In another page we talked about the difference between Ares and Mars as an expression of the difference of Greek's and Roman's worldviews, a difference that can be perceived also in studying their languages; in this one we are going to talk about how the Roman god Mars has been joined with different Celtic gods and how this could help us to understand better both these paganisms.
When the Celts first got in touch with Romans, apart from battles for the possession of lands, a cultural exchange between the two populations occurred. Then, the imposition of a religion didn't exist: nobody tried to consciously delete the cult of Celtic gods and goddesses. What did really exist was what modern scholars call interpretatio, that is the ‘translation' of one god into another culture. Since a pagan god as humans describe him is the result of some kind of world perception, then the god is a concept and can be translated, even though this translation can be more or less accurate. Sometimes a language has an idea expressed in one word while another language needs two or more words to express the same thing: this happens with common words as well as with the gods. Teutatis and Esus, two of the most important and known Celtic Gods, have been compared both with Mars and with Mercury. It appears obvious that it was because none of the Roman Gods was exactly the same as the Celtic God being 'translated', so, since the name was after all not so important, Romans thought it was no harm to call the Celtic God with different Roman names in different contexts.
The contacts between Celts and Romans came certainly before the great battles led by Cesar in order to subjugate the Gaul. It's true that Cesar is the first to write about the interpretatio of Celtic gods, but it's true also that in facts the interpretatio must have been realized before. Cesar's accounts about Celtic religion aren't so much reliable. Actually Cesar wasn't very interested in religion: all he wanted was to conquer the Gaul and bring this result back to the Senate for political aims. Cesar is also accountable for defamation of Gallic religion, spreading rumors that never found any confirmation by archaeological excavations.
Since literary sources are indubitably partial, we must refer to archaeology or to epigraphy to understand how Mars entered Celtic, or better speaking Gallo-roman, religion. The Gallo-roman religion was born from the close link that formed between Roman names of gods and Celtic names of gods or adjectives. This kind of religion wasn't born from an imposition under which Celtic cult had to go on secretly, but it was some kind of a fusion and we must remember that the Gaul remained pagan long after Rome officially converted.
This fusion is 'useful' for us who want to look at these religions because it helps us to understand them both: since it happened between real practiced cults it may help us understand the original meaning that the god Mars had beyond its comparison with Ares and since the Celtic religion didn't usually imply great worship buildings, made in durable materials, nor many inscriptions while the Roman religion did, we have more written clues to understand something about Celtic religion.
Among the Celts Mars was a god of battles but often is also the patron of a particular place, like a mountain, or a tribe: this remembers us the ancient Roman name of "father" Mars was called with and also the ceremony of the Ver Sacrum, when young men, consecrated to Mars, left their village to create another one and so another population, sometimes following an animal sacred to the god from which they lately took their name. According to the legends, this was the origin of Picenes (from the latin word picus that means woodpecker, sacred to Mars), of the Marsi, the Frentani, the Marrucini, all Italic populations.
The Celtic Mars is also related to healing, especially from eye illnesses, and seldom to celestial worship: the Salii priests in Rome, who used to dance wearing armors to honour Mars, sang a song in which a god was called "Leucesie", that means "luminous", and it is said that he "thunders" causing the gods to shake; some scholars suggested he could be Mars too. Furthermore, in Mars' temple in Rome the Lapis Manalis, a sacred stone we read about in Festus' (second century c.e. grammarian from Gaul) works, was kept until the moment came to use it for sacrifices to Jupiter to get rain.
Anyway, in Gallo-Roman religion Mars has always been a very important god and he has been compared to several Celtic gods or received different Celtic appellations. Let's make an overview of them:
- Mars Albiorix: the tribe of the Albices in Southern Gaul considered him the god of their mountain. According to some scholars his name may mean "king of the world".
- Mars Budenicus: Another god who protected a specific place, he was also considered the spouse of the goddess Sulevia, who was lately identified with Minerva even though her features were closer to the matrones' ones. The name of Sulevia is similar to the name of another Celtic goddess, Sulis, worshipped in Bath, who had been identified with Minerva too and was related to the sun worship.
- Mars Camulos: Camulos is a god of war in Gaul and in Britain. The present city of Colchester was called Camulodunum, city of Camulos, in ancient times. Dedications to these gods have been found in Rindern, in the region of Reims and in Dalmatia.
- Mars Caturix: his name means king of battles or of fighting, maybe he was the tribal godo f the Caturiges. He was worshipped around the present Geneva.
- Mars Corotiacus: the name of this god appears on a small bronze depicting a horseman stomping on his enemy. In Eastern Britain Mars was often worshipped as horseman.
