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The God Mars
The patron God of Rome, Mars is a God of war, but He is also a God of agriculture and prophecy. He is the son of Juno and is married to Nerio. He slept with Rhea Slivia and fathered the twins, Romulus and Remus. After killing his brother in a dispute over leadership, Romulus went on to found the city of Rome. Mars had his own flamen.
He is extremely popular because, unlike the Greek God of War, Ares, with whom he is often associated, Mars is a God of defensive war.
As a war God, His sacred bird is the vulture, but as the God of prophecy, he is attended by a woodpecker called Picus. The laurel is sacred to Him.
The entire month of March is sacred to Him, and was named after Him. The first month of the Roman year, it was a month dedicated to renewal and rejuvenation after the long winter's sleep. He was originally a protector of land and crops and evolved into a war God when his jurisdiction was extended to protecting these things from men as well as natural and supernatural forces. As His worship grew and changed, he became more and more a God of war.
Juno gave birth to Mars on March 1st and it is celebrated as His birthday. March 1 was also New Years Day to the Romans and it was celebrated with a huge festival to Mars. This was a festival of renewal where Vesta's sacred fire was tended and fresh laurels were placed on the Regia. His priests, the Salii, performed a spectacular public dance. They dressed in military clothing (a rectangular breastplate over a tunica picta that was girdled in bronze and a short scarlet striped cloak with a purple border; they wore conical helmets and swords and carried a spear or staff in their right hand and a sacred figure-eight shaped shield on their left arm). They processed through the city in a ritual war dance where they beat their shields with their swords. They occasionally halted at specific places to perform more elaborate dances. These were accompanied by the hymn Carmen Saliare which was performed on voice and flute. Each evening, they priests hung up their arms and enjoyed a rich feast at the mansio Saliorum. This was repeated on the 1st, 9th and 23rd, though the festival lasted from the 1st to the 24th. The beating of arms might have been to help expel evil forces and the dancing and leaping are traditional symbolic movements meant to stimulate the growth of crops.
In 190BCE, the Roman army under Scipio Africanus was poised to face Antiochus the Great, but Scipio refused to move the army across the Hellespont to face him for the entire month of March because he was a Salian priest and therefore could not move if he was absent from Rome for the festival.
The five day festival of Quinquatrus (March 19-23) was celebrated by another series of dances performed by the Salii to purify the comitium.
October 15 was the date of the October Horse (Equus October). The Campus Martius was the site of a two-horse chariot race where the right-hand horse of the victorious pair was sacrificed on an altar to Him on the Campus by His flamen. The war-horse was killed by a spear. It was then decapitated and the head decorated with cakes before the residents of the Via Sacra and those of Suburbia fought over the possession of it. It was nailed to the wall of the Regia if the Via Sacra people won. If the Suburbanites won, it was mounted to the Turris Mamilia. The horse's tail, still dripping blood, was rushed to the Regia where the blood was let drop on the sacred hearth. The Vestal Virgins kept some once it had congealed for use at the Parilia on April 21. By the late Republic, this rite was regarded as a cleansing of the army at the end of the campaign season, but it may have had an agricultural origin, with the horse representing a corn spirit. Originally, they had sacrificed a farm horse.
The Armilustruim, held on October 19, was the ritual purification of the army from disease at the end of the campaigning season. His salian priests danced and sang through the streets again. During the sacrifices, the tubae (horns that called orders to the cavalry) sounded and the sacred shield and spear were purified and put away.
Mars is also known by the following names:
Ares (Greek), Heru-khuti (Egyptian), Mamers, Mavors (Roman
The following days were sacred to Mars:
March 1-24 - Feriae Marti
March 19-23 - Quinquatrus
May 14 - The temple of Mars Invictus was dedicated in 135BCE.
June 1 - His temple on the Via Tecta was dedicated in 388BCE. It contained a statue of Him and of some wolves.
October 15 - Feriae Iovi (Equus October or October Horse)
October 19 - Armilustrium
Encyclopedia Mythica: Mars
Temple of Religio Romana: God Mars