Mars

Rome's Honored War God

Mars Resting painting by Diego Velázquez

Museo del Prado / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Mars (Mavors or Mamers) is an old Italian fertility god who came to be known as Gradivus, the strider, and the god of war. Although usually taken to be the equivalent of the Greek war god Ares, Mars was well-liked and honored by the Romans, unlike Ares vis à vis the ancient Greeks.

Mars sired Romulus and Remus, making the Romans his children. He was usually called the son of Juno and Jupiter, just as Ares was taken to be the son of Hera and Zeus.

The Romans named an area beyond the walls of their city for Mars, the Campus Martius 'Field of Mars'. Within the city of Rome were temples honoring the god. Throwing open the gates of his temple symbolized war.

Festivals Honoring Mars

On 1 March (the month named for Mars), Romans honored both Mars and the New Year with special rites (feriae Martis). This was the beginning of the Roman year from the period of kings through most of the Roman Republic. Other festivals to honor Mars were the second Equirria (14 March), agonium Martiale (17 March), Quinquatrus (19 March), and Tubilustrium (23 March). These March festivals were probably all connected in some way with the campaign season.

The special priest of Mars was the flamen Martialis. There were special flamines (the plural of flamen) for Jupiter and Quirinus, as well. Special priest-dancers, known as salii, performed war-dances in honor of the gods on the 1,9, and 23 of March. In October, the Armilustrum on the 19th and the Equus on the Ides appear to have honored war (the end of the campaign season) and Mars, as well.

Symbols Associated With Mars

The symbols of Mars are the wolf, woodpecker, and lance. Iron is his metal. Certain personifications or goddesses accompanied him. These included a personification of war, Bellona, Discord, Fear, Dread, Panic, and Virtue, among others.

Also Known As: Mamers, Gravidus, Ares, Mavors

Examples: Mars was named Mars Ultor 'Avenger' under Augustus for Mars' help in punishing the assassins of Julius Caesar. Mars marries Anna Perenna in Ovid Fasti 3. 675 ff.

Sources and Further Reading

  • Pascal, C.Bennett. “October Horse.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. 85, JSTOR, 1981, p. 261.
  • Rose, Herbert J. and John Scheid. "Mars." The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Hornblower, Simon, and Antony Spawforth editors. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.