- Mars Lenus: Lenus was the healer god of the Treveri, and it's clear that here Mars is interpreted as the defense against illnesses. In stone dedications, the name of Lenus comes first, so maybe Mars was added as a translation for Roman visitors of the sanctuary. His main worship centre was in a wooded valley on the left bank of the Moselle, next to a mountain stream. This place must have been considered sacred much time before the construction of the great Gallo-roman temple in 2nd century c.e.. This temple had a big altar and space for ceremonies and small pools for healing (created by channelling a healing spring that was upstream). Small tamed birds were offered to Lenus, who was also called "patron of the young". Another very important sanctuary dedicated to Lenus was in Pomerania; this sanctuary had a resting place for the incubatio: visitors used to sleep there hoping to receive some kind of healing dream from the god. Lenus was worshipped in Britain too, inside sanctuaries where Mars was related with two other gods, like Ocelus and Vellaunus, maybe Celtic tribal gods. In Chedworth, Lenus is depicted as a warrior god, with hammer and spear.
- Mars Loucetius: there's a dedication to Mars Loucetius in the healing temple of Minerva Sulis in Bath, where the god is associated to the Celtic goddess Nemetona. We also have a dedication found elsewhere in which Loucetius is associated to a Roman goddess, Bellona, who was a deity of battles, too. Loucetius means "Luminous" and this god is usually compared with Jupiter, while the goddess Sulis, in whose sanctuary the dedication to Mars Loucetius was found, recalls some kind of solar worship. Mars is related to the worship of the skies also when compared to the British god Belatucadrus.
- Mars Mullo: Mullo was worshipped in the Northern and North-Western Gaul, especially in Brittany and Normandy. Some scholars relate his name to horses or mules; he was certainly a patron god and a healer from eye illnesses in the temple of Allonnes. During the 2nd century c.e. the god Mullo was associated to the imperial cult (so we would rather expect an association with Jupiter, since emperors preserved the office of Pontifex Maximus) and many urban sanctuaries were built for him.
- Mars Nabelcus: patron god of the mountains of Vaucluse.
- Mars Nodens: Nodens was the god of the healing sanctuary in Glouchestershire. Nodens was also associated with Silvanus, and we know that Cato the Elder calls Mars 'Silvanus' in his de agri cultura about agriculture. In the temple dedicated to Mars Mullo there was a dormitory for healing sleep and there were found offerings representing human organs. The god is not depicted in the temple, but the many images of dogs let us think that this animal must be sacred to him.
- Mars Olloudius: he was worshipped in Britain, he was a patron, a healer and a fertility god, depicted with two horns of abundance but also as a warrior.
- Mars Rigisamus: his name means "supreme king" and appears on a dedication found among the remains of a temple, along with a small statue of a naked man bearing a helmet, a spear and a shield.
- Mars Rigonemetis: his name means "king of the sacred wood" (the Celt word for sacred wood is nemeton), he was related to the tribe of Corieltauvi and later associated to the emperor worship.
- Mars Segomo: his name means "victorious"; Segomo was sometimes associated to Hercules. A bronze horse found in Burgundy was dedicated to Segomo.
- Mars Smertrius: the root of the Celtic god's name refers to abundance, and it's the same of Rosmerta, Celtic goddess of abundance. Mars Smertrius was worshipped in Mohn and associated to the goddess Ancamna.
- Mars Teutates: Teutates is one of the three gods that Lucan said to be the most important in Gaul. Teutates was compared to Mars but also to Mercury (these two Roman gods were often associated in Gaul); the name Teutates refers to the teuta, the tribe, so in this case it was the aspect of Mars as patron god that was taken in.
- Mars Thincsus: maybe Thincsus is not even a Celtic god but rather a Germanic one, though he was worshipped in Housesteads fortress near Hadrian's wall. Like Mars Ocelus, his sacred animal was the goose, which in ancient times was a house guardian.
- Mars Visucius: Visucius, worshipped on the border between Gaul and Germany was also identified with Mercury.
- Mars Vorocius: he was usually depicted as a Celtic warrior, but at the healing spring in Vichy was invoked for healing eye illnesses.
- Cesare, De bello gallico
- Lucano, Pharsalia
- Catone, De agri cultura
- Festo, De verborum significatione
- Miranda J. Green, Dizionario di mitologia celtica, Milano, Rusconi, 1999 (Dictionary of Celtic Myth and Legend)
- Mars en occident. Actes du colloque International "Autour d'Allonnes (Sarthe), les sanctuaires de Mars en Occident", Le Mans, Université du Maine, 4-5-6 juin 2003, Rennes, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2006
- F. Benoit, Mars et Mercure. Nouvelles recherches sur l'interprétation gauloise des divinités romaines, Aix-en-provence, Publication des annales de la faculté des letters, 1959
- Miranda J. Green, The gods of the celts, Phoenix Mill, Sutton, 1997
- Georges Dumezil, La religione romana arcaica, Milano, Rizzoli, 2001
- Renato Dal Ponte, Dei e miti italici, Genova, ECIG, 1998