Mars (mythology)

From New World Encyclopedia
For the fourth planet from the sun, see Mars.
A bronze statue of Mars, the Roman god of war.

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[1] 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.[2]


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.

Names and epithets

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:

  • Mars Alator, a fusion of Mars with the Celtic deity Alator (possibly meaning "Huntsman" or "Cherisher"), known from inscription found in England, on an altar at South Shields and a silver-gilt votive plaque at Barkway, Hertfordshire.[3][4]
  • Mars Albiorix, a fusion of Mars with the ancient Celtic deity Toutatis, using the epithet Albiorix ("King of the World"). Mars Albiorix was worshiped as protector of the Albici tribe of southern France, and was regarded as a mountain god. Another epithet of Toutatis, Caturix ("King of Combat"), was used in the combination Mars Caturix, which was worshiped in Gaul, possibly as the tribal god of the Caturiges.[5]
  • Mars Balearicus, statues of a warrior discovered in the Mallorca Island, associated by the archeologists to the Roman god Mars[6]
  • Mars Barrex, from Barrex or Barrecis (probably meaning "Supreme One"), a Celtic god known only from a dedicatory inscription found at Carlisle, England.[7]
  • Mars Belatucadrus, an epithet found in five inscriptions in the area of Hadrian's Wall in England, based on equating the Celtic deity Belatu-Cadros with Mars.
  • Mars Braciaca, a synthesis of Mars with the Celtic god Braciaca. This deity is only known from a single inscription at Bakewell, England.[8]
  • Mars Camulos, from the Celtic war god Camulus.
  • Mars Capriociegus, from an Iberian god who was linked to Mars. He is invoked in two inscriptions in the Pontevedra region of northwest Spain.
  • Mars Cocidius, a combination of Mars with the Celtic woodland hunting god Cocidius. He is referenced around northwest Cumbria and Hadrian's Wall, and was chiefly a war god only in instances where he was equated with Mars.
  • Mars Condatis, from the Celtic god of the confluence of rivers, Condatis. Mars Condatis, who oversaw water and healing, is known from inscriptions near Hadrian's Wall, at Piercebridge, Bowes and Chester-le-Street.[9][10]
  • Mars Gradivus, God of War.


The Mars symbol represents the deity Mars.

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."


  1. His name derives from the Latinized form of the Etruscan agricultural god Maris.
  2. Miranda J. Green, 1992, Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, 140–144, London: Thames and Hudson, ISBN 0500015163.
  3. E.J. Phillips, 1977, Corpus Signorum Imperii Romani, Great Britain, Volume I, Fascicule 1. Hadrian's Wall East of the North Tyne, 66, Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0197259545.
  4. Anne Ross, 1967, Pagan Celtic Britain, Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0902357034.
  5. Miranda J. Green, 1992, Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend, 140–144, London: Thames and Hudson, ISBN 0500015163.
  6. A tour of the Talaiots,, Retrieved January 24, 2008.
  7. Anne Ross, 1967, Pagan Celtic Britain, Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0902357034.
  8. Anne Ross, 1967, Pagan Celtic Britain, Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0902357034.
  9. Anne Ross, 1967, Pagan Celtic Britain, Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0902357034.
  10. Barri Jones, and David Mattingly, 1990, An Atlas of Roman Britain 275, Oxford: Basil Blackwell. ISBN 1842170678.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Green, Miranda J. Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend. London: Thames and Hudson, 1992. ISBN 0500015163.
  • Jones, Barri, and David Mattingly. An Atlas of Roman Britain. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990. ISBN 1842170678.
  • Phillips, E.J. Corpus Signorum Imperii Romani, Great Britain, Volume I, Fascicule 1. Hadrian's Wall East of the North Tyne. 66. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997. ISBN 0197259545.
  • Ross, Anne. Pagan Celtic Britain. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967. ISBN 0902357034.


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