In ancient Roman mythology, Mars was the god of war and one of the most important deities in their pantheon. He was often depicted as a powerful and virile figure, associated with courage, strength, and military prowess. Mars was the son of Jupiter (the king of the gods) and Juno (the queen of the gods), and he was considered the father of the Roman people.
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Who Was Mars? What Was Mars the God Of?
Mars was not a typical Roman deity slumbering around the luxury of divine palaces up in the sky. Unlike other Roman gods, Mars’ comfort zone was the battlefield.
Mars was not just the god of war, he was the god of every event of destruction that reigned supreme within blood-ridden battlefields. That meant death, devastation, destabilization, and every bit of hostility that any soldier in the ancient world could muster.
He was the god of all that and beyond. A true monster on all fronts.
When Mars didn’t rip apart hearts and muscles with his bare hands, he paid extra attention to agriculture. Hence, this made him the Roman god of war and the defender of agriculture. This contrastingly unique combination thus solidified his place within the Roman pantheon.
Mars and Ares
Mars was the Roman counterpart of the Greek god Ares, but he was actually quite unlike Ares. While Ares blew the war trumpets and represented utter destruction, harbinger the spirit of actual war, Mars symbolized securing peace through conflict.
The Differences Between Mars and Ares
Ares, quite simply, wasn’t as famous in Greek mythology as Mars was in Roman tales. This was caused primarily since Ares was depicted as this individual who refracted mindless bloodthirst. The Greeks revered him for his billowing brutality and insanity on the battlefield.
However, this veneration didn’t lead to any strategic outcome. It was simply a testament to the virility required to completely turn the tides of war.
Mars was assigned to control military power to ensure eventual peace. Unlike his Greek counterpart, Mars was the defender of city borders and an agricultural god who highlighted the importance of Roman military inclusion within farming.
While Ares was depicted as this mercilessly brutal deity, ancient Romans attributed Mars to ensuring peace through war, of which war was not the main focus.
Mars’ Symbols and Representations
The Unsheathed Spear of Mars
Early Rome had a plethora of testaments and symbols dedicated to their beloved deities.
Being one of the most important gods in the Roman pantheon, Mars was no stranger to this. His symbols ranged from aggression to tranquility, a range that represents his varied inclusion within the daily chants of the Roman people.
One of the main symbols that highlighted his aggression and virility was his spear. In fact, Mars’ spear has gone through a burst of fame thanks to the assassination of Julius Caesar in the year 44 BC.
It is thought his spear had vibrated right before the beloved dictator was hacked into a million pieces. Hence forbearing the news of his death and impending chaos towards Rome’s way. Even though Julius Caesar had reportedly seen it move, he was unable to prevent his demise.
Hence, the spear stands as a symbol of imminent danger and war.
The Sheathed Spear of Mars
When Mars isn’t feeling angry for whatever reason, his spear remains calm. It stands as an ode to his tranquility.
To represent peace, his spear would be wrapped in olive leaves or laurel to convey the idea that the spear is at ease. Hence, this stood as a symbol of respected authority and general peace.
Mars might be the Roman god of war, but he also is the god of some fresh fit. His wardrobe is geared for war and is the cause behind steamy dreams for most teenage boys.
Donning a golden helmet and a “paludamentum”- an ancient Roman military drip – he is depicted as a young yet mature man with an absolutely chiseled physique.
In other depictions, he is also spotted riding a chariot drawn by fire-breathing horses and darting across the sky in search of corrupted centurions to slay.
He also wielded his trusty spear in his right hand, which carried so much power that it could reportedly devastate an entire army with just one swift streak through the lot.
Meet the Family
Mars was the son of two of the biggest hotshots in Roman mythology, Jupiter and Juno. The breathing (not so much) examples of the most supreme Roman deities due to their definite command over the rest of the pantheon.
However, as Ovid writes in his “Fasti,” Mars was not conceived because of Jupiter’s seed but as a blessing from Flora, the nymph of flowers. Flora had touched Juno’s womb with a flower, blessing her with a baby as per Juno’s request.
Though this request might sound unconventional, it was because Jupiter had given birth to Minerva from his own head only hours before without any kind of aid from Juno.
