the wake of Caesar’s death, the Roman Republic was torn asunder by civil war and led to the rise of the Roman Empire, and the first true emperor: Augustus Caesar, son of Julius.

Between the death of Caesar and the crowning of Augustus lay years of suffering, war, and uncertainty – more than enough reason for people to associate the middle of March with a time of woe. But the fact that our unease around this date has endured for two thousand years is owed to another famous man in history. 

In the 1500’s, a famous playwright by the name of Shakespeare wrote a play about the betrayal and death of Caesar. TheFocus writes, “In 1599, the tragedy play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare was first performed. The play dramatised the lead-up to Caesar’s murder, which is said to have been foretold by a soothsayer.

Supposedly, this soothsayer, portrayed in Shakespeare’s play, approached Julius Caesar in real life and warned him of his death which would come before the Ides of March. To which Caesar replied ‘The ides of March are come’, believing he was safe from harm.

In Shakespeare’s play, the soothsayer tells Julius Caesar ‘beware the ides of March’, words that have been immortalised by the public and can be heard till this day on 15 March.”

As Shakespeare’s play has been revived thousands of times throughout history, the legend of the Ides of March has endured – and to this day, people still feel uneasy as the date approaches. It’s testament to the power of literature – and perhaps Shakespeare himself. 

COVID and the Ides

Ides of March

Whether or not the Ides of March is a superstition you personally follow, it must be said that the date does historically have some weight to it. In 2020, for instance, the world ground to a halt during the Ides of March as COVID lockdowns changed the world as we know it. Streets emptied and lives changed as the middle of March worked its mysterious magic. Here are 5 more dark moments in history that occurred on March 15, perpetuating our unease:

  • Hitler and Czechoslovakia: In 1939, Adolf Hitler marched his Nazi troops into Czechoslovakia and claimed two regions. It was a clear signal to the world that Hitler was no longer playing a diplomacy game, and more invasions would follow. Many consider it one of the pivotal moments of what would soon be World War II. It was a world response to this aggression against Czechoslovakia that later led to the world’s involvement. In response to Hitler’s move, the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain promised Poland that they would render aid if Hitler should invade. On September of that same year, Hitler did exactly that, and Britain found themselves at war – which quickly spread.
  • North Dakota and Minnesota: A blizzard struck with almost no warning across North Dakota and Minnesota on March 15, 1941. No normal Spring blizzard, this one brought 85-mph winds, 7-ft snowbanks and a 20-degree temperature drop in less than 15 minutes in some places. Because it struck so suddenly and violently, many people were trapped while traveling and died in their cars. The death toll was around 151. 
  • Hotel New World: On March 15, 1986, Singapore was rocked by the collapse of a hotel that killed 33. In a collapse eerily similar to the Miami Beach Condo collapse of 2021, the building went from a multi-use venue to rubble in less than a minute. 
  • SARS: In 2002, the first cases of the SARS virus were reported in China. The severe acute respiratory syndrome disease spread quickly, and the World Health Organization officially declared it a worldwide health threat on March 15 of 2003. Nearly 10,000 people were sickened by SARS and 774 people died.
  • Syria: In early March of 2011, three teenagers were arrested and tortured in Deraa for painting revolutionary slogans on the walls of their school. People immediately began leading protests, and tensions boiled over on March 15 in Aleppo and Damascus as activists demanded democratic reforms. It was the start of a bloody civil war and a growing part of what later became known as the Arab Spring as democratic protestors demanded dictatorial governments be dismantled. 

Throughout history, March 15 has been a flash point for bad days. Is it due to the fact that many countries welcome Spring around this time, so it’s a natural time to start invasions? Are people tense from months of cold weather looking to lash out at the first thaw? 

It’s hard to say what drives the ill luck of March 15th, but the superstition persists. 

Modern Superstitions around the Ides

Ides of March

Here we are in 2022 – and the Ides of March still inspires unease, if not outright anxiety. 

But there is some good news in all of this, because the unluck of March 15 is followed quickly by a holiday celebrated for its luck – St. Patrick’s Day. In the battle of the superstitions, it’s hard to say which wins out; the Ides of March or the Luck of the Irish. 

But in March, those looking to thwart the curse of the Ides of March have a few options:

  • A lucky penny: carrying a lucky penny with you everywhere is thought to counteract bad luck.
  • A four-leaf clover: often associated with Ireland and St. Patrick’s Day, the semi-rare four-leaf clover is thought to be a good luck charm as well.
  • Wearing green: maybe wearing the uniform of St. Patrick’s Day will bring good luck; it’s tradition through much of the United States, if a little baffling to those living in Ireland. 
  • A rabbit’s foot: while not associated with St. Patrick’s Day, the ancient luck charm is still used to this day to ward off bad happenstance, these days often worn on a keychain. 

Every family has their own superstitions and traditions, although the modern era has certainly seen people move away from them. Whether you’re a “wear green and keep your lucky penny” type or a “luck isn’t a real thing” type, the Ides of March will do their thing – for good or ill. In reality, it’s all just another day; or is it? Julius Caesar would like a word with doubters.