Myths and Legends of Ancient Greece and Rome
Page: 59The assistance and protection of the god of war was always solemnly invoked before the departure of a Roman army for the field of battle, and any reverses of fortune were invariably ascribed to his anger, which was accordingly propitiated by means of extraordinary sin-offerings and prayers.
In Rome a field, called the Campus Martius, was dedicated to Mars. It was a large, open space, in which armies were collected and reviewed, general assemblies of the people held, and the young nobility trained to martial exercises.
The most celebrated and magnificent of the numerous temples built by the Romans in honour of this deity was the one erected by Augustus in the Forum, to commemorate the overthrow of the murderers of Cæsar.
Of all existing statues of Mars the most renowned is that in the Villa Ludovisi at Rome, in which he is represented as a powerful, muscular man in the full vigour of youth. The attitude is that of thoughtful repose, but the short, curly hair, dilated nostrils, and strongly marked features leave no doubt as to the force and turbulence of his character. At his feet, the sculptor has placed the little god of love, who looks up all undaunted at the mighty war-god, as though mischievously conscious that this unusually quiet mood is attributable to his influence.
Religious festivals in honour of Mars were generally held in the month of March; but he had also a festival on the Ides of October, when chariot-races took place, after which, the right-hand horse of the team which had drawn the victorious chariot, was sacrificed to him. In ancient times, human sacrifices, more especially prisoners of war, were offered to him; but, at a later period, this cruel practice was discontinued.
The attributes of this divinity are the helmet, shield, and spear. The animals consecrated to him were the wolf, horse, vulture, and woodpecker.
Intimately associated with Mars in his character as god of war, was a goddess called BELLONA, who was evidently the female divinity of battle with one or other of the primitive nations of Italy (most probably the Sabines), and is usually seen accompanying Mars, whose war-chariot she guides. Bellona appears on the battle-field, inspired with mad rage, cruelty, and the love of extermination. She is in full armour, her hair is dishevelled, and she bears a scourge in one hand, and a lance in the other.
In her statues, Nike somewhat resembles Athene, but may easily be recognized by her large, graceful wings and flowing drapery, which is negligently fastened on the right shoulder, and only partially conceals her lovely form. In her left hand, she holds aloft a crown of laurel, and in the right, a palm-branch. In ancient sculpture, Nike is usually represented in connection with colossal statues of Zeus or Pallas-Athene, in which case she is life-sized, and stands on a ball, held in the open palm of the deity she accompanies. Sometimes she is represented engaged in inscribing the victory of a conqueror on his shield, her right foot being slightly raised and placed on a ball.