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Mars (god)

Mars was the Roman god of war. He was the son of Juno and a magical flower (or Zeus) and initially was the Roman god of fertility and vegetation, and protector of cattle, but later he became associated with battle. As the god of spring, when his major festivals were held, he presided over agriculture in general. 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 or daughter. His wife was also said to be Nerio.

It is believed that Mars was originally an ancient chthonic god of spring, nature, fertility and cattle. He fused with the Greek Ares and became a god of death and war as well.

In Rome, his primary temple was on the Capitol, shared with Jupiter and Quirinus. The temple to Mars Ultor ("the avenger") was in the Forum Augustus. Another temple to Mars Gradivus ("he who precedes the army in battle") was where the army gathered before leaving for a war. The Campus Martius ("field of Mars") was dedicated to him; it was where soldiers and athletes trained. Mars was called Mavors in some poetry (Virgil VIII, 630), and Mamers was his Oscan name.

In the Regia on the Forum Romanum, the hastae Martiae were kept in a small chamber. Any movement of the hastae Martiae, the "lances of Mars," was seen as a omen of war. If Rome was attacking, the generals moved lances and repeated Mars vigila ("Mars awaken").

On March 1, the Feriae Marti was celebrated. On October 19, the Armilustrium was celebrated; the weapons of the solders were purifed and stored. Every five years, the Suovetaurillia was celebrated; a pig, sheep and bull were sacrificed. On February 27 and March 14, the horses race of the Equirria were held. On March 23, the Tubilustrium was celebrated by purifying weapons and war-trumpets.

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 priest of Mars alone was called a flamen Martialis.

In art, Mars is depicted as an armored warrior with a crested helmet. The wolf and woodpecker are sacred to him. His children are Fuga and Timor.

The month of March and the planet of Mars was named after him.

Mars, unlike his Greek counterpart, Ares, was more widely worshipped than any of the other Roman gods, probably because his sons Romulus and Remus were said to have founded Rome; the Romans called themselves sons of Mars. As the consort of Rhea Sylvia and father of Romulus and Remus, Mars was considered the father of the Roman people.

He is associated with Quirinus, said to be the Spirit of Romulus, the founder of the City. Quirinus may have been a Sabine deity, however.

See also: Ares, Roman Mythology