Calendar, Martius

(March, named for the Roman god of War)

Martius, Was Once the First Month of the Roman Year

March was named for the Roman god Mars and was originally the first month of the year (of ten months).

  • Even after Numa Pompilius added January and February, March was still the first month of the year and the beginning of the yearly cycle of Roman religious festivals.
    Mars, the god of war.
  • Mars was known as the god of war and guardian of the Roman state. As such, he was served by a warrior-priesthood, the Salii or “leapers”.
  • This priesthood was responsible for conducting special festivities in his honor. There were 24 of them and they were divided into two groups.
  • The Salii were dressed in ancient warrior costumes: a short military cloak, helmet, breastplate, sword, spear, or staff, and sacred shield (ancilia), which was supposed to have been a gift from Jupiter.
  • Dressed in the symbolic armor of the Roman state, the priests marched around Rome several times during the month of March to announce the coming military campaigns in the spring season of war.
  • During the prossessions, they danced, showed their weapons, chanted to the gods, and offered sacrifices of horses, bulls, and rams.
  • On the March Calends (March 1), there was the celebration of Feriae Martius, New Year’s Day in the old Roman Calendar. This was the day the sacred fire of Vesta was rebuilt and fresh laurel boughs were hung on the Regia, the ancient little building in the Forum Romanum, facing toward the north; that served as the offices of the Pontifex Maximus, head of the State religion, and most senior of all the priests, and the headquarters of the College Pontifices. It contained shrines, altars, or artifacts of Vesta and Mar’s sacred shields and spears.
  • The original ancile, or sacred shield of Mars, was said to have fallen from heaven during the time of Numa. Roman legend says that Mars was the father of Romulus and Remus.
  • From the earliest times, Mars was invoked to turn away storms, disease, and famine.
  • He was also called upon to promote prosperity of crops, animals, and farms.
  • Sacred to Mars were not only the spear and shield, but also the wolf, woodpecker, and the fig tree.
Meanwhile it is flying, irretrievable time is flying.
—Virgil [Publius Vergilius Maro] (70-19 B.C.).

Silence words. Sources of information for this page are located at this Calendars Bibliography Unit.

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