How Upper and Lower Case Letters Changed the World

The Godescalc EvangelistaryWhen I was studying European history at university, I had to write a paper about the Carolingian empire. You won’t be surprised to learn that I chose a language-related topic. These days, as my six-year-old learns to read and write, I’ve been thinking about that paper. Today, I’d like to revisit it.

As you may know, people didn’t always use upper and lower case letters—also known as majuscule and minuscule. In Rome, manuscripts from the 7th and 8th centuries were written entirely in majuscule. Continue reading


The Ides of March

Beware, dear readers! Today is the Ides of March.

But what does that actually mean? Well, if you’re Julius Caesar, it could mean your career (and perhaps even your breathing) is about to come to an abrupt end. But if you aren’t a Roman dictator, it simply means you’ve reached the middle of the month of March.

So where does the term Ides come from? Well, it comes from the Latin word idus, which the ancient Roman scholar Varro claimed was originally an Etruscan word. And yes, Ides refers to the middle day in a Roman month, which occurs 8 days after the Nones.

Now, if you are anything like me, you are probably wondering what the heck is the Nones?

The best way to explain it is to look at the way ancient Romans approached calendars. It’s a bit different from the way we do things in modern Western society.

Rather than numbering the days of the month in sequence from the first to the last, ancient Romans used three markers to break up the month. They were the Nones (Nonae), the Ides (Idus) and the Calends (Kalendae).

Each month, a pontifex (a priest assigned to sky watching) announced the Calends. It signified the beginning of a new moon cycle and thus, the beginning of a new month. The Nones, which signified the first quarter moon, typically came 8 days before the Ides, which occurred in the middle of the month, at the full moon. In March, May, July and October the Ides fell on the 15th day. During the remaining months the Ides fell on the 13th day.

In ancient Roman society each day was referred to by how many days it fell before one of the three markers. So, for example, St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th) would be the 16th day before the Calends of April.

And there you have it. I hope you all have a very happy Ides of March – and enjoy the 16th day before the Calends of April this weekend!

If you are interested in reading more about the ancient Roman calendar, in its various incarnations, check out these websites:


Given that the Ides of March are upon us again, I thought I’d link up last year’s post with the Moonshine grid this weekend.


Image credit: The “Ides of March” Denarius coin /