Etymology: “Man, male, strife” throng of battle, war, “destroyer” or “avenger”
Other Names and Epithets: Ares Enyalios (the warlike ‘Sparta.’), Ares Hippios (in Olympia where he was also the god of horses.) Aphneius, Areus, Enyalius, Gynaecthoenas, Theritas, “Savior of Cities”, “Defense of Olympus”, “Father of Victory”, “Ally of Themis”, and “Leader of Righteous Men”.
With an often overwhelming, insatiable blood lust for battle and destructive nature, most places and things associated with Ares tend to be seen as being dark, savage and dangerous. There is also a military aspect, though not always a disciplined military aspect. Ares tends towards being a god of war for the sake of war and blood lust and not any righteous or particular cause.
Animal: Alligators, Boar, Dog, Horse, Barn Owl, Eagle-Owl, Serpent, Vulture, Woodpecker
Colors: Red, Crimson
Day of the Week: Tuesday
Patron of: soldiers, warriors
Influences: Retribution, Conflict, War
Symbols: armor, chariot, helmet, spear, shield, blood, weapons, torch
When looking up information for Ares, I came across several different meanings for the name. Traditionally, the name Ares is connected with the Greek word ἀρή (arē), the Ionic form of the Doric ἀρά (ara) that mean: “bane, ruin, curse, imprecation.”
A Walter Burket has noted that the name Ares may come from an abstract noun meaning “throng of battle, war.” The earliest, recorded forms of Ares’ name are found on some Mycenaean Greek script.
The epithet Arejos was often used by the other Olympic deities when they would take on a warrior’s aspect and go to war. Some examples are Zeus Areios, Athena Areia, and even Aphrodite Areia. In Homer’s Iliad, the word ares is used as a common synonym for battle.
The god Ares is one of two Greek gods of war, the other being his sister Athena. The two deities differ in that Ares is more accurately the god of bloodlust and mindless violence for the sake of violence. Whereas, Athena is known more for the use intelligence, wisdom, military strategy and keeping a level head. Ares, due to his inherent blood thirsty and cruel nature, wasn’t very well liked by the other gods of Olympus and even the Greeks.
Ares is often described as being bloody, merciless, fearful and even cowardly. He was not known to possess any moral or ethical values. He was often said to be of giant stature with a loud, booming voice and was faster than all of the other gods in terms of speed. Ares did hold the values and attributes of physical strength and tenacity necessary for being able to win a war.
Early Greek Depictions
In Greek art, such as those on vases and sculpture, Ares was shown as a mature, bearded warrior wearing a helmet and carrying a spear or sword. In art he was often shown in the presence of other deities. Later on, Greek artists depict Ares as being much younger and not so war-like. There are few Greek monuments and statues of Ares, He mostly appeared on coinage, reliefs and gems. And since any image or statute of an armed warrior could depict Ares, he can often be hard to identify.
Thracian Origins and Cults of Ares
Ares was known throughout Thrace where he would be introduced later to the Greeks and become part of the twelve gods of Olympus. He was also known in Macedonia and Sparta.
With Ares not being very well liked by the Greeks, there aren’t very many temples dedicated to him. There is a lot of evidence to point to his being introduced to the Greeks from Thrace and the low regard that Greeks gave towards Thracians whom they saw as a crude, barbaric and warlike. Thrace is also the region where Amazons were typically said to be found. And after his affair with Aphrodite had been exposed, Thrace is also said to be the land where Ares retreated to.
There are few temples dedicated to Ares as not many people wanted to constantly be invoking war. He would have sacrifices from armies just before they went to war. It is known that there was a temple to Ares in the agora of Athens that the Grecian geographer Pausanias testified of. It had been moved and rededicated to it’s location during Caesar Augustus’ rule and had been a Roman temple to Augustan Mars Ultor.
The Areopagus or “Mount of Ares” was located some distance from the Acropolis and was once a site for holding trials. Later, Paul of Tarsus preached Christianity at this place. The connection to Ares may be based on incorrect etymology. There is a second temple to Ares said to have been found at an archaeological site in Metropolis where Western Turkey is today.
