History of March: Why in like a Lion and out like a Lamb?



March 1 used to be the first day of the year, at least in Ancient Rome, and in limited cases, it is again. How is that so?

The month that can come “in like a lion and out like a lamb” is named after Mars, the Roman god of war and agriculture.

Indeed, in French, the month is called Mars. March, or Martius as it was known in ancient Rome, is the first month of Spring. It is a favorable season for travel, planting, or beginning a military campaign.

Why the lion and lamb association?

  • According to ancient weather folklore, because it is the transition between winter and spring, the sense of ancestral balance suggests if it comes in bad, it would end mild, or vice-versa.
  • March sees the constellation of Leo (the Lion) on the eastern horizon at sunset. But by the end of the month, Ares (the Ram) is on the western horizon.
  • Another theory is that Jesus first came as the sacrificial Lamb of God, but will return as the triumphant Lion of Judah.

March 1 in the Northern hemisphere marked the beginning of the meteorological Spring. It was the original New Year’s Day of Rome until at least 153 B.C., when it was changed to December or January under different Roman rulers.

Some parts of Europe continued to use March as the beginning of the year until the 16th century. Great Britain and her colonies into the 18th century when the West changed the calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.


March 1: New Year’s Day Again

But March is an attractive month for the start of the year for computer software programs. Because February does not have a fixed number of days, like other months, March is used as the beginning of the year, using Julian Day Numbers.

Named after Julian Scaliger, whose son Joseph named it after him, it is a uniform count of days from a remote epoch in the past. It is convenient for astronomers, military, bankers, and manufacturers to use since it is unnecessary to worry about odd numbers of days in a month, leap years, leap seconds, etc.

For example, this article was published on March 1, GMT 19:30, or Julian Date 2460004.56250.


March Holidays

Following the West’s liturgical church calendar, March may host “movable” pre-Lent holidays like Shrove Monday, Mardi Gras, and Ash Wednesday, or they could occur as early as February. Good Friday and Easter may occur in March if the first full moon happens on or after March 21.

The Ides of March, St. Patrick’s Day, and the Vernal Equinox are “fixed” to this month. Italian holidays, like St. Joseph’s Day, occur here too.

The old saying:

March winds and April showers?
Bring forth May flowers.

… could mean that it’s an excellent month to fly a kite.


March and Spring

DaffodilsIn Colorado, where I live, the ground is still covered with snow, but March signifies the beginning of Spring by animals coming out of hibernation. Rabbits appear everywhere, setting off my camera sensors.

Certain flowers begin to blossom. Daffodils are the birth flower for those born in March. When I was a student at Berkeley, the fraternities and sororities would sell them in March for their fundraisers.

Why is the daffodil so appealing?

The Latin or scientific name for daffodil is Narcissus. in Ancient Greece, Narcissus was a hunter followed by the mountain nymph Echo while walking in the woods. He sensed her and called out,

“Who’s there?”

But she could only repeat,

“Who’s there.”

When she eventually revealed herself to the beautiful youth and attempted to embrace him, he moved away and commanded her to leave him alone. She left weeping and heartbroken and then spent her life sadly until all that remained of her was her echo.

But Aphrodite was her protector. In the personage of Nemesis, the goddess of retribution against hubris (excessive pride toward or defiance of the gods,) she saw Narcissus’ behavior. She determined he’d get “what is due” (the Greek meaning of Nemesis.) One summer, while hunting, he became thirsty, and the goddess lured him to a pool of water.



Echo & Narcissus, by John William Waterhouse


As he leaned over the pool, he saw a beautiful youth in the bloom of youth. Not recognizing that it was his own reflection, he fell in love.

He could not leave the image, but realizing his love could not be reciprocated, his unrequited fire of burning passion melted him away so that nothing was left of him but a flower of gold and white, a narcissus.


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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About billpetro

Bill Petro has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.

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