According to historians, Julius Caesar was named Rome’s Dictator for Life. Opponents, though, saw to it that he held the title for less than a year. In the halls of the Roman Senate, several of the elite lawmakers—including his longtime friend Decimus Junius Brutus—sprang upon him and stabbed him to death.
According to legend, a seer much earlier had warned him to “Beware the Ides of March.”
Just what are the Ides of which Caesar should have been wary?
The Roman calendar, many years before the birth of the One to whose recognition by the letters AD we are accustomed, was divided into periods based on the full moon. A comprehensive review of calendars and their deviations would be both lengthy and boring. Suffice it to say that in the calendar of that time, the middle of the month was termed Ides. March was the first month of the year.
The Ides of March was deemed to be the latest date by which debts should be settled. It was also a time of celebrations—both religious and of seeing the old year out and the new year in. It is interesting to note that in Rome before Christianity, many religions were practiced. Discussion of theological divisions then and now is for another time.
Let’s just say there was a lot of celebrating going on in ancient Rome during the Ides of March.
Shortly before his death, Julius Caesar actually changed the calendar to a format similar to the one still in use. Informed that the years were six hours longer than shown, he inserted an extra day every four years—our leap year. Pope Gregory XIII made a small correction in 1582 and the calendar now generally in use around the world is known as the Gregorian calendar.
Born 99 years before the birth of Christ into an established but not wealthy family, Caesar became a soldier and quickly showed leadership skills. It was not long before he was leading forays and coming out victorious when adding land for the Romans. He was granted various political positions and was adept at creating alliances. As a consul, he made many changes that strengthened his power and influence. He persuaded the senate to name him dictator for life. He appointed many of his friends and supporters to powerful positions. Those actions angered many colleagues, including his friend Brutus.
Caesar was said to have been stabbed 23 times, with as many as 60 members of the senate involved in the conspiracy.
A small group gathered around him; one snatched his garment, then thrust a dagger at him. A second blow from another assassin was deemed the lethal one, but others followed as the angry and blood-thirsty crowd grew.
Caesar’s death changed the course of history. Instead of the dictatorship he had been granted, Rome became an empire. It continued to see struggles for control with more violent imperial overthrows, at the same time expanding its reach through conquests. By 117 AD the empire had reached its zenith, Roman governors in control of all shores of the Mediterranean Sea. All of Europe up to the Baltics, Southeast Asia and North Africa were ruled by Rome, the world’s largest city.
The rise and fall of the Roman Empire involved so much intrigue that it inspired historians to delve deeply into its various stages. Several of William Shakespeare’s plays were based on the tragedies of the time and its colorful characters. The western portion of the empire ended in 476 AD when Romulus Augustus was defeated by Odoacer, a German warlord. The eastern portion did not fall until 1453 when Constantinople was taken by the Ottoman Turks.
Caesar’s assassination on March 15 is the most familiar misfortune connected with the Ides of March.
Someone at the Smithsonian Museum came up with nine other serious incidents occurring on March 15. The assassination of Caesar at the age of 55 in 44 BC was the oldest. Next came a “48-hour spree of rape, pillage and murder in southern England in 1360.” King Edward III retaliated with a raid said to have been even more brutal. In 1889 a March 15 cyclone wrecked six opposing warships lined up off Samoa, killing 200 sailors. The silver lining in that cloud was that a potential war between the United States and Germany was avoided.
Russian Czar Nicholas II—who succeeded Alexander II, the one who sold Alaska to the United States—abdicated the throne on March 15, 1917. That ended a royal dynasty that lasted three centuries, opening the door to a communist takeover. In 1939, the Nazi blitzkrieg took over Czechoslovakia on March 15, at the start of World War II. Sixty-six people died on March 15, 1941, when a blizzard hit North Dakota, Minnesota, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Winds of 60 miles an hour from the north drove a deadly snowfall. Another weather-related March 15 saw a world record of 73.62 inches of rainfall in a 24-hour period on the island of La Reunion in the Indian Ocean.
On March 15, 1971, the Columbia Broadcasting System canceled The Ed Sullivan Show. The variety show had run for 23 years; shows of Red Skelton and Jackie Gleason were dropped a month earlier. NASA reported on this date in 1988 that the ozone layer over the Northern Hemisphere had been “depleted three times faster than predicted.” Fifteen years ago a mysterious respiratory disease, later to be known as SARS (Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome), caused a global health alert issued on March 15.
Although not listed by the respected Smithsonian scholar, March 15 looms large in another federal bureau—the Internal Revenue Service. From 1918 until 1955 that was the deadline for filing income tax returns. Some Americans might view that as another misfortune, especially if they are late and have to pay a hefty penalty.
According to Jessica Sung, writing for Fortune Magazine:
Congress originally put tax day on the calendar. When the 16th Amendment, which allows Congress to institute the income tax, was adopted on Feb. 3, 1913, Congress chose March 1…as the deadline for filing returns. Then, with the Revenue Act of 1918, Congress inexplicably moved the date forward to March 15. The next overhaul came in 1955, when buried between tax-code revisions was yet another date change, this time to April 15. According to an IRS spokesman, the move “spread out the peak workload,” but there’s another explanation. Turns out that as the income tax applied to more of the middle class, the government had to issue more refunds. “Pushing the deadline back gives the government more time to hold on to the money,” says Ed McCaffery, a University of Southern California law professor and tax guru. Still, the IRS’s rigidity works in your favor: By law, it must mail your refund within 45 days or pay you interest.
A new tax law was passed by Congress on Dec. 22, said to lower rates for most Americans. It went into effect last month with many of the details still to be worked out. This year, tax returns for 2017 income will be due on April 17. The additional time is because April 15 is on Sunday. That coincides with Emancipation Day in Washington, D.C., meaning that IRS offices there will be closed on Monday, extending the deadline until Tuesday the 17th since nobody will be in the office to accept the forms.
So, now we know about the Ides of March. May the tides of the ides go your way!
Lee Jordan has been an Alaskan since 1949, moved to Chugiak in 1962 and in 2016 moved back to Anchorage. An Alaska history buff, he enjoys writing about the place where he did not want to be sent, but came to love. He has written four books on Alaska history and has a blog at www.byleejordan.com. To reach Lee Jordan, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.