This activated Juno’s anger hormones, and she gave birth to Mars alone after Flora’s blessing. No wonder Mars is angry all the time.
The Many Epithets of Mars
Mars goes by many names. This is primarily due to his roles in the Roman religion ranging over a plethora of aspects. From being a peaceful protector to being the legendary father of the Roman state, Mars symbolizes countless branches of virility within the Roman army.
Mars Pater Victor
Translating literally to ‘Mars, the Father and the Victor,’ Mars Pater Victor does whatever it takes to ensure victory for the Roman side. Being the father figure on the battlefield, his presence is invoked through several ritualistic practices.
His favor on the battlefield is gained through the fresh hot sacrifice of a pig, sheep, and a bull through a traditional rite called “suovetaurilia.”
Furthermore, the attention of such a legendary father would have also been grabbed through the sacrifice of a Roman general or the souls of the enemy.
Being another significant variation of Mars on the battlefield, Mars Gradivus was the go-to god whenever a soldier took on the grand oath of not being a coward in war. Swearing fealty to him meant commitment on the battlefield and marching forth with the utmost honor.
Hence, Mars Gradivus was the embodiment of striding into the enemy lines with valor, which is also reflected in his name. “Gradivus” is derived from the word “gradus,” which, besides meaning a classical dictionary, also means “march.”
Straying away from the thundering cacophony of the battlefield, Mars Augustus is a god who takes on the duties of ensuring honor within imperial families and groups. This included countless cults around Rome and the Emperor himself paying their respects to the Roman god of war to win his blessings.
In return, Mars Augustus would happily favor the Emperor’s prosperity, and the general well-being of whichever cult worshiped him.
After Julius Caesar got shredded into countless pieces of human meat in 44 BC, the spirit of turmoil rose within the state’s political circles. Mars Ultor symbolized vengeance that shrouded the Roman state after Caesar’s murder.
Initiated by the Roman Emperor Augustus, Mars Ultor was aimed to merge with the goddess Ultio and strike the fear of raging vengeance into whoever dared to oppose the Emperor.
Mars Ultor was later given an honorable place of worship in the middle of the Roman Forum of Augustus, which later became the central hub for discussing Roman military campaigns.
As Mars Silvanus, Mars would be responsible for the well-being of farm animals. This was highlighted in one of Cato’s “cures” to heal cattle, and it states the necessity of a sacrifice to Mars Silvanus to “promote the health of the cattle.
Far from Rome, Mars was also worshiped in Majorca, where his unending might was contained within bronze figures and miniature statues. Taking on a more materialistic approach to things, Majorcans fashioned depictions of Mars on hooves, horns, and various types of statuettes.
Mars Quirinus depicted the rageful god as a peaceful protector of the Roman state and a crucial symbol of serenity after times of intense chaos. Hence, this variation of Mars was the harbinger of treaties and truces, which led him to be connected deeper to Rome’s military ventures, just in a way that didn’t amplify his warlike aspect.
Instead, his presence guaranteed protection for the ‘Quirites’ of the Roman state, an umbrella term for all the citizens necessary for making oaths that ensured treaties.
Mars Within the Celtic Pantheon
Surprisingly, Mars appears in other cultures far away from the white-marbled infrastructure of Rome. In the green fields paraded by the Celts in Roman Britain, Mars went by many epithets, and some of them even hung the red deity up there with Celtic gods.
Some of these epithets and roles included:
Mars Condatis, the master of rivers and healing.
Mars Albiorix, the Emperor of the world.
Mars Alator, the cunning huntsman.
Mars Belatucadros, the shining slayer.
Mars Cocidius, Mars synthesized with the Celtic god Cocidius, the defender of Hadrian’s Wall.
Mars Balearicus, the raging warrior.
Mars Braciaca, he combines with Braciaca, the Celtic god of abundant harvest and sacred grove.
Albeit, numerous other epithets were attributed to Mars and combined with other Celtic gods. His immense involvement with different cultures is also a perfect symbol for Rome’s rapid expansion into half of Europe during the first millennium.
Mars and Venus
Mars and Venus are the Roman counterparts of the heartwarming romance of Ares and Aphrodite.
