Beware The Ides of March

William Shakespeare wrote “beware the ides of March” in his play Julius Caesar. A soothsayer warns Caesar to beware the Ides, two acts later Caesar is assassinated. In the play and reality, Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March, March 15 in the year 44 BC.

Ides derives from a Latin word, meaning “to divide”. In the ancient Roman calendar every month had an ides. In March, May, July and October Ides fell on the 15th, the 13th of every other month marked the Ides. Ancient Rome meant for Ides to mark full moons within calendar months, a concept which soon ran afoul of unapologetic differences inĀ  lengths of calendar and lunar months. In Rome the Ides of March resembled our modem day deadline to file income tax, Romans considered March 15 a annual deadline for settling debt.

By penning caution to Caesar in the play Julius Caesar, Shakespeare immortalized the Ides of March 15. Fear not, Julius Caesar’s coincidental demise on the Ides of March is nothing more than a historical footnote. Superstition has nothing to worry about.

January 1, 45 B.C.

Good morning 2018. January 1 has welcomed you since 45 BC. The year Julius Caesar frowned upon the Roman calendar, proclaiming we could do better. Tired of a woefully inaccurate lunar based calendar, one tolerated since the seventh century BC, Julius Caesar called bullshit on constant corrections to out of sync lunar fancy and nailed down a solar year.

With the help of Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes, Caesar abandoned lunar year in favour of the solar year. Calculated at 365.25 days long, Caesar added 67 days to solar year 45 BC. Consequently the next year started on January 1 rather than in March. He also decreed an extra day would be added to February every 4 years to avoid pitfalls of runaway time.

Caesar and Sosigenes meant well but their 365.25 day solar year was actually 365.242199 in a calendar year. A miscalculation of 11 minutes a year that by the mid 1500s added 10 days to the year. In the 1570s Pope Gregory XIII enlisted astronomer Christopher Clavius to come up with a solution. In 1582 the Gregorian calendar replaced Caesar’s Julian calendar with leap year rules capable of managing untidy extra minutes. See –

Much as I doubt anyone cares why they drank too much last night, take solace in the rising sun and know its the reason January 1 marks a new year. Happy New Year to all.

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