Roman Mythology; Mars the Roman god of war
In the daily lives of the Romans, religion played an important role. It helped the citizens of Rome to make sense of the bad and good things that happened to them. When a good thing happed such as a good harvest or victory in battle, the Romans believed that was a sign of approval or help from the gods. The Romans worshiped a council of 12 gods, known as the Dii Consentes; made up of six goddesses and six gods, amongst them god Mars. Roman god of war, Mars, was second in power only to Jupiter, the sun god, in the Roman pantheon. The myth of Mars was mostly borrowed from Ares, the Greek war god. However, Mars was significantly different from Ares due to the unique Roman features that Mars had. Mars was considered to be more level headed as compared to Ares, who has disruptive and impulsive. Mars was also more virtuous as compared to the Ares. The Romans held significant warfare festivals in honor of Mars1. This paper discusses the myth of the Roman god Mars. I will argue that Mars myth played an important role in explaining the Roman state’s nature and legitimize the sense of purification to the Roman god, Mars with Mars playing the role of war god and as a nature deity. The essay argues that Mars was a war god based on the analysis of various versions of sources of Mars myth as seen in Campbell’s The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in Classical World and Hornblower’s The Oxford Classical Dictionary.
The interpretation of the original function of Roman god Mars falls into two main groups; nature deity and war god. Roman attempteed to reconcile the version of Mars as a nature deity with the details of the military festivals and rights performed to Mars as the war god. Cartwright noted that those who viewed Mars as a nature deity have offered differing but very specific explanations with regards to Mars as a nature deity2. The propositions offered by scholars include the view that Mars is a master of animals is a spirit of the wild and vegetation god. On the other hand, the supporters of Mars as a war god have not been very precise in their explanation of such roles. The more specific explanations and descriptions of Mars’ war roles are only theoretically possible to a small degree. Mars was seen as having the ability to protect the warriors during wars, supplementing and supplying the warriors with battle skills, causing war, giving victory in war, and serving as the war’s supernatural leader3. As compared to the Roman Mars, the Greek Ares, the equivalent of Mars, had the ability to protect the worriers but was also very promiscuous. Further, Ares did not protect the whole of the Greeks, but only supported select people such as his Amazon-Queen daughters in many battles and wars and Ares was more gruesome and bloody while Mars was more strategic4.
Considering Mars’ war role, part of the answer can lie in the Roman religious feasts celebrated in October and March. The Roman celebrations, Equirria celebrated on March 14, Quinquartrus celebrated on March 19, Armilustrium celebrated on October 19 and Tibilustrium celebrated on March 235 are all celebrations focused on Mars as a war god. Roman religion assigned the celebrations and feasts above to Mars as they have a distinct military characteristic in nature. The celebrations are probably for lustration. The names of Armilustrium and Tibilustrium are an indication of the lustral nature of the celebrations6. However, Rosivach noted that there is no direct indication Equirria which is celebrated on March 14, was not lustral in nature. However, the essay cannot offer a definitive proof that the March 14 festival was not lustral in nature as a consideration of the lustral nature of the various Roman military feasts in Mars’ honor in October and March, it would be unlikely that the military celebration was not undertaken as a means of lustration in honor of Mars7. The main feature of the celebrations such as Equirria was the horse-drawn chariots race as well as the lustration of war trumpets, shields and arms first undertaken in March and then in October. Equirria was a celebration that was used in the purification of the horses. The festivals in March were aimed at ensuring proper preparation for the forthcoming military campaigns. And the October festivals were to bring the military campaigns to conclusion.
