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With the expulsion of Tarquinius Superbus, the last Etruscan king, and the establishment of the Roman Republic in 509 BC, supreme power (imperium) resided in two consuls, who were elected annually. From 222 BC they assumed office on March 15 (the Ides of March), just before the vernal equinox. It was spring, and March, named after Mars, the god of war, was the start of the military campaign season. In 153 BC, however, consuls began to assume power on January 1, which now marked the beginning of the consular or civil year as well as the calendar year. (That is not to say that the Kalends of January became the New Year on that date. It is likely that the first crescent moon after the winter solstice, when light begins to increase over darkness, had marked the natural beginning of the year even when it had begun in March.)

Why the consular year, at least, began on January 1 was due to the Second Celtiberian War. In 154 BC, there was rebellion in Spain. Quintus Fulvius Nobilior was designated consul for the following year but could not assume office until the Ides of March. Given the military situation, the Senate decreed January 1 to be the start of the new civil year, which permitted Nobilior to depart with his legions that much sooner. He still was delayed in arriving, however, as can be determined by a severe defeat late in August, a loss so disastrous that the day on which it occurred was declared a dies ater, a "black day" and subsequently was considered unlucky. Indeed, Appian relates that no Roman general would willingly initiate a battle on that day.