Updated: Aug 14, 2022
Today is Friday the 13th! While Shakespeare never references this day, he is famous for creating a “holiday” with similar foreboding connotations: the Ides of March. This is the one where Julius Caesar gets…assassinated. And if that’s not doom, I’m not sure what is. But while modern audiences are correct in viewing March’s Ides as a time of unfortunate fate, not everything the Bard’s play taught them about the day is true. Thus, we’ve decided to debunk some common myths surrounding these ominous Ides.
Myth #1: Caesar Was Warned By a Soothsayer to “Beware the Ides of March”
Caesar was indeed alerted about his impending death. It's how he was warned that distinguishes fact from Shakespeare’s fiction.
On February 15, 44 BC, Historians believe the real Caesar consulted the soothsayer Spurinna who was a haruspex--someone who makes predictions based on their inspection of sacrificed animal entrails. Because the bull entrails lacked a heart, Spurinna believed it to be a bad omen and warned that Caesar’s life was in danger for the next 30 days. Fun fact: the Ides of March actually marks the end of the 30 days, not the period in which he would be killed.
Interestingly, scholars believe that Spurinna and his colleagues had many contacts. As a result, his prediction was likely less based on sacrificial animal superstition and more on his knowledge of the Roman elite’s growing resentment toward Caesar’s dictatorial rule.
Myth #2: Caesar Was Murdered at the Capitol
Contrary to popular belief, Caesar was not assassinated at the Capitol or the Senate House. According to Plutarch, the Senate meeting had been relocated to the Portico of Pompey within the Theatre of Pompey since the Senate House was under reconstruction.
Famous paintings like Jean-Léon Gérôme’s “The Death of Caesar” are excellent examples of artists’ incorrect portrayal of Caesar’s death.
Myth #3: Caesar’s Close Friend Brutus Led the Conspiracy with Cassius
First, let’s clear up the relationship between Brutus, Cassius, and Caesar. In real life, Brutus and Cassius initially sided against Caesar in the civil war over Caesar’s growing power. Luckily for them, they were pardoned by Caesar and were offered political positions...but Caesar never stopped distrusting them.
The real man you should be looking at is Decimus. He had fought in the army alongside Caesar and had taken his side during the civil war. Caesar rewarded him with a position as governor but later denied Decimus a public showing of honor for his military victories. The fact that Caesar denied one of his most loyal friends this but granted the privilege to lower generals could be one of the reasons he turned against Caesar.
Shakespeare is believed to have made Brutus and Cassius the main conspirators and “relegated Decimus (who he incorrectly spelt as Decius) to a back seat position...because he used the writings of Plutarch to shape his picture of Rome and Plutarch believed Brutus and Cassius to be the main ringleaders. However, all the other sources we have about that time (Nicolaus of Damascus, Cassius Dio, Suetonius and Appian) place greater importance on Decimus.”1
Myth #4: Caesar’s Last Words Were “Et tu, Brute?”
In real life, Caesar is believed to have said nothing at all. He simply took a few breaths, pulled his toga over his face to preserve dignity, and passed away. However, there were rumors spread around the time of his assassination that claimed he told Brutus, “You too, my child?”
And for those wondering....“Et tu, Brute?” means “and you, Brutus?”
Myth #5: Brutus Stabbed Caesar Last
While it is known 60 men stabbed Caesar, the order of the stabbing has never been discovered.
BONUS MYTH: The Ides of March = Cursed
You ready for this one?! They're NOT cursed and were originally a joyful day of celebration!
In the Roman calendar, the months were divided into three parts based on the lunar cycle’s first three positions: Kalends, Ides, & Nones. The Ides specifically occurred on the 15th day of every month containing 31 days & on the 13th day of remaining months. Consequently, they aligned with the full moon, including the 1st one of the New Year … bringing about annual festivals & feasts!
Discussion: Which of these myths have you heard spoken as truth? Let us know in the comments below!
Written by Mariela Rivero
Edited by Laura Yumi Snell
Painting: “La morte di Cesare” by Vincenzo Camuccini
Ides of March: Debunking the Myths. Sky HISTORY.