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March 15 – political significance

Over Spring Break I took up the task of reading Caesar and Christ: The Story of Civilization by the incomparable Will Durant.  His volumes of history are highly regarded by most scholars, and I am thus far enjoying this volume of his work immensely.  Today, March 15, I happened to read chapter II where I found the following: a description of candidacy for chief magistrates in Rome.

The candidate appeared in person, dressed in plain white (candidus) toga to emphasize the simplicity of his life and morals, and perhaps the more easily to show the scars he had won in the field.  If elected, he entered office on the ensuing March 15.  (Caesar and Christ, Durant)

Most of us remember the infamous Ides of March as the anniversary for the brutal assassination of Julius Caesar,  his grand exit from the stage of political theater.  According to Durant, this same date was significant to Romans as the day when their chief magistrates began office, at least during the time of the Republic.  Yet this date marks the end for Caesar’s reign.  Oh the irony!

One might wonder why the Romans would have chosen this date.  Our politicians generally take office in early January, right after the new year begins.  It was the same for the Romans whose year once began in March.  (See the post titled Happy New Year) In the year 153 B.C. the consuls began to take office on the Kalends of January instead.  Would the Romans have felt the heavy irony to such a permanent end to Caesar’s career on this day?  We may never know for certain.  But we do know that since that fateful day the meaning of the Ides of March has forever been changed.  Even in their own day, men such as Cicero never had to refer directly to the assassination of Caesar, but could simply mention the Ides.  At the mere utterance of that word his fellow Romans did think of no other consul, but Caesar.

 

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