Originally written on March 15, 2021 – updated 2023
Julius Caesar was warned by a seer that harm would befall him before the end of the Ides of March, on March the 15th.
The seer was right, as he was assassinated on that day.
His assassination on 15th of March 44 BC, was a turning point in Roman history.
Centuries later, the expression “Beware the Ides of March” was found in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in 1601 in the soothsayer’s message to Julius Caesar, warning of his death.
Since then, the Ides of March became notorious as being associated with death.
However, long before the Ides of March became associated with Julius Caesar’s murder, it was a day of celebration for the ancient goddess Anna Perenna, a goddess beloved especially by the common people.
Anna meaning “to live through a year”, while perenna means “last many years”. And, not by chance, her festival was full of contradictions such as old and new as well as death and rebirth.
The month of March itself was believed to be the first month of the year, a time when springtime was in full bloom and newness was all around. Therefore, the celebration would have marked the first full moon in the year in the old lunar Roman calendar.
As with many ancient deities, Anna Perenna’s origins are shrouded in mystery.
According to Ovidius, Anna was the Phoenician queen Dido’s sister, the Carthaginian founder in Virgil’s Aeneid. Dido was the same woman that Aeneas abandoned on the Carthaginian shores, starting the enduring hatred between Rome and Carthage.
After her sister’s death, who killed herself due to the departure of Aeneas, Anna abandoned the African coasts and sought shelter in Malta.
A shipwreck led her to Latium, where Aeneas welcomed her. Lavinia, the wife of the hero, began to feel great jealousy about the newcomer.
Meanwhile, Anna had a strange dream: her sister Dido invited her to leave the palace of Aeneas, so avoiding a great danger.
She obeyed and fled but, when she arrived at the river Numicio, the river god fell in love with her and took her with him, transforming her into one of the nymphs of amnis perennis, the eternal flow.
From that moment on, the Phoenician princess became a river nymph and took the name of Anna Perenna.
According to another almost unknown version, Anna was an old woman living in Bovillae. During a secessio plebis, a type of extreme strike where all shops are shut down, Anna baked cakes every morning and gave them to the hungry rebels. In gratitude, they worshipped her as a Goddess. Thanks to their worship, Anna became a deified human.
Whatever Anna Perenna’s origin, on the evening of the 15th of March, people would camp out at the first milestone on the Via Flaminia, Anna Perenna’s sacred grove of fruit trees by the banks of the Tiber. Here the people would picnic merrily into the night feasting, dancing, singing and celebrate with wine, toasting to health and long life.
Public and private offerings were made to Anna Perenna “ut annare perannareque commode liccat” (“that the circle of the year may be completed happily”). As it was believed that one would live as many years as the cups of wine one could drink, it was of course traditional to get extremely drunk.
In any case there are two places where it seems Anna Perenna was worshipped. One is Buscemi in Sicily where inscriptions to Anna and Apollo were discovered. The other is in Rome where a fountain dedicated to Anna was unearthed…