NASA's Hubble Space Telescope took this close-up of the red planet Mars

How did Mars Get its Name?

22 Mar , 2010 by


Mars is one of the most well known planets in our solar system. It is our nearest neighbor and most space programs are aiming to get humans there someday. However you might be wondering why this planet is named Mars?

Obviously Mars is named after the Roman God of War. Mars has been observed by mankind for as long as astronomy has existed. In ancient cultures even older than Rome Mars was considered an important star and each culture always associated it with war and death. Some ideas were held in common. For example ancient Sumerians believed Mars was the holy star of the god Nergal their god of war and the dark aspects of the sun. The Indians who were some of the world’s oldest civilization to study astronomy associated Mars with their own war deity.

So you can see that it was only a short leap for the Roman who borrowed a lot of their culture from eastern countries like Greek to also name Mars after their own war deity. The interesting question is why do all of these civilizations come to the same conclusion? One thing Mars’ red coloring. We now know through science it is due to the large amounts of iron oxide in its soil. However the ancients saw it as a bloody start that had ill portents associated with death and or war. However how war was viewd depended on different cultures.

The Romans of course worshiped war and considered Mars as the ancestor of their nation. So it would only make sense to honor a star associated with him.

If you enjoyed this article there are several others on Universe Today that you will enjoy. There is a great article about the distance from Earth to Mars. There is also an article that goes into detail about Mars.

There are also some interesting resources if you want to learn more about Mars in ancient astronomy. There is a great article on
There is also a great article on about the history of observing Mars.

You can also listen to Astronomy Cast. Episode 52 is about Mars.

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