The Ides of March

The Ides of March

Ides of March


The Ides of March was a key date in the Roman annum, signalling the first full moon of the calendar year, which began in March.


By means of dating, the months were divided into three via their lunar cycle: the Kalends which corresponded to the New Moon at the start of the month, the Ides which corresponded to the full moon in the middle of the month, and the Nones fell on the quarter moon phases between the two. The Kalends would fall on the first of the month, while the Nones fell on the 5th of 7th day, and the Ides on the 13th or 15th, these being dependant on the length of the calendar month. The Ides was a key date in the religious calendar when the Romans would celebrate the god Jupiter with feasts and sacrifices.


Caesar was one of the most controversial and popular public figures in Rome. He was a talented writer and was bolstered by multiple military feats. While he gained in status and exposure, the political landscape of Rome remained one of a republican government - which was headed by two consuls with equal and joint powers, below them were the praetors, followed by the senate. This system was essential following Rome’s disastrous history of kingship.


According to popular legend, the last king of Rome – Tarquin - was expelled from the city in 509 BC. Rome had long resisted individual rule, but Caesar was seen to threaten the status quo. He was the first living ruler to appear on coinage. Traditionally this honour was reserved for divinities and historical figures. Caesar further ruffled feathers when he accepted the title ‘Dictator for life’ in the February of 44 BC.


The situation reached its climax in March 44 BC, and the conspirators chose to act quickly given Caesar’s plans to leave the capital to campaign against the Parthians.


At the meeting of the Senate on the 15th March 44 BC, Caesar was murdered by the 60 senators. Classicists can only identify 20 men for certain, the other 40 could be lost in the historical records, or perhaps an over exaggeration. Their weapons were those of the military – the pugio which was a short dagger used by legionaires, which held an honourable status. This was highly important as it aimed to reflect that they acted in a military sense for Rome, and crucially that they were thus not murderers. Caesar heroically tried to fight back, harking to his military past – stabbing an attacker with his stylus, but he was defeated.


Tragically and forebodingly, Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, was haunted by ill omens on the fateful day and Caesar himself was in ill health and decided not to attend the meeting. A conspirator – Decimus – visited Caesar with aim to change his mind. Decimus was successful and Caesar set out on this final journey.


The event is immortalized in the play of William Shakespeare Julius Caesar, from which the infamous line ‘et tu, Brute?’ – You too, Brutus? originates. It is from his work that we also gain the expression ‘Beware the Ides of March’.


Brutus, before his death by suicide in 42 BC after defeat by Caesar's successors, oversaw the production of a new Denarius intended to commemorate his Ides of March assassination. Such was the shocking nature of this coinage that it attracted contemporary comment; the Severan politician and author Cassius Dio (c.155-235) noted that "Brutus stamped upon the coins which were being minted his own likeness and a cap and two daggers, indicating by this and by the inscription that he and Cassius had liberated the fatherland". Brutus, clearly proud of his actions, depicted the assassination viscerally on his coinage through the daggers that killed Caesar and the date of the deed.


The death of Caesar resulted in the rise to power of his great nephew and adopted heir – Octavian – who became the first Roman Emperor in 27 BC styled as Augustus Caesar. Ironically, one of the reasons for murdering Caesar was to avoid the establishment of a dynasty.


Sovereign Rarities was pleased to offer the above coin in our Auction V in 2022 which was held on the Ides of March. The coin was mounted in an interesting necklace alongside other examples. The group of Denarii was discovered on a beach in Joppa, Palestine in the mid-19th century. Having spent centuries exposed to saltwater, the coins had toned to a deep black, and so the well-meaning finder plated each coin with silver and pierced them to create a necklace. Unfortunately - and somewhat ironically - it is Brutus's coin that bears the most stab wounds.


Our current stock features some impressive issues of Julius Caesar, in both gold and silver. Browse the stock below.


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