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Ares: The Complex Deity of Ancient Greek Warfare

Published by Zain ul Abideen
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Greek Mythology, with its intricate web of tales and characters, has profoundly influenced literature, history, and modern interpretations for millennia. Central to this rich tapestry is Ares, the formidable god of war, embodying both valor and brutality. Delving beyond the surface narratives that often surround mythological figures, it becomes imperative to understand the intricate layers and significance of deities like Ares, revealing a deeper insight into ancient civilizations and their worldview.

OriginGreek Mythology
Family MembersZeus (Father), Hera (Mother), Eileithyia, Enyo, and Hebe (Sisters), Hephaestus (Brother)
Associated withWar, Courage, Violence, Fear, and Terror
Overview of Ares

1. The Birth and Family of Ares:

Born amidst the divine aura of Mount Olympus, Ares holds a distinctive position as the son of Zeus, the king of gods, and Hera, the queen known for her fierce protectiveness and jealousy. His lineage doesn’t stop with his illustrious parents; the pantheon of Greek gods includes notable siblings such as Hebe, the goddess of youth, Eileithyia, the deity of childbirth, and Hephaestus, the god of fire and metalwork. These familial connections underscore the intricate web of relationships, alliances, and rivalries within the divine realm. As evidence, ancient Greek texts such as the “Iliad” and “Theogony” provide invaluable insight into Ares’s life and his interactions with other gods, giving us a foundational understanding of his place in the pantheon and the complexities therein.

Ares' Classical Depictions

2. Ares in Mythology: The Warrior Paradox:

In the intricate tapestry of Greek mythology, Ares emerges as a dual-natured deity, one who embodies not only the unbridled ferocity of savage warfare but also the esteemed qualities of courage and manly valor. His character paints a picture of the paradoxical nature of war: the juxtaposition of heroism and brutality.

Diving deeper into the Greek pantheon, an interesting distinction arises when we juxtapose Ares with Athena, another deity associated with warfare. While Ares represents the raw, visceral side of war, driven by emotions and passion, Athena stands for the strategic, disciplined aspect, emphasizing wisdom over raw strength. This dichotomy can be likened to the two faces of a coin, representing the entirety of Greek warfare.

Ares’s mythology is replete with tales that underline his volatile nature. One of the most scandalous stories is his clandestine affair with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, which, when revealed, became a source of mockery among other deities. His involvement in the Trojan War, where he often shifted allegiances, highlights his unpredictable nature. Moreover, tales of his skirmishes with other gods, like his battle with Heracles or his confinement in a jar by the Aloadae giants, further solidify his image as a deity who was both revered and feared.

Ares and Aphrodite

What’s truly fascinating is how Ares’s portrayal reflects the Ancient Greeks’ own nuanced perspective on warfare. The admiration for bravery and skill in battle was evident, but there was also a clear understanding of the unpredictable, often devastating nature of war. This relationship underscores a deeper societal insight: the Greeks recognized and accepted the dichotomies of life, understanding that valor and brutality could coexist in the same space.

3. Symbols and Representations of Ares:

Symbols have always played a pivotal role in understanding and portraying the essence of a deity, and Ares is no exception. Rooted deeply in the ethos of warfare, his most emblematic symbols include the shield, representing defense and protection; the spear, symbolizing offensive strategy and penetration; and the helmet, denoting both warfare and the protective cover for a warrior’s most vital asset, the mind.

But the symbolism surrounding Ares is not confined to mere instruments of war. His association with certain animals offers a deeper insight into his character. The vulture, a bird that thrives amidst death, symbolizes the aftermath of battles, whereas the dog, particularly breeds trained for war, resonates with the themes of loyalty, aggression, and guardianship in the context of combat.

Ares’s influence wasn’t limited to myths and tales. It was etched in stone and worship practices too. Temples dedicated to Ares, although fewer compared to other Olympian gods, were significant. One notable sanctuary was in the Ancient Agora of Athens, where he was worshipped alongside the goddess of war, Athena Areia. These places of worship signify the societal reverence and fear for the god of war, marking places where both gratitude for victories and pleas for mercy in impending wars were made.

Supporting these descriptions are a myriad of archaeological discoveries, artifacts, and ancient art that shed light on how Ares was perceived and revered. From vase paintings depicting his battle scenes to sculptures showcasing his might and textual inscriptions detailing rituals, these sources form a mosaic of evidence that brings the enigmatic god of war to life.

4. Ares in Modern Pop Culture:

Modern pop culture, with its dynamic blend of media, offers a renewed lens through which ancient figures like Ares are perceived. From blockbuster movies to bestselling novels, Ares’ legacy is both reimagined and retold, reflecting contemporary values and societal nuances.

Movies and Television:

Ares has made striking appearances in several movies and TV shows. Notable among them is the depiction in movies like “Wonder Woman,” where Ares is presented as the nemesis, a representation of war’s darkness. In series like “Xena: Warrior Princess” or “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” he frequently oscillates between a foe and an ally, mirroring the unpredictable nature of his ancient mythological counterpart.

Modern Interpretations


Modern literature, too, has embraced Ares, particularly in young adult fiction. Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” series introduces Ares as a biker, infusing the ancient god with a contemporary swagger while retaining his warlike essence.

Video Games and Other Media:

The digital realm isn’t untouched by Ares’ influence. Video games, especially those rooted in mythology like “God of War” or “Smite,” present Ares in avatars that resonate with a younger audience, redefining his lore for the digital age.


A cursory glance at these modern interpretations reveals certain deviations from ancient descriptions. Where ancient texts emphasized Ares’ valor and ferocity in equal measure, modern portrayals often lean more heavily into his role as an antagonist, highlighting the destructiveness of war. This shift could indicate our current society’s ambivalence towards conflict, a reflection of a world that has witnessed the devastation of two World Wars and countless other conflicts.

