By David E. Hubler
What exactly is the Ides of March and why should we, like Caesar in Shakespeare’s eponymous play, beware of that date?
In ancient Rome, the Ides of March was the 74th day in the Roman calendar, corresponding to March 15, when several religious observances occurred. The Romans also considered the Ides of March as a deadline for settling debts. Appropriately, so did Congress once.
“When the 16th Amendment, which allows Congress to institute the income tax, was adopted on Feb. 3, 1913, Congress chose March 1 — one year and a few dozen days later — as the deadline for filing returns,” explained a 2002 article in Fortune magazine.
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According to the Tax History Project, “Lawmakers offered no explanation for that date, but it seems likely that it was selected to give taxpayers adequate time to gather materials and complete their returns following the end of the tax (and calendar) year.”
However, Congress soon had second thoughts about the timing. So in the Revenue Act of 1918, taxpayers were given a few more weeks to file, setting March 15 as the new deadline to begin in 1919.
The March 15 filing deadline remained on the books until the Internal Revenue Code of 1954 established April 15 as tax day. And thus it remains. (Victims of the tornadoes and severe storms in parts of Tennessee, including Nashville, this year will have until July 15 to file tax returns and make tax payments.)
However, the Ides of March are much more than just a former tax deadline and a warning from an old soothsayer.
Kalends, Nones and Ides were ancient calendar markers used to reference dates in relation to lunar phases, History.com explains. “Ides simply referred to the first full moon of a given month, which usually fell between the 13th and 15th. In fact, the Ides of March once signified the new year, which meant celebrations and rejoicing.”
But according to Smithsonian magazine, there are at least 10 valid reasons to beware the Ides of March:
1. Assassination of Julius Caesar, 44 B.C.
Conspirators led by Marcus Junius Brutus stab emperor Julius Caesar to death before the Roman senate. Caesar was 55. Shakespeare knew his history.
2. A Raid on Southern England, 1360
A French raiding party begins a 48-hour spree of rape, pillage and murder in southern England. King Edward III interrupts his own pillaging spree in France to launch reprisals, writes historian Barbara Tuchman, “on discovering that the French could act as viciously in his realm as the English did in France.”
3. Samoan Cyclone, 1889
A cyclone wrecks six warships — three U.S., three German — in the harbor at Apia, Samoa, leaving more than 200 sailors dead. The ships represented each nation’s show of force to see which would annex the Samoan islands; the disaster however averted a likely war.
4. Czar Nicholas II Abdicates His Throne, 1917
Czar Nicholas II of Russia signs his abdication papers, ending a 304-year-old royal dynasty and ushering in Bolshevik rule and the coming Soviet Union. Nicholas and his family are taken captive and, in July 1918, all were executed before a firing squad.
5. Germany Occupies Czechoslovakia, 1939
Just six months after Czechoslovak leaders ceded the Sudetenland to Germany, Nazi troops seize the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, effectively wiping Czechoslovakia off the map.
6. A Deadly Blizzard on the Great Plains, 1941
A Saturday night blizzard strikes the northern Great Plains, leaving at least 60 people dead in North Dakota and Minnesota and six more in Manitoba and Saskatchewan in Canada.
7. World Record Rainfall, 1952
Rain falls on the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion hard enough to register the world’s most voluminous 24-hour rainfall: 73.62 inches.
8. CBS Cancels the “Ed Sullivan Show,” 1971
Word leaks that CBS-TV is canceling “The Ed Sullivan Show” after 23 years on the network, which also dumped the shows of Red Skelton and Jackie Gleason in the preceding month. A generation mourns the day the entertainment died.
9. Disappearing Ozone Layer, 1988
NASA reports that the ozone layer over the Northern Hemisphere has been depleted three times faster than predicted.
10. A New Global Health Scare, 2003
After accumulating reports of a mysterious respiratory disease afflicting patients and healthcare workers in China, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada, the World Health Organization issues a heightened global health alert. The disease will soon become famous under the acronym SARS (for Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome).
And one more, courtesy of CNN: The Syrian Civil War began on March 15, 2011, when protesters took to the streets of Daraa after a group of teens and children were arrested for writing political graffiti. That led to an estimated 400,000 Syrians being killed and more than 6.1 million internally displaced.
So, perhaps it would be wise to heed the old soothsayer’s warning after all.