Mars (mythology)


In Roman mythology, Mars is the god of warriors, youth and violence, a god of primary importance in ancient Rome as the father of Romulus and Remus, founder and protector of the city. Mars played an equivalent role among other peoples of Lazio and beyond, including the Sabines, Samnites and Oscars.

He is part of the precapitoline triad together with Jupiter and Quirinus.

He is identified with the Ares of the Greeks, but the character and dignity of Mars differ fundamentally from that of his counterpart, who is often treated with contempt and dread in Greek literature.

Mars is the most important god of war honored by the Roman legions. His cult has two strong moments, in March and in October, beginning and end of the war season.

The Romans had named the first month of the year in his honor, which coincided with the return of good weather and the resumption of war after the winter. Subsequently, January, month of election of magistrates, was agreed as the beginning of the new year. March became the third, and so December, etymologically the tenth month, became the twelfth.

God of spring because it is at the end of the winter that the warlike activities begin and god of the youth because it is it which is employed in the wars.

The word Mārs (genitive Mārtis) appears in archaic Latin and also in poetic usage as Māurs < Māuors (radical Māuort-), as well as in the reduplicated form Marmar. The latter is similar to the Oskos form Mamers, probably resulting from a dissimilation of *Marmart-s. The initial Latin form is based on an Indo-European radical *Māwort-, designating a deity with warlike but also fertile and agricultural attributes. Georges Dumézil brought the name Māuors closer to the Indian deities of the storm, the Maruts, companions of the god of war Indra. For Xavier Delamarre, *Māwort- is the theonym of the Indo-European god of war. Massimo Pallottino considers that Mars is the equivalent of the Etruscan deity Maris.

For Jean Haudry, the name Mars, like that of the Maruts, comes from a compound whose first term can be interpreted as “young man”, the second as “band, troop”. Mars was originally the master of a warrior brotherhood. His links with the troops of young men explain, as for the Maruts, certain particularities of his cult. He is said to be Gradivus, originally “the one of hail” when he breaks out. Its agrarian aspects are linked to the effects of youthful virility, because of the traditional conception of the seed and the field.

They also explain why he is the only god connected with the old Italic practice of the worm sacrum, an extension of the migratory practices of the Indo-European peoples. Mars took care of the rejected children who were still only a band until they had founded a new sedentary community. It happened that the animals dedicated to him guided these bands and became their eponym: a wolf (hirpus) had thus led the Hirpins, a woodpecker (picus) the Picentes, while the Mamertini took their name directly from his. The legend of the abduction of the Sabine women by Romulus and his companions is closer to the Männerbunde, these brotherhoods of young men who find their companions among a neighboring people.

Latin adjectives derived from the name of the god Mars and meaning “of Mars, relating to Mars” are martius, on which the name of the month of Mars, Martius, was formed; and martialis, from which the French martial is derived by scholarly borrowing. Anthroponyms such as Martin and Marc also represent ancient Latin derivatives of the name Mars, Mart-inus and Marcus < *Mart-(i)cus ” dedicated

Mars is the son of Jupiter and Juno. However, the Latin poets give him another origin: jealous of the fact that Jupiter had given birth to Minerva without her participation, Juno had wanted, in her turn, to conceive and engender. The goddess Flora indicated to her a flower which grew in the countryside of Olene in Achaïe, and whose only contact produced this marvellous effect. Thanks to this flower, she became the mother of Mars. She had him brought up by Priape, from whom he learned the dance and the other exercises of the body, preludes of the war.

He would be the husband of Bellona, or possibly her brother. He had (among other things) a remarkable affair with Venus, the wife of Vulcan, who gave him Harmonia, the Harmony, the twins Phobos, the Fear, and Deimos, the Terror, who accompanied their father on the battlefield, they gave their name to the two moons of the planet Mars, as well as Cupid. The connection of Mars and Venus ended abruptly according to the Greek interpretation of the myth of Ares and Aphrodite.

The poets give Mars several wives and several children. He had from Venus two sons, Deimos and Phobos (Terror and Fear), and a daughter, Hermione or Harmony, who married Cadmus. He had from Rhea Silvia, Romulus and Remus; from Thebe, he had Evadne, wife of Capaneus, one of the seven Theban chiefs; from Pirene, Cycnus who, mounted on the horse Arion, fought against Hercules and was killed by this hero.The ancient inhabitants of Italy gave to Mars, for wife, Nerio.

