March 17 – On this Day in History

March 17th holds a tapestry of historical significance, showcasing diverse events that have left indelible marks on our world. From decisive battles to cultural milestones and political shifts, this date encapsulates a spectrum of human experiences.

In this article, we explore 20 pivotal events that unfolded on March 17th, offering insights into the interconnectedness of past and present. Join us as we delve into history’s annals to uncover the stories behind these March 17th milestones.

March 17th Events in History

461 – Saint Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, dies in Saul, Downpatrick, Ireland

Saint Patrick is one of the most prominent patron saints of Ireland, celebrated for spreading Christianity throughout the country. Although born in Britain, Patrick was captured and taken to Ireland as a slave at 16. He escaped but returned around 432 to convert the Irish to Christianity.

By the time of his death on March 17, 461, he had established monasteries, churches, and schools. Many legends surround his life, including driving snakes out of Ireland and using the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity.

March 17, his supposed death date, has been commemorated as St. Patrick’s Day, a celebration of Irish culture and heritage.

Saint Patrick

624 – Battle of Badr: Muslims under Muhammad defeat Quraysh of Mecca

The Battle of Badr, fought on March 17, 624, was a key battle in the early days of Islam and marked the beginning of the conflict between Muhammad’s followers in Medina and the Quraysh tribe in Mecca. With a much smaller force, Muhammad and his followers secured a significant victory against the Quraysh.

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The battle is notable for its strategic and military implications, demonstrating the commitment and the fighting capability of the early Muslim community. It also solidified Muhammad’s leadership and significantly increased his status among his followers and in the Arabian Peninsula.

1337 – Edward, the Black Prince is made Duke of Cornwall, the first Duchy in England

On March 17, 1337, Edward of Woodstock, known as the Black Prince, was created Duke of Cornwall by his father, King Edward III of England. This was significant because it marked the first creation of a Duke in England, making Edward the first English Duke.

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The Duchy of Cornwall was established to provide independence and financial stability for the heir to the throne. Edward, the Black Prince, is remembered for his military successes during the Hundred Years’ War and his reputation as a model of chivalry.

1452 – The first book is published in the Italian language

In 1452, the first book published in the Italian language marked a pivotal moment in the history of printing and the Italian language’s development.

This event underscored the growing importance of vernacular languages in European culture and communication, moving away from Latin’s dominance.

The spread of the printing press technology across Europe by Johannes Gutenberg earlier in the 1450s facilitated this shift, enabling the broader dissemination of literature and knowledge in people’s native languages.

1521 – Ferdinand Magellan reaches the Philippines

On March 17, 1521, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer leading a Spanish expedition, reached the Philippines, becoming the first European to do so. This milestone was part of Magellan’s attempt to circumnavigate the globe, demonstrating the vastness of the Earth and the possibility of global sea navigation.

The arrival of Magellan in the Philippines marked the beginning of Spanish interest in the archipelago, leading to over three centuries of Spanish colonization.

Magellan’s expedition had profound implications for global trade and the spread of Christianity, although he was killed in the Philippines a month after his arrival.

 The Battle of Kinsale

1601 – The Battle of Kinsale, one of the ultimate battles in English conquest of Ireland

The Battle of Kinsale was a significant event in the Nine Years’ War, a conflict between the kingdom of England and Irish chieftains seeking to resist English rule. It took place in 1601 at Kinsale, Ireland, and was the decisive battle in the war.

English forces, led by Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, laid siege to the town of Kinsale, held by Spanish forces who had landed in Ireland to assist the Irish rebellion against English rule. The Irish chieftains, led by Hugh O’Neill, attempted to break the siege but were defeated.

This loss marked the beginning of the end for the traditional Gaelic order in Ireland, leading to the establishment of English supremacy and the eventual colonization of Ireland under the Plantation policy.

1649 – The Peace of Rueil is signed, ending the first phase of the Fronde civil war in France

The Peace of Rueil, signed on March 17, 1649, marked the end of the first phase of the Fronde, a series of civil wars in France between 1648 and 1653. The Fronde was initially a revolt against the increasing power of royal authority under King Louis XIV and his regent mother, Anne of Austria, and Cardinal Mazarin.

