MARS

Mars was the Roman god of war. In early mythology, Mars was a god of farmers and farming. He fought off drought and flood, the two main enemies of farmers. He was second in power and authority, after Jupiter, and was greatly honored and respected.

The month of March was named for Mars, and it was the first month of the early Roman calendar. His festivals—accompanied by horses, trumpets, and other symbols of war—were held during March and they marked the beginning of military campaigning. Another festival for Mars was held in October at the end of the campaigning season. At this time, weapons were blessed and put away for the winter. Mars had his own priest and his own sacred animals—the wolf and the woodpecker. The Campus Martius, a field in Rome where men practiced warrior skills, was named after Mars. Before a battle, soldiers offered sacrifices to Mars and to the goddess Bellona, who was at various times described as his wife, sister, or daughter.

According to an ancient Roman legend, Mars was the father of Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome. Although a fierce god of war, Mars had a softer side—he was in love with Venus, the goddess of love. Artists and sculptors often show them together as “Love” and “Strife.”

Ares, the Greek god of war, was not as popular as his Roman counterpart, Mars. Introduced into Greece from Thrace, Ares was the only son of Zeus and Hera. Ares is featured in Homer’s epic poem the Iliad, in which he supports the Trojans. But his character, warlike and loud, is hardly noble. In Homer’s Odyssey, Ares is in love with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Together they have twins, Phobos (Panic) and Deimos (Fear). In Athens, the meeting place of the Council of Elders was the Areopagus, or Hill of Ares. (See also Divinities.)

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