Janus: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Bust of Janus, Vatican Museums

In Roman mythology, Janus (or Ianus) was the god of gates, doors, doorways, beginnings and endings. His most prominent remnant in modern culture is his namesake, the month of January. He is most often depicted as having two faces or heads, facing in opposite directions.


Origins and nature

The Sculpture Gold coin, depicting Janus

Macrobius and Cicero attempted to explain the name as Latin deriving it from the verb ire ("to go").[1] It has been conjectured to be derived from the Indo-European root meaning transitional movement (cf. Sanskrit "yana-" or Avestan "yah-", likewise with Latin "i-" and Greek "ie-".).[2]

William Betham argued that the cult arrived from the Middle East and that Janus corresponds to the Baal-ianus or Belinus of the Chaldeans sharing a common origin with the Oannes of Berosus[3] and thus with the Mesopotamian figure of Uanna known from seventh century BCE texts.[4]

If Betham's eastern origin thesis is correct, the name ultimately derives from a form of the Mesopotamian name Uanna which in turn has been speculated to be derived from the name of the Biblical prophet Jonah (Hebrew Yonah meaning a dove)[5] who preached to the Assyrians over a century before the earlist mention of Uanna.

Janus was usually depicted with two heads facing in opposite directions. According to a legend,he had received the gift to see both future and past from the god Saturn in reward for the hospitality received.[citation needed] Janus-like heads of gods related to Hermes have been found in Greece, perhaps suggesting a compound god. These double headed figures have precursors in Assyrian depictions of Oannes with a human head in front and a fish head behind.[3]

The Romans associated Janus with the Etruscan deity Ani. However, he was one of the few Roman gods who had no ready-made counterpart, or analogous mythology. Several scholars suggest that he was likely the most important god in the Roman archaic pantheon: this is reflected in the appellation Ianus Pater, still used in Classical times. He was often invoked together with Iuppiter (Jupiter).

According to Macrobius and Cicero, Janus and Jana (Diana) are a pair of divinities, worshipped as the sun and moon, whence they were regarded as the highest of the gods, and received their sacrifices before all the others.[6]

In general, Janus was the patron of concrete and abstract beginnings of the world[7](such as the religion and the gods themselves), the human life,[8] new historical ages, and economical enterprises. He was also the god of the home entrance (ianua), gates, bridges and covered and arcaded passages (iani) named after him.

He was frequently used to symbolize change and transitions such as the progression of past to future, of one condition to another, of one vision to another, the growing up of young people, and of one universe to another. He was also known as the figure representing time because he could see into the past with one face and into the future with the other. Hence, Janus was worshipped at the beginnings of the harvest and planting times, as well as marriages, births and other beginnings. He was representative of the middle ground between barbarity and civilization, rural country and urban cities, and youth and adulthood.

Numa in his regulation of the Roman calendar called the first month Januarius after Janus, at the time the highest divinity. Numa also introduced the Ianus geminus (also Janus Bifrons, Janus Quirinus or Portae Belli) , a passage ritually opened at times of war, and shut again when Roman arms rested.[9] It formed a walled enclosure with gates at each end, situated in the Roman Forum which had been consecrated by Numa Pompilius. In the course of wars, the gates of the Janus were opened, and in its interior sacrifices and vaticinia were held to forecast the outcome of military deeds.[10] The doors were closed only during peacetime, an extremely rare event. Livy wrote in his Ab urbe condita that the doors of the temple had only been closed twice since the reign of Numa: firstly in 235 BC after the first Punic war and secondly in after the battle of Actium in 31 BC. A temple of Janus is said to have been consecrated by the consul Gaius Duilius in 260 BCE after the Battle of Mylae in the Forum Holitorium. The four-side structure known as the Arch of Janus in the Forum Boarium dates to the 4th century CE.

In the Middle Ages, Janus was also taken as the symbol of Genoa, whose Latin name was Ianua, as well as of other European communes.