The first phase, known as the Fronde Parlementaire, involved members of the French Parliament and was primarily aimed at limiting the crown’s power. The Peace of Rueil temporarily resolved this conflict by reaffirming the authority of the monarchy while promising to address some of the grievances that had led to the uprising.

1776 – British forces evacuate Boston to Nova Scotia during the American Revolutionary War

On March 17, 1776, British forces, under the command of General William Howe, evacuated Boston, Massachusetts, marking a significant early victory for the American Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.

This evacuation followed a lengthy siege of Boston by American forces led by George Washington. The Americans had fortified Dorchester Heights with cannons captured from Fort Ticonderoga, giving them a strategic advantage that made the British position in the city untenable.

The British withdrawal to Nova Scotia was celebrated as a major triumph by the Americans and is commemorated in Boston as Evacuation Day.

1805 – The Italian Republic, with Napoleon as president, becomes the Kingdom of Italy, with Napoleon as King

On March 17, 1805, the Italian Republic, of which Napoleon Bonaparte was the President, was proclaimed the Kingdom of Italy, with Napoleon himself becoming its king. This transformation was a part of Napoleon’s larger ambitions to extend the French Empire’s influence across Europe.

The establishment of the Kingdom of Italy signified the consolidation of Napoleon’s control over northern Italy, which had been under French influence since his campaigns in the late 1790s.

This act also reflected Napoleon’s strategy of placing family members and loyalists in positions of power within puppet states to ensure the dominance of the Napoleonic Empire across the continent.


1845 – The Rubber Band is patented by Stephen Perry

On March 17, 1845, Stephen Perry, an English inventor and businessman, patented the rubber band. Perry was a partner in the firm of Messrs. Perry & Co., a company based in London that manufactured rubber products.

The invention of the rubber band was driven by the need for an efficient method to hold papers and envelopes together.

Made from vulcanized rubber, which Charles Goodyear had recently invented the process for, rubber bands became an essential office supply and remain widely used today for a variety of purposes. Perry’s innovation is a testament to the era’s industrial creativity and its impact on everyday life.

1861 – The Kingdom of Italy is proclaimed

On March 17, 1861, the Kingdom of Italy was officially proclaimed, marking a significant milestone in the unification of Italy. Prior to this date, the Italian peninsula was divided into multiple kingdoms, duchies, and states, many of which were under foreign domination or influence.

The movement for Italian unification, known as the Risorgimento, had been gaining momentum throughout the 19th century, driven by figures like Count Camillo di Cavour, Giuseppe Garibaldi, and Victor Emmanuel II. Victor Emmanuel II, formerly the King of Sardinia, was declared the first king of the newly unified Italy.

The proclamation of the Kingdom was a crucial step toward the consolidation of the country, although it would take several more years for certain parts of Italy, such as Rome and the Veneto region, to be integrated into the kingdom.

1901 – A showing of seventy-one Vincent van Gogh paintings in Paris, 11 years after his death

Eleven years after Vincent van Gogh’s death, in 1901, a landmark exhibition of seventy-one of his paintings was held in Paris. This event was crucial in altering the public and critical perception of van Gogh’s work, which had received little recognition during his lifetime.

The exhibition showcased van Gogh’s intense, vibrant use of color and innovative brushwork, which would later influence the development of modern art.

The Paris exhibition marked the beginning of van Gogh’s posthumous fame, leading to his recognition as one of the most important and influential figures in the history of Western art. Today, van Gogh’s paintings are among the most celebrated and valuable in the world.

1919 – The American Legion is founded in Paris

The American Legion, a U.S. war veterans’ organization, was founded on March 17, 1919, in Paris, France, by members of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) who were stationed there following World War I.

The Legion was created as a patriotic veterans organization devoted to mutual helpfulness. It focuses on service to veterans, service members, and communities.

The American Legion’s founding principles were based on the Four Pillars: Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism, and Children & Youth.

Since its inception, the Legion has been instrumental in initiating major social and legislative changes in the United States, including the creation of the U.S. Veterans Bureau, now known as the Department of Veterans Affairs.

