ARES was the Olympian god of war and battle.
He possessed relatively few temples and shrines in the ancient world but was honoured with special rites in times of war. His cult appears to have been centred in the northern regions of Greece such as Thessaly, Thesprotia and Thrake. However there are scant ancient geographic accounts of this region to shed light on the cult.
In classical sculpture Ares was depicted as a handsome, sometimes nude, man wearing a Greek helm and armed with a sword or spear. The god is quite difficult to identify because of his lack of distinctive attributes--a statue of an armed warrior could just as easily represent a mythical hero or historical general.
CLASSICAL LITERATURE QUOTES
Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes 41 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"Seven warriors [the leaders of the army of the Seven Against Thebes], fierce regiment-commanders, slaughtered a bull over a black shield [before the commencement of battle], and then touching the bull's gore with their hands they swore an oath by Ares, by Enyo, and by Phobos (Rout) who delights in blood, that either they will level the city and sack the Kadmeans' town by force, or will in death smear this soil with their blood."
Apuleius, The Golden Ass 7. 10 ff (trans. Walsh) (Roman novel C2nd A.D.) :
"[Among a band of Thessalian brigands :] ‘So should we not address a prayer to Comrade Mars [Ares] . . . But I see that we have not a single beast to sacrifice, nor even abundance or sufficiency of wine to drink. So appoint ten representatives to accompany me; that will suffice to attack the nearest village, and enable me to bring back a meal fit for Salian priests.’
So he set out; the rest laid a huge fire, and set up an altar to Mars on the green turf. A little later they arrived back carrying wine-skins and driving a whole flock of farm-animals before them. From it they selected a huge billy-goat, old and shaggy, and sacrificed it to Mars, Follower and Comrade."
CULT IN ATTICA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. ATHENS (ATHENAI) Main City of Attica (Attika)
Aeschylus, Eumenides 685 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"And this Hill of Ares (pagos Areion), the seat and camp of the Amazones, when they came with an army in resentment against Theseus, and in those days built up this new citadel with lofty towers to rival his, and sacrificed to Ares, from which this rock takes its name, the Hill of Ares."
Strabo, Geography 13. 1. 38 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The poet Alkaios [of Lesbos C7th-6th B.C.] says that he himself, being sorely pressed in a certain battle [between the Athenians and Lesbians], threw away his arms. He addresses his account of it to a certain herald, whom he had bidden to report to the people at home that ‘Alkaios is safe, but his arms have been hung up as an offering to Ares by the Attic army in the temple of Athena Glaukopis [in Athens].’"
Pausanias, Description of Greece 1. 8. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[At Athens] is a sanctuary of Ares, where are placed two images of Aphrodite, one of Ares made by Alkamenes, and one of Athena made by a Parian of the name of Lokros. There is also an image of Enyo, made by the sons of Praxiteles. About the temple stand images of Herakles, Theseus, Apollon binding his hair with a fillet, and statues of Kalades, who it is said framed laws for the Athenians, and of Pindaros, the statue being one of the rewards the Athenians gave him for praising them in an ode."
II. UNKNOWN Village in Attica
Suidas s.v. Amazoneion (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Amazoneion : A shrine, which [the] Amazons established [in Attika?]."
CULT IN ARGOLIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. Near ARGOS Main City of Argolis
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 25. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"On this road [from Argos to Mantinea, Argolis] is a sanctuary built with two rooms, having an entrance on the west side and another on the east. At the latter is a wooden image of Aphrodite, and at the west entrance one of Ares. They say that the images are votive offerings of Polyneikes and of the Argives who joined him in the campaign to redress his wrongs."
II. TROEZEN (TROIZENOS) Town in Argolis
Pausanias, Description of Greece 2. 32. 9 :
"On going down to the harbor [of Troizenos, Argolis] at what is called Kelenderis, you come to a place called Birthplace (Genethlion), where Theseus is said to have been born. Before this place is a temple of Ares, for here also did Theseus conquer the Amazones in battle. These must have belonged to the army that strove in Attika against Theseus and the Athenians."
CULT IN LACEDAEMONIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. Near SPARTA Main City of Lacedaemonia (Lakedaimonia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 19. 7 :
"Of all the objects along this road the oldest [to Sparta, Lakedaimonia] is a sanctuary of Ares. This is on the left of the road, and the image is said to have been brought from Kolchis by the Dioskouroi. They surname him Theritas after Thero, who is said to have been the nurse of Ares. Perhaps it was from the Kolkhians that they heard the name Theritas, since the Greeks know of no Thero, nurse of Ares. My own belief is that the surname Theritas (Beastly or Brutal) was not given to Ares because of his nurse, but because when a man meets an enemy in battle he must cast aside all gentleness, as Homer says of Akhilleus: 'And he is fierce as a lion."