The Pisidians of Thrace were noted by Herodotus in his Histories as using small shield made of ox hide with each man carrying two wolf-hunter spears. They also wore bronze helmets and crests with the ears and horns of oxen depicted on them. The Pisidians were also known to hold divinations devoted to Ares.
There is evidence of Ares being worshiped by the Baharna of Tylos though it’s not certain if he was worshipped in the guise of an Arabian god or by his Greek name.
This is the place where the famous golden fleece was hung in a sacred grove to Ares. The Dioscuri are believed to have brought an ancient statue of Ares from here to Laconia. This statue was held in the temple of Ares Thareitas, found on the road between Sparta and Therapnae.
There is an island near the coast of Colchis that the Stymphalian birds were thought to have lived on. This island was also known as the Island of Ares, Aretias, Aria or Chalceritis.
The Pikentines or Picentini, a tribe found in Italy, who were originally from Sabine have a legend how a woodpecker guided their ancestors to their land. They called the woodpecker by the name of pikos and viewed it as sacred to Ares.
The Sabinoi or Sabines also tell another similar story of Cadmus’ founding of Thebes wherein the Sabines had been at war for a long time with a people known as the Ombrikoi. The Sabines vowed to dedicate everything they produced one year. With finally having victory, they did a partial sacrifice and partial dedication of everything they produced and it was agreed by some they should also dedicate all the babies born that year to Ares. When the children were grown up, they were sent away as colonists with a bull leading them and when it finally laid down to rest in the land of the Opikoi, the Sabines settled in the area and sacrificed the bull to Ares.
In Scythia, Ares was worshipped in the form of a sword. In this aspect, horse, cattle and even men would be sacrificed to him.
The Spartans greatly revered Ares, seeing in him a masculine soldier whose resilience, physical strength and military intellect were highly valued. Ares was propitiated before battles and in Phoebaeum where ritual fighting and battles were held. Each company of youths would sacrifice a puppy to Ares as Enyalios before starting their ritual fighting in the Phoebaeum. It was a chthonic, night-time sacrifice of a dog that later became associated with Ares. To the east of the city of Sparta, an archaic statue of Ares in chains was found. This statue was to symbolize that the spirit of war and victory was bound to the city and never to leave.
While its been stated that Ares wasn’t much liked by the Greeks, he appears to have been a major god among the more northern tribes of Aitolia, Phelegyantis and Thesprotia. Though with the invasion of the Romans, there isn’t much that has survived in the records by ancient historians.
Since Ares doesn’t seem to have many temples and shrines dedicated to him, he does have an Iron Fortress associated with him. This palace was adorned with his spoils of war and guarded by a number of various divine beings. The location of this palace is either on Mount Olympus alongside the other mansions of the Olympian Gods or on Mount Haimos in his homeland of Thrace.
Sacrifices To Ares
In the War of Seven Against Thebes, the Spartan, Menoikeus claiming descent from Ares, went so far as to sacrifice to Ares in order to protect the city from invasion.
Sons of Ares such as Cycnus and Lykos were also known to make human sacrifices to their father Ares.
Parentage and Family
Though slightly varying myths will give it as that both Ares and his sister Eris came into being when Hera touched a flower. It’s very similar to the story where Hera gave birth to the goddess Hebe after touching a lettuce plant.
With the goddess Aphrodite, Ares fathered: the Erotes: Anteros, Eros, Himeros, and Pothos (though sometimes Pothos is listed as Eros’ son). Other children of theirs are: Phobos, Deimos, Phlegyas, Harmonia, and Adrestia.
With Otrera , Ares fathered two Amazon Queens: Penthesilea and Hippolyte. For that matter, all of the Amazons were seen as daughters of Ares.
With Eris, Ares is the father of Enyalius. Though in another account, Enyalius is said to be Ares’ son by either Enyo rather than just being another name for the war-god.
With Erinys Telphousia, Ares sired the Aeionian Dracon which guarded his sacred spring in Thebes.
