Ancient Romans celebrated the Festival of Mars, also known as the Feriae Marti or Martius, in March. The ancient Roman celebration was held in honor of Mars, the god of war and agriculture. The Romans held this Festival annually, and it was one of the oldest and most important festivals in the Roman calendar.
What did Romans celebrate during the Festival of Mars?
The Festival of Mars typically lasted a few days. Romans marked it by feasting, music, and games, including chariot races, foot races, and gladiator fights. The Festival also included a procession in which men carried a statue of Mars through the streets of Rome, followed by priests and members of the military.
The Festival was seen as a time of renewal and rebirth, as well as a celebration of the coming spring and the beginning of the growing season. It was also seen as an opportunity to honor Mars and seek his protection and blessings for the coming year.
Romans also honored the god Quirinus (who was associated with Mars) during the Festival. The Romans believed he was an early king of Rome. He became a deified ancestor they worshiped as a god of war and agriculture, much like Mars.
During the Festival, the Roman people would offer sacrifices and perform rituals in honor of Mars and Quirinus. They were seen as twin gods who presided over the renewal of life and the coming of spring. The Festival was also an important time for the Roman army, which would perform military drills and honor their patron god Mars.
How did the celebration evolve?
The Roman calendar originally began in March, which used to be the first month of the year. This was based on the cycle of agricultural seasons.
March marked the beginning of the spring planting season. Over time however, the Romans adjusted their calendar to align with astronomical events, such as the winter solstice. Eventually, they established January as the first month of the year. The Festival of Mars evolved and incorporated elements from other festivals. This included the Roman New Year celebrations and the Hilaria festival, held in honor of the goddess Cybele.
Some scholars posit that the shift from the March Mars festival to a New Year celebration was due to the influence of other cultures. For example, the Etruscans celebrated the New Year in March. The Etruscans were a pre-Roman civilization that inhabited central Italy and whose customs are believed to have influenced Roman culture in many ways.
However, despite these changes, the Festival remained an essential part of Roman culture.
Source: “Feriae Marti” — Roman Republic