When did Julius Caesar die? It wasn’t on March 15th after all
Ask anyone when Julius Ceasar died and no doubt they’ll tell you “The Ides of March,” because that’s what we were all taught in school. However, modern-day research tells us, what we were taught was wrong.
I guess it wasn’t really that we were wrong, it’s just a popular misconception.
Most of society knows what they do about Julius Ceasar’s death based on the play about him by Shakespeare. But plays (like movies) aren’t always based on facts. They are about entertainment and it turns out Shakespeare took some creative license and made a few minor tweaks about the life and death of Julius Caesar.
Julius Caesar Death
Shakespeare was only off by a day in regards to his death. It’s understandable however because the conversion from the Roman to the Julian calendar gets a little complicated.
So when exactly did Julius Caesar die? Well if you want to get technical Julius Caesar died on Id. Mart. AUC 710 (Ides of March, 710 years after the founding of the city), which turns out to be March 14, 44 BC, based on our current calendar.
The Julian calendar was proposed by Julius Caesar in AUC 708, which works out to be the year 46 BC, based on our current calendar — Just a few years before his death. The Julian calendar was a reform of the Roman calendar. It took effect on January 1 AUC 709 (45 BC), by edict of the Roman emperor. It was designed with the aid of Greek mathematicians and Greek astronomers.
Prior to the Julian calendar, we referred to events as AUC.
In literal grammar-translation, ab urbe condita becomes English “from the founded city”, and anno urbis conditae becomes “in the year of the founded city”. While this produces odd-sounding English syntax, in Latin this manner of expression is valid, and in particular usual for the word condo (“to found”, etc.) in the Classical language; it conveys a tone that is somewhat more archaic and lofty.
But for simplification purposes, all you need to know is back then they called things AUC – then the year in question. For example, Rome was founded in 753 BC, or AUC 1. The year 1 AD would be AUC 754.
- AUC 753 = the year 1 BC
- AUC 754 = the year AD 1
- AUC 1229 = AD 476 (Fall of the Western Roman Empire by the armies of Odoacer)
- AUC 2000 = AD 1247
- AUC 2206 = AD 1453 (Fall of Constantinople)
- AUC 2542 = AD 1789 (French Revolution)
- AUC 2623 = AD 1870 (Foundation of the Kingdom of Italy)
- AUC 2699 = AD 1946 (Proclamation of the Italian Republic)
- AUC 2753 = AD 2000
- AUC 2772 = AD 2019
- AUC 2773 = AD 2020
- AUC 2774 = AD 2021
Anno Domini is Latin for “in the year of the Lord” which refers to the birth of Jesus Christ. … B.C. means “before Christ”. Therefore, 1403 A.D. means the year 1404 (in the year of the lord). Anything that took place before the birth of Christ is referred to as BC. So Queen Cleopatra of Egypt died on August 30, BC.
BC (all events taking place before the birth of Christ) are counted backward. So since Cleopatra died in 30 BC, we know that means she died 30 years before the birth of Christ.
But back to Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar died on Id. Mart. AUC 710, which as I previously pointed out, actually converts to March 14, 44 BC. Here is how we know that … trust me when I say, it’s about to get complicated. But we have to work out the math to understand.
The Julian calendar officially began on Kal. Ian. A.U.C. 709. Kal. Ian. AUC 709 is a shorthand way of saying the first day of the month of IAN in the year AUC 709.
The first day of each month in Roman times was referred to as KAL ENDS or KAL for short.
The Roman calendar has 12 months just like our own calendar.
- January – IAN (IANVARIVS)
- February – FEB (FEBRVARIVS)
- March -MART (MARTIVS)
- April – APR (APRILIS)
- May – MAI (MAIVS)
- June – IVN (IVNIVS)
- July – IVL (IVLIVS)
- August – AVG (AVGVSTVS)
- September – SEPT (SEPTEMBER)
- October – OCT (OCTOBER)
- November – NOV (NOVEMBER)
- December – DEC (DECEMBER)
The next part is the complicated mathematical computation on how Julius Ceasar’s actual date of death worked out to be the 14th of March and not the 15th.
(From Christ Bennett) While the Julian calendar began operation on Kal. Ian. A.U.C. 709 = 45, leap years were initially inserted every third year instead of every fourth until the error was corrected by Augustus.
The most detailed description of this reform is given by the fifth-century author Macrobius Saturnalia 1.14.13. He states that after Caesar’s death the pontiffs caused the leap day to be inserted “at the beginning of every fourth year instead of at its end” (i.e., since the Romans counted inclusively, every third year instead of every fourth) for 36 years, after which time there had been 12 leap days in a period that should have had 9.
