European Pagan Memory Day

Italian flag: link to the Italian version of this site



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:

Reference works


Reproduction of site contents, unless otherwise indicated, is allowed if you correctly quote the site and attribute the passage you quote to its author. For further information: