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the Ides of March
Caesar: Ha! Who calls?
Casca: Bid every noise be still. Peace yet again!
Caesar: Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music,
Cry 'Caesar!' Speak. Caesar is turned to hear.
Soothsayer: Beware the Ides of March."
~ Julius Caesar Act I, Scene II, William Shakespeare (1599)
So sayeth the soothsayer ... beware the Ides of March indeed! March has become a month of significance for better for worse lately. Gird your loins literally or figuratively with tartan and defy all calendrical uneasiness! The Ides of March (the 15th on the Roman Calendar), originally a day for the settling of debts, became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. The history of the Celts , tribes which ruled Britain 2000 years ago, is bloodily intertwined with the Roman Empire. By the 1st century AD, most Celtic territories had become part of the Roman Empire and by c. 500 due to Romanisation and the migration of Germanic tribes, Celtic culture had mostly become restricted to Ireland, western and northern Britain as well as Brittany. One of the earliest artistic depictions of tartan is taken from the remaining pieces of a bronze statue of the 3rd century Roman Emperor Caracalla, which is described in contemporary literature as showing him riding a chariot with an unfortunate tartan-clad Caledonian prisoner being dragged behind. The tartan is thought to have been on the leggings of the unfortunate Celt. This statue stood atop a triumphal arch in the ancient Moroccan city of Volubilis (1500 miles from Scotland). Tartans were worn by the ancient Celts not only as a sign of tribal allegiance but as normal clothing. Roman writing from this period suggest that the Celts wore this pattern regularly and described it as “striped,” since they may have lacked a descriptive word for tartan patterns. To depict the pattern and texture, the statue was inlaid with bronze, silver, and other alloys. Caracalla styled himself as “conqueror of the Caledonians” (a catch-all Roman term for Celtic barbarians north of Hadrian’s Wall, mainly the Picts). 🗓️
The Ides of March is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to the 15th of March. It was marked by several religious observances and the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.
In 2012, a fragment of bronze dating to c. 200 AD was discovered and identified as part of Roman statue believed to be the earliest depiction of tartan. The fragment was part of a statue depicted the Roman Emperor Caracalla, known as the conqueror of the Caledonians. It stood on top of a giant triumphal arch in the ancient Moroccan city of Volubilis, in the southwest corner of the Roman Empire, 1,500 miles from Scotland and showed a captive Caledonian warrior wearing tartan trews.
The unique dress of the Caledonians was remarked on even during this times:
“The way they (the Celts) dress is astonishing: they wear brightly-coloured and embroidered shirts, with trousers called bracae and cloaks fastened at the shoulder with a brooch, heavy in winter, light in summer. These cloaks are striped or checkered in design, with the separate checks close together and in various colours.”
~ Diodorus Siculus, Greek Historian, 100 BCE
For more on this interesting artifact, the Roman invasion of Scotland, and speculation about the captive Caledonian's likely end, click the tartan fragment.