1941 – In Washington, D.C., the National Gallery of Art is officially opened by President Franklin D. Roosevelt

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., was officially opened to the public on March 17, 1941, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The museum houses one of the finest art collections in the world and was a gift to the nation from financier and art collector Andrew W. Mellon. Its founding collection included exceptional European and American paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts.

Today, the National Gallery of Art stands as a testament to the cultural and artistic heritage of the United States, offering an extensive array of works from the Middle Ages to the present day.

The Gallery’s mission is to serve the United States by preserving, collecting, exhibiting, and fostering the understanding of works of art at the highest possible museum and scholarly standards.

1959 – Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, flees Tibet for India

On March 17, 1959, amidst a rising Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, fled Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, fearing for his life. After a harrowing and secretive journey through the Himalayas, he safely crossed into India, where he was granted political asylum.

The Dalai Lama’s flight marked a turning point in Tibetan resistance to Chinese occupation, which had been ongoing since 1950. In India, the Dalai Lama established the Central Tibetan Administration (also known as the Tibetan Government-in-Exile) in Dharamshala, which continues to advocate for the rights and autonomy of Tibetans.

The Dalai Lama has since become a global symbol of peace and nonviolence, receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his efforts to resolve the Tibetan conflict through peaceful negotiations.

1973 – The Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph ‘Burst of Joy’ is taken, depicting a former prisoner of war being reunited with his family

On March 17, 1973, the iconic photograph ‘Burst of Joy’ was captured by Associated Press photographer Slava “Sal” Veder. The image depicts the emotional moment of U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Robert L. Stirm being reunited with his family after spending more than five years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

The photograph was taken at Travis Air Force Base in California as part of the Operation Homecoming, which brought American POWs back to the United States. The joy and relief of the family’s reunion are palpable, with Stirm’s children running toward him with open arms.

‘Burst of Joy’ became a symbol of the end of the Vietnam War for many Americans and won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1974.

1988 – A Colombian Boeing 727 jetliner, Avianca Flight 410, crashes into the side of the mountains near the Venezuelan border, killing 143

On March 17, 1988, Avianca Flight 410, a Boeing 727 jetliner, crashed shortly after takeoff from Cúcuta, Colombia, en route to Cartagena. The aircraft collided with the side of a mountain, resulting in the deaths of all 143 passengers and crew onboard.

The investigation into the crash revealed that it was caused by a combination of pilot error and navigational challenges in the mountainous terrain. This tragic event remains one of the deadliest aviation accidents in Colombian history and led to increased efforts to improve air safety standards and pilot training within the country.

1992 – A referendum to end apartheid in South Africa is passed 68.7% to 31.2%

On March 17, 1992, South Africa held a referendum in which the white electorate voted overwhelmingly to end the apartheid system of racial segregation. With a voter turnout of 85%, 68.7% voted in favor of the reform process initiated by then-President F.W. de Klerk, which aimed at dismantling apartheid and moving towards a more inclusive, multiracial democracy.

This referendum was a crucial step in South Africa’s transition from apartheid to a democratic society and set the stage for the first fully democratic elections in 1994, which led to Nelson Mandela’s election as president.

2003 – British Sign Language is recognised as an official British language

On March 17, 2003, British Sign Language (BSL) was officially recognized as a language in its own right by the British government. This landmark recognition followed years of campaigning by the deaf community and their supporters, highlighting the importance of BSL for the culture and identity of deaf people in the UK.

The recognition of BSL as an official language led to increased awareness and support for BSL users, including improved access to education, public services, and media in sign language. It was a significant step forward in promoting the rights and inclusion of deaf individuals in British society.

2011 – The United Nations Security Council passes Resolution 1973 over the Libyan civil war

On March 17, 2011, in response to the escalating violence of the Libyan civil war and widespread reports of human rights violations by the government of Muammar Gaddafi, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1973.

The resolution authorized member states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in Libya, including the imposition of a no-fly zone. This marked a decisive moment in the international community’s response to the conflict, leading to a NATO-led intervention aimed at enforcing the resolution’s terms.

The intervention played a significant role in tipping the balance of the conflict, ultimately contributing to the downfall of Gaddafi’s regime later that year.