Figure of Mars

The helmet with the crest worn on the head of this naked figure depicted in a heroic pose leads us to identify it as a Lar of Mars, the god of war. He is wearing nothing more than a chlamys wrapped around his waist. The image brings to mind the iconography of the anverse of some coins of the 1st Century AD, but more common in the 3rd Century AD, which depict the allegoric figure of “Mars Victor”. In numismatic iconography there are two distinct versions of this figure. We can find him holding a spear or a sword in his right hand (as seen on a coin of the Emperor Vespasian), or with a trophy or shield held with his left (on a coin of Gallienus).

Mars was the son of Juno and Jupiter while transfigured as a flower. According to mythology, Juno fled Olympus and entered a temple dedicated to Flora. Here this goddess advised Juno to pick the most beautiful flower ever to be found from the fields of Olenia. This she did, but the flower in reality was Jupiter transformed. On picking it, Mars, the god of war, was born in her lap.

For the Romans Mars was the god of war, and, as such, he was represented with arms and a helmet, ready to enter into combat. Originally he was the patron god of all the peoples of the Italian peninsula, be they farmers or warriors, a fact reflected in his double nature, in the same way as other Roman gods. Therefore he was the god of war and of the underworld, associated with the earth and with the spiritual and physical protection of the crops.

He enjoyed immense popularity and was one of the gods most worshipped in Rome, only overtaken by Jupiter in popularity. In his representations we find a man armed with a helmet and a lance, and at times with a sword and shield. Sometimes he is depicted nude, at other times with warriors’ accoutrements, and even with a cape over his shoulders. Normally he is depicted as a clean-shaven young man but at other times he is a mature, bearded man. Sometimes he carries a baton of command. He may also carry a shield decorated with the head of Medusa.

The technique of lost wax casting is a sculptural procedure using a mould made from a prototype of the piece to be worked, and this prototype is usually made from beeswax. This is covered with a thick layer of soft material, usually clay, which then solidifies. Once this has hardened it is put in a kiln where the wax inside melts and leaks out through expressly made holes in the clay. In its place molten metal is injected and this takes on the exact form of the mould. To release the final piece the mould must be removed.

The lararium was a small shrine in Roman houses in which the family members could place offerings on an altar and offer up prayers to the household gods. These were represented by statuettes called lares, mostly made of bronze. In patrician residences the lararium was in general found in the atrium, the central hall of the residence. In a simpler residence without an atrium, the shrine would be more or less in the kitchen near the central fire.


- Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae. Vol. II. pp. 191 fig. 119.
- REINACH, S. Répertoire de la Statuaire Grecque et Romaine, tome IV. pp. 106. fig. 5. In the Musée Gallo-Romain de Lyon.

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