Sandro Botticelli: "Venus and Mars." The painting shows Venus resting contentedly. Little satyrs honk horns and play about Mars, as he sleeps.
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Image courtesy of the Trustees, The National Gallery, London.


Mars, the Roman god of war, was also known to the Greeks as Ares. Mars was associated with agriculture, particularly with the laurel tree. Originally, Mars was closely identified with the pastoral deity Silvanus. The month of March was named after him and considered the month of wars.

Mars was conceived by the goddess Juno. Juno was annoyed that her husband Jupiter had produced Minerva from his head without her aid. She asked the help of Flora, the goddess of flowering and blossoming plants to create a new god. Flora touched Juno with a magical herb and impregnated Juno with Mars.

Mars married a minor goddess called Nerio (strength). As the god of war, Mars was driven by rage and a strong desire for violence. He enjoyed the great noise of battle, and he loved bloody warfare. Conflict and mindless killing was how he liked to spend the day. Mars was said to have raped Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin, while she drew water at a spring in his sacred grove. As a result, Rhea Silvia had twin sons, Romulus and Remus.

When their birth became known, Rhea Silvia was imprisoned and condemned as a fallen priestess. Years later, when Romulus and Remus became adults, they released their mother from captivity. The city of Rome was founded by the two sons of Rhea Silvia and Mars. It was believed Mars would help Romans in times of crisis.

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