[Sidenote: Mars' character.]
Mars (Ares), son of Jupiter and Juno, was the god of war, the
personification of the angry clouded sky, and, although but little
worshiped in Greece, was one of the principal Roman divinities. He is
said to have first seen the light in Thrace, a country noted for its
fierce storms and war-loving people.
"Infant Mars, where Thracia's mountains rose,
Press'd with his hardy limbs th' incrusted snows."
Statius (Elton's tr.).
Never sated with strife and bloodshed, this god preferred the din of
battle to all other music, and found no occupation so congenial as the
toils and dangers of war. No gentle deeds of kindness were ever
expected from him; no loving prayers were ever addressed to him; and
the ancients felt no love for him, but, on the contrary, shuddered
with terror when his name was mentioned.
Mars was generally represented in a brilliant suit of armor, a plumed
helmet on his proud young head, a poised spear in one muscular hand,
and a finely wrought shield in the other, showing him ever ready to
cope with a foe.
[Sidenote: Mars' attendants.]
His attendants, or some say his children, sympathized heartily with
his quarrelsome tastes, and delighted in following his lead. They were
Eris (Discord), Phobos (Alarm), Metus (Fear), Demios (Dread), and
Bellona, or Enyo, goddess of war, also accompanied him, drove his
chariot, parried dangerous thrusts, and watched over his general
safety. Mars and Bellona were therefore worshiped together in the
selfsame temple, and their altars were the only ones ever polluted by
"And to the fire-ey'd maid of smoky war,
All hot and bleeding, will we offer them:
The mailed Mars shall on his altar sit,
Up to the ears in blood."
[Sidenote: Story of Otus and Ephialtes.]
As strife was his favorite element, Mars was very active indeed during
the war between the gods and giants, but in his martial ardor he
frequently forgot all caution. On one occasion he was obliged to
surrender to Otus and Ephialtes,--two giants, who, though but nine
years of age, were already of immense stature, since they increased in
height at the rate of nine inches each month.
Proud of their victory over the God of War, these giants bore him off
in triumph, and bound him fast with iron chains slipped through iron
rings. Day and night they kept watch over him; and even when they
slept, the rattle of the chains, whenever any one of the gods
attempted to set him free, woke them up, and frustrated all efforts to
deliver him. During fifteen weary months poor Mars lingered there in
durance vile, until Mercury, the prince of thieves, noiselessly and
deftly slipped the chains out of the rings, and restored him to
In revenge for the cruel treatment inflicted by Otus and Ephialtes,
Mars prevailed upon Apollo and Diana to use their poisoned arrows, and
thus rid the world of these two ugly and useless giants.
[Sidenote: The Areopagus.]
Of a fiery disposition, Mars was never inclined to forgive an injury;
and when Halirrhothius, Neptune's son, dared to carry off his daughter
Alcippe, Mars hotly pursued the abductor, and promptly slew him.
Neptune, angry at this act of summary justice, cited the God of War to
appear before a tribunal held in the open air, on a hill near the
newly founded city of Athens.
It was then customary for such cases to be tried at night, in utter
darkness, so that the judges might not be influenced by the personal
appearance of either plaintiff or defendant; and no rhetoric of any
kind was allowed, that their minds might remain quite unbiased. Mars
appeared before the judges, simply stated his case, and was acquitted.
Since then the hill upon which his trial took place has been called
the Areopagus (Ares' Hill) or Mars' Hill, and the judges of the
principal court of justice at Athens received the name of Areopagitæ.
[Sidenote: Mars' children.]
Although such a partisan of strife, Mars was not impervious to softer
emotions, and passionately returned the devotion of Venus, who bore
him three beautiful children,--Harmonia, Cupid, and Anteros. Mars also
fell in love with a beautiful young Vestal named Ilia, a descendant of
Æneas, who, in spite of the solemn pledge not to listen to a lover's
pleadings until her time of service at the goddess Vesta's altar was
accomplished, yielded to Mars' impetuous wooing, and consented to a
[Sidenote: Romulus and Remus.]
