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Mars Festival

By March 9, 2014

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On this day in ancient history - March 9:


On this day, the ancient Romans continued to celebrate the Festival of Mars. As part of the occasion, the priests of Mars known as salii (from the verb salire to leap), who were appointed for life, carried sacred shields, called ancilia, throughout the city, while they danced, sang hymns for Janus and other gods, and hit the shields with their weapons (swords and spears or some sort of staff). The Roman salii wore purple tunics, bronze breastplates, and a pointed hat (apex), which suggest a connection with the early kings. The accompanying picture of Etruscan Salii may show slaves holding the ancilia, according to the William Smith Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.


  • "The Significance of Numa's Religious Reforms," by Edna M. Hooker. Numen, Vol. 10, Fasc. 2. (Aug., 1963), pp. 87-132.
  • "A Note on Two Roman Sepulchral Reliefs," Mrs. S. Arthur Strong.The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 4, Part 2. (1914), pp. 147-156.
  • "A New Greek Calendar and Festivals of the Sun," Stefan Weinstock. The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 38, Parts 1 and 2 (1948), pp. 37-42

Mars & Etruscan Salii pictures © Clipart.com


March 11, 2010 at 4:09 pm
(1) ancienthistory says:

It appears so. See:

  • The Kouretes and Zeus Kouros: A Study in Pre-Historic Sociology
    Jane E. Harrison
    The Annual of the British School at Athens, Vol. 15 (1908/1909), pp. 308-338

Denys of Halicarnassos 1 in his full and interesting account of the Salii saw that Kouretes and Salii were substantially the same: ‘In my opinion,’ he says, ‘the Salioi are what in the Greek language are called Kouretes, we (i.e. the Greeks) give them their name from their age, from the word icoipot, the Romans from their strenuous movements, for jumping and leaping is called by the Romans salire.’

March 15, 2011 at 4:05 pm
(2) John R. Salverda says:

Connecting the Salii with the Kouretes is good work. May I suggest (as I usually do) that the origin of these priests is actually Hebrew? The ancient “Hebrews” (Kabeiroi?) employed a group of loudly singing, warrior priests, to guard and carry the “Ark of God” (the cradle of Zeus?). These were called the “Korahites” (Kouretes), or “Korah’s sons” (“Korah bene,” Korybantes?). “… the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD God of Israel with an exceedingly loud voice.” (2Ch 20:19).

During the wandering of the Jews, Korah and 250 of his followers were destroyed for rebelling against Moses. One such rebellion was the golden calf incident. The sons of Korah were preserved however and given their special responsibilities. They carried and guarded the Ark, not only singing loudly but also clashing cymbals and blowing trumpets. They were a group of warrior priests especially noted for their use of the sling and the bow.

The myths of the Kouretes are easily derived from the story of the Korahites, notably the wandering of Io by Apollodorus (Apollod. 2.1.3). He says that in the course of Io’s (the Jew‘s) wanderings, Hera had the Kouretes carry off Epaphus (the Egyptian calf god Apis) from Egypt to Syria, for which Zeus destroyed them.

They guarded, not only babes Zeus and Epaphus but also Dionysus/Zagreus calf gods all.

Everywhere the “Phoenicians” (residents of the land of Israel) went, they took with them this tradition. Crete (Europa), Rhodes and Samothrace (Cadmus), Carthage (Dido), and Phrygia were largely populated with people from the land of Israel.

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