So what’s the idea behind the Ides of March?

Have you ever noticed how we can be so familiar with a particular phrase without actually knowing its origin or meaning? “Beware the Ides of March” is a good example. Most of us have probably heard this phrase, made famous by Shakespeare, or its variation, “The Ides of March are upon us.” And maybe we even have some vague sense of foreboding when we hear these phrases, but you may be surprised to learn exactly what they signify.

The Ides of March is the middle of the month on the Roman calendar, believed to correspond to March 15. (The Roman system of numbering days of the month was quite different from today’s linear method; the Ides occurred near the middle of the month, which, for March, is the 15. The first Ides of March heralded the first full moon of the new Roman year.) Originally, this day was an occasion for religious observances. In addition to monthly rituals — including animal sacrifices — the Ides of March of ancient Rome was also their version of our New Year’s Eve, celebrating Anna Perenna, a goddess of the year.

On a less festive note, The Ides of March was also the day that debts incurred during the previous year were to be repaid. And an even gloomier association with March 15 began with the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 B.C.E. This horrifically bloody event triggered numerous acts of vengeance, many of which took place intentionally on the Ides of March; this was still going on hundreds of years later. Eventually, it would inspire Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, permanently linking tragedy with the Ides of March in pop culture.

Perhaps the time is right to develop a more positive association with the Ides of March. After all, it was once seen as the first day of spring on the Roman calendar. So, rather than dwell on the bloody side of the day’s history, why not throw a fun Roman-themed dinner party? It couldn’t be simpler to prepare: wine, cheese, olives, grapes, and crusty bread. (Togas are optional.)

Ultimately, those dark days in Rome are a part of history, but so are the days of celebrating the full moon and the new year. So, on March 15, when you hear someone say ominously, “The Ides of March are upon us,” you’ll know it’s more than just an oft-repeated phrase. And you can surprise the quoter with a bit of trivia about the Ides of March.