What Was Ares the God Of?
Among the major gods of Olympus, it would be an understatement to say that Ares was not the most well-loved. As the god of war, most people wanted nothing to do with him.
Athena was a military deity as well, but she was revered throughout Greece. She protected the innocent, sided with justice, and oversaw many aspects of life that had nothing to do with violence.
Ares, however, served only one purpose. He was the god of war who brought violence and suffering wherever he went.
Unlike Athena, he rarely took sides and cared little for the causes people fought for. Instead, he relished violence with no regard for the people it affected.
Ares was the god of military prowess, but there was no escaping the fact that his particular type of valor always brought with it pain and death.
Ares was prayed to before battle, but very few cities were home to a temple in his honor. The god of war was generally regarded as someone to be avoided.
He was considered hateful even by his own father. Most people of Greece tried to distance themselves from him, associating him with barbarian foreigners instead of their own culture.
But in many ways, Ares exemplified a reality of Greek culture. Ares took no sides in conflict because, most often, both armies consisted of Greeks.
While many of the gods of Olympus served several functions, Ares was more straightforward. He was purely devoted to warfare.
Ares represented the destruction of war and the brutality of battle.
While his half-sister Athena gave wise counsel to generals and protected civilians, Ares was concerned only with bloodshed. The Greeks valued discipline and order among their fighting men, but Ares relished the chaos of pitched battle.
His violent nature made him distrusted by both the Greek people and his fellow gods. He was described as insatiable and bloodthirsty.
His retinue was similarly disliked. His sons Phobos and Deimos represented the fear and terror of soldiers in battle, while his sister Enyo was the personification of destruction.
Because he represented everything the Greeks hated about warfare, Ares held an unusual position among the gods of Olympus. While soldiers would pray to him before battle, most people hoped to avoid the god entirely rather than win his favor.
Only in Sparta, a city known for its militant culture, was Ares seen in a more favorable light. The most famous statue of the war god was outside of this city, where he was shown in chains to represent the city’s commitment to holding military might.
The violence and blood-lust embodied by the god of war were so distasteful to most Greeks that they associated Ares with Thrace, a semi-barbaric land far removed from the center of Greek civilization. But Ares actually represented a very Greek view of the world.
Warfare was a constant threat in the ancient world, and Greek culture was largely shaped by such violence.
While Greek cities sometimes faced threats from foreign forces, more often they waged war against each other. The city-states of the Greek-speaking world made and broke alliances in an almost constant fight for political and economic supremacy.
The cities of Greece did not just have to worry about occasional danger from far-off enemies. Often, armies would come from just a few miles away.
This meant that the dangers of war were never far removed from daily life. The people of Greece were always aware that their cities could be attacked at any time, most likely by people who shared their language and religion.
In most cultures, gods associated with war served as both martial and protective powers. They reliably sided with their own people against foreign enemies with presumably inferior gods.
To most Greeks, Athena served the role of protective military deity who gave wise inspiration to their leaders. Athena was a lawful goddess who only sided with those who fought for a just cause.
When fighting a foreign army, the Greeks could naturally assume Athena would be on their side. But when fighting among one another, it was not so clear cut.
Ares did not take sides when the Greek city-states fought against their neighbors. He relished violence its own sake, not in the service of justice.
Ares represented the reality of a culture that was often at war with itself. Both sides in the conflict worshipped the shared the same culture, so the god of war favored neither.
A city’s patron could intercede on their behalf, and Athena would support the side she found to be righteous. Ares, however, posed an equal threat to everyone involved in a battle.
The Greek attempted to mitigate their fear of war in the way they depicted Ares in mythology. Few stories were told of Ares, and those that were often showed the god being humiliated or defeated.
Ares was famously captured by Hephaestus while in bed with Aphrodite. And despite being a physically perfect soldier, he was invariably bested by other gods whenever they held contests or sporting events.
The attempt to minimize the power of the god of war can be seen as a way of overcoming the fear of violence. By showing Ares in defeat or embarrassment, the Greeks could hold on to a hope that the destruction of war was less of a possibility.
Many gods of ancient Greece served multiple functions in society. Ares, however, was only regarded as the god of war.
While he exemplified the valor and courage of fighting men, Ares was typically shown with few positive traits. His love of violence and bloodshed made him a dangerous force who was disliked by most, even among the other gods.
Unlike other deities, Ares was rarely known to take sides in conflict and have little regard for the righteousness of a cause. He loved battle for its own sake, not as a means to an end.
The people of Greece tried to distance themselves from Ares, rarely praying to him and associating him with the barbarous lands of Thrace instead of their own culture. But the war that Ares represented was a very real force in the Greek world.
While Greek states sometimes fought against foreign armies, most often they waged war against each other. The fact that both sides of the conflict worshipped the same gods meant that the primary god of war could not be relied upon to favor one army over the other.