II. GERONTHRAE (GERONTHRAI) Village in Lacedaemonia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 22. 6 :
"In Geronthrai [village in Lakedaimonia] are a temple and grove of Ares. Every year they hold a festival in honor of the God, at which women are forbidden to enter the grove."
CULT IN ELIS (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. OLYMPIA Town & Sanctuary in Elis
Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 20. 3 :
"On one side [of the temple Metroon at Olympia] are [statues of] Ares and Agon (Contest) by his side."
Pausanias, Description of Greece 5. 15. 6 :
"At the entrance to what is called the Wedge [at Olympia] there is on one side an altar of Ares Hippios (Horse-god), on the other one of Athena Hippias (Horse-goddess) . . . Each month the Eleans sacrifice once on all the altars I have enumerated."
CULT IN ACHAEA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. TRITEIA Village in Achaea (Akhaia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 22. 8 :
"Melanippos, the son of Ares and Triteia, founded the city [of Triteia in Akhaia] when he grew up, naming it after his mother . . . The people here are accustomed to sacrifice both to Ares and to Triteia."
CULT IN ARCADIA (SOUTHERN GREECE)
I. MEGALOPOLIS Main City of Arcadia (Arkadia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 32. 3 :
"[At Megalopolis in Arkadia] is an altar of Ares, and it was said that originally a sanctuary too was built for the god."
II. ACACESIUM (AKAKESION) Village in Arcadia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 37. 12 :
"Here [at the sanctuary of Despoine near Akakesion in Arkadia] is an altar of Ares."
III. TEGEA Town in Arcadia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 48. 4 :
"There is also an image of Ares in the marketplace of Tegea [in Arkadia]. Carved in relief on a slab it is called Gynaikothoinas (Feasted by the Women). At the time of the [historical] Lakonian war, when Kharillos king of Lakedaemon made the first invasion, the women armed themselves and lay in ambush under the hill they call today Phylaktris (Sentry Hill ). When the armies met and the men on either side were performing many remarkable exploits, the women, they say, came on the scene and put the Lakedaemonians to flight. Marpessa, surnamed Khoira, surpassed, they say, the other women in daring . . . The story goes on to say . . . that the women offered to Ares a sacrifice of victory on their own account without the men, and gave to the men no share in the meat of the victim. For this reason Ares got his surname."
IV. MT. CRESIUS (KRESIOS) Mountain in Arcadia
Pausanias, Description of Greece 8. 44. 7 :
"On the right of the road [near Tegea, Arkadia] is a small mountain called Mount Kresios, on which stands the sanctuary of Aphneios. For Ares, the Tegeans say, mated with Aerope, daughter of Kepheus [king of Tegea], the son of Aleos. She died in giving birth to a child, who clung to his mother even when she was dead, and sucked great abundance of milk from her breasts. Now this took place by the will of Ares, and because of it they name the god Aphneius (Abundant ); but the name given to the hill was, it is said, Aeropos."
CULT IN BOEOTIA (CENTRAL GREECE)
I. THEBES Main City of Boeotia (Boiotia)
Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 10. 5 :
"The fountain [of Ismene, near Thebes in Boiotia] which they say is sacred to Ares, and they add that a Drakon was posted by Ares as a sentry over the spring."
CULT IN THESPROTIA (NORTHERN GREECE)
Ares appears to have been a major god of the tribes of north-western Greece--Aitolia, Phlegyantis in Thessaly, and Thesprotia. He plays a prominent role in the mythologies of these regions. Unfortunately ancient geographers provide only scant descriptions of this region and its cults.
Homer, Iliad 13. 299 ff (trans. Lattimore) (Greek epic C8th B.C.) :
"Ares . . . comes out of Thrake to encounter in arms the Ephyroi [of Thesprotia] or the great-hearted Phlegyes [of Thessalia], but the two will not listen to prayers form both sides, but give the glory to one side or the other."
CULT IN THRACE (NORTH OF GREECE)
Herodotus, Histories 5. 7. 1 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"They [the Thrakians] worship no gods but Ares, Dionysos, and Artemis."
Herodotus, Histories 7. 61. 1 :
"The Pisidians [of Thrake] had little shields of raw oxhide; each man carried two wolf-hunters' spears; they wore helmets of bronze, and on these helmets were the ears and horns of oxen wrought in bronze, and also crests; their legs were wrapped around with strips of purple rags. Among these men is a place of divination sacred to Ares."
CULT OF MARS IN LATIUM (CENTRAL ITALY)
Strabo, Geography 5. 4. 2 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The Pikentines [Picentini tribe of Italia] are originally from the Sabine country, a woodpecker having led the way for their progenitors; and hence their name, for they call this bird ‘pikos’, and consider it sacred to Ares [Mars]."
