Sunday was March 15, known to the culturally literate as the Ides of March. On that day in 44 BC, Julius Caesar was infamously stabbed to death in the Roman Forum.
Aside from perhaps wondering why the only Latin words in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” are “Et tu, Brute?” it’s also worth pausing to think on what the “Ides of March” really meant. That Julius Caesar was stabbed on the Ides of March is both historical fact and a commonplace, so rotely repeated by schoolchildren and the trivia-minded that it’s been drained of its import. But there is more here than mere ancient history.
Who Was Caesar?
We should first ask, who was Caesar? Gaius Julius Caesar was no mundane rabble-rouser; he was the second of Rome’s charismatic dictators. The first had been Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who in 81 BC revived the dormant (but fully constitutional) office of dictator—originally intended only for circumscribed use during periods of grave military crisis—and used it as a means to reshape Roman governance and butcher his enemies. (Among those enemies was a teenaged Caesar, who only narrowly escaped death himself. Ironically, Sulla was reluctant to spare the young man’s life, warning those who pled on his behalf that “there are many tyrants within this one.”)