Greek God of War
Ares is the god of war, one of the Twelve OLYMPIAN GODS and the son of ZEUS and HERA. In literature Ares represents the violent and physical untamed aspect of war, which is in contrast to ATHENA who represents military strategy and generalship as the goddess of intelligence.
Although Ares embodied the physical aggression necessary for success in war, the Greeks were ambivalent toward him because he was a dangerous, overwhelming force that was insatiable in battle.
He is well known as the lover of APHRODITE, who was married to HEPHAESTUS, and though Ares plays a limited role in literature, when he does appear in myths it is typically facing humiliation. For example, one famous story of Ares and Aphrodite exposes them to ridicule by the gods when her husband Hephaestus trapped them both naked in a bed using a clever device he made.
The ROMAN COUNTERPART to Ares was MARS, who was known as a FATHER TO THE ROMAN PEOPLE. Because of this, he was a less aggressive and physical form, revealing a more calm and understanding demeanour.
Facts about Ares
Ares was most notably referred to as the God of War; he represented the unpleasant aspects of battle.
He was the son of Zeus and Hera, both of whom hated him (according to Homer).
Ares was most often characterized as a coward in spite of his connection to war; he responded to even the slightest injury with outrage.
According to some sources, Ares was described as Aphrodite’s lover and was held in contempt by her husband, Hephaestus. The affair between them was not a secret among the Olympians.
Ares was never very popular—either with men or the other immortals. As a result, his worship in Greece was not substantial or widespread.
He came from Thrace, home of a fierce people in the northeast of Greece.
His bird was the vulture.
The Amazons, warrior women, were his daughters. Their mother was a peace-loving nymph named Harmony.
Otus and Ephialtes, twin giants, imprisoned Ares for a lunar year by binding him with chains of brass; he was eventually rescued by Hermes.
Ares always took the side of Aphrodite in the Trojan War. He fought for Hector (a Trojan) until a Greek warrior pierced him with a spear that was guided by Athena. He then departed the battlefield in order to complain to Zeus about Athena’s violence.
Harmonia, Goddess of Harmony, was the daughter of Ares and Aphrodite.
Eros (more commonly known as Cupid) was also the child of Ares and Aphrodite.
Tereus, a son of Ares, was known to have inherited his father’s abhorrent qualities.
Ares was the biological father of at least three of Hercules’ enemies: Cycnus, Lycaon, and Diomedes.
Ares had a sister named Eris, who was the Goddess of Discord.
Hebe, another sister of his, was the Goddess of Youth.
Ares rarely figures into mythology stories, but when he does, he usually suffers some form of humiliation.
Ares was associated with two other war deities: Enyalius and Enyo.
Ares had many offspring, which is characteristic of nearly all of the notable Greek gods. He conceived more mortal children than divine children.
In art, Ares is generally depicted wearing a spear and a helmet.
Ares was the god of war, and son of Zeus and Hera. He represented the raw violence and untamed acts that occured in wartime, in contrast to Athena, who was a symbol of tactical strategy and military planning.
What side of the Trojan War was Ares on?
He was disliked by both his parents. Whenever Ares appeared in a myth, he was depicted as a violent personality, who faced humiliation through his defeats more than once. In the Iliad, it is mentioned that Zeus hated him more than anyone else; Ares was also on the losing side of the Trojan War, favouring the Trojans.
He was the lover of his sister, Aphrodite, who was married to Hephaestus. When the latter found out about the affair, he devised a plan and managed to humiliate both of them. The union of Ares and Aphrodite resulted in the birth of eight children, including Eros, god of love.
There were few temples attributed to Ares in Ancient Greece. Sacrifices would usually be made to him when an army would march to war; Spartans would make sacrifices to Enyalius, another lesser god and son of Ares and Enyo. However, the name was also used as a byname for Ares.
Who were Ares companions?
When Ares went to war, he was followed by his companions, Deimos (terror) and Phobos (fear), who were the product of his union with Aphrodite. Eris, goddess of discord and sister of Deimos and Phobos, often accompanied them in war.
Ares was the Greek god of war and perhaps the most unpopular of all the Olympian gods because of his quick temper, aggressiveness, and unquenchable thirst for conflict. He famously seduced Aphrodite, unsuccessfully fought with Hercules, and enraged Poseidon by killing his son Halirrhothios. One of the more human Olympian gods, he was a popular subject in Greek art and even more so in Roman times when he took on a much more serious aspect as Mars, the Roman god of war.