Strabo, Geography 5. 4. 12 :
"The Sabinoi [Sabines of Italia], since they had long been at war with the Ombrikoi, vowed to dedicate everything that was produced that year; and, on winning the victory, they partly sacrificed and partly dedicated all that was produced; then a dearth ensued, and some one said that they ought to have dedicated the babies too; this they did, and devoted to Ares [Mars] all the children born that year; and these children, when grown to manhood, they sent away as colonists, and a bull led the way; and when the bull lay down to rest in the land of the Opikoi . . . the Sabinoi ejected them and settled on the spot, and, in accordance with the utterance of their seers, slaughtered the bull as a sacrifice to Ares [Mars] who had given it for a guide."
CULT TITLES OF ARES
Several of the god's cult titles are described by ancient authors:--
Of the Horses
Feasted by Women
POETIC TITLES & EPITHETS OF ARES
Homeric and other poetic epithets applied to the god include:--
He Who Rallies Men
Manslaying, Destroyer of Men
Brazen, Of the Bronze
Armed with Bronze
Stormer of Cities, Walls
Insatiate of Fighting, War
He Who Fights Under the Shield's Guard
Of the Golden Helm
ENCYCLOPEDIA ARES TITLES
APHNEIUS (Aphneios), the giver of food or plenty, a surname of Ares, under which he had a temple on mount Cnesius, near Tegea in Arcadia. Aerëope, the daughter of Cepheus, became by Ares the mother of a son (Aërropus), but she died at the moment she gave birth to the child, and Ares, wishing to save it, caused the child to derive food from the breast of its dead mother. This wonder gave rise to the surname Aphneios. (Paus. viii. 44. § 6.)
ENYA′LIUS (Enualios), the warlike, frequently occurs in the Iliad (never in the Odyssey) either as an epithet of Ares, or as a proper name instead of Ares. (xvii. 211, ii. 651, vii. 166, viii. 264, xiii. 519, xvii. 259, xviii. 309, xx. 69; comp. Pind. Ol. xiii. 102, Nem. ix. 37.) At a later time, however, Enyalius and Ares were distinguished as two different gods of war, and Enyalius was looked upon as a son of Ares and Enyo, or of Cronos and Rhea. (Aristoph. Pax, 457; Dionys. A. R. iii. 48; Eustath. ad Hom. p. 944.) The name is evidently derived from Enyo, though one tradition derived it from a Thracian Enyalius, who received into his house those only who conquered him in single combat, and for the same reason refused to receive Ares, but the latter slew him. (Eustath. ad Hom. p. 673.) The youths of Sparta sacrificed young dogs to Ares under the name of Enyalius (Paus. iii. 14. § 9), and near the temple of Hipposthenes, at Sparta, there stood the ancient fettered statue of Enyalius. (Paus. iii. 15, § 5.) Dionysus, too, is said to have been surnamed Enyalius. (Macrob. Sat. i. 19.)
GYNAECOTHOENAS (Gunaikothoinas), that is, "the god feasted by women," a surname of Ares at Tegea. In a war of the Tegeatans against the Lacedaemonian king Charillus, the women of Tegea made an attack upon the enemy from an ambuscade. This decided the victory. The women therefore celebrated the victory alone, and excluded the men from the sacrificial feast. This, it is said, gave rise to the surname of Ares. (Paus. viii. 48. § 3)
HI′PPIUS and HI′PPIA (Hippia and Hippios, or Hippeios), in Latin Equester and Equestris, occur as surnames of several divinities, as of Hera (Paus. v. 15. § 4); of Athena at Athens, Tegea and Olympia (i. 30. § 4, 31. § 3, v. 15. § 4, viii. 47. § ); of Poseidon (vi. 20. § 8, i. 30. § 4; Liv. i. 9); of Ares (Paus. v. 15. § 4); and at Rome also of Fortuna and Venus. (Liv. xl. 40, xlii. 3; Serv. ad Aen. i. 724.)
MAMERTUS (Mamertos), an ancient surname of Ares, which must have arisen after the identification of the Italian Mamers with the Greek Ares. (Lycoph. 938, 1410.)
STRA′TIUS (Stratios). Stratios, i.e. the warlike, occurs also as a surname of Zeus and Ares. (Strab. xiv. p. 659 ; Herod. v. 119.)
[THEREITAS and] THERO (Thêrô). The nurse of Ares, from whom he was believed to have received the surname of Thereitas, though Pausanias thinks that this name arose from the fierceness of the god. A sanctuary of Ares Thereitas stood on the road from Sparta to Therapne, with a statue which the Dioscuri were said to have brought from Colchis. (Paus. iii. 19. § 8.)
Source: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
- Homer, The Iliad - Greek Epic C8th B.C.
- Aeschylus, Eumenides - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Aeschylus, Seven Against Thebes - Greek Tragedy C5th B.C.
- Herodotus, Histories - Greek History C5th B.C.
- Strabo, Geography - Greek Geography C1st B.C. - C1st A.D.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece - Greek Travelogue C2nd A.D.
- Apuleius, The Golden Ass - Latin Novel C2nd A.D.
- Suidas, The Suda - Byzantine Greek Lexicon C10th A.D.