Although secretly married, Ilia continued to dwell in the temple until
the birth of her twin sons Romulus and Remus. Her parents, hearing she
had broken her vows, commanded that she should suffer the prescribed
punishment of being buried alive, and that the children should be
exposed to the teeth and claws of the wild beasts of the forest. The
double sentence was ruthlessly carried out, and the young mother
perished; but, contrary to all previsions, the babes survived, and,
after having been suckled for a time by a she-wolf, were found and
adopted by a shepherd.
Romulus and Remus throve under this man's kind care, and grew up
strong and fearless. When they reached manhood, they longed for a
wider sphere for their youthful activity, and, leaving the mountain
where they had grown up, journeyed out into the world to seek their
fortunes. After some time they came to a beautiful hilly country,
where they decided to found a great city, the capital of their future
realm. Accordingly the brothers began to trace the outline of their
city limits, and, in doing so, quarreled over the name of the
Blinded by anger, Romulus suddenly raised the tool he held, and struck
Remus such a savage blow that he fell to the ground, slain by his
brother in a fit of passion. Alone now, Romulus at first vainly tried
to pursue his undertaking, but, being soon joined by a number of
adventurers as wicked and unscrupulous as he, they combined their
forces, and built the celebrated city of Rome.
"Then, with his nurse's wolf-skin girt,
Shall Romulus the line assert,
Invite them to his new raised home,
And call the martial city Rome."
Virgil (Conington's tr.).
As founder of this city, Romulus was its first king, and ruled the
people with such an iron hand that his tyranny eventually became
unbearable. The senators, weary of his exactions and arbitrary
measures, finally resolved to free themselves of his presence. Taking
advantage of an eclipse, which plunged the city in sudden darkness at
noonday, and which occurred while all were assembled on the Forum, the
magistrates slew Romulus, cut his body into pieces, and hid them under
their wide togas.
When the light returned, and the terrified and awestruck people,
somewhat reassured, looked about them for their king, they were told
he had gone, never to return, carried off by the immortal gods, who
wished him to share their abode and dignity. The senators further
informed the credulous population that Romulus was to be henceforth
worshiped as a god under the name of Quirinus, and gave orders for the
erection of a temple on one of the seven hills, which since then has
been known as Mount Quirinal. Yearly festivals in Romulus' honor were
ever after held in Rome, under the name of Quirinalia.
Well pleased with the new city of Rome and its turbulent, lawless
citizens, Mars took it under his special protection; and once, when a
plague was raging which threatened to destroy all the people, the
Romans rushed in a body to his temple, and clamored for a sign of his
favor and protection.
[Sidenote: The Ancile.]
Even while they prayed, it is said, a shield, Ancile, fell from
heaven, and a voice was distinctly heard to declare that Rome would
endure as long as this token of the god's good will was preserved. The
very same day the plague ceased its frightful ravages, and the Romans,
delighted with the result of their petitions, placed the heavenly
shield in one of their principal temples.
Then, in constant dread lest some of their enemies should succeed in
stealing it, they caused eleven other shields to be made, so exactly
like the heaven-sent Ancile, that none but the guardian priests, the
Salii, who kept continual watch over them, could detect the original
from the facsimiles. During the month of March, which, owing to its
blustery weather, was dedicated to Mars and bore his name, the ancilæ
were carried in a procession all through the city, the Salii chanting
their rude war songs, and executing intricate war dances.
A Roman general, ere setting out on any warlike expedition, always
entered the sanctuary of Mars, touched the sacred shield with the
point of his lance, shook the spear in the hand of the god's effigy,
and called aloud, "Mars, watch over us!"
[Sidenote: Worship of Mars.]
A common superstition among the Roman soldiery was, that Mars, under
the name of Gradivus, marched in person at the head of their army, and
led them on to victory. Mars' principal votaries were therefore the
Roman soldiers and youths, whose exercising ground was called, in his
honor, the Campus Martius, or Field of Mars. All the laurel crowns
bestowed upon victorious generals were deposited at the foot of his
statues, and a bull was the customary thank offering after a
"The soldier, from successful camps returning
With laurel wreath'd, and rich with hostile spoil,
Severs the bull to Mars."