Other accounts will also list a number of other characters (many of whom are mortal) who claimed or are said to also be the children of Ares: Aerope, Alcippe, Alcon of Thrace, the Amazons, Antiope, Askalaphos, Cycnus, Diomedes, Dryas, Euenos, Hipplyte, Ialmenos, Likymnios a Lord of Thebes, Lykos of Libya, Lykastos, Melanippus, Meleagros, Molos, Nisos, Pangaeus, Portheus, Oenomaus, Oiagros, Oxylus, Parrhasios, Parthenopaios, Porthaon, Pylos, Remus, Romulus, Tanagra, daughter of Asopus, Tereus, Thestios and Thrassa (mother of Polyphonte).
With revisionist history and the taking of poetic licenses when retelling stories, many of the mortals listed as Ares children or descendants often have only the barest of links to the God of War and it could very well be that many were said to be the children of Ares in order to emphasize a brutal, bloodthirsty nature. And if not that, to try and claim a divine right as rulers when founding a city, empire, or noble house.
Ares is counted among the twelve major deities who resided on Mount Olympus, the highest mountain peak in Greece and all of Europe. For the Greeks, this was the perfect location for where the gods would preside while keeping watch on humankind down below them.
As there are several deities within Greek mythology, just who numbers among the Olympians varies. It’s generally agreed that the twelve major Olympians are: Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Hermes, and then either Hestia or Dionysus.
Attendants of Ares
As much as Ares was disliked and despised by the other Gods, he wasn’t without his followers.
Deities and Demigods in Ares’ Company –
His sons, Deimos (“Terror”) and Phobos (“Fear”) often accompanied Ares into war. In some accounts, the two are described as being the horses that pulled Ares’ chariot.
Other deities in Ares company were his sister, Eris the goddess of strife or discord, Enyo (“Horror”) an old war goddess of bloodshed and violence. Various demons were also said to accompany Ares into battle. Kydoimos, the demon of the din of battle, the Makhai, the demon of Battles, and the Hysminai, the demon for acts of manslaughter.
Polemos, a minor spirit of war, sometimes used as an epithet for Ares also followed the god. Polemos’ daughter Alala, a goddess or personification of the Greek battle-cry also accompanied Ares and was used as his own battle-cry. Lastly, Ares’ sister Hebe, meaning “Youth” would draw baths for him.
According to the ancient Greek geographer, Pausanias, the local people of Therapne in Sparta, recognized a very local deity or personage Thero, whose name means beastly, feral or savage, as being a nurse of Ares. Outside of the city of Therapne, Thero was largely unknown to the rest of the Greek people.
Ares held a sacred island sanctuary that was founded by the Amazons of the coast of their homeland near the Black Sea. This island was guarded birds who used their feathers as arrows to strike intruders.
Bronze Bulls –
King Aeetes kept a pasture of fire-breathing bronze-hoofed bulls in a field sacred to Ares. Aeetes instructed the hero Jason to use the bulls when sowing the field to create an army of Spartoi
Shrine Guardians –
Few as Ares’ shrines and temples are, they did have protectors and guardians for them. The Sacred Groves of Ares in Thebes and Kholkis each had a Dracon or Dragon guarding them.
These are the earth-born warriors of Ares, they are armed warriors who spring up fully grown from the earth when the teeth of Ares’ guardian Dracons are sown in a field sacred to him. The hero Cadmus is most famously known to have created such an army when he founded Thebes.
The Sun-god Helios had spotted the two gods, Ares and Aphrodite in a tryst in the halls of Hephaestus. Helios went to inform Hephaestus of his wife’s affair who then decided to try and catch the two in the act. Being the master smith and craftsman of the gods, Hephaestus created a finely woven and nearly invisible net to ensnare the two in. Waiting for the right moment, he succeeded in trapping both Ares and Aphrodite within the net.
Wanting to make sure the two were properly shamed and punished, Hephaestus called the other Olympian gods to come. All the goddesses declined to come, not wanting to be scandalized while all the gods did come and gawked. Some commented to the beauty of Aphrodite and others stating they’d gladly trade places with Ares. In versions of the story, the gods agreed on Hephaestus’ right to be angry and in others, they didn’t care. In the end, when released, an embarrassed Ares returned to his home in Thrace and Aphrodite went to the city of Paphos on Cyprus.