Son of Zeus and Hera, Ares’ sisters were Hebe and Eileithyia. Despite being a god, the Greeks considered him from Thrace, perhaps in an attempt to associate him with what they thought of as foreign and war-loving peoples, wholly different from themselves. Ares had various children with different partners, several of whom were unfortunate enough to come up against Hercules when he performed his celebrated twelve labours. Ares’ daughter Hippolyta, the Amazon queen, lost her girdle to Hercules; his son Eurytion lost his cattle; and Diomedes had his horses stolen by the Greek hero. The courageous but warlike Amazons were also thought to be descendants of Ares.
Ares was noted for his beauty and courage, qualities which no doubt helped him win the affections of Aphrodite (even though she was married to Hephaistos) with whom he had a daughter, Harmonia, and the god of love and desire Eros. Hephaistos managed to entrap the lovers in an ingenious bed, and the tale is told in some detail in Book 8 of Homer’s Odyssey. Once caught, the punishment for Ares’ indiscretion was temporary banishment from Mount Olympus.
Described by Hesiod in his Theogony as ‘shield-piercing Ares’ and ‘city-sacking Ares,’ the god represented the more brutal and bloody side of battle, which was in contrast to Athena who represented the more strategic elements of warfare. In stories from Greek mythology, Ares was usually to be found in the company of his other children with Aphrodite, Phobos (Fear) and Deimos (Terror), with his sister Eris (Strife), and with his charioteer Ennyo.
BATTLE WITH HERCULES
The most popular myth involving Ares was his fight with Hercules. Ares’ son Kyknos was infamous for waylaying pilgrims on their way to the oracle at Delphi, and so earned the displeasure of Apollo, who sent Hercules to deal with him. Hercules killed Kyknos, and a furious Ares engaged the hero in a fight. However, Hercules was protected from harm by Athena and even managed to wound Ares. Another myth and ignominious episode for Ares was his capture by the twin Giants Ephialtes and Otus when they stormed Mount Olympus. They imprisoned the god in a bronze jar (or cauldron) for one year and he was only freed through the intervention of Hermes.
THE TROJAN WAR
In Homer’s version of the Trojan War in the Iliad, Ares supports the Trojans, sometimes even leading them in battle along with Hector. The Iliad shows Ares in a less than positive light, and he is described as ‘hateful Ares,’ ‘the man-killer,’ ‘the war-glutton,’ and the ‘curse of men.’ Homer’s picture of Ares, like the above mythological tales, often demonstrates his weakness in comparison to the other gods. Ares is roundly beaten by Athena who, supporting the Achaeans, knocks him out with a large rock. He also comes off worse against the Achaean hero Diomedes who even manages to injure the god with his spear, albeit with the help of Athena. Homer describes the scream of the wounded Ares as like the shouts of 10,000 men. Fleeing back to Olympus, Zeus ignores the complaints of Ares but instructs Paieon to heal his wound.
ATHENS & CULT
Ares again upset the harmony of Olympus when he was accused of killing Poseidon’s son Halirrhothios near a stream below the Athenian acropolis. A special court was convened – the Areopagos – on a hill near the stream, to hear the case. Ares was acquitted as it was disclosed Halirrhothios had raped Ares’ daughter Alcippe. Thereafter in Athens, the Areopagus became the place of trial for cases involving murder and impiety.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the city’s strong militaristic culture, Ares was greatly esteemed in Sparta. Ares was not commonly worshipped but there were cult sites with temples dedicated to the god on Crete (he is mentioned in Linear B tablets from Knossos) and at Argos, Athens, Erythrae, Geronthrae, Megalopolis, Tegea, Therapne, and Troezon. He also had a cult in Thrace and was popular among the Colchians on the Black Sea.
REPRESENTATION IN ART
In ancient Greek Archaic and Classical art, Ares is most often depicted wearing full armour and helmet and carrying a shield and spear. In this respect, he may appear indistinguishable from any other armed warrior. Sometimes he is shown riding his chariot pulled by fire-breathing horses. The myth of Ares’ battle with Hercules was a popular subject for Attic vases in the 6th century BCE.
In later times, the Roman god Mars was given many of the attributes of Ares, although, as was typical of the Roman view of the gods, with less human qualities. In Roman mythology, Mars was also the father of Romulus and Remus (through the rape of the Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia), the legendary founders of Rome, and, therefore, the city achieved a sacred status. Like Athena for Athens, Mars was also the patron god of the Roman capital and the month martius (March) was named after him.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark’s special interests include ancient ceramics, architecture, and mythology. He loves visiting and reading about historic sites and transforming that experience into free articles accessible to all.