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January is named after Janus- the god with two faces, one looking onwards and the other one backwards

Goran Blazeski

Janus was the Roman god of doors, choices, beginnings and endings. The first month of the year is called January after him. He is usually depicted with two faces, one on each side of the head. He was one of the earliest gods of Rome, sometimes referred to as the “god of gods” or diuom deo.

He is often shown with beards on both faces, but originally, Janus was depicted with one bearded face and another one clean-shaven, which may have symbolized the moon and the sun, or age and youth. Occasionally he was depicted as four-faced – as the spirit of the four-way arch.

A statue representing Janus Bifrons in the Vatican Museums. Photo Credit

A statue representing Janus Bifrons in the Vatican Museums Photo Credit

He looks both towards the future and the past at the same time. One face looks back to the year departed, and one looks forward to the new year ahead.

Janus was a porter of heaven and a guardian god of gates and doors. He was the Roman God of Beginnings and his name was an obvious choice for the first month of the year.

Different depictions of Janus from Bernard de Montfaucon's L'antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures

Different depictions of Janus from Bernard de Montfaucon’s L’antiquité expliquée et représentée en figures

The origins on Janus vary and unlike other Roman and Greek gods, Janus may have been a mortal who came from Thessaly and was welcomed into Latium by Camise. They got married, shared the kingdom and had many children together.

As the ruler of Latium, Janus presided the Golden age, introducing money, laws, and agriculture. When Camise died Janus became the sole ruler and peacefully ruled Latium for many years.

In the second myth he is present in Rome at the time when the city founder, Romulus, and his men kidnapped the women of Sabine, and the men of Sabine attacked Rome in retaliation. When they attempted to climb the Capitoline Hill, Janus launched a powerful jet spray of hot water, forcing them to retreat.

The temple of Janus with closed doors, on a sestertius issued under Nero in 66 AD from the mint at Lugdunum. Photo Credit

The temple of Janus with closed doors, on a sestertius issued under Nero in 66 AD from the mint at Lugdunum. Photo Credit

As a result, Numa (the second king of Rome 715-673 BC) erected a temple known as the Ianus geminus in Janus’ honor. It was a double-gated structure (one door facing the rising sun and the other, the setting sun). During the periods of war, the gates were left open so he could assist the Roman soldiers in time of war and shut again during times of peace.

The gates were shut only once between the reign of Numa Pompilius (who reigned 715–673 BC) and Emperor Augustus who reigned until 14 AD.

Janus also had a temple on the Forum Olitorium constructed in 260 by C. Duilius for the naval victory of the Punic War and another one on his hill, the Janiculum.

A bronze as from Canusium depicting a laureate Janus with the prow of a ship on the reverse. Photo Credit

A bronze as from Canusium depicting a laureate Janus with the prow of a ship on the reverse. Photo Credit

Here is another  story from us: Hogmanay was the Vikings’ celebration of the Winter Solstice, today celebrated as New Year in Scotland

Janus was one of the earliest and well-respected Roman Gods whose dual face can be easily recognized on many Roman coins and city gates.