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Class topics: History of Mars


History of Mars
Chronology of Mars

Mythology of Mars in Images

Before the red planet was called Mars by the Romans, this planet was called Ares by the Greeks. Although these two gods are commonly equated they are very different! Mars had a much better reputation than Ares. Mars was noble and honorable, an agricultural god, responsible for springtime, fertility and protecting crops and animals from diseases. Ares was considered savage and brutal concerned only with war. He was not a popular Greek god. Mars, on the other hand, was one of the most popular and worshipped Roman gods second only to Jupiter.




The god of war, and one of the most prominent and worshipped gods. In early Roman history he was a god of spring, growth in nature, and fertility, and the protector of cattle. Mars is also mentioned as a chthonic god (earth-god) and this could explain why he became a god of death and finally a god of war. He is the son of Jupiter and Juno. According to some sources, Mars is the father of Romulus and Remus by the Vestal Ilia (Rhea Silvia). Because he was the father of these legendary founders of Rome, and thus of the Roman people, the Romans styled themselves 'sons of Mars'.

His main sanctuaries where the temple on the Capitol, which he shared with Jupiter and Quirinus, the temple of Mars Gradivus ("he who precedes the army in battle") where the Roman army gathered before they went to war, and the temple of Mars Ultor ("the avenger"), located on the Forum Augustus. The Campus Martius ("field of Mars"), situated beyond the city walls, was also dedicated to him. Here the army was drilled and athletes were trained. In the Regia on the Forum Romanum, the 'hastae Martiae' ("lances of Mars") were kept. When these lances 'moved', it was seen as a portent of war. The warlord who was to lead the army into battle had to move the lances while saying 'Mars vigila' ("Mars awaken"). As Mars Gradivus, the god preceded the army and led them to victory.

He had several festivals in his honor. On March 1, the Feriae Marti was celebrated. The Armilustrium was held on October 19, and on this day the weapons of the soldiers were ritually purified and stored for winter. Every five years the Suovetaurilia was held. During these fertility and cleansing rites, a pig (sus), a sheep (ovis) and bull (taurus) were sacrificed. The Equirria were on February 27 and March 14, on which horse races were held. The Quinquatrus was on March 19 and the Tubilustrium on March 23, on which weapons and war-trumpets were cleansed. The priests of Mars, who also served Quirinus, were called the Salii ("jumpers"), derived from the procession through the streets of the city which they completed by jumping the entire way and singing the Carmen Saliare. Mars' own priest was called the flamen Martialis.

Mars is portrayed as a warrior in full battle armor, wearing a crested helmet and bearing a shield. His sacred animals are the wolf and the woodpecker, and he is accompanied by Fuga and Timor, the personifications of flight and fear. The month March (Martius) is named after him (wars were often started or renewed in spring). His Greek equivalent is the god Ares.


Ares, the Greek god of war, is tall and handsome, but vain and as cruel as his brother Hephaestus was kind. His sister Eris, the goddess of strife, is his constant companion, but he is also attended by his sons Deimos and Phobos, as well as Enyo, an old war-goddess.


When Ares heard the clashing of arms, he grinned with glee, put on his gleaming helmet, and leapt into his war chariot. Brandishing his sword, he rushed into the thick of battle, not caring who won or lost as long as blood was shed. A vicious crowd followed at his heels, carrying with them Pain, Panic, Famine and Oblivion. Once in a while, Ares was wounded. He was immortal but whenever he would get hurt he would run back to his father, Zeus and was healed. Needless to say, Zeus was very disgusted with his son. Ares was mainly worshipped in Thracia, a region known for its fierce people.


Texas Lutheran University: BIO131 with Dr. Bill Squires

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