Elaborating on this story, a later addition, Ares had the youth Alectryon guarding the door to warn when Helios came by as he would no doubt inform Hephaestus of the affair. However, Alectryon fell asleep and Helios discovered the two’s affair. Ares, embarrassed and infuriated at being caught, turned Alectryon into a rooster and it’s that add-on to the story of Ares and Aphrodite’s affair that roosters always crow, announcing the rising of the sun in the morning.
From their affair, Ares and Aphrodite became the parents of several minor deities: Eros, Arethousa, Phobos, Deimos and Adrestia. Both Eros and Arethousa’s tended to have attributes more in alignment with Aphrodite. Adrestia tended to be more like her father Ares.
Other Love Affairs
Aside from Aphrodite, Ares also enjoyed romantic liaisons with a host of other goddesses, demi-goddesses, and mortals. This list includes Eos (Goddess of the Dawn), Persephone (daughter of Demeter and wife to Hades), Eris (Goddess of Strife), Harpinna (Naiad nymph of Pisa), Sterope (one of the Pleiad star-nymphs of Elis), Kyrene (nymph of Bistonia), Triteia (nymph of Einalia), Aerope (Princess of Anatolia), Atalanta (Princess of Arkadia), Othere (Queen of Assyria) and many many more.
As previously mentioned, Ares also had a number of children as well from these affairs. And it would seem that Ares, like his father Zeus, got around. Even if all people were trying to do was claim a bit of divine heritage to place legitimacy on a claim for greatness or a right to rule.
The Death of Adonis
In some retellings of this story, Ares is responsible for the death of Adonis and not the goddess Artemis. Ares either sends a boar to kill him or turns into one himself. In the stories of Adonis’ death, it’s because he loved Aphrodite and out of a jealous rage, Ares goes and kills him.
The First To Be Tried For Murder
The Areopagus or the Hill of Ares got its name as a place that became famous for the site where the Olympian Gods had Ares on trial. Poseidon’s son, Halirrhothius had been killed by Ares after he had raped or tried to rape the war-god’s daughter, Alcippe. Ares was acquitted of the crime and the hill where the trial was held became a site for a Court of Justice in the area of Athens. Orestes, incidentally, was tried for killing his mother at this place..
The Founding Of Thebes
Ares was the father of a water-dragon, the Aeionian Dracon who guarded a sacred spring. The Greek hero Cadmus slew this dragon and with its teeth, sowed them into the ground from which an army of armored warriors sprung and fought each other until only a few were left. In restitution to Ares for the death of his son, Aeionian Dracon, Cadmus agreed to serve the god Ares for eight years. After this time passed, Cadmus took Ares’ daughter Harmonia as a wife, thus bringing harmony and an end to war in founding the city of Thebes.
Even though Cadmus had served Ares for a period of time to atone for the death of the Aeionian Dracon and had married his daughter Harmonia, this still wasn’t enough and long after Cadmus and Harmonia’s children have died, Ares turns the two of them into snakes or serpents.
The Return Of Hephaestus
Getting thrown out a window and crippled for life by a mother who only saw him as ugly can cause a lot of anger. So when the god Hephaestus returns to Olympus, he’s created this golden throne that his mother Hera got stuck on when she sat down. Hera offered the marriage of Aphrodite to the god who could free her from the throne.
Ares was in love with Aphrodite, he made an effort in trying to free Hera by going to Hephaestus and asking for her release. Hephaestus’ response to this was to chase after Ares with firebrands. In the meantime, Dionysus suggested to Hephaestus that he win Aphrodite’s hand in marriage by returning to Olympus and freeing his mother Hera.
Since both Ares and Aphrodite were in love, this is what led to them having the affair mentioned earlier.
Ares versus the Giants
One myth found only in the Iliad is told by the titaness, Dione to her daughter Aphrodite about how two chthonic giants or Aloadae known as Otus and Ephialtes had put Ares in chains and then placed him in a large bronze urn. Ares stayed in this urn for thirteen months, a lunar year incidentally. While he was trapped, the two giants proceeded to attack the gods at Mount Olympus.
