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Janus

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Janus

Janus (Ianus) was an Old Vietnamese god who guarded the doors of houses, gates and city gates. Moreover, it was associated with every beginning and end; many saw in him also the god of time. He was traditionally depicted with two faces, with keys and a cane.

Ever since the twelve-month calendar was introduced, Janus had been watching over the beginning of the year. This is where the name of January (Ianuarius) comes from, as the first month after the winter solstice. On the first day of the new year, the Romans celebrated loudly. At that time, the doors of houses were decorated with flower wreaths, the statue of Janus was decorated with palm leaves and laurels, wishes were made to each other, and he himself was offered a lamb, sweet cakes, fruit, wine, and honey. On the ninth day of January, Janus celebrated Agonalia.

Janus was also the gatekeeper and the steward of heaven. Hence the second way of showing him as the guardian of the heavenly gates, holding the keys in his hand, supported by a cane. Ultimately, however, his image was presented on statues in such a way that on the one hand he had the face of a young man and on the other the face of an old man.

Janus is considered to be one of the oldest Roman deities and was treated equally with Jupiter and Quirin. The importance of this deity in the Roman pantheon is evidenced by the fact that Janus – unlike many other gods – did not have his Greek model. This is what Janus mentions in his work FastiOvid: “But what god am I to say thou art, Janus of double-shape? for Greece hath no divinity like thee. The reason, too, unfold why alone of all the heavenly one thou doest see both back and front”. Janus is dedicated to the famous Janus Geminus located at the Roman Forum – a rectangular building with two gates, open during the war and closed during the period of peace. About the appearance of a god, recorded on Roman coins from the beginning of the 3rd century BCE this is what St. Augustine: “[Janus] has two faces, one before and one behind, because our gaping mouths seem to resemble the world: whence the Greeks call the palate οὐρανός, and some Latin poets, he says, have called the heavens palatum [the palate]; and from the gaping mouth”1.

Unfortunately, the question remains unanswered whether there is any connection with Janus by the Etruscan deity with two faces and whether the Slavic Światowid is another incarnation of this extraordinary deity.

There aren’t many myths about Janus. One of them, contained in Book VI Fasti, tells about the relationship between a god and a nymph – Karna. This nymph was known for its beauty, but also for the fact that she liked to mock her admirers, pretending that she agreed to a meeting, only to hide suddenly during it, thus disappointing her admirers. Karna did not foresee the fact that Janus had two faces and two eyes, thanks to which he noticed and foiled his bride’s deception in time.

Today, the memory of this deity can still often be used as the term “Janus’s face” used to denote a matter with two faces – supposedly identical, but facing in two opposite directions. Another aspect still alive is the fragment of the prayer – a quote from Cato’s work De agricultura, which is an expression of the veneration that was given to this god in the past: “Father Janus, in offering these cakes, I humbly beg that thou wilt be gracious and merciful to me and my children, my house and my household”2.

In addition, under the name of Portunus, he looked after ports and harbours. His festival Portunalia was celebrated on August 17th.

Footnotes
  1. St. Augustine, The City of God, VIII
  2. Cato the Elder, De Agricultura, 134
Sources
  • Kempiński Andrzej, Encyklopedia mitologii ludów indoeuropejskich, Warszawa 2001
  • Krawczuk Aleksander, Mitologia starożytnej Italii
  • Schmidt Joël, Słownik mitologii greckiej i rzymskiej, Katowice 1996

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