Mars is the god of war, and one of the most prominent and worshiped 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. According to some sources, Mars is the father of Romulus and Remus. 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 (his father) and Quirinus (an early god of the Roman state), 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.
Mars 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.
Encyclopedia Mythica from Encyclopedia Mythica Online.
[Accessed June 16, 2007].
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