The traditional ascription of the "Temple of Janus" at Autun, Burgundy, is disputed.

Other myths

Janus was supposed to have shared a kingdom with Camese in Latium. They had many children, including Tiberinus.

When Romulus and his men kidnapped the Sabine women, Janus caused a volcanic hot spring to erupt, resulting in the would-be attackers being buried alive in the deathly hot, brutal water and ash mixture of the rushing hot volcanic springs that killed, burned, or disfigured many of Romulus' men. Romulus was in awe of the god's power. (Later on, however, Sabine and Rome became allies.) In honor of this, the doors of a walled roofless structure called 'The Janus' (not a temple) were kept open during war after a symbolic contingent of soldiers had marched through it. The doors were closed in ceremony when peace was concluded. Augustus and Nero both advertised universal peace, which had led to 'the closing of the Janus', during their reigns.

See also

  • Diprosopus – congenital disorder whereby part or all of the face is duplicated on the head; suggested as possible origin of Janus myth
  • Janus Saves – a chapbook of poetry by Canadian author Brock Warner released in September, 2008.
  • 39 Clues – a book that features "Janus" as a Cahill branch
  • Holism


  1. ^ Macrobius, Saturnalia, I, 9, 11
  2. ^ Taylor, Rabun, "Watching the Skies: Janus, Auspication, and the Shrine in the Roman Forum," Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome vol. 45 (2000): p, 1.
  3. ^ a b Royal Numismatic Society, Proceedings of the Numismatic Society, James Fraser, 1837
  4. ^ Gerald Verbrugghe, John Moore Wickersham, Berossos and Manetho, Introduced and Translated: Native Traditions in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, University of Michigan Press, 2001
  5. ^ H. Clay Trumbull, Journal of Biblical literature, Volumes 11-12, Society of Biblical Literature and Exegesis (U.S.), 1892
  6. ^ Macrobius Saturnalia i. 9; Cicero De Natura Deorum ii. 27.
  7. ^ According to Varro, in the carmen saliaris Janus is called "creator", as the initiator of the world itself. De lingua latina, VII, 26-27.
  8. ^ Macrobius defines him Consivium, i.e. propagator of the human genre. Saturnalia, I, 9, 16.
  9. ^ Horat. Carm. iv. 15. 8; Virg. Aen. vii. 607
  10. ^ Livy, History of Rome, I, 19, 2


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JANUS, in Roman mythology one of the principal Italian deities. The name is generally explained as the masculine form of Diana (Jana), and Janus as originally a god of light and day, who gradually became the god of the beginning and origin of all things. According to some, however, he is simply the god of doorways (januae) and in this connexion is the patron of all entrances and beginnings. According to Mommsen, he was "the spirit of opening," and the double-head was connected with the gate that opened both ways. Others, attributing to him an Etruscan origin, regard him as the god of the vault of heaven, which the Etruscan arch is supposed to resemble. The rationalists explained him as an old king of Latium, who built a citadel for himself on the Janiculum. It was believed that his worship, which was said to have existed as a local cult before the foundation of Rome, was introduced there by Romulus, and that a temple was dedicated to him by Numa. This temple, in reality only an arch or gateway (Janus ge y ninus) facing east and west, stood at the north-east end of the for am. It was open during war and closed during peace (Livy i. 19); it was shut only four times before the Christian era. A possible explanation is, that it was considered a bad omen to shut the city gates while the citizens were outside fighting for the state; it was necessary that they should have free access to the city, whether they returned victorious or defeated. Similarly, the door of a private house was kept open while the members of the family were away, but when all were at home it was closed to keep out intruders. There was also a temple of Janus near the theatre of Marcellus, in the forum olitorium, erected by Gaius Duilius (Tacitus, Ann. ii. 49), if not earlier.