He is also famous for having fathered, with Rhea Silvia, the two twins Romulus and Remus, the first of whom was the first king of Rome and participated in the abduction of the Sabine women.


The ancient monuments represent the god Mars in a rather uniform way, under the figure of a man armed with a helmet, a spear, a sword and a shield; sometimes naked, sometimes in war costume, even with a cloak on the shoulders. Sometimes he wears a beard, but most often he is beardless, and often he holds the staff of command in his hand. On his chest, we can see the aegis with the head of Medusa. He is sometimes mounted on his chariot pulled by fiery horses, sometimes on foot, always in a warlike attitude. But his nickname of Gravidus means: “loaded, full, heavy, fertile”, an indication of ancient attributes related to fertility and agriculture.

The ancient Sabines assimilated him to their own warrior god Quirinus (from the Latin quiris “spade, spear”), a name which also gave rise to the word quirites, a term used to designate Roman citizens.

He is also represented as a wolf.

Mars and the war

In war, Mars is only concerned with combat. What legally precedes hostilities does not concern him. If the spear is a symbol of Mars, it is he who comes into play when the feudal one opens the hostilities by throwing it on the enemy land. In battle, the general may often turn to another god to obtain victory. Such wishes are rarely addressed to Mars himself, because combat and victory are two different things.

Mars is unleashed, makes fight. For Rome, he is Mars Pater “father”, but also Mars Caecus because he is “blind” in the fight. This is the reason why one can turn to another deity to bring the battles to a conclusion.

He keeps few naturalistic symbols, unlike Thor or Indra, other warrior gods. It is on the ground that the Romans find him: in times of peace on the “field” of Mars, in war in the middle of the army. The Roman army is indeed far from the bands of Indo-European warriors and discipline counts more than the furor which was the spring of the ancient victories. Single combats are exceptional. Also, while remaining wilder than the men he animates, Mars had to follow the evolution.

Agrarian March ?

Several rites place the intervention of Mars in a rural setting related to agriculture or breeding. He is invoked in the Ambarualia, in the circumambulation around the cultivable lands of Rome. Nevertheless, according to Dumézil, it is less as an agrarian god that Mars intervenes than as a fighting god capable of protecting against human enemies, but also against malignant powers. Cato”s peasant thus prays to him so that he stops and repels visible and invisible diseases, keeps shepherds and flocks safe, and so that he allows plants to grow and reach a good outcome, a reflection, according to Haudry, of the forces of youthful virility that he embodies.

He is also invoked with Sylvanus to protect the oxen in the summer pastures of the wooded mountain.

In Rome

In Rome, Mars is especially honored. The altar of Mars in the Field of Mars (Campus Martius), the district of Rome which owes its name to him, was supposed to have been consecrated by Numa himself, the second semi-legendary, peace-loving king of Rome. Until Augustus, the sanctuaries of Mars followed an explicit rule. The god had his place, not in the city where peace was to reign, but outside the enclosure at the threshold of the city. The center of his cult was thus originally placed outside the pomerium, the sacred enclosure of Rome. Augustus introduced the god in the center of the Roman religion by the establishment of the temple of Mars Ultor in his new forum.

From the reign of Numa Pompilius, Mars had a college of priests, chosen among the patricians, to serve his cult and his altars. These priests, called Salians, were in charge of the guard of the twelve sacred shields in the shape of eight, or anciles, one of which, it was said, had fallen from the sky. Every year, at the festival of the god, the Salians, carrying the shields, and dressed in a purple tunic, went through the city dancing and jumping.

Their leader walked at their head, started the dance, and they imitated its steps. This very solemn procession ended in the temple of the god with a sumptuous and delicate feast. Among the numerous temples that Mars had in Rome, the most famous was the one that Augustus dedicated to him under the name of the temple of Mars Ultor (in Latin).


The cycle of its celebrations is divided into two groups, one opening the warlike season in March, the other closing it in October: in spring, they are the Equiria with horse races, organized on the Field of Mars (February 27 and March 14), the lustration of the weapons to the Quinquatries (March 19) and that of the trumpets to the Tubilustrium (March 23, May 23).

In October, there are the rituals of the October Horse on the Ides and the lustration of weapons on the 19th, to which must be added the ritual of the Tigillum sororium explained by the legend of Horace and the need to purify warriors from the violence of war.

