Mars, the Roman god of war, was a widely popular deity among the people of the Roman Empire, as well as the alleged divine protector of the city of Rome. Originally, Mars was a god of vegetation and the protector of cattle and fields, who later became associated with warfare as the Roman Empire began to expand through military conquest. Eventually, Mars was identified with the Greek god of war, Ares, due to the syncretism between these cultures.
Mars was the tutelary god of Rome, and as the legendary father of its founder, Romulus, it was believed that all Romans were descended of Mars. Mars was further associated with Quirinus, a Sabine deity said to be the Spirit of Romulus. As the Roman Empire expanded in Northern Europe, Mars was equated with Celtic gods of war, particularly in Roman Britain, where he was commonly considered not only a war-bringer, but also a peaceful protector, healer and tribal god, to the Celts.
Mars, unlike his Greek counterpart, Ares (the god of savage war), was a more widely worshiped deity than any of the other Roman gods, probably in part because his sons, Romulus and Remus, were said to have founded Rome. Mars was also one of the three supreme Roman deities of the Archaic Triad, along with Jupiter and Quirinus.
In his warlike aspect, Mars was offered sacrifices before combat and was said to appear on the battlefield accompanied by Bellona, a warrior goddess variously identified as his wife, sister, daughter or cousin. Mars' wife was also said to be Nerio. The warlike aspect of Mars likely derived in part from contact with the Greeks, whose god Ares also presided over war. The Romans likely grafted aspects of Ares onto Mars, although differences remained: to the Romans, Mars was an heroic warrior God, while, to the Greeks, Ares was cowardly, unpredictable, and held in much less esteem.
In his agricultural aspect, Mars presided over springtime and crops in major festivals. This cemented his value to the Romans, as he was portrayed as the God of Protection. The Romans, as farmers, feared crop destruction most of all, so Mars prevented "invasion" of their fields by preventing plague, pestilence, flood, and animals from destroying their crops. Mars had a succession of festivals in February, March, and October, as well as one on June 1. On February 27 and March 14, the horse races of the Equirria were held. On March 1, the Feriae Marti (loosely "Festivals of Mars") was celebrated. On March 23, the Tubilustrium was celebrated by purifying weapons and war-trumpets. On October 19, the Armilustrium was celebrated in Mars' honor, and the weapons of the soldiers were purified and stored. Every five years, the Suovetaurilia was celebrated, consisting of the sacrifice of a pig, sheep, and bull—Mars was one of only three Roman deities, along with Neptune and Apollo, to whom bulls could be sacrificed.
The Campus Martius ("Field of Mars") was dedicated to Mars, and was the location where soldiers and athletes trained. Mars also had an altar there, the Ara Martis. In the Regia on the Roman Forum, the hastae Martiae ("lances of Mars") were kept in a small chamber. Any movement of the lance was seen as an omen of war. If Rome was attacking, the generals moved their lances and repeated Mars vigila ("Awaken, Mars!").
Priests of Mars and Quirinus were called Salii ("jumpers"). They were referred to as jumpers because they jumped down streets and sang the Carmen Saliare. A lone priest of Mars was called a flamen Martialis.
Mars was called Mavors in some poetry (Virgil VIII, 630), and Mamers was his Oscan name. He was also known as Marmor, Marmar and Maris, the latter from the Etruscan deity Maris.
Like other major Roman deities, Mars had a large number of epithets representing his different roles and aspects. Many of Mars' epithets resulted from mythological syncretism between Mars and foreign gods. The most common and significant of these included:
The name of the third month of the year, March, is derived from Mars via the Roman month Martius, which was considered a lucky time to go to war. Another adjective form of Mars, Martial (from Martialis), is instead associated with war, as in martial law.
The blood-red fourth planet in the Solar System, Mars, was also named after Mars; an adjective form of Mars, Martian (from Martianus), is most commonly used in reference to the planet. The planet Mars and the male sex are both commonly represented by the astronomical or gender symbol ♂, which originally represented the shield and spear of Mars and was popularized as the alchemical symbol for iron.
Many popular names form males are derived from Mars such as "Mark" (Italian, Marco), "Martial," and "Martin."
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