The beginning of the day (hence his epithet Matutinus), of the month, and of the year (January) was sacred to Janus; on the 9th of January the festival called Agonia was celebrated in his honour. He was invoked before any other god at the beginning of any important undertaking; his priest was the Rex Sacrorum, the representative of the ancient king in his capacity as religious head of the state. All gateways, housedoors and entrances generally, were under his protection; he was the inventor of agriculture (hence Consivius, "he who sows or plants"), of civil laws, of the coining of money and of religious worship. He was worshipped on the Janiculum as the protector of trade and shipping; his head is found on the as, together with the prow of a ship. He is usually represented on the earliest coins with two bearded faces, looking in opposite directions; in the time of Hadrian the number of faces is increased to four. In his capacity as porter or doorkeeper he holds a staff in his right hand, and a key (or keys) in his left; as such he is called Patulcius (opener) and Clusius (closer). His titles Curiatius, Patricius, Quirinus originate in his worship in the gentes, the curiae and the state, and have no reference to any special functions 'or characteristics. In late times, he is both bearded and unbearded; in place of the staff and keys, the fingers of his right hand show the number 300 (CCC.), those of his left the number of the remaining days of the year (LXV.). According to A. B. Cook (Classical Review, xviii. 367), Janus is only another form of Jupiter, the name under which he was worshipped by the pre-Latin (aboriginal) inhabitants of Rome; after their conquest by the Italians, Janus and Jana took their place as independent divinities by the side of the Italian Jupiter and Juno. He considers it probable that the three-headed Janus was a triple oak-god worshipped in the form of two vertical beams and a cross-bar (such as the tigillum sororium, for which see HoRATII); hence also the door, consisting of two lintels and side-posts, was sacred to Janus. The three-headed type may have been the original, from which the two-headed and four-headed types were developed. J. G. Frazer (The Early History of the Kingship, pp. 214, 285), who also identifies Janus with Jupiter, is of opinion that Janus was not originally a doorkeeper, but that the door was called after him, not vice versa. Janua may be an adjective, janua foris meaning a door with a symbol of Janus close by the chief entrance, to serve as a protection for the house; then janua alone came to mean a door generally, with or without the symbol of Janus. The double head may have been due to the desire to make the god look both ways for greater protection. By J. Rhys (Hibbert Lectures, 1886, pp. 82, 94) Janus is identified with the three-faced (sometimes three-headed) Celtic god Cernunnus, a chthonian divinity, compared by Rhys with the Teutonic Heimdal, the warder of the gods of the under-world; like Janus, Cernunnus and Heimdal were considered to be the fons et origo of all things.

See S. Linde, De Jano summo romanorum deo (Lund, 1891); J. S. Speyer, "Le Dieu romain Janus," in Revue de l'histoire des religions (xxvi., 1892); G. Wissowa, Religion and Kultus der Romer (1902); W. Deecke, Etruskische Forschungen, vol. ii.; W. Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic (1899), pp. 282-290; articles in W. H. Roscher's Lexikon der Mythologie and Daremberg and Saglio's Dictionnaire des Antiquites; J. Toutain, Etudes de Mythologie (1909). On other jani (arched passages) in Rome, frequented by business men and money changers, see O. Richter, Topographie der Stadt Rom (1901). (J. H. F.)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary





  • IPA: /ˈjā-nəs/
  • SAMPA: //
  • AHD: /Jānôs/

Proper noun

Wikipedia has an article on:





  1. (Roman mythology) The god of gates and doorways; having two faces looking in opposite directions
  2. (astronomy) a moon of Saturn


Derived terms


Proper noun


  1. (Roman mythology) Janus


Proper noun

Janus m.

  1. A male given name, compare Danish Jens.

Usage notes


  • son of Janus: Janussson or Janusarson
  • daughter of Janus: Janusdóttir or Janusardóttir


Nominative Janus
Accusative Janus
Dative Janusi
Genitive Janusar

Simple English

In Roman mythology, Janus was the god of doors and gates. His name also became the first month of the year, January.

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