Today there is war just like in the days of the Roman Empire and the Roman Republic. The early religion of the Romans was originally a simple animism (a belief in spirits or powers). These spirits were not personified and not imagined as humans in form. There was no statues of gods and no temples. This religion established was a for a simple agricultural people. As the Romans came into contact with other people and religions their own religion changed. Divinities of conquered communities were brought into the pantheon of Roman gods. It is believed that Etruscan kings built the first temples in Italy and set up the first statues of gods. Contact with the Greeks led to the introduction of the Greek gods and Greek ritual. The Religion of Numa is said to have organized the first priestly colleges. The important of these priests were Jupiter, Mars and Quirinus. Priestly colleges were groups of priests organized to perpetuate certain rights. Salii (dancing priests) made up a famous college that worshiped Mars, the god of war.
Mars the god of war and agriculture was one of the twelve Olympian Gods. He was the son of Jupiter and Juno. Jupiter was said to be the greatest of all the gods. It is said that his symbol is a vulture, a wolf and he often carried a bloody spear. The Romans and Greek intertwined their religions and gods. Mars would be equivalent to the Greek god of war Ares. March 23 a festival called Tubilustrium was held in honor of Mars. The sacrifices that were preformed to Mars were in correspondence to the Roman way of sacrifices. The sex of the victim had to correspond to the sex of the god to whom it was offered. White animals were given to the gods of the upper world and black victims to the gods of the underworld.
I will give you a couple of examples of ancient prayers and religious chants that have been preserved. The first one is a powerful chant of the Arval brothers handed down in an inscription of A.D. 218:
“Come hither, you Lares, help,
let no plague, disaster, Mars break in upon the throng.
Wild Mars, take your fill, jump on to the threshold and stay there.
All the Semunes shall he invoke in turn.
Let Mars come to our aid
Triumph, triumph, triumph, triumph, triumph”
As we can see the beliefs in the existence of gods and in the practical applications of their power are not only present in the religion but also their prayers. Pray is predicated on the belief that gods can and will respond to requests with actions in the material world when called upon. The next example considers one of several prayers that Cato recorded about Mars the god of war and agriculture.
“Father Mars, I beg and entreat you to be well disposed toward me and toward our house and household. I have ordered an offering of pigs, sheep, and bulls to be led around my field, land, and farm on account of this request, so that you may prevent, ward off, and remove sickness, both seen and unseen, and barrenness and devastation, and damage to crops and bad weather, and so that you may permit my legumes, grain, vineyards, and shrubbery to grow and turn out well. Preserve my shepherds and flocks unharmed and give good health and strength to me, my home, and our household. For this purpose, to purify my farm and land and field and to make an expiatory offering, as I said, be increased by these offerings of suckling pigs, sheep, and bulls that are to be offered. Father Mars, for this same reason, be increased by these offerings of suckling pigs, sheep, and bulls.”
As we see here prayer for the Romans was an important part of their lives that they inherited and formed from other people and their religions. Mars played an important role in the Romans life not only for deliverance from their enemies during war but also for their farms and houses.
Mary Johnston, Roman Life: Successor to Private Life of the Romans (Chicago: Scott, Foresman and Company,1957), 340,349
Karl Christ, The Romans: An Introduction to their History and Civilisation (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1984), 158-159
Charles King, “The Organization of Roman Religious Beliefs,” Classical Antiquity, vol. 22 No. 2 (October 2003), pp. 275-312
Picture of Mars statue: en.wikipedia.org
Picture of Mars with spear: http://www.wordsources.info./mars.html
3 responses to “Mars: The God of War”
I really liked the fact that you included ancient prayers in your blog. It brought a new depth to understanding these anceint religions. What I found interesting is that the sacrifices had to be of the same gender as the god. I guess in this case, it would not pay to be male. The second interesting fact was that they designated colors for heaven and hell, as if a black goat is not as desirable as a white goat. Personally, I find that it is harder to find a “white” animal of any kind, or did they differencitate between light colored animals versus dark colored animals? While I knew Mars was the god of war, I have never known that he also reigned over agriculture as well. Interesting.
I did not know that the sacrifices that were made had to be the same gender as that of the god that it was for. That is very interesting. Never heard that before. Being able to read some of the actual parayers that were made was very interesting. I like the insight that it gives. The info about the Gods was interesting and that it came from the Greek.
Cool! I really liked this post. it was once said that “only the dead have seen the end of war,” as it was then as it is now. There was no shock at Mars being over both war and agriculture, noting the old axiom that an army marches on its stomach.