Profile of Ares, Greek God of War

Votive relief with Ares and Aphrodite
DEA / A. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

Ares is a Greek god of war, and son of Zeus by his wife Hera. He is known not only for his own exploits in battle, but also for getting involved in disputes between others. Furthermore, in Greek mythology, he often served as an agent of justice.

Ares in Mythology

A Greek legend tells the tale of Ares slaying of one of Poseidon’s sons. Ares had a daughter, Alkippe, and Poseidon’s son Halirrhothios attempted to rape her. Ares interrupted before the act was completed, and promptly killed Halirrhothios. Poseidon, livid at the murder of one of his own children, put Ares on trial before the twelve gods of Olympus. Ares was acquitted, as his violent actions were justified.

Ares got into a little bit of trouble at one point when he was having a fling with Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. Aphrodite's husband, Hephaistos, figured out what was going on and set a trap for the lovers. When Ares and Aphrodite were in the middle of a naked romp, they were caught in a golden net by Hephaistos, who called all of the other gods to come over as witnesses to their adultery.

Later, Aphrodite dumped Ares for the beautiful youth Adonis. Ares became jealous, turned himself into a wild boar, and gouged Adonis to death while the young man was out hunting one day.

Worship of Ares

As a warrior god, Ares wasn't quite as popular with the Greeks as his counterpart, Mars, was among the Romans. This may have been due to his unreliability and unpredictable violence–something which would have been completely contrary to the Greek sense of order. He doesn't seem to have been very popular among the Greeks, who appear to have been mostly just indifferent to him.

In fact, many of the legends surrounding Ares culminate in his own defeat and humiliation. In Homer's Odyssey, Zeus himself insults Ares after his return from the battlefields of Troy, where Ares was defeated by the armies of Athena. Zeus says:

Do not sit beside me and whine, you double-faced liar.
To me you are the most hateful of all gods who hold Olympus.
Forever quarreling is dear to your heart, wars and battles.

His worship was centered in small cults, rather than amongst the general populace of Greece. Specifically, more warlike areas like Macedonia, Thrace, and Sparta paid homage to Ares.

There are numerous accounts of a Spartan man, Menoikeus, offering himself as sacrifice to Ares, in order to secure the gates of Thebes. Gaius Julius Hyginus, a Greek historian, wrote in Fabulae, "When the Thebans consulted Teiresias, he told them that they would win the battle if Kreon's son Menoikeus [one of the Spartoi] were to offer himself as a victim to Ares. When he heard this, Menoikeus took his life in front of the gates."

Although little is known of the cults of Ares and how they specifically paid tribute, most sources do refer to sacrifices being made prior to battle. Herodotus refers to the offerings made by the Scythians, in which one of every one hundred prisoners taken in battle is sacrificed to Ares. He also describes, in his Histories, a festival which took place in Papremis, part of Egypt. The celebration re-enacts the meeting of Ares with his mother, Hera, and involves beating priests with clubs - a ritual which often turned violent and bloody.

The Warrior Oath

Aeschylus' epic narrative, Seven Against Thebes, includes a warrior's oath and sacrifice to Ares:

Seven warriors yonder, doughty chiefs of might,
Into the crimsoned concave of a shield
Have shed a bull's blood, and, with hands immersed
Into the gore of sacrifice, have sworn
By Ares, lord of fight, and by thy name,
Blood-lapping Terror, Let our oath be heard-
Either to raze the walls, make void the hold
Of Cadmus - strive his children as they may -
Or, dying here, to make the foemen's land
With blood impasted.

Today, Ares is seeing a resurgence in popularity thanks to a number of pop culture references. He appears in Rick Riordan's highly successful Percy Jackson series for young readers, as well as Suzanne Collins' books about Gregor the Overlander. He also shows up in video games, such as God of War and was portrayed by the late actor Kevin Smith in the Xena: Warrior Princess television series.

Some Hellenic Pagans pay tribute to Ares as well, in rituals honoring his bravery and masculinity.

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Wigington, Patti. "Profile of Ares, Greek God of War." Learn Religions, Sep. 6, 2021, Wigington, Patti. (2021, September 6). Profile of Ares, Greek God of War. Retrieved from Wigington, Patti. "Profile of Ares, Greek God of War." Learn Religions. (accessed June 8, 2023).