Exploring the concept of lustration to Mars, the roman concept of quid pro quo can be seen in the festivals in honor of Mars. Mars was the central deity in the festivals in March and October. The celebrations in March in honor of Mars, the god of war, were aimed at asking and beseeching Mars to offer protection to the warfare instruments, cleanse and favor the trumpets and asking for easy and swift victories in the battles. In return, Mars would grant victory to the army and ensuring that the horses and the people in the battle field were well throughout the whole period of the campaign8. Lustrations were directed towards either the future or the past and were aimed at purification. Mars was viewed as working in the lustration context, by insuring, assisting as well as guaranteeing the lustration processes’ effectiveness. Mars was thus a war god who offered insurance with regards to the effectiveness of the protective or purification process. Mars is associated with many rites with lustral and military associations, it can be concluded that as a god of war, Mars main function was protective or purificatory in nature. In March, god Mars is associated concerned with festivals and rituals aimed at protecting the Roman warriors and their implements in the coming military campaigns. In October, Mars rituals and celebratory festivals are aimed at the purification of the war implements from the battle field’s pollutants as well as undertaking lustrations in Mars’ honor so that he could purify and protect the whole of the Roman army. Since Mars is only worshipped in March and October during the lustral feasts, it can be stated from the calendar of the festivals that Mars has a primary military function of protecting and purifying the people at war as opposed to giving victory to the Romans or even leading the warriors to war. Mars thus played an important role of ensuring that the evils that would face the Romans were averted thus ensuring the Roman people’s protection. Rosivach noted that when the Romans were threatened with war, Regia – the Mars-spear – would be shaken and Mars would become watchful after the words ‘Mars Uigila’ were spoken9.
Other scholars have viewed and expected Mars to be a god who offers protection to Roman people. Rosivach argued that there are some references to Amburbium, a ritual to purify a city which entails going around the walls of the city; the author goes ahead to state that such ritual is not directly linked to Mars10. There are also pieces of evidence that exist indicating that Mars also had some agricultural roles. The prayer that Cato had his bailiff say during the lustration of fields mostly address the Mars’ protective nature. For instance, Cato’s prayer focused on calling on Mars to ward off various ills, allow the crops to have good growth and flourish, asking for favor from Mars, keeping the flocks and shepherds safe and the provision of wellbeing and safety for all the households. Based on the contents of the Cato prayer to Mars, there is an element of calling upon Mars to offer protection. The Cato prayer is thus a pointer to lustration and a prayer focusing on asking for protection from a god can be seen as a protective and lustral act. The evidence for Mars as a protective deity from the lustral prayer by Cato indicate, even though in part, that Mars was a protector and a god who helped in averting evil. The appearance of Mars as a protector in both the agricultural and military contexts is a suggestion that Mars plays a critical role as a protector of the Roman people against general evils. The lustrations by Cato and the other prayers are a depiction of the way of the ancestor or the ancestral norms known as mos maiorum. The mos maiorum refer to the unwritten codes from which the Romans derived the various social norms11. There are a number of traditional values that were critical for the development of the social norms, mos maiorum. The values that are depicted in the myth include religio, especially with regards to the bond between the mortals and the gods through the various religious practices such as the religious festivals and prayers to Mars as discussed earlier and cultus which entails the correct performance and the active observance of the rituals especially the rituals in March as well as those performed in October. By displaying virtus and gravitas and Constantia, Mars commanded significant respect and prestige especially amongst the soldiers.
1 Campbell and Tritle, The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World, 74
2 Mark Cartwright, "Mars," Ancient History Encyclopedia, last modified January 16, 2014, https://www.ancient.eu/Mars/
3 Campbell and Tritle, The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World, 395-398; Simon Hornblower, Antony Spawforth, and Esther Eidinow, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 142-148
4 "Ares," Theoi Greek Mythology, accessed October 16, 2019, https://www.theoi.com/Olympios/Ares.html.
5 Mark Cartwright, "Mars," Ancient History Encyclopedia, last modified January 16, 2014, https://www.ancient.eu/Mars/
8 Cartwright, “Mars”
11 Karl-J. Hölkeskamp and Henry Heitmann-Gordon, Reconstructing the Roman Republic: An Ancient Political Culture and Modern Research (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010), 17
- Quote paper
- International Business Management David Onditi (Author), 2019, Roman Mythology. Mars the Roman god of war, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/537197