The analysis of A.U.C. 730 = 24 shows that A.U.C. 746 = 8 was the leap year that ended the 12th triennial cycle. Hence the first ended in A.U.C. 713 = 41, which is also documented as a leap year, and must have begun in A.U.C. 710 = 44.
Dio Cassius 48.33.4 implies that prid. Kal. Ian. A.U.C. 713 = 41 was a market day, while Dio Cassius 40.47 states that Kal. Ian. A.U.C. 702 = 52 was also a market day. These two dates were therefore a multiple of 8 days apart. It can be shown that the intervening Republican years were all regular, i.e. 355 days each, except for A.U.C. 702 = 52 itself, which was 378 days long, and that Caesar added 90 days to A.U.C. 708 = 46. Hence the length of this period, as otherwise accounted, is 378 + 5×355 + 445 + 5×365 = 4,423 = 7 (mod 8) days. Therefore there was precisely one extra leap day between A.U.C. 709 = 45 and A.U.C. 714 = 40.
The 36th year before A.U.C. 746 = 8, counting inclusively is A.U.C. 711 = 43. This suffices to rule out A.U.C. 712 = 42 and A.U.C. 713 = 41. Also, Dio states that a leap day was inserted into A.U.C. 713 = 41 in order to avoid a market day on Kal. Ian. A.U.C. 714 = 40, which was ill-omened. If the extra leap day was in A.U.C. 711 = 43 or either of the next two years then Kal. Ian. A.U.C. 711 = 43 would also have been a market day.
Therefore the extra bissextile day was in A.U.C. 709 = 45 or A.U.C. 710 = 44. Both candidates are before Caesar’s assassination on Id. Mart. A.U.C. 710 = 14 March 44. Therefore this bissextile day was a leap day that Caesar intended. If it was in A.U.C. 709 = 45 then the leap day in A.U.C. 713 = 41 was not have been “against the rule” as Dio states. Hence it was in A.U.C. 710 = 44, which is also the beginning of the first triennial cycle. It follows that A.U.C. 710 = 44 was 366 days long and A.U.C. 709 = 45 was 365 days long.
This argument depends critically on the analysis of the length of the years between A.U.C. 702 = 52 and A.U.C. 713 = 41. Perhaps the weakest point is A.U.C. 708 = 46, which relies on secondary evidence, although primary evidence shows that the total intercalation of this year must have been much in excess of 67 days. Scaliger thought this year was 444 days long, which would imply two Julian leap days. This solution is only possible on Scaliger’s triennial phase, in which A.U.C. 709 = 45 and A.U.C. 712 = 42 were both leap years. However, the evidence considered here is against this phase. The MS tradition of Macrobius makes A.U.C. 708 = 46 443 (or 440) days long, which would require three Julian leap days (which is impossible) or at least one error in the analysis of the late Republican calendar (which is very unlikely).
So while Julius Ceasar may have died on the AUC 710 Ides of March in Roman times but based on our modern-day calculator that day would have actually fallen on the 14th of March in the year 44 BC.
Speaking of the Ides of March.
It’s not quite true that a soothsayer warned Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March!” as Shakespeare says. The soothsayer actually warned Caesar a month earlier to beware of a 30-day period ending in the Ides of March, that is, the times from February 15 to March 15.
Here are some quick Julius Ceasar Facts:
- Gaius Julius Caesar was born on July 13, 100 BC,
- Julius Caesar was 55 years old when he died.
- Julius Caesar had at least 3 Roman wives – Cornelia (m. 84 BC–69 BC), Pompeia (m. 67 BC–61 BC), and Calpurnia (m. 59 BC–44 BC).
- Julius Caesar was named after his father Gaius Julius Caesar.
- Julius Caesar’s mother was Aurelia Cotta.
- Julius Caesar had two older sisters Julia Major and Julia Minor.
- Julius Caesar adopted his great-nephew, Gaius Octavius (future emperor Augustus). He’s the son of Julius Caesar’s sister’s daughter. Gaius Octavius’s own father died when he was 4 years old so he looked up to his Great Uncle Julius Caesar, as a father figure.
- Julius Caesar had a daughter named Julia. She died in the year 54 BC, ten years after her father was assassinated. Julia died during childbirth. Julia would have been about 22 years old when she died.
- Augustus named his own daughter Julia, no doubt in honor of Julius Caesar’s own daughter Julia, which would have been his adoptive sister.
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