Slight variations of this story say the two giants believing themselves superior to the gods tried to build a mountain as high as Olympus. When that didn’t work, they went to attack Mount Olympus.
That probably could have been the end for Ares except that Eriboea, the Aloadae’s stepmother told the god Hermes of what had happened. The goddess Artemis tricked the two Aloadae into killing each other. Some versions of the story mention that the Aloadae each loved a goddess respectively, Hera and Artemis. So it’s probably not that hard to see how they could have been tricked into killing each other.
In Nonnus’ Dionysiacs, Ares is also to have killed Ekhidnades, a giant son of Echidna, reputed to be a great enemy of the gods. Scholars though aren’t sure if this Ekhidnades is a literary invention of Nonnus or not.
In Apollonius Rhodius’ Argonautica, Ares is listed as having slain the giant Mimas.
In the conflict with Typhon, Ares along with other gods fled to Egypt where he changed himself into a fish in order to escape.
Ares versus Herakles
Ares had a number of conflicts with his half-brother Herakles. In both of the stories where Herakles battles and kills two of Ares’ son each of whom bore the name Cycnus, they fought. Hesiod’s “Shield of Herakles” has the famous demigod Herakles telling Cycnus how he’s hurt Ares in battle.
Ares & Sisyphus
In one version of the story of Sisyphus and his chaining the death god Thanatos or Hades; thus preventing people from dying, it was Ares who finally came and freed his Uncle as Ares had gotten tired of not being able to win any battles with everyone being able to get right back up.
Homer’s Illiad is the main source for the gods involvement in the Trojan War. Ares had told both Athena and Hera that he would fight on the side of the Achaeans but Aphrodite convinced him to fight for the Trojans.
During the war, Diomedes who fought with Hector, was able to see Ares fighting for the Trojans. In response, Diomedes had his soldiers fall back. Seeing as Ares was winning, Athena asked Zeus for permission to drive Ares off the battlefield. At Hera and Athena’s urging, Diomedes attacked Ares, thrusting his spear at the god. It is told in the Illiad how Ares’ cries cause the Achaens and Trojans to become shaken and that Ares fled back up to Olympus, forcing the Trojans to retreat.
When Ares overheard Hera telling Zeus how his son, Ascalaphus was killed, Ares went back to fight alongside the Achaeans again. As this was against Zeus’ orders, Athena prevented Ares from entering the fray. Though later on, when Zeus rescinded his order, Ares was the first back on the field of battle, attacking Athena in revenge. Athena still beat him by hitting him with a boulder.
Ares place in the war is meant to represent Ares owing no allegiances to any side and rewarding courage and blood lust for the sake of violence.
Mars – Roman God
As the Greek God of War, Ares is often confused with or identified with the Roman deity of Mars, also a God of War. Thanks greatly to the influence of the Romans, many people will identify and equate the Mars with Ares. While both deities are Gods of War, there are differences in the Roman myths than in the Greek myths.
The Romans were famous for subsuming many deities in their conquest across Europe, particularly the Mediterranean area, and identifying their gods with those of a conquered culture. The most famous being the Greeks, where many deities were renamed to those of Roman gods. Prominent examples like Zeus and Jupiter, Hera and Juno, Ares and Mars and so on down the line.
With the Hellenization of Latin literature, many Greek writers and even Roman writers rewrote and intertwined the myths of these two deities so that would virtually become one and the same. And that’s the tradition passed down through the centuries and has become accepted. Just that there are still some differences that separate the two.
Mars for example has different attributes. One of which is that in addition to being a god of war, he is also a god of Agriculture. An aspect that’s not found anywhere in Ares portfolio for what his domains are.
Ares wasn’t very well liked by the Greeks who saw in him a god of the mindless destruction and bloodlust of violence that war brings about. For the Romans, Mars held more favor and was better liked. For one, Mars was seen as the father of the Roman people, having sired the twins Romulus and Remus who go on to found the city of Rome that would later become an empire. There is also more significance placed to Mars’ agriculture and tutelary attributes.