October Equus

The ceremony of the October Horse (October Equus), is considered one of the oldest in ancient Rome. It is typical of the festivals that ended the military season. It designated the victim of a solemn sacrifice, offered on the day of the Ides of this month to Mars, by the Flamen martialis, in the presence of the pontiffs. The ceremony took place in the Field of Mars. It began with a race of tanks harnessed of two horses; it is the horse of right-hand side of the victorious tank which provided the victim. This one was killed of a blow of javelin and immolated on a very old altar, located at the place called: ad Ciconias Nixas, the same around which the Salians danced in March the dance of the weapons. As soon as the horse was slaughtered, its tail was cut off and it was carried to the Regia to drain the blood on the ashes of the fireplace of Vesta. This mixture was incorporated into the product of the combustion of the stillborn calves, whose sacrifice formed the principal element of the October Equus. The third act of the festival began with the decollation of the horse; the severed head was adorned with a garland of bread and became the object of a fight between the inhabitants of the districts bordering the sacred Way and Subure, becoming for its possessors of one year a pledge of lustration and prosperity.

The ritual immolation of the October Horse was still practiced in Rome in the decline of the Republic, and it survived for some time after the establishment of Christianity. Historians of religion have found parallels of this rite among the ancient Germans. Georges Dumézil recognized the Indo-European origin and antiquity of the October Horse ceremony by comparing it to an Indian ritual.


The bull, the boar, the ram and, more rarely, the horse were offered as victims. The rooster, the vulture, the wolf and the woodpecker were dedicated to him. The Roman ladies sacrificed a rooster to him on the first day of the month that bears his name, and it was with this month that the Roman year began until the time of Julius Caesar.

The identification with the Greek god Ares has not, except in literature and in the Arts, modified in a consequent way the type of Mars. Thus, the intimacy of Mars and Venus only becomes important under the Iulii who present themselves as descendants of Venus.

Most of the known legends about the god Mars are a Roman adaptation of the adventures of Ares.

Alcippe, the daughter of Mars, was raped by one of the sons of Neptune. Mars avenged her by killing the author of the crime. Neptune, desperate for the death of his son, summoned Mars to be judged before the twelve great gods of Olympus. Juno summoned Mercury to defend his son”s cause. He defended him so well that he was absolved. The judgment took place on a hill of Athens called since the Areopagus or hill of Quirinus, where the famous Athenian court was established.

Ascalaphus, son of Mars, who commanded the Beotians at the siege of Troy, having been killed, Mars ran to avenge him himself, in spite of Jupiter, who had forbidden the gods to take sides for or against the Trojans. The king of the sky had an excess of anger but Minerva calmed his fury by promising to support the Greeks. Indeed, she incited Diomedes to fight against Mars, who was wounded in the side by the spear of this hero. It is Minerva which had directed the blow. Mars, while withdrawing the weapon from his wound, threw a frightful cry, and at once went up to Olympus in the middle of a whirlwind of dust. Jupiter reprimanded him severely, but ordered the doctor of the Gods to heal his son. Pean put on his wound a balm which healed him without difficulty, because, in a God, there is nothing which is mortal.

Ovid, following Homer, recounted the love affairs of Mars and Venus. Mars was suspicious of Phebus, who was the gentle rival of the beautiful goddess, and had placed Alectryon, his favorite, as a sentry; but, when he fell asleep, Phebus saw the culprits and ran to warn Vulcan. The outraged husband wrapped them in a net (nets or rêts, as it were) as solid as invisible, and made all the Gods witnesses of their crime and their confusion. Mars punished his favorite by transforming him into a rooster; since that time, this bird tries to make up for his fault by announcing, with its song, the “rising of the star of the day”. Vulcan, at Neptune”s request and under his guarantee, undid the wonderful bonds. The captives, set free, flew away at once, one in Thrace, his native country, the other in Paphos in his favorite retreat.

There was in Rome a fountain venerated and especially dedicated to Mars. Nero bathed there. This contempt for popular beliefs only increased the aversion that people felt for this tyrant. From that day on, his health having become poor, the people had no doubt that, by his sacrilege, he had attracted the vengeance of the gods.

The name of the Roman Champ de Mars gave its name to the one found in Paris. The current Corseul in the Côtes-d”Armor is generally identified with Fanum Martis “the temple of Mars” in Roman times.

Tuesday is the day dedicated to the god Mars (from Latin Martis dies).



  1. Mars (mythologie)
  2. Mars (mythology)