Mars, the Roman God of War, was one of the most worshipped and revered gods throughout ancient Rome. He was the son of Jupiter and Juno and according to legend, fathered Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, with the vestal virgin Rhea Silvia. Because of this mythological lineage, the Roman people felt as though they were also the children of Mars and he was regarded as their protector. Mars held a special place in the Roman Pantheon not only for his patronly influence, but because of the importance of military achievement in the republic and the Roman Empire, conquering Northern Africa and much of Europe and the Middle East.
The month March (Martius) is named after him. As the god of war, many of his festivals were held in the spring, the beginning of the campaign season. He was a god of spring, growth in nature, and fertility, and the protector of cattle. On March 1, the Feriae Marti was celebrated. The Armilustrium was held on October 19, the end of the campaigning season, the weapons of the soldiers were ritually purified and stored for winter.
The Suovetaurilia was held every five years. During these fertility and cleansing rites, a pig, a sheep and bull were sacrificed. Horse races known as the Equirria were on February 27 and March 14. Weapons and war-trumpets were cleansed on March 19, the Quinquatrus and on March 23, the Tubilustrium. The priests of Mars were called the Salii (“jumpers”), describing the manner in which they jumped the entire duration of the procession through the city. Mars’ own priest was called the flamen Martialis.
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”), was located just outside the city walls and is where the army and athletes used to train. The ‘hastae Martiae’ (“lances of Mars”) were kept in the Regia on the Forum Romanum. The warlord or consul who was to lead the army into battle had to shake the lances while saying ‘Mars vigila’ (“Mars awaken”).
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. His Greek equivalent is the god Ares.
Unlike Mars, Ares never enjoyed the popularity of his Roman counterpart. Ares was tall and handsome, but vain and cruel. He was known as the despicable god of war, who “delights in the slaughter of men and the sacking of towns.” Ares was loathed by all the other gods, including his own parents, Zeus (Jupiter) and Hera (Juno). He was loved only by his sister, Eris (Discord), her son, Strife, and oddly enough by the beautiful Aphrodite (the Roman Venus).
Ares fathered many children with Aphrodite, including his constant companions on the battle field, Phobos (Panic), and Deimos (Fear). They would become the names of the red planet’s two moons. The animal sacred to Ares was the vulture – associated with death. There were no Greek cities where Ares was worshipped.
Ares is the incarnation of blood lust. He is pure testosterone, known for war, unrestrained violence, contrasted with the goddess Athena, also a warrior, representing the strategy and tactics of war. Men engaging in acts of violence often experience a huge adrenaline rush–the thrill of blood lust, of violence, of killing.
In astrology, Mars is the ruler of Aries. The sun enters the sign of Aries on March 21, the vernal equinox, and it heralds the season of spring when everything awakens, grows and sprouts after dormant winter months. Aries is the leader, the first sign around the zodiac wheel. Mars is the planet of energy, action, and of lust and passion. It is the survival instinct, and can be thought of as the animal nature of man. It is a cardinal, active, initiating sign; and its element is fire, bringing enthusiasm, chi, the spark of life.
With Mars, there is no contemplation before action. The drive associated with Mars differs from that of the Sun in that it is self-assertion rather than assertion of the will; it is raw energy rather than creative energy.