Moreover, while ancient depictions focused on the god’s dual nature of valor and brutality, contemporary renditions often emphasize personal vendettas or larger moral struggles. This might suggest a transition from viewing war as a necessary, albeit tragic, aspect of human society to seeing it more as a result of individual ambitions or moral failings.

In essence, while Ares’ core attributes remain consistent – war, valor, and unpredictability – our interpretation of these traits evolves based on contemporary values and the world’s ever-changing socio-political landscape.

5. The Influence of Ares Beyond Mythology:

Mythological figures often cast their shadows beyond tales and fables, influencing language, culture, and even history in profound ways. Ares, as a central figure in Greek mythology, is no exception. His legacy, felt through linguistic imprints and historical influences, offers a fascinating glimpse into the lasting power of myths.

Linguistic Elements:

  1. Areopagus: Directly translating to “Ares Rock”, the Areopagus is a prominent rock outcropping in Athens. In ancient times, it served as the meeting place for the earliest aristocratic council of the city. The legend goes that Ares himself was tried here by the gods for the murder of Poseidon’s son, Alirrothios. This ancient judicial and socio-political institution carries Ares’ name, emphasizing the god’s influence on governance and law.
  2. Mars in Roman Mythology: When one explores Roman mythology, Ares finds his counterpart in Mars. While both are gods of war, Mars holds a more favorable, protective role, especially as the father of Romulus and Remus, Rome’s founders. This linguistic transition from Ares to Mars reflects not only a change in name but also a shift in the deity’s perceived characteristics between cultures.

Historical Influences:

  1. Cult of Ares: Throughout ancient Greece, various city-states had their unique relationship with Ares. In Sparta, a militaristic state, the god was revered for his martial prowess. Rituals and ceremonies, designed to invoke his blessings before battles or wars, significantly influenced military decisions and strategies. The cult of Ares was a testament to the god’s tangible influence on the real-world decisions of entire civilizations.
  2. Literary References: Various ancient historians, such as Herodotus and Thucydides, occasionally reference ceremonies, rituals, or places dedicated to Ares when recounting historical events. These subtle nods to the god of war underscore his continual presence and influence in the geopolitical landscapes of the time.
  3. Sacred Groves and Sites: Across Greece, certain sites, groves, and even cities were dedicated to Ares. These places, often considered sacred or of strategic importance, played pivotal roles in various historical confrontations. Their association with Ares provided not only religious significance but also a psychological edge, portraying the site as protected or favored by the god of war.
Temple of Ares

In synthesizing these elements, it becomes clear that Ares’ influence was not restricted to tales whispered around ancient fires. Instead, his legacy found its way into the very fabric of language, culture, and history, marking the god of war as a figure whose impact transcended mythology.

6. Reflection on Ares: Warfare in the Eyes of the Ancients:

The tales and traditions surrounding Ares offer more than just captivating stories; they serve as windows into the soul of ancient Greek society, revealing deeply held values, apprehensions, and conventions.

Ancient Greek Values and Ares:

Ares, in all his complexity, embodies several key facets of ancient Greek values. His valor and martial prowess represent the esteem with which bravery in battle was held. For a society that frequently found itself at the crossroads of war, the ability to defend one’s homeland and honor was of paramount importance. Yet, Ares’ unpredictability and the devastation he often wrought reflect a sobering respect for the costs and uncertainties of war, suggesting a Greek recognition of war’s dual nature.

Ancient War Scenes

Fears and Societal Norms:

While Ares was revered, he was also feared. This fear was not just of the god himself but of the chaotic and unpredictable nature of warfare he symbolized. War, in ancient times, could decimate entire cities, alter geopolitical landscapes, and result in massive societal upheavals. Through Ares, the Greeks gave a face to these anxieties, creating a figure that embodied both the glory and the dread of battle. Additionally, the stories of Ares, especially his conflicts with other gods and his tumultuous love affairs, might underscore societal norms around discipline, the perils of unchecked passion, and the need for balance in personal and communal endeavors.

Ares in Modern Perspective:

Fast forwarding to our modern era, the figure of Ares resonates with eerie familiarity. Today, as nations grapple with wars, both physical and ideological, the same themes of valor, strategy, chaos, and cost emerge. The Greek understanding of Ares finds its echo in contemporary debates on the ethics of warfare, the balance between defense and aggression, and the societal consequences of prolonged conflicts.

For instance, just as ancient Greeks revered Ares for his might but were wary of his volatility, modern societies often celebrate their military achievements while simultaneously engaging in passionate dialogues about peace, diplomacy, and the moral dimensions of war.

In essence, Ares stands as a timeless symbol, linking past and present in a continuum of reflection on one of humanity’s most enduring challenges: the complexities of warfare. His tales, while rooted in the ancient world, offer insights and reflections that are deeply relevant even today, underscoring the cyclical nature of history and the universality of human experience.

7. Conclusion:

Ares, the ancient Greek god of war, emerges from the tapestry of mythology as a figure of profound complexity, embodying the valor, chaos, passion, and unpredictability inherent in warfare. His tales, spanning from glorious battles to tumultuous personal affairs, encapsulate the multifaceted nature of both the deity and the very concept of war in ancient Greek society. However, the significance of Ares extends beyond mere historical or mythological interest. By delving deeper into figures like him, we uncover invaluable insights into the essence of human nature and the evolutionary trajectory of cultures. Such exploration reminds us of the timeless themes that bind humanity across ages, urging us to reflect, learn, and grow from the wisdom enshrined in these ancient narratives.

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