You might vaguely remember hearing in English class that you should “beware the Ides of March,” but what exactly is an “Ides” and why should you be wary of it?
Ides comes from an old Latin verb iduare, which meant “to divide.” It was the Roman term for the day that came in the middle of the month.
Every month has an Ides. March has 31 days, so the Ides of March is on March 15.
Roman dictator Julius Caesar heard — and ignored — the infamous warning about the Ides of March in the first act of Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Caesar then stubbornly ignored several more warning signs in the play, ultimately leading to his assassination.
Caesar was stabbed to death by his best friend Brutus and several other members of the Senate on the steps of the Capitol where he uttered the play’s other famous line: “Et tu, Brute?” (“And you, Brutus?”)
Since Caesar’s assassination in 44 B.C., the middle of March has become synonymous with bad omens and disaster. Many lesser-known, ominous events occurred on the Ides of March:
1889: Cyclone strikes during the Samoa Crisis
Six U.S. and German warships sat in the harbor of Apia, Samoa, for months, each side hoping to gain control of the Samoan Islands which were embroiled in civil war. The standoff ended when a deadly storm hit the harbor killing nearly 150 people.
1939: Hitler invades Czechoslovakia
Forsaking the Munich Agreement, Hitler moved Nazi troops into Czechoslovakia annexing the country and ending the practice of appeasement. Britain would declare war on Germany later that year in September, sparking World War II.
1941: Deadly blizzard hits the midwest
A fast-moving, severe blizzard hit North Dakota and Minnesota reportedly killing more than 70 people with almost no warning. The storm brought 7-foot high snow drifts and temperatures dropped 20 degrees in 15 minutes in some locations.
2003: WHO issues global alert for SARS
The first cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome were reported in China in November 2002, but it wasn’t until March the following year that the World Health Organization named the mysterious illness and declared it a “worldwide health threat.” The disease would infect more than 8,000 people, killing nearly 800, in more than 37 countries over the course of the outbreak.
2011: Syrian Civil War begins
What started as peaceful protests against the government of Bashar al-Assad quickly escalated into a full-scale civil war which allowed the Islamic state extremists to flourish and spawned the world’s worst refugee crisis since World War II.