The Romans are well known for their military successes, with conquests all the way from Britain to Iraq. But who is the Roman god of war?
The Roman god of war is Mars, who is commonly associated with the Greek god of war Ares. However, many other gods have had roles in warfare, with Minerva, Bellona, and Victoria all also being associated with war.
To find out more about Mars and the role of the other Roman gods in warfare, read on.
Who Is Mars?
Sometimes depicted as a bearded man and other times as a youthful figure, sometimes dressed in military costume and sometimes nude to present his bravery, and clasping a spear, Mars is the Roman god of war and the second-most important god in the entire Roman pantheon after Jupiter.
There are various interpretations of Mars and his duties and Romans would pray to these different aspects of Mars depending on the occasion, but he is chiefly associated with warfare and as the protector god of Rome.
In some traditions of Roman mythology, Mars is the father of the twins Romulus and Remus, who would found the city of Rome. He was believed to have ruled ancient Rome as part of an archaic triad, along with Jupiter and Quirinus.
Quirinus is another important Roman god and one that came to embody the founder of Rome, Romulus, although some speculate that Quirinus is just another aspect of Mars.
With the Romans placing a great amount of value on warfare, Mars was naturally an important god for the Romans and was worshipped in the months marking the beginning and end of the military and agricultural seasons, namely March (named in his honor) and October. Symbolizing these values, they also named the fiery red planet Mars in his honor.
The spears of Mars were kept in the ancient Roman king’s house and upon the declaration of war, the consul would shake the spears and shout “Mars vigila” (meaning “Mars wake up”). With the establishment of the Roman Empire, Mars the Avenger (Mars Ultor) also became the guardian god of Emperor Augustus in his quest to seek vengeance for the assassination of Julius Caesar.
With the Roman desire to prove a Greek link to their history, Mars is often connected with the Greek god of war, Ares, who was not as worshipped in ancient Greece as Mars was in ancient Rome, being associated with brutality and the horrors of war. The gods differ in that Ares is generally seen as a god of destructive conflicts while Mars is seen as a god of constructive conflicts that would help to establish the Roman Empire.
Mars may also be linked to early Italian gods like the mysterious Mavors and the Etruscan Maris, who may, in fact, be the Etruscan equivalent of Hercules.
As with Ares, there are various versions of the origin of Mars. In some traditions, he is the son of Jupiter and Juno, the king and queen of the gods and associated with the Greek gods Zeus and Hera. In other traditions, he is the son of Juno alone aided by a magic flower, born out of bitterness that Jupiter had been able to birth Minerva without her.
Other War Gods
While Mars was indeed an important figure for the Romans and represented the bloodthirsty battles required for conflict in their early expansions, the Romans also worshipped other gods associated with war. Most famous among these are Minerva, Bellona, Victoria, and Nerio.
Minerva is Mars’s sister and is typically associated with the Greek god Athena, and was venerated as the god of the arts, wisdom, the crafts, and later on with strategic and defensive warfare. Her cult, at times, even rivaled Mars in terms of a war god, reaching the peak of her worship in the 1st century under Emperor Domitian.
It was Minerva who represented the strategy the Romans had required to conquer their largest foes, such as the Carthaginians in the Punic Wars, associated with a different style of warfare to Mars. Gods like Apollo were also worshipped by soldiers for their links to archery.
Nerio was the personification of valor and a war goddess, sometimes depicted as Mars’s consort, with similarities to the goddess Bellona. Victoria was also associated with war and specifically victory, being the equivalent of the Greek goddess Nike, and was worshipped by soldiers along with other gods like Jupiter and Mars.
In short, while Mars was an incredibly important Roman god of war, the Romans would worship a range of gods depending on the attributes they wanted going into war.