Being the god of war makes for a chaotic daily life. It is only fair that you entrap the most beautiful of Muses, nay; goddesses, as your consort. Venus, just like her Greek counterpart, is the Roman goddess of love and beauty.
Like two planets dancing alongside each other in the night sky, the love story of Mars and Venus charms the very foundations of Roman mythology.
It is not without fault due to the fact that their relationship is adulterous. But for some strange reason, traditional analysis and depictions continue to slide straight past that as this power couple continues to inspire contemporary artists and writers alike.
The Rape of Rhea Silvia
The tutelary god of war engaged in a much more severe part of the mythology that is often overlooked by historians. However, it stands as a central moment in Roman tales that might’ve changed everything about the course of Roman literature.
The story is highlighted in Livy’s “The History of Rome.” It features Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin sworn to never engage in any sexual act. However, this celibacy was forced due to a clash of kingdoms and was done to ensure that there would be no immediate heirs from Rhea Silvia’s womb.
One day, however, Mars was casually walking down the street with his spear in hand and came across Rhea Silvia minding her business. Overcome by the need for invasion, Mars blew the war trumpets and marched toward the poor woman.
Mars proceeded to rape Rhea Silvia, and this sudden outburst of libido forever changed the course of Roman history.
As Livy mentions:
“The Vestal was forcibly violated and gave birth to twins. She named Mars their father, either because she really believed it or because the fault might appear less heinous if a deity were the cause.”
However, with Mars’ immediate departure after the rape, neither god nor men took care of her, and she was left alone in the world with two little babies to take care of.
From Mars’ seed and Rhea Silvia’s womb came forth twins. They were none other than Romulus and Remus, the legendary figures in Roman mythology whose tales dictate the eventual founding of the city of Rome. Though the story of Romulus and Remus stretches over many events, all of it does lead back to the stirring in the loins of the Roman god.
Hence, in some sense, Mars helps construct the city, which returns to his worship unironically, thus completing the cycle.
This only solidifies the tutelary god and his imposing position within the pantheon of the rest of the Roman gods.
The Archaic Triad
Triads in theology are a huge deal. In fact, they are integrated into many well-known religions and mythologies. Examples include the Holy Trinity in Christianity, the Trimurti in Hinduism, and the Triglav in Slavic mythology.
The number three represents balance and order due to its harmonic nature, and Roman mythology is no stranger to it. If we look outwards, we will also find the essence of a trinity in Greek mythology, with just a different name.
The Capitoline Triad was a triad of deities in Roman mythology consisting of Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva. Even though they were the epitome of divine Roman authority, it was actually preceded by the Archaic Triad.
The Archaic Triad consisted of three supreme Roman deities, Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus, with Mars at the helm of military prowess. Simply put, the Archaic Triad was a singular sub-pantheon that represented Mars and two of his other sides- his power of command through Jupiter and the spirit of peace through Quirinus.
The Triad was essential in determining archaic Roman society by producing a hierarchy of dignity among ancient priests. These three supreme Roman deities helmed by the god of war blessed the hearts of many on Capitoline Hill and catalyzed generations of subsequent worship.
Mars in Other Fields
Mars, alongside his fellow Greek god Ares, has transcended beyond the traditional pages of mythology and entered the world of pop culture and science.
There is the planet Mars. Due to its red surface and its imposing presence in the night sky, the planet has been named after the god of war.
The month of March is also named after him, coincidentally matching one of his innate attributes of ‘marching’ into war with valor.
Besides the fields of science, Mars has also been adapted to the silver screen, producing countless renders of this dashing deity. A rendition of Father Mars has appeared in the famous anime series “Black Clover.” However, his Greek counterpart Ares is favored a bit more.
Ares has appeared in the popular video game “God of War” as the god of war. Edgar Ramirez’s “Clash of the Titans” and “Wrath of the Titans” are blessed by his presence too. Mars/Ares is a primary character in the DC Universe, where a particular attribute of his is the fact that his power increases exponentially while being in war.
A bulky yet powerful machine gun is named “Ares” in the hit first-person shooter Valorant. Aptly named for its violent on-screen presence.
All of these may be gracefully traced back to Mars and Ares. This destructive double-edged sword continues to represent sheer brutality and military dexterity in today’s world.