Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Mars and the Roman celebration of war


Statue of the Roman emperor Hadrian as Mars, God of War, 117–125 CE, that I photographed at the Capitoline Museums, Rome, Italy

In ancient Roman religion and myth, Mars was the god of war and also an agricultural guardian, a combination characteristic of early Rome. He was the son of Jupiter and Juno, and he was the most prominent of the military gods in the religion of the Roman army. 

Under the influence of Greek culture, Mars was identified with the Greek god Ares, whose myths were reinterpreted in Roman literature and art under the name of Mars. But the character and dignity of Mars differed in fundamental ways from that of his Greek counterpart, who is often treated with contempt and revulsion in Greek literature. Mars' altar in the Campus Martius, the area of Rome that took its name from him, was supposed to have been dedicated by Numa, the peace-loving semi-legendary second king of Rome. Although the center of Mars's worship was originally located outside the sacred boundary of Rome (pomerium), Augustus made the god a renewed focus of Roman religion by establishing the Temple of Mars Ultor in his new forum.

Although Ares was viewed primarily as a destructive and destabilizing force, Mars represented military power as a way to secure peace, and was a father (pater) of the Roman people. In the mythic genealogy and founding myths of Rome, Mars was the father of Romulus and Remus by his rape of Rhea Silvia. His love affair with Venus symbolically reconciled the two different traditions of Rome's founding; Venus was the divine mother of the hero Aeneas, celebrated as the Trojan refugee who "founded" Rome several generations before Romulus laid out the city walls.

Most of Mars' festivals were held in March, the month named for him (Latin Martius), which began the season for military campaigning and October, that ended the season for campaigning and farming.  

The Tubilustrium was the ceremony held using tubae, sacred trumpets,  to make the army fit for war. The ceremony was held on March 23, the last day of the Quinquatria festival held in tribute to the Roman God Mars and Nerine, a Sabine goddess. The Salii, the "leaping priests" (from the verb saliō "leap, jump") of Mars supposed to have been introduced by King Numa Pompilius, danced through the streets. They were twelve patrician youths, dressed as archaic warriors: an embroidered tunic, a breastplate, a short red cloak (paludamentum), a sword, and a spiked headdress called an apex. They were charged with the twelve bronze shields called ancilia, which, like the Mycenaean shield, resembled a figure eight. One of the shields was said to have fallen from heaven in the reign of King Numa and eleven copies were made to protect the identity of the sacred shield on the advice of the nymph Egeria, consort of Numa, who prophesied that wherever that shield was preserved, the people would be the dominant people of the earth.

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